15 In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”
Nehemiah 13:15-18, NIV (1984), emphasis added
One of the cities I lived in while growing up had "blue laws." I'm not sure where the term came from, as I've never looked it up, but everything was closed on Sunday. My mom spoke of "window shopping" as a Sunday afternoon outing with her family as all the stores were closed.
Here are my thoughts on a day of rest, along with where I got some of those ideas.
I read a book several years ago called, "Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life." I still remember many of the things I learned/took from that book. The author points out that the Sabbath is a gift from the Lord. It is not to be a burden to us (that would be the legalism one woman spoke of), but rather a gift. (Remember that Jesus said to come to Him all who were weary as His yoke was easy and His burden light, Matthew 11:28-30.)
I also read a book, at about the same time, called "Parenting in the Pew." It's name would imply that it's all about children sitting in church while you parent them, but it's oh so much more than that! It really made me think of why we go to church and what it means to worship the Lord. She (the author) said something which still resonates with me: "Sunday morning begins Saturday night."
Another book, "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus," helped me think of what it meant for the Israelites (and practicing Jews today) to rest on the Sabbath. It meant that they have to prepare ahead of time in order to get that rest! That may seem like a "duh" statement, but it's not something we commonly find today. (It was at this point in my email that I realized I would be making another post to this blog. Two in one week, wow!)
For example, while we were on vacation, we visited some old friends. Unsurprisingly, most asked where we had been on our vacation. As we told one couple, the wife asked if I had made reservations at all of our "stops." I replied in the affirmative. She remarked on the forethought (for lack of a better way to put it) in doing that for a vacation. She continued by saying that she decided where they were going to be going about 2 weeks before they left!
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but I don't believe that God means for us to do that when it comes to some things. He set the Sabbath as a day of rest after the Israelites were released from slavery in Egypt. Imagine, they went from never having any rest, to being commanded to rest one day a week. In addition to that, they were given mandatory festivals to worship Him where no work was to be done either.
They were also told that they were to have a Sabbath year of rest every seven years! Do you think they looked upon that as a burden? No! They looked at it as a gift from God! These "rest times" were unchanging. They didn't "sneak up" on you, you knew they were coming and had to plan for them! Looking back to the time after Jesus' death on the cross, you will see how accustomed the people were to this type of preparation.
John 19:31, emphasis and notes added
Now it was the day of Preparation, This would be the day before Passover. and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. That would have been the Passover. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
John 19:40-41, emphasis and notes added
40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation Again, this would have been the day before the Passover. and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Luke 23:55-56, emphasis and comments added
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. They prepared for burying Jesus properly before the Sabbath (that would have been the Passover) began. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
Luke 24:1, emphasis and comments added
1 On the first day of the week, This would be Sunday. very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
Now, I don't know if you noticed, but in John 19:31 we are told it is a special Sabbath. That would seem to indicate it was not the 7th day of the week, but rather the Passover. On that year, the Passover must have fallen on Friday, which means Jesus was crucified on Thursday, the Preparation Day, as opposed to Good Friday, which is what I always believed. (I first read about this difference in the Daily Bible, which is a chronological Bible divided up to be read in one year. It has a lot of good "summary" information in it as well, which helped me to understand the History a lot better.)
The women went on the first day of the week, Sunday, to the tomb. That means they had to make sure things were all in order in their homes to have 2 days of rest. And in Luke 23:56 we read why they rested on the Sabbath, to obey the commandment. They had to prepare!
Now, I can not tell you that I am always as prepared as these ladies were. I read both Breathe and Parenting in the Pew 4 years ago, in 2007. While I am not always as prepared as I would like to be, I do have a different thought on what I want Sunday to be like in our home. We try our best to make it a day of rest. However, it is not always easy. It is something I need to stay in tune to each week. I need to prepare ahead of time so that it can be a day of rest. I have to be on guard, watching for ways I might be tempted to say, "just this once."
One of the main ways I rest is to do no "regular" work. Laundry is an example of that. Does this mean I never do laundry on Sunday? I can say I do no regular laundry. However, if sheets or clothing get "soiled," I will wash them on Sunday. I do not want to be legalistic about it, and there is a passage which comes to mind on days when I need to do such things. It reminds me to steer away from legalism and get to the heart of the matter. Here it is.
Matthew 12:1-13, emphasis added
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
The Pharisees were "looking for a way to accuse Jesus" (v 10). They were using the laws to judge, which is not what He intended them for. To me, legalism is when obedience becomes more about following the rules than the condition of the heart. Does that mean we do not have to obey God's commands? Certainly not! I will close with some passages in Romans where Paul speaks to the tension between the Law and Grace. (For some excellent teaching concerning these and other parts of Romans I suggest reading "The Normal Christian Life" by Watchman Nee. It speaks in a most excellent way on living a Spirit filled life, which is what should be a normal Christian life.)
Romans 6:1-2 (see Romans 5 for more clarity)
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. 7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.
To sum it up, the deeper my faith goes, the more I find myself in Paul's dilemma found in Romans 7:21-25. I, like Paul, must remember that it is Jesus alone who rescues me from this catch 22.
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (emphasis added)
If you read this whole post, I hope you found it encouraging in some way, or at least enlightening and thought provoking. I'm sure the small email group I'm in are not the only ones who come to questions regarding this point in our faith, especially if we are growing in Christ, growing being the key word. Growth means change. If you have any other thoughts or resources on this topic, please share your comments with us!
Thanks to the others in my email group for "getting me started!"