This week’s Bible study at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church was about the Sabbath. Here are some items:
A. In many debates among Christians about whether Christians should observe the seventh-day Sabbath, the “no” side argues that the Sabbath was given to the Jews alone, whereas the “yes” side affirms that it was a creation ordinance and was given to all humanity, not just the Jews.
The pastor seemed to be affirming the latter, even though he argued that Christians are not required to observe the seventh-day Sabbath. He interpreted Mark 2:27 (the Sabbath was made for man) to mean that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance. By providing a weekly day of rest to humanity, God provided intervals of relief from the curse of hard work that God delivered to man in Genesis 3:17-19.
But, with the death and resurrection of Christ, we are now in the new creation. Jesus’ rest in the grave and the women’s rest on the Sabbath prior to Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 23:56) was the final Sabbath observance required by God. Now, the Sabbath symbolizes the freedom in God’s mercy that believers have, as well as the heavenly rest that they will enter after death; the pastor cited Hebrews 4 for this. Yet, the pastor stated that the Sabbath commandment is still binding, on some level. People even under the new covenant are to set aside time to rest, as opposed to working all the time. According to the pastor, Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16 give believers freedom to decide what day to observe.
B. The pastor said that the Sabbath was revolutionary because, in the ancient world, people did not get days off. They worked until they dropped. I would not be surprised if there is truth to that; the weekend, even the week, was an institution that was rare. But I wonder if slaves in the ancient Near East got festivals off.
C. The pastor noted that the Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 offered different rationales. The Exodus 20 version grounds the commandment in God’s rest on the seventh day after creation. The Deuteronomy 5 version grounds it in God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The pastor speculated about the reason for the difference. In Exodus 20, the pastor said, the people of Israel are being created into a people at Mount Sinai, out of the Israelites and the mixed multitude who left Egypt with them. Consequently, God emphasizes creation. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses is renewing the covenant between God and Israel. The covenant is based on God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt, so Moses reminds Israel of that. Moses is trying to prepare Israel spiritually for her entrance into Canaan, for she will be tempted to see her God merely as a desert deity and to worship the gods the Canaanites worshiped (i.e., Baal), the ones the Canaanites said caused the crops to grow.
D. I asked the pastor about the Temple and Sabbath and festival observance in the eschatological passages of the prophetic writings. Many Christians would apply these passages to the millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ over earth after Christ returns, but I recognized that Lutherans are amillennial. Do these passages, however, suggest that the Temple, Sabbath, and festivals are continually binding or obligatory, since they will be honored in the eschaton? The pastor replied that the passages are conveying an image of a perfect relationship with God (i.e., we’re good with God, and God is good with us), in language that Israelites understood. The Israelites saw a right relationship with God in terms of observing the Sabbath and festivals and sacrificing at the Temple, so the prophets presented a perfect relationship with God in reference to that. According to the pastor, we are not meant to get caught up in the details. What is important is the point: that we will have a perfect relationship with God.