Church Write-Up: Sabbath, Hope and Forgiveness, John 6

Here is my Church Write-Up about the church events that I attended last Sunday.

A.  The theme at the LCMS service was the Sabbath.  The youth pastor talked about the importance of recharging our batteries.  What was most interesting about his talk, however, were his comments about whether God rests on the Sabbath.  On the one hand, he said that God rests when we rest.  On the other hand, he said that God is always at work, so we can talk to God when we rest, and God will work on us or in whatever situation we bring to God.

I thought of John 5:17, in which Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that the Father works and he works.  This was on the Sabbath, and Jesus said that in justifying his own Sabbath activity.

Does God rest on the Sabbath?  There are repeated affirmations in the Bible that God rested on the seventh day after creation (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11; 31:17).  Exodus 31:17 goes so far as to say that God was refreshed when God rested on the seventh day.

Is John 5:17 saying, though, that God works on the Sabbath?  I checked some commentaries on Logos.  First, I checked the Word Biblical Commentary, by George Beasley-Murray.  Beasley-Murray states the following:

“The statement ‘My Father has been working until now’ must be set in the context of Jewish exposition of the Scriptures. The Jews understood Gen 2:2 as implying that God’s sabbath following creation continues to the present—his works are finished. But that raises a difficulty: how can God be said in the Scriptures to be active, if he keeps sabbath? One answer ran: God rested from work on the world, but not from his work on the godless and the righteous: ‘He works with both of them, and he shows to the latter something of their recompense, and to the former something of their recompense’ (Gen. Rab. 11.8c; see Str-B 2:461–62 for further examples of this thinking). Accordingly God blesses the righteous in anticipation of their gaining the life of the kingdom of God, and brings judgment on sinners in anticipation of their exclusion from it. Here we see the significance of ‘I also am working.’ Jesus as the Son of God does the works of God, even on the sabbath. The signs just narrated indicate that he brings to men no mere anticipation of the saving sovereignty of God but its reality—life from the dead; and he declares judgment on rejectors of the word of God which the Last Judgment will confirm.”

According to Beasley-Murray, Jewish tradition held that God has continually rested after creation, in the sense that God is not creating anything new.  Still, God works by blessing the righteous and judging the wicked as a foretaste of the coming Kingdom.  Jesus’ works on the Sabbath, too, gave a foretaste of the Kingdom and related to judgment.

John MacArthur states the following:

“Jesus’ point is that whether he broke the Sabbath or not, God was working continuously and, since Jesus Himself worked continuously, He also must be God. Furthermore, God does not need a day of rest for He never wearies (Is. 40:28). For Jesus’ self-defense to be valid, the same factors that apply to God must also apply to Him. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8)! Interestingly, even the rabbis admitted that God’s work had not ceased after the Sabbath because He sustains the universe.”

That part about God not needing to keep the Sabbath because God does not weary stood out to me.  I recall reading Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, and Fishbane argued that Second Isaiah actually polemicizes against P: P says that God rested on the Sabbath, whereas Second Isaiah states that God never wearied.  P says “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), whereas God in Isaiah 44:24 affirms that God alone created the earth.  But what entered my mind in reading MacArthur’s comment was a Christological issue: Is the implication that Jesus did not get tired?  But would not Jesus, as a human being, get tired?  John 4:6 states that Jesus was tired from a journey.  Perhaps one could respond that Jesus’ divine nature does not tire, but his human nature does.

I am sure that there are more commentaries I can check out, but I’ll move on to the next item.

B.  The pastor’s sermon reaffirmed a point that he has made in more than one sermon: that, when we try to be in control, when we try to be God, we botch things up.  This is the case with the Sabbath.  We work to rest: we exhaust ourselves during the week, so we can have that leisure time during the weekend.  Or the Pharisees tried to control the Sabbath by coming up with lots of regulations, making the Sabbath more of a burden; the pastor referred to the blue laws that have existed in America.  The pastor said that we should start with Sabbath: resting in God.  When we do that, even our work becomes a way to serve God and neighbor.

C.  The Sunday school class on forgiveness in II Corinthians came to an end.  Many points were brought up: how college students these days do not want a roommate; how the suicide rate among teenagers is high, etc.  They may feel bad because they are not affirmed on social media, or because the employment opportunities are not as great now as they were for their parents.  The teacher thought that the themes of forgiveness in II Corinthians could address those problems: the lack of interpersonal skills and skills at conflict resolution, and the dearth of hope among young people.  At the same time, he acknowledged that North American Christianity lacks the love and the hospitality that Christianity had in antiquity.  He referred to his late father’s statement that it will take another Great Depression before North American Christianity gets back on track.  The father remembered his time growing up during the Depression as a time when Christians pulled together and helped others.

I would like to relay how the teacher said that certain elements in II Corinthians 5 relate to forgiveness.  In II Corinthians 5, Paul talks about groaning in his present body and his hope of being absent from the body and present with the Lord.  He said that we walk by faith and not by sight.  Paul affirmed that when Christ died, all died, and now Christians do not judge others by a human point of view.  Paul also stated that Christians are God’s ambassadors of reconciliation.

What does this have to do with forgiveness, according to the teacher?  For one, Paul was affirming a hope that was larger than himself, the Corinthian community, and the problems that were between them.  As the teacher said, we can endure all sorts of suffering if we know that the suffering will come to an end.  Second, the teacher said that, when Paul said that all died, he meant that Christ died for all.  We can see each person as one for whom Christ died.  Calvinists would probably interpret that differently, with their belief in limited atonement.  Third, Paul’s statement that we walk by faith and not by sight relates, not only to the eschatological hope that Christians have, but also to their belief that God is at work in the lives of all.  We can look at the worst stinker, who said something hurtful to us, and believe that he or she is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, either a brother or sister in Christ or a potential brother or sister in Christ.  (I don’t think that the teacher is a universalist, though he said that he is intrigued by Origen.)  We need God’s forgiveness on our best and our worst days.  The teacher also shared that, after his children were baptized, they were not much different from how they were before, but he walks by faith, not by sight: he believes that the waters of baptism transformed his children.

A lot of this can be unpacked or clarified, but let’s move on to the next item.

D.  The “Word of Faith” church had a guest speaker, since the pastor was away at a prophetic conference.  The guest speaker himself is a pastor, but of a church in another state (Colorado, I think).  The theme recently has been giving.  The speaker’s text was John 6, in which Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes.

The main point of the sermon, of course, was that the boy who brought his lunch was blessed to be part of this miracle, and we can be blessed when we give to God.  There were two parts of the sermon that stood out to me, though.

First, John 6:6 says that Jesus was asking his disciples how they could feed the multitude to test them, for Jesus already knew what he was about to do.  The speaker referred to a belief among some Christians that God does not test people, for testing people implies law, whereas Christians are under grace.  The speaker disagreed with this view.  Yet, he said that God does not test people to see if they will pass or fail.  We fail a lot, yet God is still faithful.  Rather, Jesus was testing his disciples to set the stage for something great that he was about to do.

Second, John 6:11 states that, before multiplying the loaves, Jesus gave thanks.  Should we give thanks to God in faith that God will do something?  What if God does not do what we are thanking God in advance for?  The speaker said that we can give thanks that God will handle the situation, even if it is not the way that we want.  That does not entirely sound “Word-of-Faith”-ish.  It sounds more like the prayer of the Lutheran pastor, in which he trusts God with people’s health problems, as God does what God thinks is best.

Anyway, I’ll leave the comments on in case anyone wants to add some insights.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Church. Bookmark the permalink.