Leading Question: How can Jesus help us see how an Old Testament Sabbath that was precious to Him, can also be precious to us today?
Let’s consider important questions about the Sabbath from three perspectives, 1) that of the Old Testament; 2) that of Jesus’ practice and teaching; 3) that of the needs of a modern era.
- Old Testament passages:Creation: Genesis 2:2-3 and Exod 20:8-11: A day that God blessed and made holy as a symbol of his creative powerRedemption: Deut. 5:12-15: A day that God gave his people as a symbol of redemption.
Service: Isaiah 58: The “fast” that is pleasing to God is one that meets the needs of others. When kept in the right way, the Sabbath is a delight.
- New Testament passages:Healing. The New Testament presses the question of how to keep the Sabbath, but never quarrels over the fact of the Sabbath. And here Jesus’ teachings and actions are a remarkable echo of Isaiah 58, the “fast” that loosens the bonds and lets the oppressed go free. The Gospels record five healing miracles that Jesus deliberately performed on the Sabbath: The withered hand: Matt.12:9-14//Mark 3:1-6//Luke 6:6-11; the stooped back: Luke 13:10-17; dropsy: Luke 14:1-6; the paralytic at the pool: John 5; the man born blind: John 9. See John Brunt, A Day for Healing (Review and Herald, 1981). We have much to learn from that cluster of miracles.Breaking the law to keep the Sabbath. Matthew 12:1-7 focuses on the issue of human need over against divinely-sanctioned laws.
Lord of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27-28 adds a striking comment to the harvest incident also recorded in Matthew 12. Matthew says that the “Son of Man” is Lord of the Sabbath. Mark adds, “the Sabbath was made for humankind.” But tantalizing question is raised by the fact that the Aramaic original translated into Greek and then into English as “son of man” (bar nasha) is the generic word for human being. Could the passage be translated to say that the human is lord of the Sabbath? When humans are truly right with God, can they actually be seen as “lord” of the Sabbath?
- The Sabbath Today: God’s people need to face several important questions about the Sabbath. Three, in particular, are most important:
- Sabbath as test or gift? Because of the importance of the Sabbath in Adventist eschatology, it has often been presented as a test. Can something that is a test ever be experienced as a gift?
- Loss of a tribal community. In the Old Testament and also in Jesus day, the Sabbath was a community-wide event. Now it is a matter for individual commitment. All around us are people who do not keep the Sabbath. What does that mean for those who still value the Sabbath?
- Sacred time has disappeared from our culture. Adventist Sabbath keeping has always taken its cue from Sunday keepers. Now that sacred time has virtually disappeared from western culture, Adventists need explore ways in which Sabbath can become a meaningful day in our experience. We have spent much of our history arguing which day. Now we must turn to questions of how and why.