Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sabbath Day

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Sabbath Day:

Q: Since the Ten Commandments say to “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it Holy,” then why do Christians worship on Sunday instead of Saturday? Are Christians required to refrain from working on certain days in order to honor the Sabbath Day?

When God created the world, He created for six days, and rested on the seventh, which is Saturday. When God gave the Commandments to Moses, He called this day the Sabbath Day and commanded that the people of Israel also rest that day, which included that they were not allowed to work or engage in certain other activities. Instead, it was typical during Old Testament times for the people to gather and hear and be taught about what was written by Moses and the Prophets.

Beyond merely being wise advice for their physical and mental health, this day also had a meaning which pointed forward to events which would occur in the future—those of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus reflects this idea when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28 ESV)

In addition, Jesus was charged with offending against the rules of Sabbath observance because He healed a man on the Sabbath (Mt. 12, Mk. 3, Lk. 13), and He was criticized because His disciples picked grain and ate it while walking through a field on the Sabbath. (Mt. 12, Mk. 2, Lk. 6) In response, Jesus makes clear that His presence has fulfilled the Sabbath, saying, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mt. 12:8 ESV)

In the book of Acts, the first two times that Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection, it is on Sunday, and when the Holy Spirit comes to the Christians on Pentecost, it also occurs on a Sunday. It is later recorded throughout the New Testament that when the Apostles gathered for worship, they did so on Sunday, because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.

However, while the Bible does instruct that Christians are expected to gather for worship (Heb. 10:25), it does not specify that they must do on a certain day. Christians throughout history, though, have overwhelmingly chosen to gather on Sunday, since it is the day on which Jesus’ resurrection, His appearances to the disciples, and Pentecost occurred, as well as the fact that Sunday worship was the example set by Jesus’ Apostles.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul even corrects those who seek to require that Christians continue to observe the Sabbath Day or that they worship on a specific day of the week. He says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col. 2:16-17 ESV)

He also says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom. 14:5 ESV)

Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that for Christians there is not a law regarding they day on which they are to worship, nor is there any longer a requirement that they avoid work or business on a certain day of the week. The book of Hebrews even says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-10 ESV)

Whoever has entered God’s rest through faith in Jesus has already experienced the fulfillment of the Sabbath according to these verses. However, this commandment does still have relevance for Christians. Martin Luther says regarding this commandment, “We should…not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

Even though Christians are not obligated to take a certain day of rest or hold their worship services on a specific day of the week, God does still command that we do not neglect hearing and learning from the Scriptures. Instead, He invites us to read the Bible ourselves as well as gathering with other Christians to hear pastors teach about Jesus and to remember His death and celebrate His resurrection until He comes again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Old Testament Laws

My Article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Old Testament Law:

God’s Laws?

Q: The Bible has many long lists of laws that God gave in the Old Testament. Why don’t Christians still follow all of these rules today?

In the Old Testament, God gives hundreds of laws to the people of Israel after He frees them from slavery in Egypt and as they travel to the land He promised them. During Old Testament times, all of these laws were required to be followed by every Israelite. These Old Testament laws dealt with three areas of Israelite life: Worship, Government, and Morality.

Laws regarding worship, called the Ceremonial Law, include regulations for Israel’s worship of Yahweh. A great number of these laws regard the tabernacle and temple and the ceremonies and sacrifices carried out there. In addition, the Ceremonial Law specified other requirements for the people of Israel to maintain their ritual purity, by forbidding such things as the eating of certain foods such as pork and shellfish, wearing clothing of mixed fabric, trimming of the beard, or being tattooed.

Laws for government, called the Civil Law, include regulations that protect property and provide for the poor and homeless, as well as specifying certain punishments for crimes.

The primary example of the Old Testament’s laws regarding morality is the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20, Deut. 5). The Moral law also includes other laws which serve to clarify or further explain the Ten Commandments.

When considering these laws, it is important to remember that the Bible is not merely a rule-book like the Koran or a collection of wise sayings, such as found in Poor Richard’s Almanac. Instead, the Bible is the true story of God’s actions in history to forgive sins and save humans from eternal punishment by bringing about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

As we read the Gospels, we find that Jesus endorses many of these laws, but he does not follow others, nor does He require His disciples to do so. In later New Testament books, Paul and the other apostles affirm many of these laws to be good but indicate that Christians need not observe others. Understanding how these Biblical laws from the Old Testament apply to Christians requires careful study and prayerful consideration. The most authoritative way to discern this is to pay attention to which laws the New Testament affirms and which it does not.

Because the laws regarding worship and sacrifice were intended to point forward to Jesus, as explained in the book of Hebrews, and signified by the tearing in half of the temple curtain at Jesus’ death (Mt. 27, Mk. 15, Lk. 23), they were only in force until Jesus had died, and do not apply to Christians today. Similarly, the laws forbidding work on the Sabbath day (Saturday) are specifically mentioned by Jesus (Mt. 12, Mk. 2, Lk. 6) and the New Testament authors (Heb. 4:8-12, Col. 2:16-17) as already fulfilled.

Likewise, the laws regarding government were only applicable to the people of Israel and only as long as that nation existed. This includes the punishments specified for certain moral offenses. Even though the Old Testament specified certain punishments, up to and including death, for certain crimes such as adultery, cursing one’s parents, murder, and idolatry, these punishments are not mandatory for people in New Testament times, even though the related moral laws still hold true. Jesus gives evidence of this when He persuades the Pharisees not to execute the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11). He does not condone her action, but He does show forbearance in the carrying out of punishment.

While the laws regarding worship and government were for the people of Israel only, the laws governing morality reflect God’s expectations for all people in all times and places. This is evidenced in the fact that God never criticizes other nations in the Old Testament for what they eat or wear, but He does criticize them for immoral behaviors like adultery and idolatry.

Another test of whether an Old Testament law is still applicable for New Testament people is to consider whether it relates to the Ten Commandments. For example, laws regarding sexual ethics are still applicable because they explain the commandment against adultery, and laws regarding assault are still applicable because they explain the commandment against murder. Laws regarding mixed fabric clothing, pork, and shellfish do not relate to the Ten Commandments, and therefore are not applicable for people today.

Even if we understand these laws correctly, however, it is even more important that we understand that no one can be saved by obeying even these laws, but only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

Readers may submit questions to or to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.