To Recap the Historical Narrative of that first Easter Weekend, it was on Good Friday evening that a wealthy Jewish Disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin wrapped Jesus’ lifeless body in clean linen and laid him in his own new tomb which he had cut in the rock and rolled a giant stone down a slope to cover the tomb’s entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat and watched with great emotion. Later several Roman soldiers would be posted to lock down and seal the tomb to prevent body theft and resurrection fraud.
As the sun rises on that first Easter Morning, the women emerge from the darkest 30 hours they have ever experienced, an empty void, a Black Sabbath. The gospel writers give us few details about the day between Good Friday Sunset and Easter Sunday Sunrise it is just empty space and dead air. After a Good Friday of despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness and before an Easter Sunday of joy, light, victory and hope, the women and the disciples endured the longest day of their lives. A day of stark emptiness. A day of dead intermission between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. A parenthesis when they reflect on reflect on their cowardice, their denials, and their desperate flights in fear.
For the disciples it would be a dark season of emptiness, wondering what would become of them as they hid from the authorities. The women, not feeling the same guilt as the apostles, would still feel empty, lonely, grieved and without hope. They would spend the better part of these two nights laying on their beds soaking their pillows with tears. And so the story continues in Matthew’s Gospel, “Now after the (Black) Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” And what they would find was completely unexpected…
This week I am going to write a series of four or so blog entries about the Christian Sabbath attempting to explain my personal view. Most of the teaching that I have heard on the Sabbath has been unsatisfying to me because it is either viewed as a policy with a list of joyless regulations or as an old-fashioned obsolete shadow of the past. My view will become clear by the end of the week but there are several systemic underpinnings which need to be established first.
Many are familiar with the Sabbath of Ten Commandments Fame: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” And while few take exception to the other 9 commandments, some declare ambiguity about this fourth commandment.
But the heart of even the Old Testament Sabbath was that the people might sanctify themselves to God in true and spiritual worship, freeing themselves from worldly obligations so they could be free to attend the Holy Assembly. Interestingly, the Law specifically forbade only two activities on the Sabbath: the kindling of fires and the gathering of sticks and while the 10 commandments do prohibit work, no definition of work is ever given. A more regulated view of the Sabbath among Jews began in the Pharisaic Period (536 BC- 70AD) where the oral tradition and interpretation of Old Testament laws became increasingly regimented. The Jewish Mishnah, a later written form of the Pharisaic oral tradition, was keenly aware of the dangers of legalism: “the rules about the sabbath are as mountains hanging by a hair, for the Scripture there on is scanty while the rules we make are many.”
It is this Pharisaic view of the Sabbath command that is at the heart of the problem for Christians today who reject legalism and therefore throw away the legalistic interpretations along with the good command having the proverbial effect of throwing the baby out with the bath water, an expression we use to suggest an avoidable error when something good is eliminated while attempting to dispose of something bad. Sometimes because of an excessive zeal on the Serious side the heart of the command is discarded while retaining the unnecessary rules (aka throwing away the baby but keeping the bath water).
The Pharisees along with today’s overly zealous Biblicists damage the message, heart and intention of the law by a false zeal that cares more for laws than people. This pushes Christ-loving, Bible-appreciating folks to run from the good command because of all of its weighty attachments. We learn a lot about the Sabbath from Jesus’ interactions with the rule-oriented leaders and we find that Jesus’ heart was not to cancel the sabbath but to protect its design from abuse.
Do you love a good controversy? Well, Jesus was the instigator of several controversies during his 3 years of ministry on the earth including the strong disagreement over the people with whom he chose to eat. The Religiously Serious leaders of the day (the people who you may have expected to be closer to Jesus because they were serious about the Bible) grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” One commentator calls this group of religious insiders as “The Disgustingly Healthy” while I would say they were as fit as an Anorexic. These Biblically Serious leaders try to get the disciples to revolt against Jesus with challenges like, “what kind of master do you have that leads you into parties like this? He should be leading you into a holy life.
(of course he was) He is leading you astray into relationships with the wicked.”
Jesus was charged with being a friend of sinners, a glutton and even a drunkard on occasion. To those who espoused teetotalism, Jesus wasn’t outwardly spiritual enough and He was too social to be holy. In the three year ministry of Christ the four gospels record 52 days. In those 52 days of the ministry of Christ he was accused 6 times of being a friend of sinners. That’s almost once per week. The Question for you and for me is…. How often does that happen to you? How often has your compassion for lost people been accused by the Biblically Serious as compromise?
The Pharisees looked at spiritual maturity as a withdrawal from sinful community but Jesus saw maturity as immersion into and redemption of a sinful community. Christ opposes the Pharisees and those like them because they never saw themselves as sick in the first place. When you hang out with sinners, this freedom that Jesus gives will be contested by some religious people.
If a Christian is hanging out with the wrong people for the right reasons, his actions should be celebrated by the church, not condemned. Of course, this is not an endorsement for teens and college students to engage in “missionary dating” because romantic feelings always confuse our motives. Christians should always make sure that in any relationship with those who don’t yet know Christ, that we are the ones who are setting the spiritual temperature of the relationship. We want to be thermostats not thermometers, setting the temperature instead of merely responding to it. But a life that welcomes sinners will be criticized by the self-righteous establishment.
Do we sometimes get caught up in placing our hope in our conservative or liberal way of looking at Theology, the Bible, Politics and the World and miss the main thing? I think sometimes we place our too much faith in our ideological lenses which influence our vision, magnify some issues over others and curb our fears (whatever they may be). We can talk too much about “being conservative” or “being liberal” or even “being moderate” that we sometimes fail to come back to a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. What has me thinking about this today is my study of a righteous and devout man from Jerusalem named Simeon who was waiting for God to console Israel’s sorrows and met a six-week old Baby Jesus, as he was promised, before he died.
Simeon was part of a group of people called “The Quiet in the Land” who had a unique way of viewing the Coming of the Kingdom of God. Unlike the Pharisees (the conservatives or “religious right” of the day) who believed if Israel would only keep the Law perfectly for one day the Kingdom would come. And unlike the Sadducees (the liberals or progressives of the day) who were not so much interested in the kingdom as they were motivated by influencing public policy so that they might retain their wealth and political influence. “The quiet in the land” (neither conservative or liberals) thought of the Kingdom in terms of quiet devotion to God through prayer and patience. Through spiritual eyes they saw the depth of Israel’s lost state and spiritual sadness and knew that only the Lord’s Messiah could bring them deep happiness. Only a small number of these folks are known to us namely: Simeon, Anna, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the baptist, Mary, Joseph and perhaps their families.
So while nearly the whole nation of Israel was unbelieving and even irreligious (much like today) and the religious denominations were either morally self-righteous or politically self-righteous (no wonder they rejected him) there remained a small remnant of sincere followers of Yahweh whose hope was simply placed in the coming of the King to establish His Kingdom. We can learn a lot from Simeon, a righteous and devout man of no reputation, a societal oddball, neither “a liberal” nor “a conservative” but one who was waiting for the consolation of Israel with sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 11:3 strikes my heart today, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Let’s not be led astray from devotion to Christ even by our well-intentioned religious and political orientations.