Lessons From the Heathen

Have you ever heard the story of Jonah? Probably. Have you ever read the story of Jonah?

Look it up, it’s a pretty short book.

So there’s this guy named Jonah, God meets him and goes ‘I want you to go to Nineveh and give them my message.’

And Jonah runs the other way.

He goes to Joppa and gets on a boat bound for Tarshish. I don’t know if you know anything about middle-eastern geography (I wasn’t always too clear) but Tarshish was basically on the other side of Jonah’s known world from Nineveh, on the other end of the ocean. And bear in mind, this isn’t a Sunday-afternoon drive or a day-cruise or an airplane trip over the ocean, this is a walk–or a pony-ride–and a sailboat trip across the ocean in the opposite direction away from home. When was the last time you made a trip like that to avoid something God told you to do?

jonah_map

The post I borrowed this picture from is title ‘Jonah – The Reluctant Prophet’ But reluctant? I’m reluctant and I stay home. Jonah took a cruise to Tarshish. And why? 

 

We’ll get to that.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  – Jonah 1:1-3

He fled to Tarshish, and it seems to me that he left home with the place in mind; this was a pre-meditated venture, not some whim that he decided on when he got to port and found the closest ship to him. He was thinking, ‘What’s the furthest place I can get from Nineveh?’

But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.

Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.[a] But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

Boom, hurricane. Maybe thunder, lightning, mountainous waves, fury. I’m just guessing here, but a ship’s crew willing to go on a voyage this far, was probably well-seasoned. They were ready for the perils of a trip across the open ocean, and they were getting scared.

And these guys are heathens. They worship man-imagined gods, they all have their own set, and none of them are listening. And where’s Jonah? He’s sleeping in the hold. Sleeping. He’s running away from God’s command and he’s sleeping in the bottom of the boat in the middle of a hurricane. The captain goes down and wakes him up, probably angry and definitely scared because none of the other gods are answering, he demands that Jonah call on his god to try and save them.

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.

So they cast lots. They’re heathens, of course they do, right? Let me ask you something; are you superstitious? They believe in that stuff. But something that has really been catching my attention is God answers their heathenish culture. As with Abraham coming out of a culture where child sacrifice was normal, it wasn’t an unusual request for Abraham to hear from God, but it wasn’t just about God testing Abraham’s faith, it was about God meeting Abraham in his heathen culture and turning it inside out because here is a God who provides instead of demands.

God ticks Jonah’s lot. And those heathen sailors immediately demand to know what he did that they are now suffering a storm for. Who are you?

10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.

12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

They knew he was running from God, I can just hear their exasperated question, ‘WHY did you do that? Are you crazy? Don’t you know you can’t run away from a god?’ 

And Jonah… he’s just done. And he’s so dramatic; ‘It’s all my fault,’ he says, ‘Just throw me into the ocean.’ The sailors are a little more realistic, but it’s no avail.

 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

And you know something? I’m really amazed by these guys. Not like it’s really surprising but kind of just an ‘Oh yeah that really makes sense,’ kind of moment. Because these guys are heathens, they’ve each got their own set of gods that they probably carry in their pocket; god is not a foreign idea to them, so they have no problem praying to his God. But as soon as Jonah went overboard the storm stopped. Result. And their fear goes viral because here is a God more powerful and more real than any they’ve yet seen. And here’s the thing: Jonah wasn’t there to see this. The only way we know what happens is that as soon as the boat hit the Tarshish port these guys were talking to everyone in the local pub about what had happened to them out there. Or maybe they turned around an went back to Joppa and spread the story there, seeing as they had thrown much of their cargo overboard anyway. But they were changed, and even though they only saw Jonah’s God from their heathen culture, He suddenly became a reality to them, and I’ll bet you they wanted to find out all they could about this God who had spared them.

So Jonah goes into the water, and he sinks down into the depths. Maybe he’s almost out of breath when the fish comes, he’s probably starting to panic and think ‘Well maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…’ 

17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

[2] 1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said:

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction,
And He answered me.

“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
For You cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the floods surrounded me;
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;
The deep closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;
Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord, my God.

“When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.

“Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord.”

10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

He’s repentant–that is, he’s changed his mind. And why? Because he saw God’s mercy for him in the midst of his disobedience. He knew he was done for–but God saved him by a fish. And there’s something worth noting in the last few lines of his prayer. He says, ‘Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” He saw first-hand the worthlessness of the heathen gods displayed before him, there wasn’t a one that could calm his God’s tempest. He’s gotten a fresh revelation of the raw awesome power and the Mercy of his God, and after three days in the belly of the fish he’s ready to do what God asked.

[3] 1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey[a] in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Now, we’re going to get to this real quick but Jonah knows that the Ninevites are bad people; they have a reputation, and the fact that they aren’t Jews but they’re Assyrians (and Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, what’s more) is already a tick against them because hey, these are gentiles. So Jonah is probably coming into this city expectant. He’s probably heard stories from his childhood about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, considering how such stories had always been passed down through the generations. Maybe he was imagining the fire and brimstone already because hey, these guys are heathens and Jonah wants retribution because he’s a faithful Israelite.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

There’s a common theme you can begin to see in the story of Jonah; heathens believing God and repenting–changing their minds and their ways.

And growing up in a performance-based church my temptation was always to say ‘Well, this is what God responded to, so this is what I have to do to get God to respond to me,’ but you have got to realize again that these people were heathen. If they believed in any god it was a radically different god than Jonah’s God, and even if they didn’t believe in any gods, the widely available examples were still radically different. So they responded in a way that was familiar to them culturally. 

And God responded. He didn’t respond because they fasted, sat in ashes and dressed up in old potato bags. He didn’t respond because they had the idea to make the animals fast with them. He responded because he was longing to respond to them already. He sent Jonah to point to their inherent evil problem not because he wanted to destroy them–they were already destroying themselves inevitably–but because he was longing to redeem their city and be their God and Father them.

And Jonah got mad. He gave God an ‘I told you so!’ speech, and we see the real motivation behind him fleeing:

[4] 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

And still as dramatic as ever; ‘it is better for me to die than to live!’ But it just blows me away the knowledge Jonah had of the immensity of God’s goodness! Jonah’s God was so good, and Jonah inversely was so intent on retribution on Nineveh…

But he knew that this message of wrath was going to transform into a message of mercy. He knew a slow-to-anger God wasn’t going to destroy a city which repented; he knew his God was abounding in loving kindness and he knew he was going to have to be that guy, that Israelite who screwed up his nation’s chance at getting their enemy’s capitol burned to a crisp with Sodom-and-Gomorrah-reminiscent retribution. And he was angry about it.

But God, in his infinite merciful loving kindness and endless patience… Oh I love that guy.

Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Does this make sense, Jonah? You know this is who I Am. So God creates another scenario:

So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant[a] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah goes outside the city–because, you know. Maybe it’s fake. Maybe the repentance won’t last and God will destroy the whole place after all. He builds himself a shelter somewhere just far enough east to keep his toe-hair from being singed but still close enough to toast his gelatin-free marsh-mellows and he waits. And God sweetens the deal with a plant that grows up over his shelter and shades him from the growing sun.

But the next day God sent a worm, it kills the plant. To top it off, the wind starts to blow, and this isn’t a cool, playful breeze, this is a harsh–vehement even–east wind blowing across miles of desert heating up with the morning sun.

And I just want to say go home, Jonah. Just go home.

But he doesn’t, he gets angry again–again to the point of suicide. And he’s just burning up with rage.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

This is one of those stories where the moral is pretty clear, but it blows me away because we’ve all heard the story but have we ever really understood what it meant? I never did.

Here’s Jonah. First he’s running because he doesn’t want to go to Nineveh to begin with. And he has his repentant moment in the fish but he still came out hungry for retribution, and bitter because he knows he’s going to have to go deliver this message and God is probably going to have mercy on the people because Jonah’s got enough hostility and wrath behind the message to scare them all straight. And he’s right, God takes pity. Jonah’s still hopeful and he goes outside to wait and watch (because he doesn’t want to get caught up in the brimstone and maybe God’s holding back because he’s still in the city). But God has a plant up his sleeve and he actually gets Jonah deliberately angry to give Jonah His perspective on Nineveh:

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”

Jonah knew it wasn’t just to destroy that plant, there was nothing that plant had done to deserve being destroyed. But in His immense mercy and love and compassion God looked far beyond what was ‘just’ for the people of Nineveh – He knew they didn’t know any better; they didn’t even know their left hand from their right. A hundred and twenty thousand people, plus livestock.

…gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

One who relents from doing harm.

And the result? An entire city turned to the mercy of the true God, and not only a city,  but the capitol of an entire nation. 120,000 people testifying in the heart of a heathen nation of the mercy of the God of Heaven? Culture-shaking. Gracious and merciful. Slow to anger. Abundant in lovingkindness. One who relents from doing harm.

There’s More Beyond the Red Sea

I’ve met the other side of the ditch.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, and I’ve gotta say I’ve wandered in circles in a wilderness for a while all the while missing–overlooking–the feast-laden table within stepping-distance. The truth is, I’ve spent so much time fighting and disagreeing with anything and anyone that said grace wasn’t enough that I’ve missed discipleship.

Now don’t get me wrong; I live for passages like Titus 3:3-7. But I’m not going to skip over verses 1,2, 7 and 8. That being said, I think I just realized the first half of Titus 3 sums everything up really well:

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.  -Titus 3:1-8

It seems so fitting now, the New King James gives this title to this passage: “Graces of the Heirs of Grace”

I’ve never had anything against doing things, I’ve always believed that good works are good! Grace taught me that I can’t earn salvation, good standing or the love of God by trying to be perfect, or by  doing good things, but grace isn’t for me to do whatever I want. This is all recap for me, but a reality I’ve merely been coasting with for months; the thing is, the Israelites didn’t stay in the desert after they were delivered from Egypt and crossed the Red Sea.

Well okay, I guess they did–for forty years!

I didn’t learn this on my own, and I haven’t arrived yet. It took a visit from someone who I used to view as a fatherly figure to point me in the right direction.

Here’s the thing. Israel came out of Egypt, they crossed through the Red Sea, watched Pharaoh’s entire army drown in the ocean. Egypt represents sin, the Red Sea represents baptism – the Israelite’s journey is a picture of our journey from salvation onward. We were ‘once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ad hating one another,’ as Paul wrote to Titus; and then grace:

“But when the kindness and the love of god our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (verses 4-7)

Boom. But wait.

The Israelites became heirs of Canaan, the land God promised them. But they ended up spending 40 years wandering around the desert right outside of their inheritance. Why? Because grace is just the beginning of the story; Israel’s celebration of their final salvation and safety on the far banks of the red sea were still a desert road and a mountain of covenant away from where God wanted to take them. And if they had stayed there reveling in their new freedom, they all would’ve died. Let this sink in: the identity Jesus has for me is way bigger than grace.

I said the identity Jesus has for me is way bigger than grace!

And so is the identity He has for you. Because after salvation comes discipleship, and after discipleship comes stewardship and kingdom, and there couldn’t be kingdom till the other side of the desert because those grasshoppers couldn’t even see that the land was already theirs.

So, do I believe greasy grace is real now? Actually, no. But I believe coasting on an incomplete identity is what’s really behind it. The grace-side of the ditch is still an identity issue; we absolutely have to be grounded in an identity of grace, but we also have to know that on the road ahead there is 1) a covenant (mount Sinai) and 2) an inheritance (the promised land) that only a faithful people will enter into.

Jesus, thank-you for Your love and grace; I celebrate this as I come back again to the certain substance of You in this wilderness place. Lead me forward in Your ways and continue to show me my identity in You beyond the Red Sea. I want to be faithful to the work You began in me, that I wouldn’t miss out on all the plans you have for me.

Jesus Christ, Our Sabbath Rest

Some time back now, I wrote an article on the Sabbath from my less-than-new covenant viewpoints of the time. I unfortunately removed that article not long ago, and no longer have it to reference to. However, I’m turning a new page in my journey tonight; this is how I came to believe that the Sabbath means something much, much greater than I ever imagined before.

It all began when somebody read somebody else’s book and told somebody else about what they had read. As it happened, the last somebody in that chain of events happened to be my fiance. In passing one afternoon she happened to mention what she had heard–essentially that since we can find rest in Jesus, Sabbath as a day is irrelevant now. At least, that is the gist of it as well as I can remember now. I utterly rejected it.

You should understand that I hadn’t begun to study new covenant at that point–hadn’t even begun to think that there could be something amiss in my view of things. It was a predictably defensive, Adventist response that I gave to this new idea about my precious Sabbath. Even after beginning to understand the new covenant more, and even after really starting to get a revelation of grace, I was still in a fog about the Sabbath. But one night it just hit me like a hundred-pound hammer.

Sabbath started after creation, in Genesis 2:3; God looked at everything he had created, saw that it was fantabulous, and sat down to take a commemorative breather (as if God ever needed a breather), and he declared the day holy. But actually, we don’t see this day called ‘Sabbath’, (or shabbath in the original Hebrew) until Exodus 16:23-29. And what was going on here you ask? The Israelites were complaining again; they didn’t have anything to eat. So God sent them quail, and manna from Heaven. For five days they gathered only what they could eat in a day–if they kept it over, maggots got into it. But on the sixth day Moses commanded them to gather twice as much manna, enough to last two days. When the people asked what this meant, he gave them a command from the Lord: “Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord.” (Exodus 16:23) They ate what they wanted on the sixth day and saved the rest over for the Sabbath, and what they saved on the sixth day didn’t spoil. On the seventh day, no manna came.

The Israelites were in a perfect position to learn that God’s goodness is new every morning, as new as the manna. But some went out on the Sabbath to collect more anyway, and God said,

“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days.” (Exodus 16:28-29)

God said it himself, the Sabbath was a gift to the Israelites. Why? So that they could rest from their work. So that they could chill out, munch on some day-old manna and just rest in the goodness of God.

After this, the next mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus 20:8-11 when God includes it in the ten commandments. Further instruction is found later along, and not only does God give a weekly Sabbath, but others as well; for instance, every seventh year they were to live off the produce they had stored up, leaving their fields unplanted, so that the land itself could have a Sabbath rest for a year. Sabbath in the old covenant is pretty in-depth, but I’m not going to cover it too thoroughly.

One point, however, is important. The next mention of the Sabbath in Exodus after the giving of the ten commandments comes in Exodus 31. Moses was still on the mountain, and God was settling the terms of the old covenant with him. God had just finished giving him all the instruction to build the earthly tabernacle–the place where the old covenant priesthood would minister. Then God seals the deal with final instruction about the Sabbath. Let’s take a look at that:

 

12 The Lord then gave these instructions to Moses: 13 “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. 14 You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. 15 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. 16 The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. 17 It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’”

18 When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God.

                       – Exodus 31:12-18

The Sabbath was not just another commandment; it was central to the old covenant. And it was a serious deal; anyone working on the Sabbath got the death penalty, and in Numbers 15:32-36 we find the first account of someone being stoned for breaking the Sabbath–by gathering sticks. But let’s not leave off Exodus just yet.

In verses 13, 16 and 17 of the above passage, God explains to Moses that the Sabbath is the sign of the old covenant, and that it is an obligation for all time. And at the end of 17 he throws in another reminder about what the Sabbath is all about – rest and refreshment. Then in verse 18 he wrapped it up and handed the terms of the covenant–the stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them–over to Moses.

It is important to remember (though not as relevant to this post) that the ten commandments were the terms of the old covenant, therefore when the old covenant was done away with, the ten commandments were too, as part of this package deal that God just handed over to Moses at the end of Exodus 31.

Let’s jump for a moment over to Colossians 2:11-17. We’re going to get back to Exodus in a little while, but first let’s take a look at some new-covenant teaching, courtesy of Paul:

11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

               – Colossians 2:11-17

First, Paul recaps what happened when the Colossians accepted Christ and began living under the new covenant; they came to Christ, he cut away their sinful nature in a spiritual act of circumcision (the symbol of this is baptism rather than physical circumcision, as Paul goes on the explain in verse 12 and 13). Then in verse 14 he explains that Christ canceled the record of the charges against us (more on this in future posts) and nailed it to the cross. But the part that is most important for the moment is verses 16 and 17. Paul goes on to say that “these rules (the holy days, new moon ceremonies and Sabbaths) are only shadows of the reality yet to come.” And what is that reality? Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that this passage is the last time the Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible–by pointing toward Jesus as the real Sabbath.

Everything in the old covenant was a shadow of a better counterpart in the new covenant (Hebrews 9 and 10:1-18). The earthly tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build back in Exodus was just a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary. The offerings the priests ministered with were only shadows of Christ’s once-for-all offering. And the feasts, holidays and Sabbath days were a shadow of Jesus himself.

Let’s just spend a moment to recap. The Sabbath was given by God so that the Israelites would have assurance of rest from their work–rest assured. It was a symbol of rest from the very beginning when God rested from his work of creation (Genesis 2:3) and God reminded the Israelites that he gave them the Sabbath day so that they could rest in his provision and goodness (Exodus 16:28-29). The Sabbath was the sign of the old covenant, and obligatory for anyone under the covenant as long as the covenant was in effect; anyone breaking the covenant died.

But if Christ is the true Sabbath, the Sabbath which the old covenant Sabbath was just a shadow of, how does it fit? This is what hit home for me only just recently:

The Sabbath was God’s assurance to the Israelites that they would always have rest from their labor. And now that Jesus Christ has made his once-for-all sacrifice for sin, he is the very embodiment of eternal rest from our labor of earning God’s favor through the work of keeping the law. Christ made it possible for us to rest from our work of earning salvation by offering salvation as a free gift–forever! Now we can rest in God’s goodness and providence forever, trusting to him to take care of our every need, the same way he gave the Israelites manna, new every morning! What an incredible picture of Grace! Jesus himself invites us into his rest:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

                           – Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus was essentially saying, “Come to me all you who are tired out and trying to live up to the perfect requirements of the law, and I’ll give you a new burden–resting your souls in my teaching, humility and gentle heart. It’s an easy burden! All you have to do is accept it; I’ll do the rest!”

And if we don’t accept this rest? The penalty for disregarding the Sabbath was severe–death! How much more the penalty for disregarding Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, the provider of our ultimate rest from the labor of the old system of law!

Finally, to close:

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,

“In my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”

even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts.”

            – Hebrews 4:1-7

God’s rest is still available in Jesus for you and me–today! And by resting after his work of creation, God assures us that he has the capacity to rest. There is a place of rest in Him, a place planned for us since the beginning of the world. That place of Sabbath rest is found in Jesus. So in the words of King David, “today when you hear his voice,” beckoning you into his eternal rest, “don’t harden your hearts.”

P.S.: Yes, the view that the mark of the beast is Sunday worship and that the remnant church is marked by Saturday worship is blown right out of the water if Jesus is the new-covenant Sabbath.

That’s fine by me 😉