Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sabbath Revisited

Well, we aren't going to settle the issue of the Sabbath here but some thoughts have been going through my mind for a while now so I thought I would write them down.  First of all let me start with what seems obvious to me, while in some measure nine of the Commandments can be said to be written on the conscience of all men, I can't see how the same can be said of the Sabbath.  I am not aware of any person or culture that instinctively knows they need to take off one day out of seven to rest or to worship God.  It is not a moral issue like murder and theft.  It is one that needs divine revelation because it is not know to us instinctively.

Secondly can we argue that it is to be seen as the eternal law of God?  It didn't exist before creation and it certainly won't exist in eternity where there is only the glory of God and no need for a sun and no concept of days.  In fact, we know that eternity will be one long Sabbath but it will have nothing in common with the one found in Exodus 20.

Perhaps part of confusion lies in looking at the Fourth Commandment as looking backward to a supposed creation ordinance instead of future to a greater fulfillment.  After the six days of creation God ceased from his labors.  Adam and Eve were created to enjoy this rest by enjoying all that he had made for them and to be provided for by trusting in his providence.  They fell by saying that they would instead do things their way and not trust in the Lord.  They were saying that they no longer would be willing to rest in God but would do their own work.

It is interesting that the primary curse put on Adam besides his fallen nature is that all of the sudden he had to labor in a way that was mostly futile, Gen 3:19 "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."   In other words, man in his fallen state has no rest and his labor has no better end than death; it is futile.  Unfallen man had to labor but it would always result in fruit unto the Lord; it was joyful, fulfilling and satisfying.  All that changed at the fall.

And so immediately God starts to make promises that he is going to restore the rest that Adam rejected.  If this is in some way summarizes what happened in Genesis then it seems that the Sabbath laws could be given to look forward instead of backwards.  After all Jesus says more than once that the law and everything in the OT taught of him and can only be fulfilled in him, Mat 5:17-18  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."  

The theme of a coming rest is seen throughout the Bible.  In Matthew 11 he alludes to it pretty clearly, Mat 11:28  "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  Notice that this rest doesn't mean that there won't be plenty to do.  We still are under a yoke and have a burden but his service is joyful and fulfilling and accomplished God's glory and our good.  

If we read through Hebrews 4 the writer makes is quite clear that there is a rest waiting for all who come by faith to the cross of Christ.  He compares it to the rest of God at creation.  So in the first creation God did a "good" work that provided a good rest for man but he sinned it away and has been feverishly working ever since to correct but to no avail because sinful man can't fix the problem by his own works.  In Christ, God has done another work, a perfect and final work and all who enter into this rest will have rest for their souls and can never be cast out as our first parents were.  

The Sabbath that the Bible always looked forward to and the only one we need to be concerned about is the rest through faith in the finished work of Christ.  The Sabbath as found in Exodus 20 was never meant to be some eternal binding principle but looked forward to the cross and it is in obedience to the gospel that we keep "Sabbath" as NT Christians.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leprosy and Sin

Leprosy seems to be used in the Bible in a unique sense as an illustration of sin.  For one thing it is not said to be "healed" by Jesus but "cleansed".  I think the reason is because, like sin, the effect of leprosy seems to always be that it separated one from the covenant blessings and in particular it kept them from the temple and God's people so that they were ceremonially unclean and so unable to serve and worship God.  Whether it was Hansen's Disease or not and therefore deadly or some kind of contagious rash has been debated.  One reason is because we don't read of people dying from it and needing healing but declared unclean and needing cleansing.  In this sense it depicts one aspect of sin.  It contaminates everything it touches and ruins one's ability to serve the Lord.

It is interesting to compare some parallels between sin and Hansen's Disease which is what we usually think of when we think of leprosy.  Scientists have come to realize that the disease doesn't harm by causing the extremities to rot but that it causes numbness in the extremities and this in turn causes the real harm of leprosy.

In one case the man who is credited with understanding how leprosy works relates an instance which helped him understand leprosy.  He was trying to turn a key in an old rusty lock and was unable to do so.  Along came a boy of about ten he knew who was afflicted with leprosy and he asked if he could try.  To his surprise the boy instantly turned the key and opened the lock.  Upon further examination he realized that in the process of turning the key he had ripped open his finger all the way down to the bone but was unaware of it because his leprosy had destroyed his ability to feel any sensation.  Another account tells of a man who had gone blind due to leprosy.  For years he would wash his face with a washcloth dipped in water but didn't realize that the water was scalding hot.  So eventually it destroyed his eyesight.  One might step on a nail but because he feels no pain doesn't treat the wound and so it becomes infected and instead of healing it just gets worse and worse, the whole foot starts to rot and death can only be the eventual result.

It isn't hard to connect the dots from how leprosy works to one way that sin can destroy us.  Sin's primary side effect is for us to love self above all else including God.  Even the most mature saint battles constantly to put the honor of Christ first in everything he does and decision he makes.  Like leprosy, sin or pride gets in the way of properly evaluating things we come into contact with.  Much like the drug addict or alcoholic who is so infatuated with the physical pleasure of the drug or drink that he becomes insensitive to what it is slowly doing to his body and his life.

I think this can be applied to countless ways sin eats away at our lives.  Here is a spouse who because of sin becomes insensitive to the needs of his or her spouse.  In his daily interaction with his wife he fails to speak to her and treat her with the love God demands.  Such things cause the relationship to weaken until one day he realizes that his marriage is ruined.  How many then use the excuse of a bad marriage to justify adultery which just makes the whole problem worse.  It has always amazed me how people will allow problems between each other to go on for years causing all kinds of unnecessary friction instead of dealing with them early on before things get intolerable.  But it is pride and laziness and a general lack of any real concern for the Lord and each other that allows us to be numb to what is going on around us.  And then one day we wake up and wonder why our families and friends and the church isn't what it ought to be or at least why we don't seem to be able to get along with people as we ought.

The Bible says that we are to glorify the Lord in everything we do.  In other words, everything we come into contact with is to be used for one purpose, the Lord's service.  Sin's tendency is to cause us to see things as how they immediately benefit me!  And we can rest assured that this will cause us to use things wrongly and be harmed by them instead of using them properly and benefiting from them.

Perhaps how we deal with trials is a good example.  When we understand that they are from the Lord to shape us into useful servants and produce godliness in our lives we can endure them in light of this and by the power of God conquer them.  They become tools for our good.  But when our sinfulness has us consumed with our immediate comfort then we are easily reduced to complaining and bitterness and they render us incapable of victory.  Too much of this kind of spiritual apathy and pretty soon our lives can become open sores where everyone can see the results of sin instead of the image of Christ.