Sunday, May 09, 2010

True Meaning of Sabbath (Jn. 5:17-18)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 2 May 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 5:17-18

The Jews found three faults with Jesus: He broke the Sabbath, He called God His Father, and equated Himself with God. To them, He was guilty of blasphemy, He had trampled the Jewish tradition and despised the law of Moses.

The first mistake of the Jews was to assume the Son of God was a normal human being. The second was to assume the position of a judge in place of God. This is what religious leaders often do. In order to judge another person, they have absolutised themselves and have made themselves like God. They do not recognise that they are mere human beings. They hated Jesuss and wanted to kill Him.

People go against those they hate in three ways, i.e. using political power, judicial power and religious power. The strongest is religious power. Our fear towards others are dependent on the powers they have. Generally people will withdraw if they are weaker. Fervency for truth can give tremendous courage for one to stand up. Hence if faith is not based on truth revealed by God, religious zeal can be the most horrifying. In trying to defend religious zeal or supervision, religious people are the most daring murderers as they act based on conviction.

Jesus wanted to use the situation to correct the Jews’ wrong understanding of the Sabbath. They believed that Sabbath means God has stopped working. For thousands of years, they never understand what Sabbath truly means. They think it means to idle for 24 hours. Jesus answered, “My Father is always at work to this day, so I too, am working.” When religion makes relative things absolute, the wrong concepts will take over the place of the truth of God. In wrong concepts we will bind ourselves in a state where we cannot accept the truth. This is the situation of the Jews when Jesus was with them. Jesus knew He would eventually be killed by the Jews. He showed the hypocricy of the Jews who would rescue their camel which fell into the pit on Sabbath day instead of waiting another day.

What works did God do after the Sabbath day? Did not the Bible say God rested on the Sabbath? On the seventh day, God stopped His work of creation. But He began His work of sustainance and providence. He also began His work of salvation when men fell into sin to restore men into a right relationship with Himself. Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath? Because the person needed help. Sabbath is about recovery and resurrection.

True Sabbath is reconciliation with God, the rest that comes from being at peace with God. So Sabbath is not resting from all work. God said to the Israelites, “For 40 years they tempted Me, so I swear, they will never enter My rest.” It means they will never enjoy the peace with God. The true Sabbath is salvation where we are made right to be at peace with God once more. Isaiah said God said the Israelites did not understand the Sabbath, but arrogantly think they are better than anybody else.

God sent His Son who healed on Sabbath day, to show His work of salvation, His reconcilitation to bring His creation into the true Sabbath. The person was sick 38 years so he had observed Sabbath ritually but never had rest. The true Sabbath concept is not literal concept of rest which binds the Jews. It is the concept that will liberate people from bondage.

Jesus did not retreat His words, but spoke even more boldly. He said the Son did what the Father has asked Him to do. He reminded the Jews that they need to know the source of the command before judging. Jesus said the Son sees what the Father does and does what the Father does, and the Father will show Him even greater things. The Jews were still hardened. What does the “greater things” refer to? It refers to Christ’s power to judge the world. This is the task that not one of the descendant of Adam can do. God give greater tasks to Jesus than anyone in the history of mankind.

Having blaming Jesus for what He did on that Sabbath day, what would the Jews think if He did greater things? We need to understand God’s revelation to us in Christ. The Father judges nobody but entrusts all judgement to the Son. This is a mystery. The power to judge is linked with the resurrection. Why?

To be continued…


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