Jesus, Our Sabbath Freedom

moment-of-peace

We’ve been looking at Jesus fulfilling the hope promised by the Sabbath, and, in Leviticus 25, we can read about both the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee. These were times to withdraw from labor, to forgive debts, and to give rest to the land. Furthermore, it was a time of freedom, a time when slaves would be released from their indentured labors just as God had freed His people from the shackles of Egypt.

Freedom by Grace

In His grace, God provided time for His people to retreat from the cares and stresses of this world, but this was a grace paired with faith. In this grace and faith, those who owned indentured servants were to release them form their labor. It was a time of forgiveness and freedom. Debts were forgiven, and chains of servitude were released, giving those indentured individuals a new lot in life filled with new hope and new responsibilities.

This was an act of grace. It was to teach the people about God’s grace — both as givers of grace and receivers of grace. This would be a life-changing moment, released from the debts that had accumulated during your life. It is a great act of forgiveness, and Christ offers us an even greater forgiveness in the redemption He provides us through His sacrifice.

Freedom by Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be difficult. We may have a hard time forgiving someone who lied to us, who hurt us in any way — especially if that person is someone we care deeply about. Now imagine the love Christ has for us, the harm we inflict upon Him through sin, and the great debt we have built up with our sins. The beginning of Galatians 4 tells us we were once slaves held down by chains of unrighteousness, but now Christ has freed us and made us sons of God.

Christ releases us from the debts of sin. He frees us from our slavery to unrighteousness. He gives us peace from the turmoil of this world. He has lifted us from the status of slave to being members of God’s family. This is grace that is greater than all our sins, and it is a grace that no power in this world or the next can stop.

Freedom for All

The freedoms provided in the Sabbath system were worldly freedoms. It was a forgiveness of physical debts. Jesus promises something greater than this world. He provides a freedom that goes beyond this world and gives us a home with Him in the next. He releases us from chains that Satan would put around us, and it is a release none but Him can provide. He is our redemption. He is our forgiveness. He is our hope. He is our Sabbath Freedom.

lesson by Alan Miller

Jesus, Our Sabbath

moment-of-peace

In Exodus 20:8, God commands His people:

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. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

This would serve to establish an entire system of observances built around the idea of Sabbath.

The Sabbath Cycle

The original Hebrew word Shabbat means to “cease from labor.” The idea is that you withdraw from the labors and distractions of this world to focus entirely on family and God when observing Shabbat. It is a reminder that God is the source of all blessings and life, and that He is the standard by which we measure what really matters as reflected in the kiddush and havdalah blessings that open and close Shabbat observance.

As outlined in Leviticus 25, every seventh year was a year of Sabbath. This is called shmita, meaning “release”. This year of release was a time of healing and restoration. The land was to rest and heal from cultivation and debts were to be released. It was also a time of faith, for anyone observing shmita would have to have faith that God would care for them and their families during this time when they forgave debts and rested the land.

The final component of the Sabbath system is also in Leviticus 25. This is Jubilee, also called yovel, or “a trumpet blast of liberty”. Every seven shmitas, Jubilee would be announced by the blowing of a shofur — a trumpet fashioned from a ram’s horn. The year of Jubilee was more than an extra Sabbath year to conclude the cycle; Jubilee included everything associated with the Sabbath year as well as returning all land property to its original owners or families and releasing all indentured servants from labor.

Sabbath Themes

Several themes repeat through the Sabbath system, themes that were meant to remind the children of Israel all their God had done for them in their release from Egypt and their inheritance of the Promised Land.

  • Freedom. People were to free themselves from worldly labors. The land would be freed from cultivation. People would be freed from debts, and servants freed from their bondage.
  • Redemption. With freedom came redemption, extending to both people and property. These were restored back to their original places, released from any debts they might have previously been held under.
  • Healing. The forgiveness of debts allowed for the unity of God’s people to heal, and abstinence from labor and agriculture allowed both people and the land to heal from the burdens of perpetual labor.

Jesus addresses these themes when He reads the prophecy of Isaiah in Luke 4:16. He reads about liberty, about healing, and about redemption. He is reading about the Messianic Jubilee, and then He closes the scroll and says He is there to fulfill those verses. Jesus is our eternal Sabbath. He is our Jubilee, and we find freedom, redemption, and healing in Him.

Our Sabbath Rest

Our biggest association with the Sabbath is rest. Shabbat is often translated as “rest,” but a more accurate translation is “to cease from labor.” The Sabbath is not a time to merely lay back and do nothing. Rather, it is a time to withdraw from the cares and labors of this world to focus on things above. It is a time to spend with family and others of like faith, reading from God’s word, saying prayers, singing hymns, and meditating on God. It is a rest from man’s labors, so God’s people can be about His work instead.

This is Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28 when He says:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

He wants to take us away from the heavy burdens of this word. He still has work for us to do, but His is a gentle work, filled with peace and hope. It is a work that is lighter than the hopeless burdens of this world.

Ephesians 2 explains that we walk by faith in God’s grace, that we do not rely on our earthly works to merit God’s forgiveness, but Paul still says we are created for good works in verse 10. He calls on us to celebrate a Sabbath from this world when we come to Christ. We release the cares and concerns of this world. We release anxiety and ambition, and we look above. Like Jesus says in Matthew chapters 6 and 7, we cease to worry about tomorrow and we look up. We seek God’s kingdom first. We trust in Him, and we will find rest from the cares of this world.

Accepting Christ into our hearts — truly and fully accepting Him — gives us rest. It means we no longer have to worry about or fear the powers of this world, for they cannot take our hope away from us. It means we no longer worry about getting ahead in business or wealth, for those do not affect our hope. We withdraw from the cares, the priorities, the work, and the anxiety of the world, so we can fully focus on God’s work.

Just as the Sabbath system of the Old Testament pointed to something better, so does our peace in Christ. Hebrews 3 and 4 talks about a final rest for God’s people, a better rest than anything we can hope for in this world. There still remains a greater Sabbath for God’s people, and that will come when Christ comes again. The invitation to that rest is always the same. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Let God into your heart, and enter into Christ’s Sabbath. Then set yourself to fulfill the new ministry before you, working  and worshipping side by side with your new family in Him, looking ever toward that final Sabbath.

lesson by Robert Smelser

The True Enemy

lion

We’ve been looking at the spiritual battles we face every day. This battle is not a physical one that involves heavy armor and artillery. Instead it’s a spiritual battle in which we are both participants and battle fields. It’s a continual conflict we must be prepared for and committed to. We defend ourselves with God’s armaments as described in Ephesians 6:10-18, and Paul emphasizes in verse 12 that our adversary is not of this world. Rather, our enemy is the ruler of darkness.

Know Thy Enemy

Our adversary goes by many names in popular culture, but the Bible writers most commonly refer to him as Satan, the Devil. It’s important we get to know our enemy if we’re going to defend against his assaults on our souls. Once we understand his tactics and motivations, then we can truly use God’s guidance to protect our souls from his snares.

John 8:44 uses some strong language to describe Satan. Jesus calls Him a father of lies and a murderer. We see those accusations bear out in places like Genesis 3, where he him deceives Eve and brings death to the Garden. In the recorded temptations of Jesus, Satan tries to twist the truth to appeal to Jesus. He even quotes scripture at the Son of God.

I Peter 5:8 describes the devil like a prowling lion. Satan is on the lookout for any opportunity to destroy our defenses and devour us. Jesus, in the parable of the sower in Mark 4:15, says that the devil can snatch the word from our hearts, and II Corinthians 14 says he disguises himself and his messengers in a form of truth. That is one of our greatest dangers — that we may let him convince us we are doing right when, in fact, we have let him imprison us.

Stay on Target

We often hear Satan referred to as the leader of evil in this world. I would rather contend that he is the evil. He is the entire opposition. He is the target, and we have to stay on target. He has no troops. He has no soldiers. He only has prisoners. Yes, some of the prisoners do not understand their own captivity; some may even feel passionate they are doing the right thing. But that changes nothing. Captives are still captives, and we should never want to attack and destroy captives. We should want to free them.

Romans chapters 5 and 6 speak about our spiritual victory in great detail. In chapter 5:6-10, Paul describes our state as being helpless and at enmity with God, but He still sent His Son to die for us. Chapter 6 then describes that helpless and hostile state as one of imprisonment to sin. Why does God not give up on us? Because He realizes we are not His adversary. Rather, we become prisoners to His adversary when we sin; our attitude toward those who reject Christ should be just as merciful and loving.

God does not create bad people. In the beginning, God created humans and said we were good. We are, as the psalmist writes in Psalm 136:13-16, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God put no more or less care into my creation than He did a terrorist, an abortion doctor, or a junkie. He loves me no more or less than any of those. I am no more or less deserving of God’s grace than any of these. People we define as bad guys were created good. They have simply made bad choices. They are prisoners to sin, as we all have been. They and we need the freedom only Christ can give.

Don’t let secular fights distract you from the target. In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author of that book tells us we need endurance, and that endurance comes from laying aside the weights of this world. Part of that is laying aside the squabbles that distract us from our spiritual battle. When we get caught up in whatever the current hot-button topics are, we give up energy that should otherwise be dedicated to fighting temptation and reaching souls. In fact, Satan could be using some of those very things in your life to distract you from the real battle. We have to stay on target.

Overcoming Through God Alone

To overcome, we have to own our faith. We have to be able to put a complete trust in God because His word is close to our hearts. That’s what Ephesians 6 about when Paul writes that we should be wearing His truth, readiness, righteousness, and salvation. That’s why we carry His truth and faith to defend ourselves. It’s so we keep God ever close to our hearts and our minds. It’s so we are ever doing His work and focusing on His word. It is that closeness with God that will let us overcome.

In II Corinthians 10, Paul returns to this idea of spiritual warfare, and verse 3 reminds us that, though we are in combat, our conduct should be always spiritual. Our weapons are only powerful through God, and we must hold every thought in captivity lest they be taken captive by the devil. But the good news is this: Satan flees in the face of resistance. James 4:7 simply says to resist the devil, and he will flee from you. It’s that simple.

God has already won. We have but to endure until our trials are over and we can share His victory. We have to know God’s word, and wear our faith, hope, and love like an armor. God can protect us, but He has to be in our hearts and minds, in our hands and on our lips. We have to be busy with His work, and then we will have no time or opportunity for Satan to deceive and imprison us. Then we should be about the business of freeing other captives and bringing more souls to Christ. The war is already won, but there are many victories to be had. There are many captives to free. We can do it because our God is with us.