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Lighten Up & Tighten Up

After 14 weeks of seeking to understand what “keeping the Sabbath holy” means, I am still wandering around clumsily. My Sabbath-keeping is very much a work in progress. But, there is progress, and the fog is lifting. I am starting to see this gift, what an “immeasurably, abundantly more than anything we can ask for or even imagine to ask for” kind of gift this is (Eph. 3:17-19).

But so many are pushing back. A favorite refrain is, “But Jesus did away with the Old Testament Law. This is the New Testament; we live in an age of grace.”

To which I might reply, “Who needs grace for a gift?”

What is your image of the OT God versus the NT Jesus? Let me guess… The OT God is angry, vengeful, and all about punishing while the NT Jesus is warm, soft, and fuzzy?

And your image of the OT laws versus this NT grace? The OT is hard, rigid, and black and white while the NT grace means, “Oh, it’s alright. Just do your best, and it will be okay.”

So when it comes to keeping the Sabbath holy, there is no need to get worked up about something as archaic as the Sabbath. We live in an age of grace… Right?

But this is because you are still stuck in the mindset that God is about prohibiting you, not protecting you. You still view the Sabbath commandment as a restriction, not a refuge.

So, you are still a slave to this destructive misconception. Therefore, you are missing perhaps God’s greatest gift for you. Remember that whatever is important to God is only important to him because he knows how important it is for you.

I would like to command you to spend some time with the Lord each morning, first thing, before you get your day started because I know how important it is for you. I would also like to command you to sleep eight hours, exercise regularly, and eat more protein as well as listen to more Earth, Wind & Fire. Why? Not because I get off on commanding people around but because I know how good it will be for you… especially the Earth, Wind & Fire part.

And so it is with your Heavenly Father.

The NT Jesus comes along and starts his ministry by clarifying his teaching mission:

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. (Matt. 5:17)

He then proceeds to fulfill the Sabbath commandment by knocking the props out from under the Pharisees’ legalistic approach to the Sabbath. But if you think Jesus is abolishing the Sabbath… please, think again.

Jesus is saying, “Lighten up, but tighten up: Lighten up, you stiff-necked Legalists, you’ve lost the heart of my Father. But tighten up, you who think you can ignore my commandments. All my laws are about the heart, first, but they are still commandments.”

So if you still think Jesus is the warm and fuzzy God, full of grace and only grace, think about this…

Is it easier to not kill or to not get angry? Easier to not commit adultery or to not lust? Easier to swear an oath or “simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’”? Is it easier to revenge an eye for an eye or to turn the other cheek? To love your neighbor or to love your enemy? To forgive once or to forgive over and over? (see Matt. 5-6).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about “lighten up, but tighten up, too.”

When we see how Jesus plows right over our keenly crafted rationalizations and our carefully arranged loopholes, we might just long for the “rigid” OT approach. At least, then, we could ignore the spirit of the Law as long as we keep the legal part.

But Jesus tells us that ”the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23, italics added). So, no loopholes and no rationalizations.

The truth is this: “keeping the Sabbath holy” is a commandment. The spirit is this: God’s Holy Spirit will show you the heart of this commandment.

When the Pharisees went nuts over Jesus’ disciples picking a few pieces of grain on the Sabbath, he responded with an incredulous,

There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—“I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual”—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.(Matt. 12:7, MSG) 

I can hear Jesus saying, “Lighten up. It’s about your heart, not a ritual, and surely not a restriction. But tighten up because I am still in charge of the Sabbath. And I am commanding you to “rest, relax, remember, refresh, rejuvenate, rejoice… and revere your holy Father.”

Don’t ignore the Sabbath; explore it. See what God has in store for you. Just try it. Start with waking up and saying, “Today is the Sabbath. It’s God’s day.” Just start with that. And maybe, just maybe, put your to-do list aside… just for a day. Try it; it’s not that scary.

Accomplish… nothing. Play and pray more.

After 14 weeks, I’m starting to feel protected from the mayhem of our push-push-push culture. This past Sunday, that urgent voice in my head kept saying, “For crying out loud, do something. Accomplish something!” Instead, I just read some more. I read, walked, thought, and reflected. A special day. His day. A soft, gentle day.

 

About the author

Sam Hunter

Sam Hunter is the host of South Carolina’s Christian radio talk show, 721 Live, which helps people to apply the Bible to their everyday lives. He has produced two DVD curriculum series: Contentment: The Path to Peace and Fear: Do you React in Fear or Respond in Faith? In addition to speaking to men’s groups weekly as the director of 721 Ministries, Sam is invited frequently to speak to groups at churches, retreats, high schools, and colleges.