"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sweet Repose

The subject of rest is a favorite for most of us; sweet music to our ears in this helter-skelter world of fast cars, faster people and lightning-fast communications. Yet, call it something else and it becomes the stuff of which religious schisms are made. One of the great controversies splitting Christendom is the nature and observance of the Sabbath. Without further opining, let's examine a couple of Scripture passages that bear directly on this fearsome subject. Below, find the passages in their greater context, so we might interpret them more accurately(This is a lot of Scripture, so if you're familiar with the passages, you can safely skip them).
Heb 3:12-19 (12) Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (13) But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (15) As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." (16) For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (17) And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? (19) So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Heb 4:1-16 (1) Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. (2) For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. (3) For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest,'" although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. (4) For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." (5) And again in this passage he said, "They shall not enter my rest." (6) Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, (7) again he appoints a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (8) For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. (9) So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, (10) for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (11) Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (12) For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (13) And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (14) Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Col 1:24-29 (24) Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, (25) of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, (26) the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. (27) To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (28) Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (29) For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Col 2:1-23 (1) For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, (2) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, (3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (4) I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (5) For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (6) Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, (7) rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (8) See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (9) For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, (10) and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (11) In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, (12) having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (13) And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, (14) by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (15) He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (16) Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (17) These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (18) Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, (19) and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (20) If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-- (21) "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (22) (referring to things that all perish as they are used)--according to human precepts and teachings? (23) These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Some brethren insist these passages give permission to engage in wholesale licentiousness. That, of course, is the grossest perversion of God's Truth. Instead, these passages expand our responsibility for obedience by removing the artificial barrier that is the Law. Without it, we must step carefully along the way God has established for us, understanding the guiding principles contained within the Law rather than simply memorizing the statutes themselves. Does this free us from our obligation to store up God's word in our hearts? Never! It does just the opposite; it motivates us to more carefully guard God's word in our hearts, from sectarian corruption and careless presumption. Okay, back to keeping the seventh day holy. By sanctifying a spot on the calendar we perpetuate the Old Testament's legalistic religion. Anything more than a casual perusal of its historical books proves how poorly Israel understood God's reasons for giving the Law; they simply didn't get it. While that sorry situation persisted until Jesus fulfilled the Law, carnally-minded Christian brethren continued trying to obligate his church to keep Moses' Law in its entirety. Poor, insecure saps. The Scripture passages laid out here clearly show that philosophy's error. Hebrews chapter four explains the Sabbath's purpose in a way that requires little interpretation, and by understanding its purpose we are free to celebrate its truth without the Law's constraints. In short, Christ Jesus is our Sabbath rest, and when we enter into him, the calendar Sabbath is superfluous. In a very real sense, such artificial requirements minimize Christ's person and his purpose nearly to the point of blasphemy. Such insidious legalities rival one denomination's weekly obligation to renew Christ's sacrifice, effectively negating his one-and-only, true sacrifice on the despicable Roman torture device we call the cross. Can anyone imagine a more disrespectful practice than one that openly declares Christ's sacrifice was not enough? Then there is the passage in Colossians, that expresses the principles laid out in the letter to the Hebrews as a command directly from God's Holy Spirit. While this is just a sketchy treatment of these passages, each verse demands exhaustive study to fully appreciate their liberating beauty. Now in case the reader is still starved for God's word, the following passage applies but indirectly to the issue of Sabbath rest. It does, however, directly apply to the related issue of prohibitions of food and drink on religious grounds. Please note: This is permission, not direction.
Act 10:1-48 (1) At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, (2) a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, "Cornelius." (4) And he stared at him in terror and said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. (5) And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. (6) He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea." (7) When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, (8) and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. (9) The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. (10) And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance (11) and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. (12) In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. (13) And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." (14) But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." (15) And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." (16) This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (17) Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate (18) and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. (19) And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. (20) Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them." (21) And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?" (22) And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." (23) So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. (24) And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. (25) When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. (26) But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." (27) And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. (28) And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. (29) So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me." (30) And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing (31) and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. (32) Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' (33) So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord." (34) So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, (35) but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (36) As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), (37) you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: (38) how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (39) And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, (40) but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, (41) not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (42) And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. (43) To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (44) While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. (45) And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. (46) For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, (47) "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Does all this obligate us to worship on the First Day of the week or consume foods treated as unclean in the Old Testament? Hardly! They do just the opposite, allowing us to worship and eat according to our consciences, rather than according to a rigid code. This represents freedom in its purest form; the freedom to obey our Savior out of love, rather than out of grudging obligation. In a way, it is just a teaser, a foretaste of the divine freedom we will enjoy with Christ in eternity, where Sweet Repose will take on a whole new meaning.

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