ORIGINALLY POSTED 24 NOVEMBER, 2005
How the Messianic community is to properly keep Shabbat, or any Biblical commandment for that matter, is a mystery for many. There are many issues and questions that have to be weighed and taken into consideration when establishing a proper halachic orthopraxy for oneself, one’s congregation, and the movement as a whole. In the Jewish community, whether you are Orthodox or Conservative, keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is an important sign of who you are as a Jew. It is the sign that God gave the people of Israel from Mount Sinai to distinguish them from the world. When one goes to Israel today, stores close, public transportation stops, and the Old City of Jerusalem comes to a virtual standstill for a full twenty-four hours. When some in the emerging Messianic movement see how our Jewish brothers and sisters keep the Sabbath, it can seem almost foreboding and something that needs to be minimized. When our Christian brethren see how Orthodox Jews keep the Sabbath, they often run away, believing it to be a time of forced “unwork,” legalism, and anything but rest.
But as you can imagine, this is not what God originally intended. The Lord gave us the gift of Shabbat so that we might rest and abstain from our labors, focus exclusively on Him, and be rejuvenated for the week of work ahead. Yeshua the Messiah tells us, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, NRSV). God gave Shabbat to all people so that it would be a special time for us, not a time that is burdensome or intended to place men and women into bondage. He asks us to “Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God” (Ezekiel 20:20). Anything surrounding Shabbat is to be focused on this end: the Sabbath is to be a time so that we might “know” the Lord. Yada is a common verb in Biblical Hebrew not only used to describe knowledge, but most importantly is “used for the most intimate acquaintance” (TWOT). On Shabbat, we are to be intimate with our Heavenly Father, and with other Believers in the community of faith.
The instruction to remember the Sabbath is the Fourth of the Ten Commandments: “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 of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-10a). The seventh-day Sabbath or Shabbat is widely associated with God’s creation of the world (Genesis 2:2-3) and the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt (Deuteronomy 15:15). The Sabbath is one of the Torah’s moedim or appointed times (Leviticus 23:3). Desecration of the Sabbath actually brought judgment to Ancient Israel (Jeremiah 17:19-27), but blessings are offered to those who value and honor Shabbat (Isaiah 56:1-8), with a universal observance for the entire world anticipated in the Messianic Age (Isaiah 66:23).
Today’s Messianic movement is different from evangelical Christianity, in that while it affirms the Messiahship of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, it continues to observe the seventh-day Sabbath along with Judaism, in fidelity to the Torah or Law of Moses, and in conjunction with the example of the First Century Believers. Certainly, holding services on the seventh-day (commonly called Saturday), can be viewed as appropriate for a faith community identifying with the Jewish Synagogue, but it also raises many questions. Inquiries abound pertaining to the ongoing validity of the Sabbath in the post-resurrection era. Was not the Sabbath transferred to Sunday, in honor of the Messiah’s being raised from the dead? Was the Sabbath actually abolished by the Messiah? Inquiries abound pertaining to the observance of the Sabbath. Should not the Sabbath be kept according to the Scriptures only? Should not mainstream Jewish tradition and custom play some role in honoring the Sabbath? What does it mean to not “work” on Shabbat?
The Messianic Sabbath Helper includes a wide breadth of material, addressing a wide array of topics associated with Shabbat. This publication has been divided up into two main parts: The Significance of Shabbat and A Theology of Shabbat. You will be able to detect a progression of sorts, in our family’s own approach to the subject matter, as some things are addressed first more generally and then more specifically. In our experience, we ourselves have certainly had to move from a more elementary view of the issue of the seventh-day Sabbath, to a more developed view, and we recognize how the Messianic community needs to do the same.
This is a massive collection of material, well needed for every Messianic home and congregational library!