There are some interesting things to study in the twentieth chapter of John. . .the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, the people mentioned in this chapter (Mary Magdalene and Thomas)…just to name a couple.
However, when I read and study Scripture I am always fascinated at what part of a passage God illuminates for me as I read. That is the beauty of reading the Bible. I can read the same story or passage at two different times in my life and according to what is going on at the time of the reading, the Holy Spirit uses different things in the same passage to deepen my faith or challenge me to change something in my life.
I was surprised that after reading chapter 20, the beautiful and miraculous story of the resurrection of my Lord that I kept going back to the very first verse of the chapter…
John 20:1 (NLT)
1 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.
Even though I spent a few years in seminary studying Biblical language, I am by no means a Hebrew or Greek scholar. I still rely heavily on other sources to help me understand the original languages in which the Bible was written.
However, as I read chapter 20 last week, I was taken back to the Hebrew class I took in seminary. We spent a great deal of time studying the Hebrew word that is translated Sabbath in the Bible. To be honest, I was pregnant with my first child during those two semesters, so I spent a lot of time wiggling around in my desk and looking down at my watch to see how long I would have to wait to stand up again. I’ve often joked that my son is likely to be a Hebrew scholar when he grows up because instead of singing lullabies to him in my womb…I practiced my Hebrew vocabulary pronunciations to him in vitro!
As I read this chapter, I began being reminded of how the resurrection forever changed the way we as Christians observe the Old Testament Sabbath ….and let me show off my Hebrew skills a minute (joke…anyone who is church a while can hopefully tell you this!)….Sabbath is from the Hebrew word shabbot, and its primary meaning is to ‘cease from working.’ It is often equated with resting. God took a sabbath on the seventh day of creation, and the fourth commandment He gave to Moses was to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
The idea was….’you will be working your tails off for six days so on the Sabbath, you need to take a break and focus on Me.’ (Holly’s very loose interpretation)
As people tend to do in the religious community at times, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had turned the Sabbath into a day of rule keeping…a day for them to earn their ‘holy’ badge for their cloak. The original purpose of the Sabbath had been lost among the rules.
Jesus came and shattered their interpretation and practice of Sabbath. This is a fascinating thing to study. One of my favorite, favorite phrases that Jesus says is in response to the Pharisees (religious leaders of the day) ridiculing His disciples for breaking off grain to eat on the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27-28 (NLT)
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
There is not space here to cover the history of why most Christians set aside Sunday as their day of worship instead of Saturday as the Jews. If you are a history buff, you will likely enjoy studying that because there is quite a bit more to it than what we are often taught as children in church, “we worship on Sunday now because that is the day of the week that Jesus was resurrected.” But for most of us…that explanation is enough.
Back to the book of John….So what was it that stopped me at verse one in chapter 20 of John? “Early on Sunday morning”…Having grown up a preacher’s kid (yep I’m one of those crazy PKs), I really didn’t have a choice in the matter when it came to what I did on Sunday mornings….I was taught that Sundays were church days. We went to church every Sunday morning, mom ALWAYS had a great lunch for us to eat when we got home, and then we all rested at the house (I often laid in bed with my dad watching Sunday afternoon westerns) before we went back up to church for evening services.
From childhood, my parents helped me form a great habit of setting aside the first day of the week for the Lord and for rest. However, all habits have potential to be just that ….a habit that has no meaning. Over the years of my life, there have been many Sundays where my body was present at church, but my mind and spirit were neither at rest (Sabbath)or in worship.
And…if I am totally honest… The Sunday morning after I read John chapter 20 my family was not at a church. Where were we?….Resting… Not out of laziness. Not out of a last minute decision of ‘I don’t feel like going to church today.’ We had planned this rest. My husband spent the morning fishing. . .his way of resting. I spent the morning working out on an elliptical to amazing Christian hip-hop music ….my way of resting. The kids watched some cartoons…their favorite way to rest.
Lest you get the wrong idea…I am not condoning skipping church! On the contrary. However, it seems you often find two extremes in church. There are those who are there serving every week and feel guilty if they take a break even if their bodies and spirits are exhausted and need rest. Then there are those who just show up when they want to and never commit to serve because they decide each Sunday whether or not they will attend that day.
You see, some Christians often let obligations at church get in the way of experiencing the rest that God commanded us to take each week. He is our Creator and He knows what is best for us. We need rest.
Other Christians fail to commit to anything at church because they have never truly seen Sunday as the Lord’s day. Their own personal calendars dictate where they will be each Sunday. As a result they never experience the joy that comes from fellowshipping and serving with other believers.
As believer’s Christ is our example, and where was He on the Sabbath?
Luke 4:16 (NASB)
16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
Following Jesus’ example, as believers we should have the custom of setting aside a time in the week to join together with other believers. We should use our God given gifts in the church to build up other believers and to reach out to those in this world who need to hear the message of Jesus.
However, Jesus set another important example for us. The Bible reveals to us that Jesus often ‘got way’ to spend time alone or with his disciples.
It is my own personal experience that when I set aside daily times of rest (my quiet times and exercise), weekly times of rest (through family time and gathering with church friends), and yearly times of rest (through vacations…or even a ‘planned skipped church Sunday!’) that I find my self more equipped to serve others. When I am rested, I hear the voice of the Lord more clearly and I experience His joy more deeply.
If we as Christians allow our society to dictate our schedules, we will find our bodies, minds, and spirits lacking the rest that God intended us to experience in our lives here on earth. There is an amazing message in John chapter 20 that the world need to hear….but I’m afraid many of us Christians are simply too tired and busy to share it.