John Bradshaw - A Day to Remember
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Once a week a rabbi in New York City travels around Manhattan spending a lot of time looking up. He's looking to see if the eruv is still intact. If it isn't, he calls a construction company, and he gets in a cherry picker and rises 18 feet above the streets of Manhattan to fix it. An "eruv," E-R-U-V, is, at least in this case, a clear fishing line strung up around most of the island of Manhattan, from the southern tip of the island all the way to 145th Street in Harlem in the north and taking in all of Central Park. Now, why does the rabbi do this?
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, He said and wrote this: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates". Exodus 20, verses 8 through 10. And observant Jews, as you'd expect, take that seriously.
So in places like New York City, that presents some challenges. For traditional Jews, on the Sabbath day, nothing can be carried from one's home into a public space, and that includes things such as house keys or a wallet. It means no pushing a baby stroller, which for some families would mean that there's no way they could leave their home on the Sabbath. "Eruvim" are found in more than 30 states in the United States and in several countries around the world. And they function as a workaround, really. The rule is, if you're within the eruv, you're in your own personal space.
So therefore you can carry whatever you want. The eruv turns a big city area into one big communal backyard. Which is interesting, perhaps, to a non-Jew, 'cause what you have is a rule created by rabbis and not by God that severely limits what a person can do on the Sabbath. Then another rule is devised to get around the restrictions imposed by that first rule. Keeping the Sabbath today is largely a Jewish concept. But it wasn't always that way. You find someone who's got a few miles on the clock and ask them what it was like when they were younger, and they'll tell you something like, "Well, after church we'd go to Grandma's house, and she'd have a special meal prepared, and, and then the rest of the day no one would do any work, not even Grandpa. Grandpa wouldn't even work on his farm," because they considered the day to be special, and they kept it holy, now, not like observant Jews, of course, but holy nonetheless.
As society has drifted away from the religious and embraced the secular, there's been a move away from some of the practices that once characterized religious faith. And not everybody thinks that that's a great idea. When Simon & Schuster published the book "The Gift of Rest" in 2011, a book written by then senator Joe Lieberman, who was Jewish, the book received strong critical acclaim from Christian quarters, with many people beginning to wonder out loud whether Christians weren't missing out on something by passing lightly over the Sabbath.
God gave 10 commandments on Sinai, and we'd have no trouble agreeing on the benefits, the blessings, and the plain old common sense of keeping them. "No other gods before [God]". Well, of course. If God wasn't God in your life and something else was, then God wouldn't be first; He'd be second or third or fourth, or worse. And then you could never honor the words that Jesus spoke when He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 in Matthew 22:37, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind". Unless God is first, that just can't happen.
Second commandment: No graven images. That's idolatry. Praying to statues, bowing before images, we can't justify that in any way. God has spoken clearly about that. It lowers your concept of God and therefore lowers you. And you see, the Ten Commandments are good ideas. They represent the character of God.
The third commandment says we shouldn't "take the name of the Lord...in vain", use it as a common swear word. A lot of people do, and it's never right.
The fourth commandment is the longest: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy". In fact, it's by far the longest of the Ten Commandments.
The fifth: "Honor your father and your mother". I can't think of a single parent who doesn't think that that's a really good idea. And by the way, how would society look if we actually did take that commandment seriously? And what if parents who wished for their children to honor them conducted themselves in such a way that it would make it easy for children to render that honor? Now, that would be something.
The sixth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill," which actually means, "Thou shalt not murder". Any arguments with that one? No. We believe in that one, no question.
Now, there are two of the remaining commandments that have fallen out of favor, and commandment seven is one of them. It says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery". That's physical intimacy with someone you're not married to, although Jesus said that this even includes looking at another person to lust. The reason I say this commandment has fallen out of favor is that in society, and even in the church, there's unfortunately plenty of adultery and lust and pornography.
The eighth commandment is, "Thou shalt not steal". Any problem with that one? I'll wait while you lock your house and set your alarm and lock your car before you answer. We love that commandment. We wish everyone did. Now, keep in mind, we're briefly reviewing the Ten Commandments, and we're seeing that there are real benefits in keeping them. They're good for us. They're good for society.
The ninth commandment: "Thou shalt not bear false witness". No lying, that's obvious. That's good.
And the final commandment is the other one that's kind of neglected: "Thou shalt not covet," which gets to the root of all commandment-breaking. Now, coveting is an inappropriate desire to have that which isn't yours, that which you have no right to. So, of course it's okay to want a better car or to admire a nice house. This commandment speaks to our inner desires. Most moral codes only deal with outward acts. This one touches on the thoughts, the intents, the desires. God cares about that. He sees the heart. And seeing as we're not to covet, this tells us then that we're not slaves to our desires. You want your neighbor's spouse? You don't have to. God can give you the victory over that. This is not a commandment that you want to forget. So why is the fourth commandment kind of forgotten these days? And why does it matter? I'll tell you in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Do you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong became the first person to ever walk on the moon? If your memory doesn't go back quite that far, maybe you remember where you were when 9/11 happened, or when the Berlin Wall came down, or when Princess Diana died. There are some days that are just impossible to forget. Now, there's one day that God has asked us to remember, but the reality is the majority of people have forgotten. When God gave the Ten Commandments, He said, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy". But today that's one thing that a lot of people really have let go.
Now, let me mention something, because you'll hear people say, "Well, we don't keep the Ten Commandments in order to be saved. The Ten Commandments don't save us". And they're absolutely right. No one should be thinking about the Ten Commandments as a means of salvation. Salvation comes just one way, and that's by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus died for our sins, and it's through faith in Him, through faith in the blood that He shed for us, that we receive salvation from sin.
As Paul wrote to Titus, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour". That's Titus 3, verses 5 and 6. That's clear, and we're not deviating from that. This is why faith in Jesus is so important. The only place you can receive the righteousness you need to be saved is from Jesus. He lived a perfect life. And so when you have faith in Jesus, you receive credit for His perfect life. We're saved through Jesus only. In fact, if you look at the Hebrew, the Ten Commandments aren't called the ten "commandments," they're called the ten "words," and they're written in the positive.
Exodus, chapter 20 begins with God saying, "I am the Lord your God. [I called] you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage". And then He says, you'll "have no other gods before me". You won't worship graven images. God says, "Because I saved you, this becomes an inevitability in your life. This is how you're going to live". So, why are the Ten Commandments important? Because when somebody comes to faith in Jesus, Jesus lives His life in them. John 15 and verse 4 says, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me". A lost person comes to Jesus and is saved by faith in Jesus. And then, that lost person, now a saved person, lives according to the will of God, which is expressed in the Ten Commandments.
Now, I must tell you where I am. I'm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains at Fields of the Wood, a theme park operated by the Church of God of Prophecy. Here you'll find, among other things, a 300-feet-wide representation of the Ten Commandments. Each letter is five feet high and four feet wide. Some of the commandments are abbreviated, because if they weren't, you'd need a much bigger hillside than this. So these are the Ten Commandments, larger than life, placed here by Christian believers who certainly thought they're important, not as a means of salvation, but as the life believers in Jesus live when He gets hold of their hearts. Isn't this something? In his book, "The Gift of Rest," former senator Joe Lieberman writes about Jews looking forward to and welcoming what they call "Queen Sabbath".
I've witnessed that very thing and heard those same words in Jerusalem at the Western Wall. In fact, down there you'll see people celebrating as the Sabbath arrives, celebrating as though they've won the Super Bowl. And they believe that's consistent with what you see in Isaiah, chapter 58. The prophet wrote, "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken". That's a serious blessing proclaimed by God.
Now, someone's going to say, "Ah, but that's for Jews only, surely". But wait. We both know that it wasn't long ago when Christians used to take the Sabbath seriously. Over the years there's been a de-emphasis on this, so that today, for most Christians, what God gave as a special day has been reduced to an hour or two, at most, of going to church. I wonder if we could be missing something. Author Judith Shulevitz quotes a 17th-century Puritan minister who says, "The word Sabbath properly signifies, not common, but sacred or holy rest". Jesus said that "the Sabbath was made for man", "anthropos," human beings, "and not man for the Sabbath".
Now, the way many Jews relate to the Sabbath might not exactly work for most Christians. Setting up a wire around a city that miraculously transforms that city into your actual backyard one day a week seems a bit like you're taking something given by God and wrapping it up in a lot of tradition. Judith Shulevitz wrote, "I should also add that the image we hold in our heads of the Jewish Sabbath isn't wholly based on the Fourth Commandment, either. The Sabbath of candle lighting and dinners and not driving and not turning lights on and off was shaped more by rabbinic law than by the Torah".
I mentioned Jerusalem. If you get on an elevator in a Jewish hotel on the Sabbath, you learn that some elevators are preprogrammed to stop automatically and open and shut automatically on every floor so that a Jewish believer can ride the elevator without having to push a button and therefore "work" by creating a spark or a fire. Jews in Jesus' day had taken this so far as to state that Jesus shouldn't even heal a person on the Sabbath day because to do so, to heal someone, would be to work. The disciples were criticized for taking some grains of wheat and rubbing them in their hands so they could eat them, minus the wheat husk.
And they were missing the point, weren't they? God gave the Sabbath in the beginning as a memorial of Creation, which is why He instituted it at the end of the Creation week. He created for six days, and then He rested on the seventh day. He gave it to remind His people just who He was. He wanted them to remember Creation, which is under relentless attack today. He wanted them to trust Him. And He also wanted them to rest while entering into His rest. But what God gave as a blessing was turned into a curse by religious zealots who loaded it down with meaningless, rather pointless manmade laws. Remember, Jesus Himself and His followers fell afoul of the religious leaders simply because they plucked some grain on the Sabbath day. They were accused of working, which patently they were not. But could it be that we're missing something by rushing through the day of rest? Might we be missing out by forgetting to remember? We'll look at that in just a moment.
One of the remarkable things about the Christian God is His desire to have a close personal relationship with His children. Not all faiths have that. Look at many non-Christian faiths and you don't find a supreme Being who wants to be close to His people. God formed Adam with His own hands, Eve, too. And then He breathed into Adam the breath of life. In Exodus 25, verse 8, long after sin had instated a physical separation between God and humanity, God says, "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them". That's God wanting to be with His people. You'll recall He led them personally in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Israelites were able to look up and see a visible token of God's presence with them.
Jesus came into the world as Emmanuel, "God with us". And He said that He wants to abide in us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said "that Christ [would] dwell in your hearts by faith". At Pentecost, believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, and emblematic of that closeness is God's desire to spend time with His children. Imagine really taking time for God. Ah, but somebody says, "I'm too busy". Right, you may be, but you don't want to be too busy to read the Bible. You don't wanna be too busy to pray. You don't want to be too busy to go to church. When God says, "I have carved a special space out of the rock of time for you," then you really miss something when you do not enter into that true fellowship with God.
That special time gives you the opportunity to connect with family, with friends, and with church family. And it'll lead you into a deeper appreciation for God as you remember the perfect world of Creation and God's promise that one day He's going to "make all things new". It says that in Revelation, chapter 21. And included in those "all things" is you. God the Creator intends to re-create sinners, if they'll let Him. When He says He'll make all things new, He's talking about taking a corrupted planet and making it perfect again. The dirty water that some people have to drink will be made pure. The foul air that some people are forced to breathe, well, that will be clean. But better yet, God will remove every last trace of sin from every saved person's heart for all eternity.
When you remember that God has set aside a day and wants to connect with you, you're remembering that God is the God of re-creation. Now, here's a question: When does God want to connect? Well, He spoke about that specifically in the commandment. He said, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God". You take a look on the calendar, and you discover that that seventh day of the week is Saturday. Sunday was never the Sabbath as given by God, nor was any other day of the week, other than the seventh day, Saturday. What does God say? "Remember the Sabbath day, [and] keep it holy". So often it's run to church, run home, dive straight back into the busyness of life. And there's no rest, no time out, no real pausing to remember God and really connect with Him.
Remember that Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 11, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". God wants us to come to Him unhurried, remember the time that He's given us to do so, and treasure that time. You know, these words mean something to God. Instead of backing away from God's claim on our life, it's better to lean into that and experience God's blessing. When God says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," we'd worry about the person who says, "What's the bare minimum I can give to God and still claim to be honoring His wishes here"? "Thou shalt not steal"?
When you get to the place that you're saying, "Well, it's not technically stealing," or "I think I can get away with this," that's not a good sign. Don't make graven images and bow down yourself to them? That doesn't mean that we try to find out which images would be okay and which ones are not acceptable. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" doesn't mean that white lies are okay and only out-and-out deception of the worst kind is "verboten". When we take the Word of God and try to make it say what we want it to say, that doesn't end well. David wrote in Psalm 16:11, "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore". David got it. In God's presence is what? Fullness of joy.
In 1975 a man who worked on the assembly line at the Fiat auto factory in Turin in Italy stopped at a police station on his way home one day. You see, items found on city trains were sold at auction to the highest bidder. He looked through the items, noticed two paintings that he thought would look nice on the wall above his kitchen table. The auctioneer told him they were of little value, found on a train that ran between Paris and Turin in Italy's northwest. He outbid another man and paid the equivalent of around 70 U.S. dollars. Now, he took them home, put them on the wall above his kitchen table, and there they sat for years.
After he retired, his son, who was taking an art appreciation class, discovered that one of the paintings was by the French painter Pierre Bonnard, and another was by Paul Gauguin, and they were originals. They're worth around $40 million, according to some estimates. And because insurance had paid out and the original owners had no heirs, the retired auto worker got to keep his paintings. Bought at auction for $70, now worth $40 million, maybe more. They were there on his wall all those years but unappreciated for what they really were. He didn't know the value of what he had. It might be that we see these words originally written by God and fail to see what we really have. When God invites you, "Take some time, spend some time with me," maybe that's an invitation that you don't want to turn down. Remember that time with God. After all, it was His idea in the first place.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You today for Jesus, for His death for us that makes salvation available. And we thank You for Your desire to have a close relationship with us. We thank You for Jesus, who is Emmanuel, "God with us," that He would abide in us, and that Your desire is to be with us throughout all eternity.
Friend, is that your desire? Would you open up your heart to God today and say:
"Father in heaven, I want to be with You always. And now fill me with Your presence. Draw me closer to You than I've ever been". We thank You for Your plan for our lives. We submit to that now, and we pray in Jesus' name, amen.