February 21 Esight, 2011

“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.” – Luke 10.33I have been on a beautiful journey of rediscovering Jesus through the Gospel of Luke since last August, and this week I would love to share with you a thought that, I believe, God has been pressing on my heart. It may have absolutely no application to you, but it’s HUGE in its application for me personally. You see, in the early stages of my own Christianity, I was VERY “egocentrically” religious?to the point that I missed the entire point of what Jesus’ kingdom was even about. (Some of you have heard me share some of those stories in my presentations.) I honestly am scratching my head as I write this, completely dumbfounded as to how so many of us, including myself, continue to miss what I am about to share. We have traded “religiosity” for “compassion” and too often busy ourselves with making others around us “religious.” Instead, we should focus on changing the world through genuinely enlarging God’s kingdom through radical self sacrificial compassion for others. Look with me at the following passage.

“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10.31-37)

In this story, Jesus lists a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The mention of these three is intentional. Both the priest and the Levite played significant roles that were at the heart of the Jewish “religious” system. The Samaritan, on the other hand, followed a religion that was a hybrid of the teachings of Moses and the paganism of the surrounding region. Yet the hero of Jesus’ story is the religiously misguided Samaritan. This is most interesting to me, because, although in his religious practices the Samaritan was judged to be in error by his Jewish neighbors, Jesus holds him up as an example because of his “compassion.” Over and over we see Jesus repeating this lesson, not simply in word, but in deed. Being a Sabbatarian myself, I have always felt a keen interest in Jesus’ relation to the Bible Sabbath. What I have been impressed with the most, however, is that in each of the four Gospels’ Jesus/Sabbath stories, it is never the validity of the Sabbath that Jesus was negating, but the heartless way we too often go about practicing our religious beliefs, even if those beliefs include something as important to us as the Sabbath.

Read carefully the following passage:

And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him. (Luke 13.10-17)

Can you, like me, feel the passion in Jesus’ reaction above? The synagogue official was deeply religious, but absolutely devoid of compassion, which is what Jesus’ kingdom is really all about.

Again:

Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” (Luke 6.1-4)

What I find interesting is Matthew’s addition in his account of this story:

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12.7).

First of all, the disciples were not guilty, according to Jesus, of breaking the Sabbath as the Pharisees had accused them. The Pharisees, on the other hand, who were the most stringent in their religiously motivated Sabbatical restrictions, were the guilty party. And what were they guilty of? The Pharisees, although religiously stringent, were simply HEARTLESS.

Compassion vs. religiosity: these are the two things I would like to contrast for you this week. I do not believe they are mutually exclusive, but my concern is that too many times in our lives, they simply are.

If compassion is the standard, the signature for those who are a part of God’s kingdom (John 13.35), of those who are responding to God’s spirit (1 John 4.7,8), of those who are submitting, even unknowingly, to God’s work in their life, I would suggest, that maybe, many of those we religious people call “heathen” may be closer to the kingdom than we thought, maybe closer than even ourselves (myself included).

Something to ponder.

I wish you God’s best this week.

Love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom.

In love (and compassion),

Herb

February 14 Esight, 2011

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58.13,14 NASBThis week I would like to address a very misunderstood verse that has come to my attention once again. Many, especially within my own Christian-Sabbatarian culture, have mistaken what Isaiah’s intent in this verse really is. It has too often robbed those who are sincere and honest from truly entering into what God originally intended the gift of the Sabbath to be. The misunderstanding is simple and actually has a deep history in Sabbatarianism, whether Christian or Jewish.

In the verse above, Isaiah is quoting the Lord’s admonishment not to “seek our own pleasure” on the Sabbath day. Keeping the Sabbath “holy” has, through a misunderstanding of Isaiah 58, been taken to mean that anything of a pleasurable nature is forbidden. Not only has work been strictly forbidden, but anything pleasurable has too often been forbidden as well. (The Sabbath has such a history of restrictions that the Essenes, whom Josephus considered to be the strictest in their Sabbath observance, even refrained from defecation during the Sabbath hours. [OM. Prob. Lib. 81; cf. Vit. Contempl. 30f.] Wow! The lengths to which we will take our misunderstandings.)

A careful study of the Sabbath in the scriptures reveals that only one thing was really ever forbidden on the Sabbath: work to gain a livelihood. The verse under consideration seems to be the only exception to this rule, but “seems” is the right word; it truly is not an exception. The Hebrew word translated here as “seeking your own pleasure” is only translated this way in this one instance. In all other instances, the word used here for pleasure is indicative of “that in which one takes delight, his business, one’s own business affairs.” (Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, p. 343, reference 4)

You see, even here in Isaiah, God is simply repeating what He has stated consistently about the Sabbath everywhere else. We are to cease from the pleasure of making money, and call the Sabbath a pleasure or a delight! God, on this day, desires us to cease from our business affairs to focus our energy on something else.

But this begs the question: Focus on what? Why does God desire for us to cease from our labors on this day and on what are we to expend that energy now? The answer is found in Nehemiah, where one discovers the Biblical meaning of “keeping a day holy.” What does “a day’s holiness” mean for Nehemiah?

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8.9-12)

The idea here is that the Sabbath was intended to be what we in our modern culture call a “holiday.” A day where we don’t work, but instead CELEBRATE! Eating the fat! Drinking the sweet! But what are we to be CELEBRATING?

Over and over again, the answer is clear.

Exodus 16.23 – “. . . holy sabbath to the LORD.”

Exodus 16.25 – “. . . today is a sabbath to the LORD.”

Exodus 20.10 – “. . . a sabbath to the LORD your God.”

Exodus 31.15 – “. . . holy to the LORD.”

Exodus 35.2 – “. . . a day of sabbath rest to the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 5.14 – “. . . is a sabbath to the LORD your God.”

We are to be celebrating HIM! With choice foods and sweet drinks (sounds like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?) we are to remember and celebrate what our Lord and Savior has done for us, not only on that Friday evening during the creation week but also on that Friday evening in the PASSION week as well. Our Savior, again, on the sixth day cried out, “It is Finished,” and then on the Seventh rested from the work He had accomplished. Truly this day is hallowed and blessed, not simply by the events surrounding creation, but by the events surrounding our redemption as well.

This weekend, beginning on Friday night, set time aside to celebrate our Lord and the generously extravagant love He has poured out on each one of us. Take time to make HIS day special. Set off some fireworks! Have a super special meal! Give presents to the kids in your family! Do something, do anything that celebrates the unfathomable, radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love of our God! (It’s also interesting to note that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible tell us how to celebrate the Sabbath; it simply calls us to do it. This should speak volumes to us.)

Remember, love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom!

I wish you God’s best this week.

In love,

Herb