Sabbath Shadow
St. Mark, Evangelist
25 April 2018
On the seventh day God rested and made the seventh day holy to Himself. He commanded that the people of Israel should desist from all labor on that day, because it was holy to the Lord (Ex 20:10-11). Sabbath law required that those who belonged to the Lord God should cease from all labor, even the labor which would be good, holy, and god-pleasing on the other six days. It is for that reason a strange prohibition. Yet even Jesus partook of Sabbath rest, especially in His tomb; His work was completed.
Why command people to desist from those things which on other days were praiseworthy and holy? Why was there a span of twenty-four hours when such things were wrong and offensive to God? Sin is not merely a matter of refraining from work. Doing nothing might well also be a sin; a sin of omission. For example, if one declined to warn others of impending danger that would be a sin, although it would be doing something. Yet, the Lord had demanded that the people refrain even from doing good during the holy day. On the day before the Sabbath the Lord also preserved twice as much manna for the people's needs; graciously caring for them when they were prohibited by Him from caring for themselves. And although there were significant exceptions to the prohibition (Lk 13:15; Mt 12:5), it seemed a do-nothing day, a day for idlers.
However, the Sabbath law was not made holy to Israel, it was made holy to the Lord. The Lord was about His business on that day, and while He ceased to create on that day, He did not cease sanctifying His people. They were holy to Him because He Himself was holy. They were sanctified in Him precisely when they were prohibited from working. The Sabbath was spent in the presence of the sanctifying God, who accounted His people holy apart from their own works (Rm 4:2); works prohibited precisely by Him.
The Christian ambivalence about the holiness of works in God's presence has roots in the Sabbath prohibition of works, both good and bad. God had forbidden works of any kind to show that He Himself was the holiness of His people and that their work could never make them so. What we take to be good will never be so in God's sight, and while there are relative goods that benefit our fellow human being, these things are never meritorious in God's sight. The holiness that was gifted to the people of Israel on the Sabbath foreshadowed the perfection of that holiness through the rest that Jesus would grant to His people in His life, death, and resurrection. This is why every day is holy to the Lord when it is spent in the Word of God, because through it God sanctifies the day and the people who live in it. Those who do not work are made holy in Him (Rm 4:5). We can rest in Him doing nothing, because He does everything to sanctify us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Augustine of Hippo
"Grace hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages, because God knew how to order all things. And perhaps it is a part of this hiding of grace, that in the Decalogue, which was given on Mount Sinai, only the portion which relates to the Sabbath was hidden under a prefiguring precept (Col 2:16-17). The Sabbath is a day of sanctification. It is not without significance that, among all the works which God accomplished, the first sound of sanctification was heard on the day when He rested from all His labors. On this, indeed, we must not now enlarge. But at the same time I deem it to be enough for the point now in question, that it was not for nothing that the nation was commanded on that day to abstain from all slavish work, by which sin is signified; because not to commit sin belongs to sanctification, that is, to God's gift through the Holy Spirit. And this precept alone among the others, was placed in the law, which was written on the two tables of stone, in a prefiguring shadow, under which the Jews observe the Sabbath, that by this very circumstance it might be signified that it was then the time for concealing the grace, which had to be revealed in the New Testament by the death of Christ, the rending, as it were, of the veil (Mt 27:51). For the apostle says, 'When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.' (2Co 3:16)."

 Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.27
2 Corinthians

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (ESV)
Collect for St. Mark, Evangelist
Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, that they might be upheld in every good deed
For the members of the Board of Regents of Concordia University Chicago, as they steward the university for the church, that the Lord would keep them focused on their mission
For all those who work in the building trades, that they would be kept safe in their labors
Art: BELLINI, Giovanni  Sermon of St. Mark in Alexandria (1504-07)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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