Gordon-Conwell Blog

Sabbath: Substance or Merely Shadows?

January 24, 2012

Megan Hackman

Studying Colossians this week has reawakened my thoughts on Sabbath, which we started discussing in December. Colossians 2:16-17 reads, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” After studying this passage through the week, I spent Sabbath on Sunday considering whether or not the practice of Sabbath for me has become an embrace of shadow or substance.

The shadows Paul is discussing were all good, Old Testament instructions for the people of God. They involved dietary laws, festival guidelines, and Sabbath keeping. They cast an outline of beautiful promises given in the direct presence of God, including rest (Gen 2:3), provision (Ex 16:5), and remembrance (Ex 20:8; Deut 5:15). The unfolding of this promise of Sabbath rest continues straight through Jesus’ proclamation of healing (Lk 13:16) and provision on the Sabbath day (Lk 6:3-5). Finally, it will find its fulfillment in eternity when we enter the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God (Heb 4:9-10).

So my struggle this weekend centered on recognizing how much of the past two years I have spent enveloped and actually pursuing the promises of the shadow of Sabbath. By practicing Sabbath on Sundays, I actively sought rest and rhythm. These shadows are certainly provided by merely ceasing to work for one day. The promises of Sabbath shadows are good things, but we are able to walk in fellowship with Christ himself (Heb 4:16)! We no longer settle for mere shadows.

So what of the substance of Sabbath? I think it’s possible that in my headlong pursuit of the shadows, I have at times missed the substance of Christ.

Sunday was a regeneration of the pursuit of Christ for me in the practice of Sabbath. I have been asked to expand upon what it means to “tune into the bass line,” as discussed weeks ago. For me, to look upon the substance of Christ and to enter his presence requires stillness, confession, and prayer. Often I will follow that by meditating upon a particular verse. Sometimes I find walking slowly through the woods helps me to converse more naturally with my Creator. I suggest Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook if you are looking for some creative ways to hear God’s bass line call in your life.

My aim is to not just embrace the outline of God’s promises, but to embrace He who casts the shadows directly. I am inhibited from doing that the more I emphasize the pursuit of physical rest. Instead, when I envision the Lamb in the throne room or the man walking along the road of Emmaus, I can begin to dialogue with and expose myself to my God for transformation that satisfies the need for both physical and spiritual rest and that continues throughout the week.

That designated, full-day intimacy is worth the pursuit of Sabbath. It helps me embrace of the very substance of Christ in the rest of the week.

Megan Hackman and her husband, Larry, are M.Div. students at Gordon-Conwell's Hamilton campus.

Tags: Author: Megan Hackman , biblically-grounded , student blogger , student life , thoughtfully evangelical

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COMMENTS

John-- at the core of your question it appears to me that you and the person you were talking with might be asking, what is the purpose of the law for today? Dr. Gordon Hugenberger has some interesting thoughts on the different classifications of Old Testament law and the applications in the inaugurated Kingdom. There is both ceremonial and moral law. According to him, "moral law is designed to replicate in humans the moral likeness of God" (Class notes from Theology of the Pentateuch) So, as seen in the Sermon on the Mount, these laws persist not for the purpose of salvation but for the life of someone in relationship with God. Ceremonial law, however, has exceptions, is less permanent, and symbolical. He lists Sabbath as ceremonial along with baptism, tithing, etc., because there were exceptions in the OT made for offering sacrifices on the Sabbath not as the first day of the week in special circumstances. It is included in Col 2:16-17 as "a shadow pointing to the reality of Christ, who has now come" (Class notes). As far as it is an imitation of God, however, it is considered a moral law and thus still applicable. The classification of Sabbath, then, is not definitive from what I have found. But should Sabbath be only followed today because it's a moral law? I would say no based on Colossians 2:16-17. But are we invited to rest from our labors as God did from his in the real sense of stopping to work on Sundays? I am saying yes, I think that is an invitation that has found a significant and valid expression in my life. I think ceasing from our work allows us the opportunity to approach God directly and intentionally. I do think it is wonderful to have a Sabbath attitude that pervades our lives. I have found that without the rhythm of regular, prolonged ceasing, I am incapable of having a pervading attitude regarding Sabbath during th week. Regarding your comment, "the law condemns and cannot produce true righteousness,"-- yet the law is good and governs our relationship with a holy God. So should we "rest" from such a futile effort as pursuing holiness? I don't think so. I look to multiple New Testament passages for encouragement in that pursuit-- Rom 6:1-4; Phil 2:12-18; Heb 10:14.
 
Megan Hackman 1:59PM 02/11/12
John-- at the core of your question it appears to me that you and the person you were talking with might be asking, what is the purpose of the law for today? Dr. Gordon Hugenberger has some interesting thoughts on the different classifications of Old Testament law and the applications in the inaugurated Kingdom. There is both ceremonial and moral law. According to him, "moral law is designed to replicate in humans the moral likeness of God" (Class notes from Theology of the Pentateuch) So, as seen in the Sermon on the Mount, these laws persist not for the purpose of salvation but for the life of someone in relationship with God. Ceremonial law, however, has exceptions, is less permanent, and symbolical. He lists Sabbath as ceremonial along with baptism, tithing, etc., because there were exceptions in the OT made for offering sacrifices on the Sabbath not as the first day of the week in special circumstances. It is included in Col 2:16-17 as "a shadow pointing to the reality of Christ, who has now come" (Class notes). As far as it is an imitation of God, however, it is considered a moral law and thus still applicable. The classification of Sabbath, then, is not definitive from what I have found. But should Sabbath be only followed today because it's a moral law? I would say no based on Colossians 2:16-17. But are we invited to rest from our labors as God did from his in the real sense of stopping to work on Sundays? I am saying yes, I think that is an invitation that has found a significant and valid expression in my life. I think ceasing from our work allows us the opportunity to approach God directly and intentionally. I do think it is wonderful to have a Sabbath attitude that pervades our lives. I have found that without the rhythm of regular, prolonged ceasing, I am incapable of having a pervading attitude regarding Sabbath during th week. Regarding your comment, "the law condemns and cannot produce true righteousness,"-- yet the law is good and governs our relationship with a holy God. So should we "rest" from such a futile effort as pursuing holiness? I don't think so. I look to multiple New Testament passages for encouragement in that pursuit-- Rom 6:1-4; Phil 2:12-18; Heb 10:14.
 
Megan Hackman 1:59PM 02/11/12
I don't have any developed thoughts on it. You've already done more research on it than I have. I just found this passage interesting when someone asked me why we don't observe the Sabbath anymore, at least the way commanded in the OT. It seems whereas Israel had a shadow of rest by observing it on a particular day, we have it in a more complete form (of course, we are still waiting the final rest of the Lord). So, instead of one day of Sabbath, we have a lifestyle of Sabbath when we enter by faith. I was wondering, then, if the works might refer to works of the Law. Since Law only condemns and cannot produce true righteousness, faith gives us rest from such futile efforts. These are just tentative thoughts. Like I said, I have not researched it. Let me know if you find out anything. Thanks, John
 
John 6:48PM 02/02/12
Thank you, John, for your comment. Is it something you have thoughts about already? I delayed in responding thinking that I would have time to research it well, but as it's the start of the semester, I haven't gotten as deeply as I'd like. The one thing I will say is that verse 10 appears to be setting up a contrast between rest as a place and as a state of being. Here the Greek is katapausin which the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says is the "rest of God in the sense of his presence with the people." The commentary by O'Brien emphasizes that this is the actual place of rest, the presence, in contrast with the state of rest that would have been emphasized with a word derived from Shabbat. So we continue to strive to enter that place of God's presence by practicing the state of rest, that is, from ceasing from our work ("ergon"-- typical, generic word for work). O'Brien says, "the nature of the works themselves is not spelled out." I have not studied the nature of the works further, but I'd love to hear your thoughts!
 
Megan Hackman 9:55AM 01/30/12
Heb 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” The faithful and obedient are entering the Sabbath now. In verse 10 it says we rest from our works. What works do you think the author of Hebrews is referring to?
 
John 6:59PM 01/24/12

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