Entering God’s Resting Place with Jon Laansma, Hebrews 4

Jon C. Laansma is the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis in the Classical Languages program at Wheaton College, IL. Among other things he has authored I Will Give You Rest: The Rest Motif in the New Testament with Special Reference to Mt 11 and Heb 3-4 and The Letter to the Hebrews: A Commentary for Preaching, Teaching, and Bible Study. Today’s topic: What does the Greek wording of Heb. 4:1-11 tell us about the writer’s idea of God’s promise of entering into his resting place to celebrate the Sabbath?

To hear the podcast click here.

If You Like Weekends, Give Thanks for Jews and Christians

Many people live for the weekends.  They might love their jobs or simply tolerate them, but they look forward to the weekends like no other time.  Weekends give them the chance to sleep late, hang out with friends and family, pursue hobbies, and, for those religiously inclined, worship.  weekend

The terms “workweek” (in Britain “working week”) and “weekend” refer to the parts of the week associated with labor and rest respectively.  The five day workweek has come about primarily in the west under the influence of Christianity and Judaism.  In many countries—especially where Islam is the dominant faith–the workweek includes Saturday and/or Sunday (e.g., Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangaladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Malaysia) because Friday is their day devoted to prayers and time off work.  The French Revolutionary calendar attempted to reform the way citizens lived in time by adopting a ten day week and giving them one day out of ten as a day for leisure.  Obviously, that never caught on.

The days of the workweek are popularly described in relation to the weekend.  “Rainy Days and Mondays” got Karen Carpenter down, probably because the weekend seemed so far away.  Wednesday is hump day (we’re halfway there). And of course, there is TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) Fridays. 

The term “weekend” is actually a misnomer because Sunday has traditionally been understood  in the west as the first day of the week.  Take a look at most (non-business) calendars and you will see Sunday the first day on the left.  Perhaps in an attempt to reconfigure time and our relationship to it, modern business calendars start with Monday on the left and end with Sunday on the right.  The idea of the week beginning on the day we call Sunday and ending on Saturday is derived from Jewish sensibilities.

You see the seven day week goes back to biblical story of creation (Genesis 1:1—2:3).  In the west we operate with four main categories of time: year, month, day, week.  A year represents the time it takes the earth to orbit around the sun.  A month represents (at least initially) the lunar orbit around the earth.  A day represents the time it takes the earth to rotate on its axis.  So where did the idea of a week come from?  Essentially, from Genesis.  While a year, month, and day relate to astronomical observance, the idea of a week is related completely to religious observance.  The Jewish Sabbath set the rhythm of the cycle of work and rest not only for them but for much of the world.

According to Genesis, God created for six days, rested the seventh, and required his covenant people to do the same (Genesis 1). Here is how the directive is stated in the first account of the Ten Commandments:  

You and your family are to remember the Sabbath day; set it apart, and keep it holy.  You have six days to do all your work, but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath to the Eternal your God.  Keep it holy by no doing any work—not you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, or any outsiders living among you. For the Eternal made the heavens above, the earth below, the seas, and all the creatures in them in six days.  Then, on the seventh day, He rested.  That is why He blessed the Sabbath Day and made it sacred. (Exodus 20:8-11, The Voice)

So the Jews are to remember the Sabbath Day, keep it holy by doing no work on it, why?  Because it is an imitation of God’s creative and restful activity.   The Sabbath is the seventh day or what we call Saturday. 

The first Christians were Jews so they observed the Sabbath, but it wasn’t long before they added another day of religious observance to their week.  “The Lord’s Day,” as they called it initially, was a weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the times he appeared to the disciples.  Christians met in anticipation that Jesus would be with them as two or three gathered.  They met to sing hymns, pray and commemorate his life, death, and resurrection in a sacred meal known as the Eucharist (Greek for “giving thanks).  Later the reading of Scripture and what we call today the sermon were added to their gatherings. weekend 2

Through history the relationship of Saturday and Sunday has been complicated.  Entire books are dedicated to parsing carefully how Jews and Christians lived in connection with time and each other. I have written more about this in two articles if you’re interested: “The Eighth Day” and “The Lord’s Day.”

The bottom-line is this: if you like the weekends, give thanks for Jews and Christians.  They have done more to keep alive these traditions than any others.  The idea of the weekend is not created out of nothing.  This modern blessing owes its substance to the Jewish and Christian faiths.  It has a noteworthy history that goes back to a mountain in the Sinai desert and a tomb outside Jerusalem.

Busy Isn’t a Virtue

In the January-February edition of Relevant magazine (relevantmagazine.com) there is an article by Christine and Adam Jeske entitled “13 Signs You Need to Get Unstuck.”  Number 7 in their 13 signs is this: “Your Standard Response to, “How Are You? Includes the Word ‘Busy.’”  Their article got me thinking about several things but especially about a problem which I think many of us have.  Whether we are “busy” or not—and we usually are—that has become everyone’s stock response.  How many times have you told someone you’re “busy” in the last week or heard others say they are “busy”?  I know I have.  It seems like we are addicted to busy-ness.busy image

We treat busy as if it is some virtue, but it is not.  Drug dealers and sex-traffickers can be busy.  So can health care workers and CEOs. But busy is not a virtue. In fact, it can be a real problem for our souls if we think somehow our worth is tied up with how busy we are.  Are we trying to justify our existence or our value?  Are we trying to underscore that we have skills that in short supply?  As Christine and Adam point out, we are all expendable, the sooner we realize that the better.

The real virtues, the real excellence of life, are found in other things.  Aristotle set the course for ethics when he defined the virtues as a balance between deficiency and excess.  The four cardinal virtues are: temperance, prudence, courage, and justice.  The Church over the centuries added to this number three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love (see 1 Corinthians 13). As you read carefully through the Scriptures, you will come across various lists of virtues.  Nowhere will “busy” be listed among them.  Here’s an example.  Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit as: unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Do you see “busy” in there.  No.  I didn’t think so. Virtue, not busy-ness, is where true excellence and value are found.

The answer to our addiction to busy-ness involves repentance.  The Greek word which translates “repentance” means literally, “a change of mind.”  In other words, we have to change the way we think about these matters. We must realize that busy-ness can and will kill you physically and spiritually.  We must confess to God and ourselves that our true value is not found in how much we accomplish but in becoming a person “conformed to the image of  [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:29). We must create sacred times and spaces to rest and live according to a different rhythm.  The Scriptures call this “the Sabbath.” Take a nap. Read something just for fun. Go for a walk. Share a meal with a friend. Take a real vacation.  Your work—for yourself, for your boss, and for God—will become more meaningful and productive if you learn to live into a restful rhythm of life.  A friend of mine says it this way (pardon the alliteration): divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.  The point is this: God made us to rest regularly in order to be at our best as we partner with Him in the ongoing work of creation.

The next time someone asks you, “How are you?” Resist the temptation to justify your existence by saying , “Oh, I’m busy . . . “  Instead, break the cycle of addiction and try some other response like, “I’m learning to rest.” 

What do you think is the best response to the question: “How are you?”