If you travel to Israel today you may notice that some of the major hotels will have “Sabbath day elevators.” On the Sabbath, these elevators, which are clearly marked so that non-Jews might avoid them, stop at every floor. This accomodates those who believe that pushing a button would constitute “work.”
In June 2008, I was in Jerusalem on a Friday night. It was around 9:00pm. A friend of mine and I were walking through the Jewish quarters back to the hotel. Suddenly, a man came running down a set of stairs and called out, “excuse me, gentlemen. Can you give me a hand?” We said, “sure.” He then escorted us up the stairs to his home and proceeded to explain to us that he had a large number of people coming over for Sabbat (the evening celebration of the Jewish Sabbath; which begins at sundown on Friday) and that he had forgotten to turn his air-conditioner on.
Over the next 20 minutes, we had a great conversation. He told us how he was a podiatrist from Los Angeles who had moved to Jerusalem years earlier because it was a better environment to raise his kids. After getting a small tour of his home, he noted that his company would be coming any minute. Then he pointed to the top of a bookcase and said, “its up there.” We reached up and found the remote that controlled his air conditioner. “It is that button” he noted as he pointed to the power button. We pushed the button turning on his air-conditioner and left.
Now many of you might think that it is silly that a man is able to walk up and down the stairs but not able to push a button on a remote. Certainly, the latter is less “work” than the former. I suspect that many Christians will look upon this man’s efforts to adhere to the rules of the Sabbath with a measure of disdain. But, I must ask, is the common Christian approach to the Sabbath any better?
A theology of the Sabbath
I suppose that most Christians do not have a theology of the Sabbath. In fact, I suspect that most do not even know what it means to have a “theology of the Sabbath.” Those that do will likely assert that the laws of the OT were fulfilled in Jesus, and, therefore, the laws of the Sabbath do not apply any longer.
As a result, few Christians practice any form of Sabbath keeping. Some have a conviction that Sunday (or at least one day a week) is to be set aside as a day for rest. But even amongst them, there is often little concern as to what “rest” or “work” means.
Over the next several posts I intend to set forth a biblical theology of the Sabbath. Was Jesus working when He healed on the Sabbath? What was the Sabbath for? Do we need to keep the Sabbath today? If so, what might Sabbath keeping look like?