The car bomb explosion outside a Liverpool maternity hospital comes just a month after the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess, a devoted Christian and supporter of Israel. And it was obviously disturbing to hear that the supposed perpetrator had ‘converted to Christianity’, which in normal circumstances would have made him a target as such a ‘betrayal’ is a capital crime in the Islamic world. Added to the mix is the revelation that he suffered from mental health problems. The investigation is ongoing, and we should particularly pray for the police in these circumstances.
What we do need to realise is that our fragile vulnerability to ongoing terror attacks is not just the result of the West’s weak-kneed withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is more specifically the outworking of our flagrant rebellion against God’s laws.
Our once Christian nation has progressively ditched many of the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses. When the ancient Israelites did this, God allowed the Babylonians to unleash their terror on his disobedient people and take them away into exile. (2 Chron 36:19-21)
As we are discussing the commandments, I have continued to be much exercised by the question of the Sabbath, and why it has come to mean nothing to most modern Christians. Is this behind many of our current troubles?
After all, it was the desecration of the Sabbath, along with idolatry and the shedding of innocent blood, that triggered Israel’s exile to Babylon. (See, for example, Neh 13:17f & Ezek 20:13-24). It was as serious as that.
I dare say even the Luftwaffe air raids were something of a judgment on Britain for the way we betrayed the Jews prior to the war in severely restricting immigration to the Holy Land at a time when many were desperately trying to escape Nazi terror. Fortunately, a series of national days of prayer called by the King changed the tide. But we soon forgot the Lord’s merciful intervention in the post-war years, leaving an ever-widening spiritual vacuum.
If you believe Jesus was a fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures, that Christianity is Jewish, then why has this God-given day of rest been discarded? Why does it still apply to Jews everywhere, but not to Christians?
Bishop J C Ryle, one of the great evangelical figures of the 19th century, is credited with having said that if we lose the Lord’s Day, we will end up losing Christianity in the nation.
Here was a man who really had his finger on the pulse, and was something of a prophet of his time. For example, he clearly saw the future restoration of Israel, both to their ancient land, and to their Lord. Although liberally prophesied in our Bible, there was little evidence at the time to indicate its possible fulfilment. Yet in 1868, Ryle stated: “I believe that the Jews shall ultimately be gathered again as a separate nation, restored to their own land and turned to the faith of Christ (Messiah).”
So could his prophetic statement about the Sabbath also now be coming to pass? It would certainly seem to be the case, because we are rapidly losing our Christian influence in the nation.
It is encouraging, however, to see the debate around this vital issue being re-visited, with leading evangelical commentator David Robertson now asking if it is time to re-engage with its concepts. This happens to coincide with a widening interest in the Jewish roots of our faith which, I believe, is because the two are linked.
We’ve been very slow to recognise the importance of rest because we cut ourselves off from our Judaic roots some 1,700 years ago. The process was driven by antisemitism among the Church Fathers who moved the Sabbath to Sunday in a clear effort to distance themselves from our Hebraic heritage.
That the Sabbath was thus re-invented to fall on the first day of the week, because it was the day Jesus was raised from the dead, is a weak argument. For there is no specific biblical text to back it up. Besides, the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins at the very moment Passover lambs were slaughtered for the feast (i.e. at 3pm on the eve of Shabbat) is surely just as important.
It’s a complete mystery to me why we Gentiles ever thought that keeping the Sabbath was the one commandment we could dispense with. It has often been said: “More than Israel has kept Shabbat; Shabbat has kept Israel.” The streets are quiet, the shops are shut and there is a pervading sense of peace in the atmosphere. The rush is over; the rest has begun.
Yet Israel thrives on its six-day-a-week working cycle. Just 73 years after its re-birth, it is among the world leaders in hi-tech, agricultural expertise and military prowess.
But in Britain we are struggling. We have lost our cutting edge and prestige in engineering and manufacturing. Business is now focused on feeding our need for 24-hour shopping as we frenetically work around the clock.
Many of us are literally working ourselves to death from what we might well call a Sabbath Deficiency Syndrome. It’s become an increasingly common phenomenon, particularly in the Far East, where they’ve had to invent a new word for this kind of otherwise inexplicable death among relatively young people who work ridiculously long hours.
In Australia, I see that government-sponsored free food and drink stalls are provided at the roadside in an effort to encourage drivers to take a rest, and hopefully cut traffic fatalities. We are familiar with the ‘Tiredness Kills’ signs on approaches to motorway services in the UK, where refreshments are sadly not free.
But lack of rest certainly does kill – and not just due to weariness behind the wheel. Author Robert Morris, in his book Take the Day Off (which I reviewed last week), writes: “In a sense, a lifestyle of ignoring the principle of the Sabbath (a capital crime in ancient Israel) still carries the death penalty! It’s slow suicide.”
What we need are lots of roadside restaurants offering free food of the Word of God to put us back on the right track, help us live healthier lives in the here and now, and save us for eternity! Will the government sponsor that? (It would be their best-ever investment).
It was in the midst of nations being in uproar that the psalmist was able to hear God speak, thus: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 40:10)
And it wasn’t in the earthquake, wind or fire that Elijah heard God speak, but in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12).
To be concluded next week
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.