Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Saturday: An Ante-type of Christ's Death

Holy Saturday, the final Sabbath.

Christians have been commemorating the last Sabbath it since the beginning of Christianity. Only, instead of observing the Jewish weekly Sabbath as a command, Holy Saturday is a yearly Christian tradition to remember Christ in the tomb during the passion week. It is said that St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, gave the first Holy Saturday sermon and we still have copies of that sermon passed down to our time. Some of this ancient sermon is recorded here:

"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”

The last Sabbath Christ spent in the tomb. His body rested in death. And its importance is vastly more than a day. This Sabbath, the Sabbath of salvation was prophesied all the way back at creation. The meaning of Sabbath slowly unfolded through time as recorded in scripture. 

Genesis: The Seventh Day

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Gen. 2: 1-3

God rested on the seventh day.  Since our Creator needs no rest, for He is spirit, His rest, in fact, was not for Himself but to show, among other things, that one day He would rest again. His first rest pointed to another rest in the future. 

This seventh day of creation week was unlike any of the other days, for the scripture records each day with a evening and a morning. The first six days had an opening and a closing. Each day began with the light dimming (evening) and ended with the light (morning). Only with a cycle of both darkness and light was there a complete day. With the evening and the morning, it was finished. But, in the creation account, the seventh day had no external boundaries. It had no beginning and end like the other days. That was for a very important purpose. 

The Seven Cycle in Scripture

Sevens in scripture point to cycles of completion. The seventh in all cycles signals the end, the finish, and then another cycle emerges. So in creation, God began a cycle that didn’t quite end. The seventh day did not end as it did not complete the cycle of both evening and morning. The creation week almost ended but not quite, for the seventh day rest began but never had a "morning" to complete it. As if God was saying, “The morning has not yet come.” The cycle of God’s physical creation ended, the heavens and earth were done... yet, it was not finished. 

There was something more.... 

Introduction of the Sabbath Rest

In Exodus 16, the newly freed people of God were tested in the wilderness to see if they would obey God. The test was the manna. One day a week, at the end of a cycle of seven, manna would cease falling from the heavens. The bread of angels would rest. On the day of Sabbath rest or “ceasing” Israel was not to work nor to even go outside (Ex. 16:29), as if Sabbath was kind of a rest of death. In fact, Israel was commanded not even to light a light! They were to stay inside their tents as if they were in a tomb.

Then more rules were added:
No gathering, no working.
Stay inside.
Slaves rest.

Animals rest.
All Israel was commanded to cease.

Almost as if Israel was playing out a part of death by this Sabbath rest.

This rest was a sign for Israel, it pointed back to the seventh day of creation. That same seventh day that wasn’t quite finished. That day of evening and yet no morning, when God rested. 

The manna was a test from God. A test of resting, almost as if the test was joining God in His resting of creation. A rest that seemed like a death. No light. Stay in tent. No work. Total rest, like death.

In fact, if you did not cease from all work and stay inside your tent and complete the command of a seventh-day rest, God commanded your own physical death. (Ex. 35:3)

The end of this cycle of sevens was holy. To profane the sign of God’s rest at creation, meant physical death. As Israel wandered in the wilderness awaiting the promised land, Sabbath was not a day to go out at look at nature. It was not a day to enjoy. It was a solemn rest, just as if it were a preparation for Israel’s death.

The Sabbath Death

That endless cycle of sevens for the people of God which ended in a ceasing, a night without end, a rest that never seemed to complete itself, started over again. There wasn’t an eighth day. An eighth day would mean the end of the old cycle and a new would begin. The eighth day in scripture means a new beginning. The eighth day was also the first day of a new heaven and a new earth.

Israel played out in ceremonies of Passovers, sin offerings, and even in the seventh-day Sabbaths the signs that would point to our Savior. The Sabbath was Israel’s sign to look for the Messiah Savior and His rest.

God’s rest at creation began but was not finished until He would rest in the tomb. The eternal seventh day would culminate in the physical Sabbath on that Great and Holy Saturday when Christ would enter the tomb. As an ancient writer (perhaps even St. Peter himself) spoke about this Great and Holy Sabbath: 

“Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps...Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep.... He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross.  ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: 

Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence.’ “ (From ancient homily, “For Holy Saturday: The Lord’s Descent into Hell,”

Holy Saturday Proclaimed, “It Is Finished!”

God’s rest at creation began but was not finished until He had conquered both Heaven and Hell, both the seen and the unseen, the physical creation and the spiritual creation. With the Sabbath rest of Holy Saturday, God’s rest was finally complete. It was finished. All those Sabbaths Israel was figuratively in the tomb with Christ, pointed to the ultimate fulfillment of the end of the cycle of sin. The end of the seven of sin, the seventh day was finally over. Now with the dawn of the eighth day, the evening of the seventh day dawned into the morning and the true light had come in Jesus. Our Messiah. Our Christ. Our Savior.

Sabbath was to proclaim as a sign what God was going to go through for us through His rest begun at creation. He was going to suffer the depths of the underworld, the tomb, the dark rest of no light, just as the sabbaths commanded for Israel.

Now a new heaven and a new earth has come. The cycle of sin is over and the Sabbath of death has been fulfilled. We continue to remember the Sabbath forever, that great commandment of God for the Jews, only we do it now through the lens of the New Covenant. We now commemorate the Holy Saturday once a year as a tradition, not a law-- as that Saturday was the completion of the seven-day cycle of creation.

 And now we remember that then, as Holy Saturday’s tomb trembled the rest of death is over. The curse is lifted and sin has been conquered. 

So to recap: 
1. The Sabbath rest at creation was open-ended.
2. The cycle of seven in scripture means a fulfillment, a completion. So the Creation Sabbath was not yet fulfilled. 
3. Israel's Sabbaths had requirements that looked like death and could be pointing to the Messianic last Sabbath in the tomb. Therefore, each Sabbath Israel was proclaiming the coming Messiah's death and the end of the cycle of Sabbaths.
4. The long Sabbath begun at creation was finally finished on that Sabbath when Christ entered the tomb. 

The Sabbath was Israel's sign that the Messiah would fulfill the law and the prophets by His death and entombment and finish the long cycle of unaccomplished rest. Christ was bringing in the New Covenant rest that was to be found in Him. "Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." 

We are now living a new cycle and its day of commemoration isn’t the tomb, but the SUN RISE!! THE MORNING HAS COME! With Christ’s resurrection, the cycle of creation was completed and now a new kind of rest was brought in. No longer a physical rest, but a rest in the completion of Christ’s salvation.

Morning has broken and we are living in a new day. A day of life. A cycle of morning and the Son that will never end. 

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