St. John Lutheran Church-Drake
what is a sabbath day's journey?
What is a Sabbath day's journey? First of all, it is a Jewish expression. We measure distances in meters or yards. The Jews had a certain distance that they could walk on Saturday before it would be considered work. So their synagogues that they went to on Saturday could not be very far away. The word appears only in Acts 1:12 and indicates a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.
With that in mind, I think it is important to remember the origins of Christianity. Just because we have an Old Testament, it does not mean that we call it the 'Outdated Testament'. Much of the Old Testament has a literary structure that we are not aware of because of our modern emphasis on chapter and verse divisions. Within many of these blogs, I try to get the reader to see a bigger picture, a larger perspective that often includes the Old Testament and the environment that was present when the New Testament was seeing the Light of the day.
Second, a Sabbath day's journey is intentionally short. These 'journeys' with a text, almost always one of the three readings for that Sunday, are deliberately brief discussions. This blog was never designed to be a comprehensive look at any text. Sometimes a specific word is studied in detail. But, as a whole, a blog entry, by itself, is meant to be quite brief.
Finally, since the term 'Sabbath day's journey' appears in Acts, it is meant to appeal to a wide variety of people. This blog is meant for those who cannot come on Sunday mornings. And it is also for those who do come on Sunday mornings but would also like a further study of the text. It is also for those who live somewhere else in the world (besides Drake and Freedom, Missouri, USA) and would simply like a further study of the text. It was meant to get these different groups of people to start thinking about the biblical texts. Part of the reason for this blog is that I am not able to have a bible class on Sunday mornings with either congregation, and so, to have a blog like this seemed like a good idea. I hope it is helpful for you, in whatever situation you may be.
Reading for January 19, 2020
We not only have short attention spans, but we have small perspectives as well. It is difficult to remember the beginning of a story when you reach the end, and it is difficult to see the bigger perspective of the entire story when you are starting at the first part of an ancient text.
One of the first examples that was brought to my attention many years ago was the presence of Jesus, both at the beginning and the end of the Gospel according to Matthew. At the beginning of the work, Jesus is ‘Immanuel’, God with us (1:23). And at the very end of the work, he promises to be always with his disciples, ‘to the end of the age (28:20).’
Someone worked very hard to make that gospel account a cohesive group of words. The words were not just a bunch of unrelated events in the life of Jesus. They had a purpose, a goal.
The gospel text for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany is from the Gospel according to John [1:29-42a], and the perspective of that account is huge. It not only goes back to the very beginning of time (see John 1:1), but it reaches all the way to the present and speaks to those who are reading or hearing those special words (see John 20:31).
This special gospel account also connects to the other accounts and supports those things which happen in the other gospel accounts, but those things are not directly and clearly brought up in this account. The institution of Baptism occurs in the Gospel according to Matthew, and in the Gospel according to John, Jesus connects himself to water on more than one occasion. One day, on the last, great day of a feast, Jesus stood up and said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (7:37-38; ESV).”’ The institution of the Lord’s Supper occurs in the other three gospel accounts, and in the Gospel according to John, Jesus talks about people eating his flesh and drinking his blood (see John 6).
The gospel text for this Sunday is near to the very beginning of this account, and many things are new. In this account we do not have an actual description of Jesus’ baptism, a sign of the beginning of his public ministry, but we do have John the Baptist testifying and supporting that event. That should be good enough for us, right?
There are two words that appear in the perfect tense and that emphasize an important past action that continues to have an effect [for more details about this tense, see page 577 of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, by Daniel B. Wallace, published by Zondervan, 1996]. These are the words ‘to see’ and ‘to witness’. John the Baptist says in John 1:34: ‘And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’
I believe there, in this first chapter, there is a strong connection to very near the end of the work, this gospel account’s portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. For many chapters, the writer has been going on and on about all the things that have happened to Jesus. Then these words go in a different direction; it is as if the writer was directing his attention to the reader or listener; it is quite unusual. Here are these words from John, chapter 19 (I will provide some verses before the sentence to give you a context):
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe (verses 31-35).
The words ‘to see’ and ‘to bear witness’ are near the end of that quotation. And they both are in that same, perfect tense. Given the great detail that these gospel writers have shown, I do not think that this is a coincidence. These two significant actions in the past have significant ramifications. And it is so clear when the writer is speaking to those who are reading or hearing these words.
It may also be helpful to bring up some relevant verses from 1 John 5 (the word ‘testify’ is the same as ‘bear witness’):
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree (verses 4-8; ESV).
Blood and water are two, extremely important things. Jesus, the Son of God, connects himself to both those things. Jesus HAS those things in himself. And Jesus gives those things out for a purpose, towards a goal, ‘that
- Rev. Paul Landgraf