Shabbat, Sabbath, and Lent: Religious Traditions of Christianity and Why They Are Important

What Is Shabbat?

In the language of the Jewish culture (Hebrew), the word for Sabbath is Shabbat (pronounced shuh-baat). In Jewish culture, work of all kinds stops for 25 hours from the sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Special meals, prayers, gatherings, and services are performed over the course of those 25 hours, but the prep for them starts as early as midway in the week before them. You can read more about those traditions here.

What is Sabbath?

Like so many Jewish traditions, Shabbat celebrates God’s providence in the past. The Sabbath celebrates God’s providing and protecting hand throughout the past, present, and the future. Sabbath is also about God the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and it was moved to Sunday for multiple reasons. According to this article from Christianity Today, it has been suggested that the Sabbath changed to Sunday as more people outside of the Jewish culture came to believe in Christ. To pick a day that was not tied to Jewish tradition alone, the early church chose to remember both the start of Creation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ by making the Sabbath on Sunday (since both happened on that day).

How Sabbath Differs

Shabbat and Sabbath are both a day off work to rest and draw closer to God. However, the Sabbath has far less traditional obligations in Christian culture. Most Christians just go to church on Sunday and are done with it. Others go out to eat or cook something special at home that they don’t normally have through the week. Still, others make intentional sacrifices–like going without tech devices for the day–to show reverence to God. In short, religious traditions for a Sabbath revolve around church attendance and personal convictions.

Where Do They Both Come From?

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and everything in it. He did all this work in six days and rested on the seventh day. That seventh day of rest was later made into a rule for God’s people to follow:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11, NIV

Why Sabbath Is Importantp

As Season 1, Episode 2 of The Chosen demonstrated, Sabbath Rest is about spending time intentionally off work and with loved ones and fellow believers to pursue the presence of God. It comes as an overflow of our act of faith and God’s gift of provision. In Exodus 14, Israel was rescued out of slavery in Egypt and sent into a “promised land” full of impossibilities. Every step into the new world took extraordinary Hebrews 11 kind of faith, and God rewarded them with protection (Exodus 13:12-22), food (Exodus 16:4), clothing (Deuteronomy 29:5), and conquerable land. Still we find ourselves fearful, wandering, questioning God, and reluctant to take even one day to think about our relationship to Him and try to get closer to Him.

Selah: Pause and Consider This

In Isaiah 43:2, God made His people this promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

In Exodus 14, God parted the Red Sea to help the Israelites escape the Egyptians, and he folded it in on and drown those that dared pursue them. In Joshua 3, God parted the waters again all the way down to dry land by carrying the Ark of the Covenant across a body of water. In Daniel 3, three men were thrown into a blazing hot fire for not worshiping a statue. A “fourth man” showed up in the fire and kept all of them from burning or even smelling of smoke. It was so miraculous that the King who threw them in the fire removed them and made a new law showing support and allegiance to the God able to do that miracle.

Does looking back on the God that did all of this make a difference in how you approach the impossible things in your life today? Does thinking about his past deeds help you desire to spend more time with him today? What gets in the way of you truly resting in the presence of God on your Sabbath? When you compare yourself to the characters in the show, are you tripped by your past like Mary? tied to religious rituals like Nicodemus? stuck in relational conflict like Matthew? or too afraid to stop working like Simon?

The Chosen Episode 2 from THE FATHER’S HOUSE on Vimeo.

What is Lent and the Liturgical Calendar?

At the time of writing this post, we are in the first week of Lent on the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is a year-round cycle of events that helps Christians get into a rhythm of prayerful, thankful acknowledgment of God at work in their lives. The calendar transcends denominations because God didn’t make them; it focuses on specific events leading to the two most holy events in Christianity: Christmas and Easter.

Lent is a period of 40 days of fasting honoring what Jesus went through in the wilderness prior to Easter. It runs from March 2nd to April 16th and excludes Sundays so Christians can break their fast and celebrate their faith. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, and on this day, many Christians put ash on their foreheads to remind themselves of how finite life is; we all return to dust eventually. For the next 40 days, Christians choose some food to avoid, and they become more intentionally prayerful and generous. They give to the needy more. They think about Christ more. They read more of the Bible and devotionals. It is a time to remember the suffering of Christ on the cross, examine our own hearts, and allow God to further shape us into the image of Christ we are meant to bear in this world.

Closing Thoughts

We have the right to take physical rest whenever and wherever we want to, but our souls only find rest in the presence of God. As we surrender to our need for Him, God calms our anxious minds and fills our reservoir with peace. Surrender is not a passive thing. Consider Matthew 11:28-30. The same God who said he would do whatever it takes to buy your ransom in Isaiah 43:2 also says you have a yoke and burden to bear (just not a heavy one).

What burdens have you allowed yourself to take on lately? What does the Bible have to say on those issues? Never take a thought as a truth in itself; always hold it up to the light of Truth by comparing it to the Gospel. More of what we hear in our heads is coming from a negative place not a scriptural one.

Consider joining Sacred Ordinary Days to help you get into a practice of communal living in God’s presence through the liturgical year. It can also help you to create a sustainable rhythm in your prayer and personal worship time as you learn to live in harmony with key events in your field of faith.

The Love That Came At Christmas To Heal Us

Around the world right now, trees are decorated with lights, precious trinkets we call ornaments, and wrapped boxes we are anxious to open. Music and food we reserve for just this time of year are shared and relished with family and friends. We hurry to shops and parties we don’t bother with the rest of the year. Then we slow down with a cup of cocoa, a blanket, and a Hallmark movie to feel the magic that anything truly can happen this time of the year. We take longer baths, we sleep in and read books in bed, and we dream of snow all to pamper ourselves. Now is the time of year when we relish the things we have accomplished and the ones we hold dear and seek to show them our love with our gifts and our time.

But none of this gift would be ours without Jesus.

Once upon a time two thousand or so years ago, there was a baby born in a barn because there was no room for him elsewhere. He was wrapped in rags and laid in a feed trough because it was the closest thing to a cradle and diapers in a barn back then.

He was no ordinary baby because he had no ordinary father. His mother was a woman so young that she was practically a child herself. She became pregnant while she was engaged to another man; she became pregnant by God.

I imagine she was a beautiful woman, but beauty would not have been enough to save her from the shame and punishment of an unwed pregnancy. Still, her betrothed loved her dearly and chose to protect her when he was told the news. Not only did he protect her, but he believed with her that the baby was a gift from God not a betrayal with another man. He accepted the role of a stepfather and chose to love the son she carried like it was his own.

A wicked king got word that a baby was coming that would be a greater king than any on Earth, a king of all kings. He didn’t like that, so he made a decree that all the male children in the land should be killed. Many innocent babies were slaughtered, but the young king of kings escaped unscathed.

The young king was born in meager surroundings to parents who could never offer him the riches of a palace. He came at an unexpected time in the middle of a journey to a destination that had to change when news of the wicked king’s evil plans reached his parents. Before he was a minute old, he was challenging and changing their world.

I imagine it was not easy to raise a son knowing he was also the son of your God. How could they instruct the one who was there when the Earth was formed from the black void of the heavens? What could they possibly teach him that he didn’t already know himself? They taught him love. His stepfather taught him the tools and skills of his trade, carpentry. His mother likely taught him manners and social skills. If he knew better than they, he did not show it. He chose humility and obeyed them.

The God child did not come into the world for a fun adventure. He came to meet specific people in history and fulfill a prophesy to restore right relationship between God himself and mankind. He didn’t care about taking any king’s throne; he cared about making a way for all kings and commoners to approach God again (something they could not do when sin entered the picture in the Garden of Eden).

The God child, Jesus Christ, chose to die a tortured death with his hands and feet nailed to a Roman cross with nails the size of railroad spikes. It was a death reserved for the worst of criminals, but he did not do anything to deserve it. He chose to die in this way so that he could symbolically suffer for the sins of all mankind and pay the penalty of their sin in their stead.

The sacrifice worked, but it did not come easy. As he pressed against the nails and broken bones, he struggled to breath and slowly suffocated. In a dry voice barely more than a whisper, he said, “it is finished.” The earth shook violently as he breathed his last breath. Inside the temple where religious ceremonies were performed, the veil representing the separation between God and man was ripped in two from the top down. Heaven and earth were echoing the victory of the dead king of kings.

Jesus Christ was buried in a stone tomb large enough to bury a man’s whole family. A giant boulder was rolled in front of the entrance and guards were made to stay behind and keep anyone from coming and trying to steal the body away.

If the story ended here, the redemption would have ended there too because no one outside a certain group of people knew his story. God had bigger plans; he wanted to save the whole entire Earth–including people who didn’t know him yet and people like me and you who weren’t born yet. He would have to do that through the testimony of people that knew him, people that had scattered to the four winds in fear and hiding when he was crucified. He had to find them again and tell them what he wanted them to do.

For three days, Christ laid in the tomb cold, lifeless, and wrapped in nothing but rags much like the day when he was born. On the third day, the tomb burst open from the inside. Warrior angels rolled away the stone and Christ walked out, fully alive and robbed in white.

Christ found his hidden followers and spent forty days with them before he went back home to Heaven. He spent those forty days with them so there would be no doubt in their minds that he was fully alive again. He told them to go into the rest of the world and tell people about him and the hope of forgiveness and love he had restored for them. The followers did what he asked them to do.
This Christmas as you celebrate the holidays with joy, remember that the Christ in Christmas came to save your life too. If you have not chosen him as the leader of your life, it is not too late to do so now. He said that we all fall short of what we are supposed to be and cannot be made right without him. He said that if we confess what we have done wrong, he is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse us from our sins.  Open your heart and talk to God today.

Merry Christmas!