IVP - Online Pulpit - Just a Sabbath Day's Journey

March 28, 2014

Just a Sabbath Day's Journey

by Abdu Murray

In Acts 1:12 the disciples leave the Mount of Olives after Jesus’ ascension and go to Jerusalem, where the promise of the Holy Spirit is waiting. That distance—from where they stood gazing to the heavens to the place of the promise’s fulfillment—was only three-quarters of a mile. The Bible calls it a “Sabbath day’s journey.”

That’s a profound little phrase. Today, we’re looking far and wide for fulfillment—answers to our quest for purpose and meaning—because we’re under the impression that deep answers are found in mountain-ensconced ashrams or along European backpacking trails or in college where we “find ourselves.” As an itinerant evangelist and apologist who speaks in diverse settings, I’ve talked with skeptics and doubters who aren’t just visiting churches but are actively involved in and perhaps lead church programs. They come to church to fulfill a desire for community and belonging. Yet, for whatever reason, they feel that their deepest questions are not answered where they go every Sunday.

But the answers are there if we can artfully (and prayerfully) offer them. In his Pensées Blaise Pascal wrote that the way to address deep doubt is “first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.” Vibrant churches strive to make the gospel attractive so that the doubters who come will wish it were true. But to captivate hearts and minds for Christ, we need to show them how the gospel comports with reason. We need to show them that it is true and that it answers their toughest questions.

I was a proud Muslim before committing my life to Christ at twenty-seven. As a Muslim I clung to Islam’s fundamental doctrine, expressed in the familiar phrase Allahu Akbar, literally “God is greater.” I wanted a faith that would exalt God as the Greatest Possible Being. And as I began to see that the gospel might actually be that faith, I embarked on a nine-year journey of spiritual and intellectual discovery. That journey took me through countless books, articles, emails and conversations with scholars across the world. I mistakenly believed that I couldn’t find any answers to my sophisticated questions at the local church. So I went looking far and wide. And after years of intellectual and emotional struggles, I finally discovered that the gospel offers me a self-sufficient yet self-sacrificial God who embodies the greatness I longed to worship. The cross was attractive and true to both my mind and my heart.

Amid life’s questions, we all have a Grand Central Question—the answer to which brings all other questions into focus. The gospel is attractive and true because it both affirms and answers our Grand Central Questions. The secular humanist’s Grand Central Question is, “How can humanity have objective value?” Jesus’ payment at the cross demonstrates how valuable each of us is. The pantheist’s Grand Central Question is, “How do we escape from suffering?” The cross is God’s answer to suffering that is not a mere illusion but a reality God experiences himself and delivers us through. And to the Muslim the gospel offers the cross as the greatest possible expression of love by the Greatest Possible Being. Historically, theologically and existentially the cross is simultaneously what can make good people wish the gospel were true and can show them that in fact it is.

Many who are coming to—and even serving in—our churches are looking for answers to their Grand Central Questions. If we incorporate intellectually stirring answers into our spiritually moving Sunday sermons, those very same people will begin to see that the answers they seek are no further away than a mere sabbath day’s journey.

Abdu H. Murray (J.D., University of Michigan) is the author of Grand Central Question (InterVarsity Press, 2014) and the president of Embrace the Truth International. He is also visiting professor of Christian thought and apologetics for the Josh McDowell Institute at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at March 28, 2014 1:01 PM Bookmark and Share

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