Sermon: Holy DayPosted: August 30, 2015
The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day
“Remember to keep the Sabbath holy…. 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.”
What does the Sabbath mean?
In verse 11 we read that God rested on the Seventh day and blessed the Sabbath, so we assume that the Sabbath day was Saturday or the Seventh day. But Sabbath doesn’t mean seven; Sabbath means “to rest from labor.” God commanded that the Jews observe this day of rest every week.
And God was very serious about this commandment – “you Jews need to take a break, prop your feet up, and rest for a while. I don’t want you doing ANYTHING on this Sabbath day.”
It doesn’t sound as serious as “Thou shalt not commit adultery” or “Thou shalt not murder.”
When God says, “I want you to take it easy for a while” what would you suppose would be the penalty for not doing that? Probably nothing..
But as with every command God wasn’t joking. In Exodus 31:14 it says, “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.” That’s pretty scary! If you don’t stop and rest one day a week, you will be put to death. That’s pretty heavy!
Why the Command is necessary
1. God knows how important it is that humans rest.
In a recent study several soldiers were observed in various conditions to determine at what stage they achieved the maximum level of output. It was discovered that after seven consecutive days of hard work, each soldier’s performance dropped. But the most interesting thing was that even though the soldiers’ performance level dropped, the soldiers themselves were unaware of it. They thought they were still operating at maximum level. Many of us think we don’t need to rest, we think that it would be lazy to take a break every now and then. But God knows the importance of rest. God made us. He knows how much this body can handle. And he knows that if we don’t take time to recharge our batteries, that we will very quickly destroy ourselves.
2. God knows how much humans don’t want to rest.
Parents fully understand this, because we see the same resistance with our children. Have you ever watched young children fight sleep? They whine and cry; keep themselves busy, running and playing so they can’t fall asleep. But whatever they’re doing, no matter how frenzied their efforts to stay awake, they’ll insist they’re not tired. There are times when a mother or a father simply has to make a child rest.
God knew that man needed rest from his labor, and he also knew that man would resist it. And if God had said, “You know, you guys really ought to take a break every now and then,” there’s not a single one of us who would have taken Him seriously. But we tend to listen when God says, “Either you stop and rest for a while or I’ll kill you.”
3. The Sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant with Israel .
God had promised to provide for Israel, and they had promised to be obedient to God.
There were two things which stood as symbols of that covenant – Circumcision, and the keeping of the Sabbath.
When other people living around the Israelites noticed that the Jews didn’t do any work on the Sabbath, it would provoke questions in them. Everyone else worked seven days a week. You had to if you were going to survive, or at least that’s what they thought. “Why do you Jews only work six days a week and refuse to do any work on the seventh day?” To which, they could respond that they did this as a testimony to the fact that they belonged to Almighty God and that they were trusting in Him to provide for their needs.
4. The Sabbath was a test of the Israelites’ faith in God .
The Jews were farmers and so God, knowing how crucial timing was to a farming culture would surely make an exception to this rule for those times of the year when the crops were being planted and harvested. Surely they could work right through the Sabbath and then make up for it later when they were just sitting there watching the crops grow. Right? …..Wrong!
This law was a test of their faith. Was their faith in their own ability to get that crop in the ground and then harvest, or was their faith in God, the one who made the crops grow in the first place?
In a previous congregation, a man came to see me. He owned a nursery but his life was falling apart. Business was bad, his fiancé had left him and he had turned to booze. I spoke to him about Jesus and he was baptized. He joined the worship group and came to practice every Thursday evening but couldn’t come to church on Sundays. But then one Sunday he was there with his guitar. After the service I spoke with him and he told me that he was closing the nursery on Sundays. He had been reading the Bible I gave him when he was baptized and felt convicted. I told him that he was crazy –Sundays are the best days in the nursery business. I suggested that he take Mondays off instead but he was adamant. It was a turning point for him –the business picked up dramatically, his fiancé came back and they were eventually married. He passed that personal test of his faith!
The problem is that we sometimes don’t have enough faith in God to really believe that He is going to meet our needs, protect us, and carry our burdens. If we don’t work those extra hours, then we’re just not going to be provided for. So we work and we wear ourselves out seven days a week because we just don’t believe that God can take care of us. But God is serious about this commandment. He’s not just messing around.
By the time of Christ, the Sabbath day was kept with a vengeance by the Jews. By then it had become such a distinctive feature of the Jewish religion that anyone who knew anything at all about the Jews were aware of their strict refusal to work on the Sabbath day. However it came to symbolize legalism at its worst.
The Jewish rabbis had taken God’s command to absurd extremes. The Mishnah, which gives us a written record of Jewish tradition in the time of Christ, includes 1,521 rules on how a person could break the Sabbath. Among these are such things as separating two threads, writing two letters of the alphabet side by side, tying a knot, reading by candlelight, and so on. As if that weren’t enough, each of these prohibitions generated debate as to what constituted an offense of its kind. For example, could you put in your false teeth or was that considering carrying a burden? Some rabbis said you could, but others said it was wrong.
But the command was never intended for such absurd purposes. Jesus tried to put things back in their proper perspective by saying in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” God meant for the Sabbath to bring peace and rest.
The Jewish legalists had taken a beautiful commandment and turned it into a harsh and hateful ritual. They took a day of rest and turned it into a burden. From the start, God had intended it to bless his people. It was a time when families and friends could be together, a time when devotion to God could be shared, a time when the spirit and body could be refreshed. But instead, the Pharisees made the Sabbath something that absolutely wore people out trying to follow all their guidelines.
Like all of God’s laws, the Sabbath was designed not to be a burden, but to be a delight. It was designed not to inhibit freedom, but to protect.
So today let’s close with the three things the Sabbath law protects.
First, ironically, it protects the dignity of work.
Notice that vs. 9 of Exodus 20 says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.”
Contrary to what many of us think, work is not a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. In the garden, God gave Adam a job to do. He was to tend the garden and keep it. Work was a part of the world God called good. So when God gave the Sabbath regulation, he wanted to be sure we understood that he was not condemning work, but rather he was giving us a way to protect the dignity of it.
It doesn’t matter what you do, it always seems that your work is never done. And after awhile, if we aren’t careful, our work becomes toil. There is all the difference in the world between work and toil. Hard work gives us that good, tired feeling at the end of the day. Toil just makes us tired. Meaningful labor leaves us satisfied. Toil leaves us drained.
The Mishnah says that even if you can’t get all your work done in six days, on the Sabbath, you should live as if all your work was done. The Sabbath was a way of dignifying labor. And imagine what those people felt when they heard God decree this command. They’d been slaves for 400 years. And slaves don’t get days off. Taking one day out of seven to rest and focus on God protects the dignity of work.
Second, it protects the dignity of human beings.
Did you notice that the command includes slaves?
“On the Sabbath you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” Everyone and everything was to take a break from work.
Why? Human beings have always judged themselves and others by what they produced. They did it then. We do it now. We equate busyness with importance. The busier you are, the more important you are. We virtually celebrate our crowded schedules and unavailability to our families and our early mornings and our late nights because we have come to believe that an idle person is a worthless person. If you aren’t out there burning the candle at both ends then you can’t be a very important or successful person. Our dignity is determined by busyness.
So God said, “One day a week, stop it. Just sit down and stop trying to prove how big you are by how much you have to do. Even I, who created the world took a day of rest. And you are not more important than me.” God wants us to realize that who we are is not the same as what we do. He wants us to understand that our worth as human beings isn’t tied to our productivity. We are valuable because we exist in his image.
I once heard that Busy was an acronym for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. And as I see my diary fill up each day I believe that’s right. And I have no excuse to say that I’m doing God’s work –He won’t let me do that.
Third, and most important, the Sabbath was designed to protect our relationship with God.
If all we ever do is work we not only lack the time to reflect on the nature and glory of God, we begin to lose our need for him. If I, by my skill and energy and power and knowledge can carve out of this world a life of ease and comfort and success, why do I need God?
Soon I begin to imagine that God is dispensable, and that I am indispensable. They need me, the people at the office or at the hospital or at the church or at the school. If I’m gone, what will they do? We become seduced by our own sense of importance. Taking a day away from the world of demands and deadlines and expectations is God’s way of saying, “Dip your hand in a bucket, then pull it out and see what an impact you made.” It isn’t that we aren’t important to the people who count on us and to whom we are responsible. The point is that the most important responsibility we have is to God.
The Sabbath is a holy place in time where we remember our need for him, the unquenchable necessity of his presence. That’s why taking a Sabbath from work has to include God. Rest without spirit is the source of corruption. A Sabbath is more than a day off. It is a day away from the world. A day in which we remember who God is and who we are. A day in which we get our priorities back in line. We recognize that God is the indispensable one, not us.
There is a story about a meeting between Satan and his minions. He asked them, “What’s the most effective thing we can do to wreak havoc and pain on the earth?” One said, “Tell them there is no God.” Another said, “Convince them that they’ve wandered too far from the right path to ever return.” Still another said, “Convince people that there are no consequences to their behaviour.” They all agreed that these were great ideas. But a voice came from the back and said, “What if we convinced them that there is plenty of time.” And Satan loved it.
Time is the first thing God ever declared as holy. If we think that attending to our relationship with God is something we will get to someday then we treat time like one more commodity among all the other things we think we control. We de-sanctify it.
I know that the Sabbath day isn’t binding on us any more. But the principle is. We need to redeem the time we have, because we never have as much as we think.
Today I wonder how do you spend your time? Do you fill your time BUSY – Being Under Satan’s Yoke or do you take time to be still and know God? Today Jesus’ invitation is still offered. “Come to me, all of you who are tired and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your soul.”