Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 9. Command Four: Remember & Revere (2)
Ex 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 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.
Recap: In the previous meditation I said we would look at what the Law said first of all and then how it was applied and then at what Jesus said about it for us today. We noted, in considering what the Law actually said, that it was a call to remember or mark the seventh day of every week and make it holy (distinct and special, a unique day), and that was for every man, woman, child and beast in the community. The remembrance appeared to be two fold – to remember God as Creator and to remember God as deliverer.
Israel’s Struggles: Disobedience was always a struggle observable in Israel and that was always in respect of the Law. So important was this particular law that it even required the death penalty to keep the nation back from going down that path (see Num 15:32-36). Even after the Exile it was an issue they struggled with – see Neh 10:31, 13:15-19. Perhaps because of this the Pharisees of Jesus’ day saw this as a big issue.
Jesus’ Approach: So let’s now go into the New Testament and see the religious Jews having this problem with Jesus over Sabbath keeping: “At that time Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1,2) Now, let’s note the three ways Jesus deals with this:
i) Jesus appeals to the historical testimony: “He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.” (Mt 12:3,4)
i.e. David’s (acceptable) behaviour shows there are legitimate times to break the secondary rules.
ii) He also appeals to the Law: “Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here,” (v.5) e. there are bigger issues to be followed: “If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (v.6-8)
i.e. His conclusion is that as God HE decides what is best use of the Sabbath.
iii) He appeals to their practice: He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!” (v.11,12a)
i.e. Daily mishaps mean we sometimes have to act on the day of rest. His conclusion: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (v.12b)
Mark added to the grain field incident – “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mt 2:27,28)
To Summarize: From these verses we can suggest the following:
- Jesus, the Son of God, is the ultimate arbiter of how to use the Sabbath. It can be used for good!
- In ‘using it’ he doesn’t detract from its original purposes of remembering God the Creator and God the Provider, but in fact demonstrates Him doing that still.
- The Sabbath law is not to become a legalistic straight-jacket but as an instrument to bless and protect us – it was made for our benefit.
- The Jews added many minute detailed applications of the original law but that made it man-focused and not God-focused.
- We now have freedom to use the Sabbath (Sunday as followed by the early church e.g. Acts 20:7) for anything that might be considered ‘good’ while not detracting from using it as a day to specifically remember the Lord’s goodness.
- As those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the truth is that anything covered by 5 above can also be done on any other day of the week as well (as we’ll see below). Nevertheless when we work it is not always easy to ‘remember the Lord’ and so opportunities to meet together as church and perform such things as the Last Supper, are wisely, from a general administrative point of view, done on a ‘standard’ agreed day.
- History suggests that when people (maybe those disillusioned by church) cease meeting on a Sunday, they separate themselves off from the rest of the Church and soon become those for whom the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) Recognizing the value of meeting together for witness, worship, ministry and teaching, why not make it on the same day as the rest of the church. If we feel disillusioned by ‘church’ rather than abandon it, work to change it. Enough said.
The Big Rest: We have to thank the writer to the Hebrews for a big picture of the use of the words ‘rest’ and ‘sabbath. He starts down this path by warning against unbelief and disobedience (Heb 3:12-15) and quotes what had happened to Israel after the Exodus when they refused to enter the Promised Land (Heb 3:16,17). He had already quoted Psa 95 that ended prophetically with the Lord warning, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’”. (Psa 95:11) The writer to the Hebrews then seems to take this on allegorically when he says, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (Heb 4:1) He then argues, “ God made that vow, even though he’d finished his part before the foundation of the world. Somewhere it’s written, “God rested the seventh day, having completed his work,” but in this other text he says, “They’ll never be able to sit down and rest.” So this promise has not yet been fulfilled.” (Heb 4:3,4 Message version)
What he is doing here is comparing God coming to a point of completing His work of creation with the possibility of them/us completely entering into the life (the Land for them, the Christian experience for us), a life of simply receiving all of God’s provision (salvation) for us. As you read through chapters 4 you can see that the ‘sabbath rest’ that he refers to there, is not one special day a week, but the whole of life. So yes, as a safety factor, if we let the busyness of life overwhelm us as believers so we are not living in the constant awareness of the Lord’s provision of this world and this life, and of His provision of our redemption, then yes, fall back to specifically remembering it on this one day.
Complete & at Rest: However, the idea is that we so live in harmony with Him, trusting in the wonderful work of Christ on the Cross and receiving the fruit of it through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, that we no longer strive to be holy, we just are, we no longer struggle to be approved by God, we just are, we no longer struggle to get God to bless us, for we know that is His intent anyway, that the whole of our life experience is resting in His love, His provision, His power, His purposes for us. THAT is what ‘sabbath’ means for the Christian, a whole-of-life experience, a daily, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks of the year experience, constantly aware of and rejoicing in His provision and redemption. May we live like that. Hallelujah!
Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, thank you for the way you have brought your complete salvation to me so that I no longer have to strive to achieve your approval, strive to receive your grace and goodness; it is all here for me to just receive. Thank you so much. Amen.”