Loving the Sabbath
This is an excerpt from a two part sermon series on Jesus and the Sabbath laws I began last week at Good Shepherd. You can find the whole sermon here.
Notice where the Sabbath command is situated. What do the first three commands deal with? Our relationship with God. Jesus summarizes them: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul.” What do the last six deal with? Our relationship with other people. Jesus sums them up with the single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So you have two categories - loving God and loving your neighbor. Where does the Sabbath commandment fit? Is it a command dealing primarily with loving God or loving our neighbors?
Let’s look at the text:
8“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In verse 10 God says - the Sabbath is a sabbath “to” your God. The day is to be given over to the Lord. It is “the Lord’s day.” What does that mean?
God ties it, you’ll notice, directly back to the Genesis 2 moment. I want you to return, God is saying, to that perfect moment in time after I finished the work of creation, before you sinned - that single breath of perfect communion we shared. Go back there with me, rest with me.
But God’s not calling Israel merely to re-live past glories. The author of Hebrews tells us that God gave the Sabbath as a prophetic symbol. He’s not just calling us back to the past, he’s calling us back to the future. Our sin destroyed that Genesis 2 moment. But God’s not finished yet. The bible is the story of God re-creating the 7th Day we destroyed. One day there’ll a Sabbath rest that never ends.
What, by the way, did Jesus do after he Ascended into heaven? He sat down. He stopped “doing”. He rested. The author of Hebrews tells us that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. It’s found in Christ (Heb 4:9). You may have it in your heart now through faith in God’s Son - but one day Jesus will return and the real Sabbath rest will begin.
So, back to Exodus 20, God says, one day in seven, enjoy with me the fellowship we once had. On that day don’t set anything above me. Don’t let your work, your study, your cleaning, your play, your desires, interrupt our fellowship and communion. Be with me and I will be with you. Go back and taste the sweetness of genesis 2 once again and taste your future.
So the Sabbath seems to deal with our relationship to God.
But not so fast. Let’s say you’re wealthy - lots of servants, employees, and lots of beasts. You’ve been commanded to rest. What would your temptation be?
Sure, I’ll rest but my servants, my employees - they’re working. I can’t work myself but I can still make money.
But God says no. Everybody, even the unbelievers, even your mule, rests.
And God’s quite serious about it. He gave some detailed laws. You couldn’t plant anything, harvest anything, carry heavy burdens - and the penalty for Sabbath-breaking was death.
Sounds harsh but I can see why God had to be so clear. We tell our kids to take a nap. 10 minutes later they’re screaming and running in circles. So we need to say: “nap” means; you’re in your bed, reading a book, falling asleep. And if I hear you there’s going to be trouble for you. If we don’t say that, they’ll never rest.
God knows his children need rest - and - he knows we’ll find ways to hurt ourselves and each other if he’s not clear.
So on the one hand Sabbath is the Lord’s day - we rest to him. On the other it’s for you and your neighbors and your employees and your mule to rest.
So the Sabbath commandment brings both tables of the law together - You love God, and love your neighbor. The Sabbath draws the people of God back to God and back to each other.
It wasn’t a day for a little “me time” as it seems to have become in our day
Turn to Leviticus 23:3
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.”
The original Sabbath was Adam and Eve loving each other and together loving God. If Sabbath is the reenactment of the day God finished his work - it’s to be spent with God and God’s people. A “convocation” is a worship gathering.
It’s hugely important to understand how God defines “rest” for his people here. It’s not - spend the day doing whatever floats your boat, whatever makes you feel happiest. We mustn’t confuse our understanding of rest with God’s definition of rest for us.
His definition is corporate worship.
This is counterintuitive. I mean if I’m an ancient Jew and its a day of rest to the Lord, I’m going hiking or camping or walking in the woods…as far away from all you crazy people as I possibly can. Why on earth would I want to be in the synagogue or the Temple of all places?
But for God “rest” includes both the cessation of work and the act of corporate worship. Worshiping with all my people - people you love and people who annoy the tar out of you - isn’t work - God says - its rest.
Notice also the last line: “It is a sabbath…in all your dwelling places”.
Dwelling places doesn’t refer to homes…but to regions. Israel, Babylon, Assyria, Rome. Wherever you are gather, worship, love me, love each other, and enjoy the day.
This is partly why synagogues were built. Not everyone lived in Jerusalem.
It’s why Jesus went to the synagogue habitually every Sabbath. (Luke4)
Now let’s back out and think this through. God’s purpose in giving the Sabbath was his people’s joy. He wants us to taste, once a week, life before sin ruined the Garden moment and life in the City that will come down out of heaven on the day he returns and sin and death are destroyed.
So set everything that takes your attention from me aside, rest, It’s my day, love me, love my people and you’ll have my joy.
The problem is that we think we know better.
We’re so proud. We can’t imagine that God’s law is good - not just in an objective sense - but good for us. Sweet. Wonderful.
If our hearts were sinless, there’d be nothing better than the Sabbath. But because we think we’re smarter than God, his commands are a burden, a drag.
But here’s how this works. How many of you have ever lost a lot of weight? I remember what it was like for me. At first I couldn’t imagine life without a constant flow of donuts and cake and potato chips. And the first two weeks were not fun - miserable in fact. But after about a month I started feeling better than I ever have before. I was finally living in accordance with the way God designed my body and it brought me joy - just like it was designed to do.
The same thing turns out to be true with God’s commands in scripture. At first they may seem burdensome but it’s only after we do what God calls us to do that we can turn back and say - Oh, this is sweet.
Listen to this from Isaiah 58:13-14
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord,and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.”
Those who keep the Sabbath will “take delight in the Lord.” Notice how God sets what we think we want on one side and true delight on the other.
Trust me, God says, do what I say, and you’ll find your delight.
How does he know? He made you.
There are three essential Sabbath commands. Don’t work, don’t make anyone else work, and come together for worship. Each of these commands were given for you…they are not arrayed against you as enemies. They are friends. God designed the Sabbath for Man, not Man for the Sabbath. It is to be a day of joy and delight and rest and fellowship.
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