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June 27, 2012


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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11 comments

Matt, that was one of my Lenten disciplines this year, to keep the Sabbath holy.  To not do chores, to not run errands, to not catch up, but to rest.  When I began intentionally honoring the Sabbath, I became way more productive on Saturday and I looked forward to Sunday in a new way.  Great sermon.

[1] Posted by ty1028 on 6-27-2012 at 08:17 AM · [top]

Fr. Matt: I very much agree with this in principle, and we really try to honor the Sabbath in my family (3 years of a reformed education pushed me hard in that direction).  I used to love Sundays a lot more than I do today, so I’d like your commentary into our situation. 

1.  I have a 3.5 year old, a 2 year old, and 1 on they way. 
2.  I go to a Nigerian Anglican church in Indianapolis… not just CANA Nigerian, but 95% of the members are Nigerian.  Why does this matter?  Services are always at least 2hours, and communion Sundays (1-2 / month) are often 3.  So, this means we could be at church from 11-2. 
3.  Because of this, Sundays are the MOST exhausting day of the entire week.  Naps may be shot for the children, the kids are cranky because snacking during church does not often “cut it” for missing lunch, they cannot sit still for 3 hours, and we spend a lot of energy trying to reign them in (no nursery, Sunday school is hit or miss).  We are so exhausted to function so many Sundays.  And we certainly don’t build any reserves to take into the week (at least from a human perspective)

My wife and I really struggle with trying to honor the principles of the Sabbath, and its going to get harder with #3.  I know you have a big family… could you comment?

[2] Posted by timmysdaman on 6-27-2012 at 08:49 AM · [top]

Hi timmysdaman,

I feel your pain, seriously. I remember those days. With six kids its actually a little easier than it was when we had just three…principally because our two oldest at 7 and 9 are able to help with the babies (2 and 1). Also our church is larger now which means better child-care and a host of people willing to hold and watch over the kids.

But I definitely remember Sabbaths being less than restful when we had three very youngish children. What to do?

Well, I don’t know your family dynamics but here’s what we did, I hope it helps. Some of these are purely “attitudes” to develop, others are real concrete actions.

1. Recognize that your family right now is at one of the most wearying stages. The teenage years will also be difficult, but not in the same way. So get a “marathon” mindset rather than a sprint. Keeping up the Sabbath habit and discipline will ultimately bear fruit and make the day joyful and restful for everyone…but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to push through some plateaus and trudge through some muddy valleys.

2. What you are doing now is exactly right. Despite the hardship you are doing your best to honor God and you are laying down some hugely important habits for you and for your family.

3. Church is long…that’s okay. It’s probably not as long as church used to be…and even if its somewhat burdensome…it will bear fruit. We have always had long Sundays since I’m the pastor. We need to be there at 8am and we often don’t leave till 2 or sometimes 3. What we did when our kids were small (and still do for the younger ones) was make sure that immediately upon getting home from church it was nap time for all the kids no matter wha - and when they could not sleep they were to lay in bed and read for at least an hour and a half - but they always ended up falling asleep for a longer time. That gave Anne and I time to sit down with a glass of wine and discuss the day, the sermon, the conversations, and just enjoy each other.

4. Make a huge deal about a Sunday feast. Anne and I both love to cook. It’s one of the most restful things we do all week. So, starting Monday we plan our Sunday feast. We think through the menu, the wine, the place - settings etc - and we spent most of the afternoon preparing together in the kitchen and we let the kids watch movies while we did that (something they loved to do and were not allowed to do regularly during the week…more about that below). And then we’d gather to eat. Training kids to eat at the table and then bearing with them while they do can be difficult…but it doesn’t have to be torturous. This article is fantastic on that score:

http://ourmothersdaughters.blogspot.com/2012/03/seven-strategies-for-dinner-with.html

5. Sunday should be a fun day for the kids too. As you know church will not always be seen as an exhilarating experience but an image that keeps returning to me from a sermon I heard long ago (not even sure if it is true) is that of a Jewish father opening the Torah for the first time with his son and as soon as his son starts to read, dabbing his toungue with honey. There should be a sweetness to the Sabbath that enhances the attraction of church and worship etc. We do that by letting them do things on Sunday they never get to do any other day of the week…we started with movies, then moved on to things like drinking coffee in the morning for our oldest, eating cake at church etc…we let them be a little spoiled at home and at church.

6. Pray for and seek out an older lady or two who might love your children. Several ladies have virtually adopted our younger kids…so when we go to church they hold them almost the entire time. If you don’t hvae anyone like that, pray that God raises someone up for you.

That’s all the time I have for now, I’ll come back later

[3] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-27-2012 at 09:17 AM · [top]

I very much enjoyed your fine sermon reproduced here, and agree with it all, most heartily. Except that the Sabbath is Shabbat, Saturday. The Lord’s Day is Sunday by ancient usage from the earliest days. But Saturday and Sunday are two different days. To my knowledge no person or body in the Church has the authority to change one of the Ten Commandments. The Lord is extremely specific about this. The Seventh Day of the Week is the Sabbath. The First Day is the weekly commemoration of the Resurrection. The two are different days and have different backgrounds. The Sabbath is the day of rest. The First Day of the week is the day of the New Creation in Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. Some people like to reinterpret the Sabbath as being about some kind of “principle” of rest which can somehow be transferred at will (or by custom) to some other day of the week. However, the Lord’s specificity in re the Sabbath Day rules that out, unless, of course, one wants to also affirm people’s assertion that individuals and churches can reinterpret the other nine as well. And, of course, that leads to the eventual revision of other Biblical doctrines, and we all know where that leads.

[4] Posted by A Senior Priest on 6-27-2012 at 11:28 AM · [top]

I agree Senior Priest that no one has the right to change the 10 commandments…if may push back a bit though…I don’t think that’s quite what I’m arguing. I am arguing that Sunday is a fine day to celebrate the Sabbath because that is the Day God invited us into his Sabbath rest through the Resurrection of his Son. Doug Wilson Summarizes here:
http://www.dougwils.com/Church-Year/a-rest-remains.html

“The material universe was created on Sunday (Gen. 1:5). The Jews had been observing the seventh day Sabbath for centuries. God appears to have told the Jews that the seventh day observance would be an everlasting covenant (Lev. 24:8). But then the day shifted from the seventh to the first without any notable controversy. How could that be? What could account for this? Nothing less than the total recreation of all things. Behold, Jesus said. I make all things new (Rev. 21:5; 2 Cor. 5:17). He came back from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9; John 20:1), meaning that this was the day on which the reCreator entered His rest. Jesus made a point of appearing to His disciples on this same day (John 20:19). His next appearance to them was a week later, on the following Sunday (John 20:26). The Holy Spirit was poured out fifty days later, also on Sunday (Acts 2:1). And in the main, the Christian church has never looked back.

Not one Christian in ten thousand could give a decent biblical defense of our practice of worshiping God on the first day, and yet here we all are. Look at us go. Can we account for this through an appeal to the stupidity of blind, inexorable tradition? No—we should actually attribute it to the fact that two thousand years ago God overhauled everything, raising His Son from the dead in broad daylight. Jesus entered His rest, and consequently we may rest and rejoice before Him.”

But I think his work is consistent with the basic train/process/sequence of thought here:
http://www.catholic.com/tracts/sabbath-or-sunday

That is essentially where I’m going.

I’ll lay it out this week but I think there is good enough NT evidence (and early church evidence as well) to suggest that the Sabbath of the Old Covenant was transformed by the New Covenant in the same way that circumcisions was transformed by the institution of Baptism. This transformation includes the day and way it is observed.

[5] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-27-2012 at 12:03 PM · [top]

Father Matt- I love and agree with most of this. Some time ago I was convicted that the 4th Commandment was one I failed to keep. In addition to my understanding of the scripture involved, two books influenced my thinking: Sabbath (The Ancient Practices) by Dan Allender and Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I’ll let you read the books, but here’s my understanding in a nutshell.
God…Jesus…spoke the world into existence over a period of 6 days. On the 7th day he rested. Why? Was He tired? He is incapable of being tired (except during the time he took on human flesh). What did He do on this 7th day? He delighted in His creation. The 4th commandment I have come to believe is a commandment to rest on the day God established and delight in Him. He makes it Holy. We make it so on earth as it is in heaven by doing as He commanded. As a priest the Lord’s Day is a very busy day for me. I understand the 4th commandment to mean I’m to set aside a day and delight in the Lord. I’m not hung up on its being Saturday. Not working myself nor making others to work (as the organist and tellers and people working in the Sunday School and those making the food and cleaning up after fellowship do on Sunday). For the laity this means a day of worship (and hopefully every week day also involves worship either at home or at one of our weekday masses) and a day of rest. Sunday could be a layperson’s sabbath if they don’t have work to do at church and dedicate the day to delighting in the Lord.
What do you think?

[6] Posted by erfather on 6-27-2012 at 12:03 PM · [top]

We started keeping Sabbath (Shabat) several years ago, and our farm cores are largely 23/7 affairs.  That being said, we had found that the intentional ‘rest’ on Shabat, even tho we do not keep a good orthodx, ssidic Sabbath, we do unwind from the problems of the previous week, and spend time in reflection and prayer…sometimes in the cabin, sometimes in the Black His surrounding our home…but spending the time as an intentional ‘get with God’ sort of thing.

Sunday is still, for us, Sunday, generally Morning Prayer, with all of our Anglican and personal prayers and intentions, then a Mass in the evening, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends who stop by for our services, with the evening service daily including prayers for all active duty South Dakota and other military, as we know of them.  For the next three weeks to include all delegates and deliberations at GC77.

In His Name,
Chip+,SF

[7] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 6-27-2012 at 12:43 PM · [top]

timmysdaman, this book should also be helpful to you (and to anyone else struggling to find joy in the Sabbath). It also lays out a very good argument for the Sabbath tranformation in the New Covenant:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7652784-the-taste-of-sabbath

[8] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-27-2012 at 12:46 PM · [top]

Thank you very kindly Matt, for your fine response. What I would argue for (as I do in my own parish) is for Sabbath observance on Saturday and joyful celebration of the Resurrection/New Creation on Sunday. In a way that response to the Lord’s Shabbat Commandment in the Old Testament (which is still operative, of course) on Saturday and then Sunday corporate worship and celebration in the New Testament tradition honors our entire Judaeo-Christian heritage as adopted children of Abraham and children of fulfillment of the Promises made to him.

[9] Posted by A Senior Priest on 6-27-2012 at 12:50 PM · [top]

I’ve appreciated all the feedback. Thanks to everyone, particular Fr. Matt.

[10] Posted by timmysdaman on 6-28-2012 at 07:55 AM · [top]

I suppose the discussion about this is finished (it took over 2 weeks to get posting privileges), but as a former Seventh-day Adventist (who tried to keep the Sabbath for 35 years), I just had to comment.  I don’t have any disagreement with someone who sets aside time to spend with God.  I do have a problem if it becomes legalistic.  It is not humanly possible to “keep” the Sabbath, just try it!  Like all the types and shadows in the Mosaic law, the Sabbath is also a shadow about Christ, about rest in Him.  If you truly believe you “have” to “keep” the Old Testament Sabbath, you will have to adopt most if not all of the same Sabbath-keeping practices as the Orthodox Jews.  Why do people insist on putting themselves back under the law and at the same time exclaim about the wonderful liberty in Jesus—you can’t have it both ways.  Please study Paul’s letter to the Romans (especially Rom. 6:14 and 7:6).  If you try to keep even one commandment on your own, you are then obliged to keep them all (which nobody can) and you put yourself under the law’s curse.  Why turn your back on grace?  See Galatians 5:4.

I would highly recommend the book “Sabbath in Christ” by Dale Ratzlaff.  http://www.lifeassuranceministries.com/sic.html  or also available at http://www.amazon.com/Sabbath-in-Christ/dp/0962754617/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341114049&sr=1-1&keywords=sabbath+in+christ

Here are a few miscellaneous items that I found helpful:

- Article “Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath”—see page 5 at
http://lifeassuranceministries.org/Proclamation2005_JanFeb.pdf

- There are more articles about the Sabbath listed here under “Sabbath & rest in Christ” at http://www.lifeassuranceministries.org/proclamationlist.html#SabbathRestinChrist  (all the articles are available online)

- This entire devotional is good, I couldn’t take a quote out of context—read the entire thing at http://kingsenglish.info/2012/03/02/remember-the-sabbath-day-2/

- “The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week - the rest of knowing we don’t have to work to save ourselves, but that our salvation was accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10). ”  from http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/2358.htm

- “Our faith in Jesus is intended to replace our attempts to keep the law (in any kind of a legal context). It is an all or nothing deal. If we try to “keep” any of it we have to keep it all, and thus be justified by our works. Or, we must completely rely on Jesus’ work, and abandon ourselves to the control of the Spirit.”  from http://members.tripod.com/~Help_for_SDAs/DiscoveriesinDoctrine.htm#Sabbath

- “Jesus is now the daily Sabbath rest for all who humbly depend upon Him. “For we who have believed do enter that rest” (Heb_4:3).”  from http://www.blueletterbible.org/devotionals/dbdbg/view.cfm?Date=06/18

- “To be “under the law” is, first, to be under its claim to entire obedience; and so, next under its curse for the breach of these. And as all power to obey can reach the sinner only through Grace, of which the law knows nothing, it follows that to be “under the law” is, finally, to be shut up under an inability to keep it, and consequently to be the helpless slave of sin. On the other hand, to be “under grace,” is to be under the glorious canopy and saving effects of that “grace which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (see on Rom_5:20, Rom_5:21).”  from “A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments” by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown (re: Romans 6:14)

- An article by a former Seventh-day Adventist, scroll down the page a bit—http://www.ex-sda.com/5-Gods-Rest.htm

[11] Posted by former SDA on 7-15-2012 at 09:59 PM · [top]

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