This probably won’t come as a surprise to you—but studies show that the worst accidents in recent years all occurred because of a lack of rest. For example: the wreck of the Exxon Valdez—the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl—all those disasters happened in the middle of the night when sleep-deprived workers were in charge.
When the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian A300 airbus killing all 290 people aboard, fatigue stressed operators in the high-tech Combat Information Center on the ship misinterpreted radar data and repeatedly told their captain the jet was descending as if to attack when in fact the airliner remained on a normal flight path.
In the Challenger space shuttle disaster, key NASA officials made the ill-fated decision to go ahead with the launch after working twenty hours straight and getting only two hours of sleep the night before. Their error in judgment cost the lives of seven astronauts and nearly killed the U.S. space program.
These accidents happened because ours is a culture that has forgotten the need we all have to cease our labors and simply rest. Our Creator designed us such that to be our best we have to stop and rest on a regular basis. This is one of the reasons He lovingly gave us the fourth commandment. Before we get deeper into our study of it, let’s review what we’ve learned so far with the sign language we have given to each command.
- Law #1 – Keep God First (pointer finger pointed Heavenward)
- Law #2 – Worship Only God (left pointer finger bowing to right)
- Law #3 – Honor God’s Name (three fingers over mouth)
As I’ve said these past few weeks all of the Ten Commands are foundational when it comes to building a life or a family and the same is true of this week’s. We need to obey these laws and we need to teach our children to do the same. Today’s text is Exodus 20:8-11. Look at the screens and let’s read it aloud together.
8 – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
9 – Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 – 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.
11 – 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.”
Okay, the symbol for this fourth foundational command is to hold up four fingers and place them on your cheek as if to nap—to remind us to honor the day God set aside to be a source of renewal—a regular, weekly time in which we could stop long enough to get our bearings in life and make sure we were in the very center of God’s will. Everyone try it. Good—but no napping for the next 30 minutes!
Now—unfortunately mankind has had a long history of misunderstanding this 4th commandment.
Leland Ryken, professor at Wheaton College writes, “Not too many years ago someone claimed that we work at our play and play at our work. Today the confusion has deepened; we worship our work, work at our play and play at our worship.” Because of this kind of confusion many people have forfeited the BENEFITS that God intended this Sabbath day to bring.
And this confusion and misunderstanding BEGAN with the first people to receive this commandment—the ancient Jews. They took the Sabbath and put so much emphasis on not working that the day became a burden and not a blessing. They decided that there were 39 different typesof work and each type was capable of infinite sub-division. In all this micro-management they came up with a list of 1,521 “works” that could not be done on the Sabbath. Here’s a quick sample list: You could dip a radish in salt on the Sabbath but, if you did so, you had to eat it quick because if you didn’t it would begin to pickle and this would be work. Spitting was allowed on the Sabbath as long as you spit into your handkerchief or on the rocks. But it was unlawful to spit on the ground because one might inadvertently scuff the spittle and the earth with his sandal thereby plowing and cultivating the earth.
Lengthy debates arose between “learned” individuals as to how to interpret this law. They sat around all day considering things like: if a man got off his donkey at sunset on Friday, should he or should he not unsaddle the donkey? If he did, he was working—if not, the donkey was working. No food could be cooked on the Sabbath. In fact the coals had to be removed from the oven preceding the Sabbath lest one confront the temptation to prepare a hot meal. One class of work which was forbidden was the carrying of a burden—but what was a “burden?” It was determined that anything equal to or heavier than a dried fig was a burden. So it was permissible to carry half a fig on the Sabbath, unless one put it down and picked it up, thus doubling the weight to a full fig and so breaking the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, it was forbidden to tie a knot, to light a fire, to move a lamp, to go on a journey longer than three quarters of a mile (a Sabbath’s day journey). Even healing was forbidden. In fact, if someone got ill or injured, steps could be taken to keep the man from getting worse, but it was not permitted to do something that would cure him or make him better. That had to wait. If a flea bit you on the Sabbath you couldn’t swat it because that would be hunting and hunting was forbidden on the Sabbath. In their struggle against the Roman Legions, the Maccabean Jews would stand and be killed in cold blood without defending themselves rather than take up arms on the Sabbath. To these people the Sabbath law was literally dearer than life itself.
So—a day that God designed to protect the health and the welfare of mankind—became a day of prohibitions. This day that was supposed to be a day of rest and relief became the most burdensome day of the week.
In Luke 13:11-16 Jesus’ pointed out how ridiculous their misinterpretation of this law had become. He had just healed a woman who had been oppressed by a demon for 18 years and the official at the synagogue had criticized Him since He had done so on the Sabbath. Listen to His reply, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water on the Sabbath? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” In other words, “You have distorted the purpose of this day so much that animals receive better treatment than people!” So it’s easy to see that the ancient Hebrew people greatly misunderstood this commandment!
But before we rush into criticizing the Jewish nation let us examine the ways WE have misunderstood and misinterpreted this text—for we have gone to the other extreme.
I mean, many of us have made this day just like any other day. I’m old enough to remember when stores were closed all day Sunday and then they started opening from 1PM-5PM so that people could still go to church. But now they are open all day—Sunday has become a day just like any day—a day to go to the mall, or to work in the yard, or to pack the stadium or catch up on yard work or any house hold chore that couldn’t be finished during the week. You know, our great grandfathers called Sunday the “Holy Sabbath.” Our grandfathers called it the “Sabbath.” Our fathers called it “Sunday.” And we call it the “weekend.” Things have really changed when it comes to the way we think of this day. To many people Sunday is just another day.
Another issue related to the way this command has been misunderstood over the years has to do with disagreements over WHEN the Lord’s Day should be observed. Catholics and most Protestants set apart SUNDAY as the Lord’s Day—but 7th Day Adventists and 7th Day Baptists side with Jews and set aside Saturday. To them, the 7th day of the week—Saturday—is the Sabbath, the day given to the Lord.
Well—if you read through the Bible you’ll see that there were many different SABBATHS and not all of them were on the 7th day of the week. The first Sabbath mentioned is of course the 7th day of creation when God commemorated His work on the other six days. And in Exodus they were instructed to set apart the 7th day as a reminder of this event. But a second Sabbath listed in scripture was the Festival Sabbath. Leviticus 23:23-36 speaks of this occurring at the beginning of the Feast of the Tabernacles and the Feast of the Trumpets. These Sabbaths were to be observed annually. One was to occur on the fifteenth day of the month and the other on the first day. A third Sabbath mentioned in the Bible is the Agricultural Sabbath. In Leviticus 25:1-8 God commanded the children of Israel that they were to work the land for six years and on the seventh year the land was not to be cultivated. This was a Sabbath YEAR. Scripture also records that for 490 years Israel failed to observe this particular Sabbath which means that they missed 70 agricultural Sabbath years. And Leviticus 26:32, 35 says that when God sent His children into captivity they would be there one year for every year they failed to observe an agricultural Sabbath. And they were in captivity for 70 years. Another Sabbath is referred to in the fourth chapter of Hebrews where it says that there will come a day when there is an eternal Sabbath—when believers die and spend eternity in God’s presence. I’m saying that every Saturday in Scripture was a Sabbath but not every Sabbath was observed on a Saturday!
Most Christians are like us here at Redland, in that they worship on Sunday in celebration of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. And Scripture records that the early church started this practice of worshiping on the first day of the week instead of the 7th calling it THE LORD’S DAY. By the way, many other amazing things worth celebrating happened on the first day of the week.
- The Great Commission was given on Sunday (Luke 24:48-49.
- The Day of Pentecost was on the first day (Acts 2:1).
- The Apostle Paul preached to believers on the first day (Acts 20:7).
- A collection was to be taken weekly in the house of God among the people of God on the first day (1 Cor. 16:2).
- John received from the Lord His revelation completing the canon of Scripture on the first day (Rev. 1:10).
So, in addition to Jesus’ resurrection, a great deal of wonderful things happened on the first day—SUNDAY—giving us lots of reasons to worship on that day.
But you know—arguing about which day to set aside to worship is really pointless. In Romans 14:5-6 Paul writes to believers in the early church who were engaged in the dispute over which day was to be the Lord’s day—the 7th or the 1st. He said, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. For no one lives for himself. We live for the Lord!” Paul is simply saying here that which day is THE day is not the point. The fact is, we don’t even know what day today is. The calendar has changed so many times over the centuries today could be Tuesday for all we know. So, it really doesn’t matter what day it is—Saturday or Sunday. Just be sure that when you worship it is the Lord you are worshiping and not the day itself!
Well—as you can see, from the very beginning and continuing down the ages there has been a great deal of misunderstanding about this commandment concerning the Sabbath. And this morning I want us to try and correct that by dealing with three popular misconceptions about what this text really says. And the first is this:
(1) A close look at this 4th commandment shows that it actually focuses more on the subjects of WORK and REST than it does on WORSHIP.
In fact, worship is not even mentioned in these verses. God does say to keep this day HOLY—but this means to “set it apart”— “to make it different from other days.” But the way it was to BE different is that it was to be a day of REST. Now—the Sabbath eventually became a day of WORSHIP in the religious life of Israel but this commandment does not specifically refer to worship. As we have said in past weeks, the FIRST three commands have more to do with worship. No—in this FOURTH COMMAND what God really commands is that we have a proper BALANCE of REST and WORK in life. The word “Sabbath” literally means “stop” or “to cease labor” and in this fourth law God reminds us to set apart one day in seven for this purpose—to rest. Here at Redland you give your ministerial staff a “Sabbatical” every five years—two full months for us to rest and renew our energy. And in this commandment God specifically says that we are all to rest on the 7th day of the week. In fact no one is to work—not us—not our families—not our guests—not even our animals. Everyone is to REST on this day.
Now why would He make this law—this reminder—one of the Ten Commandments and list it right alongside laws forbidding murder or adultery? Why would our REST be such a big deal to God? Well, as I said earlier, as our Designer, God knows that rest is that important for us. He has built within us a need to stop regularly and recoup in life. When we don’t rest—when we go non-stop day after day, week after week—things will begin to break down in our lives. The breakdown may be physical or emotional, spiritual or financial, or even marital. And God loves us too much to allow this to happen so He has given us this tender commandment.
By the way, we aren’t the only created things in this world that require rest. In his book on the Ten Commandments, Ron Mehl shares that his wife Joyce loves SHOES. And she says she has discovered that if she wears one pair of shoes every day it will last six months. But if she has two pairs and alternates wearing them every other day, both pairs will last two years. She says this is because the leather needs to rest and when it rests it lasts longer. I once read that Bowling alleys have discovered that bowling pins last longer if they are given a rest. For this reason most alleys have two full sets of pins—and every week they remove one set from service, place them on the shelf and use the other set. They have ascertained that if wooden pins don’t “rest” they lose their vitality and won’t bounce around as much when hit by a bowling ball. Even dirt needs to rest. If you have any farming in your background, then you know that farmers don’t plant the same things in the same fields year after year. They may plant corn one year, but the next year they’ll plant beans because corn takes certain nutrients out of the soil and beans will put them back in. In fact, if a farmer can afford it, he will let whole tracts of ground lie fallow for a year or more because the land needs to rest. After the rest it will yield a much more bountiful crop. This is apparently what the Lord had in mind when He commanded the Israelites to observe an agricultural Sabbath.
So you see, Our Master Designer, knows us. He created us to require regular time to rest—time to reflect—to reconnect with Him, the very Author of life. He has designed us with this need just as He designed us with a need for air and water and food. In Psalm 139:1-3 David wrote, “O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or stand. You chart the path ahead of me, and tell me WHERE TO STOP AND REST!” (The Living Bible) Psalm 103:13-14 says, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” —and as we noted earlier…even dust—dirt—needs to rest!
A study was done a few years ago by the U.S. Army in which they observed several soldiers in various conditions to determine at what stage these individuals achieved the maximum level of output. The Army discovered that after 7 consecutive days of hard work, each soldier’s performance dropped. But the most interesting discovery the army made 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. Maybe this is why so many of us think we don’t need to rest—that it is somehow LAZY to take a break every once in a while.
As all parents know—children hate naps. My granddaughter has become a pro at postponing her afternoon nap or her bedtime. Well, it’s as if we never grow out of that feeling about rest. In fact, it has gotten to the point where we seem to actually worship NOT resting. Have you ever noticed how many times people answer the question: “How are you?” with this phrase? “I’m busy” or “I’m crazy busy” or “We’re going in a hundred different directions this summer.” It’s as if we need to validate our lives by letting people know how busy we are. Many times when I ask people why they haven’t been to church in a while they say, “We’ve just been so busy.” I’m reminded of the song sung by Archibald on Veggie Tales: “I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy; you’ve no idea what I have to do; busy, busy, shockingly busy; much, much too busy for you.”
In June of 2012 an article in the NY Times entitled, “The Busy Trap” said, “Busyness serves as a kind of hedge against emptiness; obviously your live cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. We’re busy because of our own ambition or drive or anxiety because we’re addicted to busyness and dread what we might have to face in its absence.” And as I inferred a moment ago this busyness is killing us. The New England Journal of Medicine claims that long term job stress increases blood pressure and significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Chronic stress impairs our memory, accelerates the aging process, and weakens our immune system.I’m reminded of the story of the little girl who was asked “What are you going to be when you grow up?” and she said, “Tired.”But you know as we examine the life of Christ, we see that during His three year ministry the Son of God took 10 “vacations” or “retreats” and He always observed the Sabbath.
So, the first thing this commandment contains is God’s reminder that we have a built-in need to rest. But it also contains a COMMAND to work. And you know this part of this passage of Scripture is often ignored all together even though God plainly says, “Six days shalt thou labor!”
This should remind us that the Bible condemns laziness and idleness but honors—not frantic meaningless busyness—but constructive, hard work. God created us in such a way that honest work brings us great pleasure and a unique sense of fulfillment but many people in our culture downplay this truth. Our culture sees work as a necessary evil. People endure the five-day workweek to support the busy activities of the workless weekend. We lie awake nights, scheming of ways to arrange early retirement. Believing God inflicted labor on human beings as a punishment for disobedience, we see work as a sentence to be served, a penance to be paid, a curse to be endured for as long as necessary. We fail to see that human labor was part of the picture BEFOREAdam and Eve sinned and that meaningful work is actually a gift from God.
God knows that work provides us with challenges, excitement, adventure, and rewards that
nothing else will. In Ecclesiastes 5:18 King Solomon says, “Then I realized that it is GOOD and proper for man to eat and drink, and to find SATISFACTION in his toilsome labor under the sun.” Remember, we are created in God’s image and He enjoys work. Genesis records that at the end of every day’s work God exclaimed, “This is good!” Work is a blessing—a gift from God—that He lovingly commands us to enjoy!
So a close look at this law reveals that it doesn’t really deal with the subject of worship but rather with our need to have a proper BALANCE in life of work and rest because this balance makes it possible for us to enjoy life as God intended. It’s almost as if God built into the very fabric of time and creation a RHYTHM of RENEWAL: work, rest, work, rest, etc.
A second thing we need to know in order to correct our misunderstanding of this fourth commandment is that:
(2) It has more to do with maintaining our RELATIONSHIP with GOD than it does with a RELIGIOUS PRACTICE.
Eugene Peterson writes, “Sabbath: uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God was and is doing. If we don’t regularly quit work one day a week, we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brow binds us to the primal action of God in and around us.” Peterson is right. We need to accept Jesus’ invitation in Mark 6:31 when He said to His disciples, “Come WITH ME by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest.”Remember—this commandment comes in the context of the first four commandments all of which concern our relationship with God.
- Commandment number one says that we must put Him first in our lives.
- Commandment number two says that we must never allow anything to interfere with our relationship with Him. We bow down to Him and Him alone.
- Commandment number three says we must be careful to never dishonor His name.
- And then He gives us this fourth command so that we have one day each week to make SURE that every aspect of our relationship with God is pure—that He really is first—that there are no other “gods” in our lives—that we are honoring His name.
God intended that we spend this day alone with Him relating to Him asking questions like: “Are all the things I’m involved in ‘good’ in God’s sight? Am I doing things on my own strength or the Lord’s? Am I hearing His voice—following His lead? Am I leaning on His wisdom instead of my own?”
God says this is to be a “Sabbath TO THE LORD.” This is to be a day that we devote to Him developing an intimate relationship with Him. Ron Mehl points out that a good way to define “intimacy” is to pronounce it, “into me see.” The Sabbath provides a point in my life when I can slow down enough so that the Lord can look “into me” and see how I am doing. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God (or, LOOK INTO ME AND SEE)—know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.” (NASB)
If you counted the words of this 4th commandment you would see that this is the LONGEST of all 10 commandments—perhaps this is so we can see just how serious God is about this law. He knows we need this day because without it our relationship with Him deteriorates. We lose sight of Who He is and as a result forget who we are. You know, the Bible refers to the ten northern tribes of Israel which did not survive the captivity as the “lost tribes of Israel.” Now they weren’t lost in a geographical sense. They didn’t lose their way traveling to and from Babylon.Everyone knew WHERE they were. They just forgot WHO they were. They lost their identity. They were the people of God, called to be a blessing to the world, but they lost that. They forgot who they were and simply became like the world around them. The other two tribes who made up the Southern Kingdom survived because in captivity they formed synagogues. They came together weekly and worshiped the Lord—and constantly reminded themselves of their purpose and calling. They took the time to maintain their relationship with their Creator.
(3) And then, one more thing we need to know to correct our misunderstanding about this law is that it applies to all SEVEN days of the week—not just ONE.
The setting aside of one day for God was in actuality a reminder that each day of the week belongs to God—not just the 7th. In his commentary on this text, Roy Honeycutt refers to the Old Testament practice of “pars pro toto” which means “the PART standing for the WHOLE.” According to this practice, offering the first fruits to the Lord was a way of saying that the entire harvest was dedicated to Him. In dedicating the firstborn child to the Lord it symbolically demonstrated that all future offspring were considered to be consecrated to the Lord. In giving the first tenth of our income to God, we are symbolizing the fact that all our money—all our material possessions belong to Him. Well, in like manner, observing the Sabbath day is a recognition that all of one’s days and times are the Lord’s—not just the 7th day. In fact the Apostle Paul taught that the Christian who is really strong in the faith will require no SPECIAL holy days at all, but will regard ALL days as holy. As someone once put it: “Anybody can observe the Sabbath but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.” We can’t set aside one day for God and then live godless lives the other six. To do so would be to break this commandment.
As most of you know Thursday is my day off and I look forward to that day every week because Sue and I have precious time alone together—no interruptions—no distractions. We go for bike rides or walks. We have a favorite Chinese restaurant that we frequent. I love Thursdays with Sue. But that doesn’t mean I ONLY think of her on Thursdays or that I only talk to her on Thursdays. No—I call her from the office. We text each other. We talk at night. We talk in the morning. We talk anytime my schedule allows. I even talk to her when I’m on mission trips if possible. A couple years ago when she went to Kenya we couldn’t talk—so we e-mailed back and forth. And when I can’t communicate with Sue, I THINK about her and I look forward to those Thursdays when we can have uninterrupted time together. Well, maybe that is a good picture of what our walk with the Lord should be like. We think about Him all the time (not just on Sunday). We constantly shoot up to Him little “arrow” prayers and listen for His still small voice in reply as we work or commute. But we also look forward to those longer, “Sabbath” times—that day each week when we get to concentrate only on Him, and open our hearts to Him and worship Him without any distractions. In short this one day reminds us that our relationship with God is not just a ONE day deal. It is an EVERY day deal!
Now—think about it—imagine what a difference in our lives a proper understanding of this one day can make.
- This day can remind us that our life is designed to work best and be most enjoyable when we maintain a proper balance of physical rest and meaningful labor.
- This special day also gives us a chance to deepen our relationship with God.
- It provides an opportunity to allow God to look into our lives and see exactly what “course changes” we need to make to keep us in the very center of His will.
- It also serves to remind us that God wants a 24-7 friendship—relationship—with you and me. He wants to be intimately involved in every moment of every day that we live.
You know of all the tender commandments, this just may be the tenderest—for in it we see God’s giving us a very precious gift in the form of this special day. Jesus said as much. Our Lord said that “man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man.” It was tenderly made for us—for our benefit. We must teach this to our children.
Well on THIS is Lord’s day we have studied God’s word and we have sung His praises. We have spent time in prayer. What has all this allowed you to see when it comes to your life or that of your family? On this Lord’s day ask yourself, “Am I trusting—really trusting—God with my life? Am I relaxing regularly and letting God love me and refresh me with His Word?” What kind of example are you setting for your children? Jesus said, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”Do you need to commit to accept Jesus’ invitation more often? Maybe you are here and you don’t have a church home. You and your family need a place in which to honor the Sabbath. Whatever decision you need to make today we invite you to respond to your Heavenly Father Who loves you. As we sing this closing song we invite you to leave your seat and walk forward and share any decision you wish to make public with me or Bobby or Kevin.