A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on August 4, 2019.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, 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, 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. For 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 (Exodus 20:8–11).
Could it be that we live in one of the busiest times in history? I don’t think so, but it feels like it, doesn’t it? Our culture’s obsession with a frenetic pace in both work and play is exhausting. Supposedly our modern technologies were to liberate us from the time-consuming mundane tasks of everyday life. I don’t, however, feel necessarily liberated from my smartphone; do you? We have been freed to work more and play more at what we want, but it seems that the more we work and play the more exhausted we become and the more empty we feel. Perhaps both work and play make Jack a dull boy.
What if we were created for something different, a different purpose than to work ourselves and amuse ourselves to death, a different pattern of life rather than the hamster wheel of modern life? What if the primary purpose of our existence isn’t work and play but worship? What if the pattern of our life is to be built around not the work day or the weekend but the Lord’s Day?
We who were created in the image of God were created to work like Him, to enjoy the blessings of His creation, and to rest in Him. Therefore, the fourth commandment is in a sense a call to worship, and a call back to the purpose and patterns for which we were created. Just as He rested on that first Sabbath day, we are called to worship Him on one blessed, holy day, to remember it and keep it for His glory and our good.
One Blessed, Holy Day
There is no blessed day in a secular culture, but there are distinctions: Manic Monday, Tuesday Boozeday, Weigh-in Wednesday, Throw-back Thursday, T.G.I.F, #Saturday Selfie, and Sunday Funday. Even the modern concept of a weekend, which has evolved to mean Saturday and Sunday, is a distinction of days. Today, the argument that one day is blessed, spiritually superior, to any other day is a foreign concept to most people. Mimicking culture, the modern church has merely stamped a cross on secular practice, arguing that every day is the Lord’s day and Sunday worship is an optional tradition rather than a command to be obeyed. Such a view either deliberately disobeys the fourth commandment or relegates it to the ceremonial law. Transcending secular culture, the sacred commandment actually designates one day out of seven, not only as distinct but as blessed and holy: “the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Why is the Sabbath blessed? Quite simply, the Sabbath is blessed because God said that it is. Consider the creation account: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3); “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters…’ And it was so” (Gen. 1:6-7); “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so” (Gen. 1:9); and on through the six days of creation (Gen. 1:11, 12, 14, 20, 24, 26). As the Shorter Catechism summarizes, “The work of creation is, God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good” (WSC 9). And then, God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3). Just as creation was spoken into existence, the Sabbath is blessed because God said that it is.
Second, the Sabbath is blessed, according to the Genesis account, “because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:3). It is important here to note that God’s rest was specific: “from all his work…in creation.” The word “rest” does not mean idle lethargy. As Jesus explained, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). God ceased from the work of creation, an intentional and purposeful rest, a sabbath (which is a Hebrew word derived from the verb “to cease”). This sabbath signified the finished work of creation, and God’s enjoyment of it for His glory. All of the other days of creation God worked, but not the seventh; His glorious work was finished, and so “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3).
By blessing the seventh day, God made it “holy,” but how is the day holy? The word “holy” in this context means “set apart,” for a unique purpose. For example, certain utensils were used in tabernacle worship and were referenced as “holy.” As such, they were not to be used for a common purpose but for sacred purposes of worship only. Similarly, by blessing the Sabbath day God set it apart with sacred purpose. The fourth commandment elaborates on this point defining what is not to be done on this holy day: “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.” All other days are for common use, so to speak, but the one blessed, holy day is set apart for the sacred.
By virtue of God’s blessing the holiness of the day is all-encompassing. Just as the days of creation are specified as full days, so is the holiness (or set-apartness) of the seventh. God did not rest from His work of creation by setting apart one to two hours; holy is the day! God did not cease from His work in part but in full. So, the fourth commandment includes “you” but also your family and everyone within your sphere of influence. Such is the holiness of the day.
The Sabbath is one blessed, holy day, but it is not merely a historical fact to be remembered. As if to say that God ceased from His work of creation in the past, but it has no bearing on the future. If man was created on the sixth day, where was he on the seventh? Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Let us remember the contextual controversy of that verse was that the disciples were reaping to eat so they could continue to walk with Jesus. On that very first Sabbath day of creation, man was precisely where he was created to be, resting with God, and doing what He was created to do, glorifying and enjoying the Maker of heaven and earth. Therefore, the fourth commandment directs us back to that first Sabbath: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Remember the Day
To remember the Sabbath is not to look back at a historical event with nostalgia but with worshipful purpose. In the context of the commandment, remember can mean to continue to practice, but because the commandment ends with the reference to creation, there is surely a sense of memorial. Remember: There is one blessed, holy day. Remember: God blessed it and made it holy. Remember: God blessed it and made it holy because He ceased from His work of creation on that one day.
But, there is another sense in which remember means not to forget. The generation of the children of Israel who were first given the Ten Commandments had known only Egyptian slavery. In a pagan culture that neither knew God nor worshiped Him, there was no cultural encouragement to remember the Sabbath, and it is doubtful that the taskmasters honored a day of rest. Therefore, they needed to not forget that God established the Sabbath at creation, a perpetual remembrance that every seventh day is for worship of the God who rested on the seventh day. There is an active part of this, of course, which may be described as “keeping.” We are to remember the day by keeping it.
Keep the Day
While God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy, there is an active participation on our part, that is, in keeping it. In Deuteronomy, where the Ten Commandments are restated, the fourth commandment begins not with “remember” but “observe,” carrying the connotation of ritual practice. In keeping the Sabbath one observes it, weekly.
How does one keep the Sabbath? The fourth commandment points to God’s ceasing from work and commands that we do the same. In its sematic essence, a sabbath of any kind is a ceasing. And, given the examples, it is clear that the commandment is to cease from personal or employing work. But, as the example of God’s rest on the seventh day reveals, we are not merely resting from something but for something. Just as God was glorified in His finished work of creation, so we glorify Him in worship every Sabbath. We, who were created to worship, are to worship as our Creator established. Work and play may make Jack a dull boy but only because he was created to worship. God has provided this in one blessed, holy day out of seven, a day to remember, a day to keep.
On that first seventh day, the Sabbath was perfectly kept. God rested from His finished work of creation, and man rested worshiping His Creator. But, the Fall broke the perfect fellowship between God and man and the Sabbath became a burden rather than a blessing. That’s what sin does. God nor His Sabbath changed; man did, separated from God and without rest. But, the God of creation is also the God of re-creation. When the Ten Commandments are restated in Deuteronomy, the fourth commandment does not include a reference to creation but instead states, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15). Just as keeping the Sabbath points us back to God’s finished work of creation so also it points us to His acts of redemption.
Yet, Israel’s redemption was not perfect in its completion but pointed to a greater redemption and re-creation to come, a restoration of that perfect Sabbath of creation. For this reason the writer of Hebrews explains, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on” (Heb. 4:8). Another day, not of redemption from Egyptian slavery or entering the Promised Land; another day on which our Sabbath-creating, Sabbath-keeping God would cease from His finished work; a day in which we would cease from our work and rest in our God.
In the fullness of time the God of creation entered into time and space in the person of Jesus Christ. He who is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8) perfectly kept it. He, through whom the work of creation was finished, lived a perfectly obedient, earthly life and finished His work upon a cross of shame and suffering. He who finished His atoning work arose from the dead on the first day of the week, establishing a New Covenant Sabbath Day for the people of God. Just as God ceased from His work of creation on the seventh day, blessing and making it holy, so our Lord ceased from His work of re-creation on the first day, blessing and making it holy. There indeed is another day, the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, a day set-apart for rest and worship, a day that is but a taste of our eternal sabbath to come. Until that day, we need the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, a day to cease from the secular and rest in the sacred.
Are you weary from working like a slave to appease your task-master-god? Are you always one sin shy of meriting the favor of your merciless god? Do you feel like life is nothing more than a recurring performance-driven failure? To you the Lord of the Sabbath says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 12:28-30). True sabbath rest begins through saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Are you burdened with the cares and concerns of this world and finding that you can’t entertain your way out of the weight of this world? Has one more “fun day Sunday” led you in the spiral of amusing yourself to death? Do you long to be at peace with God, yourself, and your brother in a fellowship that sounds like a taste of heaven? Do you want to know what real, God-given rest feels like? To you the Lord says, “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; then 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, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13–14). Returning the Christian Sabbath to its rightful place of Christian obedience is not only liberating but also a key aspect of Christian discipleship.
Do you seek to set your mind on things that are above, rather than earthly things (Col. 3:2)? Do you long to delight yourself in the Lord (Ps. 37:4), to be nourished on His means of grace and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18)? Do you long to dwell in the house of the Lord, living with Him all the days of your life (Ps. 27:4)? “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. …[for] the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”