Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we have spent all week running and working and stressing and striving. In the person of your Son, you invite us, the weary and burdened, to come to you and find rest. As we hear your word to us this morning, may our restless hearts find their rest in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Exodus 20, verses 8 through 11. This fall, we are listening together to the Ten Commandments, those Ten Words God gave his people on Mount Sinai that form the backbone of God’s instruction on what it means to live as his people. The first commandment places worship at the start and center of the good life, the life we were made for. We saw in the second commandment that God not only claims the whole of our worship, but that he has given us instructions on how he desires to be worshipped. Last week, we saw in the third commandment how God’s name is dishonored and honored by both our words and our lives. This morning, we will hear how, as God’s people, we are to relate to work and time. It’s Exodus 20:8-11. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD your God 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 seventh day and made it holy.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In order to help us better understand the fourth commandment, I’ve asked Dave, Cheri, and Evie Vlieger to read for us Question 103 in the Heidelberg Catechism. Evie is in Grade 3. She is smart and brave, but one of the things I like the most about Evie is how much joy she brings. So I am so glad you are going to help us out this morning. Question and Answer 103 from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q103. What is God’s will for you
in the fourth commandment?
A. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained,
and that, especially on the festive day of rest,
I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people
to learn what God’s Word teaches,
to participate in the sacraments,
to pray to God publicly,
and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.
that every day of my life
I rest from my evil ways,
let the Lord work in me through his Spirit,
and so begin in this life
the eternal Sabbath.
Let’s give the Vliegers a hand. Thank you.
Anybody tired this morning? You ever have one of those days where there simply is not enough coffee in the world. Maybe the fact that we are self-medicating with caffeine and lamenting that it is not working should be a warning sign. I say this as a daily coffee drinker. As individuals and as a culture, we are exhausted. A recent study says that somewhere between one in four and one in three Canadians consistently do no get enough sleep at night. More and more high schoolers are pulling all-nighters and can’t make it through the day without caffeine.
We do not rest well as a people. It is not just about sleep either. Exhaustion has become this weird badge of honor in some circles. “Oh, I am so busy right now.” “Oh, you think your busy, wait til you hear what I had to do this week.” As if it is some sort of competition to see who can be the most exhausted and more miserable. I don’t think that is a contest I want to win. But we see the exhaustion all over the place. As a millennial, I am from what is coming to be known as the ‘burnout generation,’ because we are ‘burning out’ at a much higher rate than previous generations. I have strong opinions about the many factors going into all this, but I think we can look around and safely say that there are significant problems in our world and in our lives with exhaustion. We do not rest well.
However, if you listen to the latest leadership and productivity gurus, rest is making a comeback. People are beginning to realize that the way we are structuring our lives in the late modern world is killing us. Humans are not robots and we were made for periods of rest. Even the language of Sabbath is making a comeback. I am encouraged by all this in many ways. However, Sabbath is coming back as a life-hack, a way to boost productivity. We rest in order to be able to be more productive at work. Even if that is true, I think, as we will seeing our study of the fourth commandment, it misses the point. The solution to exhaustion, overwork, to all the restlessness of our cultural moment is not just any rest, but true rest.
It is almost as if God knew how hard this would be for us to learn and maintain in our lives, so he gave us a rhythm of life that would direct us toward our true rest. He called that rhythm ‘Sabbath.’
As we consider God’s command to Sabbath in a restless and exhausted world, we are going to answer four questions, “What is Sabbath?” “Why Sabbath?” “Where do we Sabbath?” and “How do we Sabbath?” – What, Why, Where, and How
What is Sabbath?
First, What – What is Sabbath? In the simplest terms, the Sabbath for Israel was the seventh day of the week. Sabbath begins at sundown because Jews believe that the day begins at sundown, since God said, “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
Sabbath is a day of rest. The word comes from the Hebrew word for ‘ceasing from labor’ or ‘rest.’ You don’t work. Your kids don’t work. Your servants (think employees today) don’t work. Even the animals don’t work. Six days you work, one day you do not work. This was the rhythm God gave to his people, which set how they related to work, time, and each other. Six days work, one day rest – Sabbath.
Seems simple enough, but what counts as work? Can I mow my lawn? Can I play cards? Can I ride my bike? What if I happen to enjoy weeding the garden? The cows still need to get milked. I think these are serious questions to wrestle with and I am happy to help you think through them if you would like to have a conversation. However, my general rule follows what US Justice Stewart once said in a different context, “I cannot give a precise definition, but I know it when I see it.” I think most of us know when something is work and when it is not. We also know when we don’t want something to count because we are trying to find a loophole. My second general rule on this is if in my heart I am trying to find a way to avoid keeping the commandment, it is probably something I should not be doing.
The pattern of Sabbath is six days work, one day rest. Six days work, one day rest. 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… We were made for work, even in the garden God put Adam in it to work the garden, but we were also made for rest. In fact, the first full day Adam and Eve walked this earth was the Sabbath. Humanity began in the rest of God’s Sabbath.
So that’s ‘what’ Sabbath is – six days work, one day rest. No work on the seventh day. But why? Why did God command his people to take one day out of seven to rest and stop all work. We are given two reasons. Creation and Redemption. To receive rest and to give rest.
The first reason is found in Exodus 20, verse 11. For in six days the LORD your God 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 seventh day and made it holy. Why did God command Sabbath? Because God sabbathed after creating the world. When we keep the Sabbath, we are following along in the pattern that God himself took in his great work of creation. God was not tired, but had finished his work and delights in the presence of his people. We sabbath because God sabbathed. There are elements of imitation of God, of participation in the life of God, of fellowship with God here. God made us in his image, and so we were made to work and to rest. How we keep time is to be shaped by God. For in six days the LORD your God 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 seventh day and made it holy.
Sabbath is a gift. It is something to receive. It is a rest that comes from the hands of God. Sometimes when Christians debate how to keep the Sabbath we can easily forget the joy of the Sabbath. God rested on the seventh day and he invites us into that rest by observing the Sabbath. We enter into God’s rest, pattern our lives after him, when we keep the Sabbath. Ceasing from labor one day a week is not just a way to make sure you are energized on Monday morning, but so that you can enter into God’s rest. In Sabbath, we receive rest as a gift.
In Sabbath, we also give rest. We receive rest as a gift from God and we give rest to others. This is the second reason for Sabbath. It is found in Exodus 20, but is clearer in Deuteronomy 5. I don’t know if you know this, but there are two places in the Bible where God gives the Ten Commandments. The first is here on Mount Sinai at the beginning of the people’s journey in the wilderness. The second is in Deuteronomy 5, at the end of Moses’ life and the end of the people’s journey in the wilderness. They are almost exactly the same. One of the few differences is that when God told it to them the second time, he included another reason for keeping the Sabbath. Listen to it:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor you ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
Did you catch the difference? Why are we to keep the Sabbath? So that your male and female servants may rest as you do. Not only is Sabbath for our rest, so that we can receive the rest of God as a gift and enjoy fellowship with God, but Sabbath is that we can give rest to others. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the master of the household was supposed to not only receive rest himself, but to give it to those in his care. We know what it is like to have no rest. Israel were slaves in Egypt. There was not six days of work and one day of rest, but work, work, work. Sabbath rest is supposed to be both a gift we receive from the hands of God, but also something that is given to others. As a side note, this is what Jesus is doing every time he heals on the Sabbath or gets accused of breaking the Sabbath. It is not that Jesus found some cool loophole so that he could get around doing what the law commanded. The opposite, in fact. Jesus is keeping the Sabbath because by healing and serving, he is giving rest to others. Jesus shows the proper meaning of the Sabbath by not just receiving rest, but giving it.
So what is Sabbath? Sabbath is six days work, one day rest. Sabbath is that seventh day where God calls us to cease from our work. But why did God command us to Sabbath? Both to receive and give rest. Sabbath is the day where we enter into God’s rest, the rest he took after creating the world. Sabbath is also a day where we give rest to others. One of the visible markers of being the covenant people is our relationship to work and one another, particularly in our day where work and usefulness have come to have such a central place in our identity.
So we have answered “What is Sabbath?” and “Why do we Sabbath?”, so let’s turn together to “Where do we Sabbath?” Or, in other words, where do we find our rest?
I said earlier that Sabbath is making a comeback in our culture. People are beginning again to see the wisdom of a rhythm of work and rest. We are understanding again the limits that come with being human and the goodness of rest. However, something deeper and far more beautiful is contained in Sabbath.
David Steindl-Rast once said, “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” The solution to a burnout culture, to life of exhaustion is not another technique, even Sabbath as a technique. The solution is not just getting more sleep (though that may be important). The solution is to have our hearts wholly in the right place. The solution to exhaustion is to find where our true rest is found. This is what Sabbath is all about. It is a not a technique to solve our exhaustion or even to recharge to get more productivity out of our lives. Sabbath is a re-orientation. Sabbath shows us where to find our true rest.
True rest can be found only in the presence of God. Our forefathers and mothers knew this. David say this in Psalm 62 (v.1,5) “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him…Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” True rest is found in the presence of God. Or Saint Augustine, speaking to the LORD at the beginning of his Confessions “to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (1.i.I). God has made us to find our rest, our life, our hope, our joy, our identity, our future, in him. When we search for rest anywhere else, not matter how simple or sophisticate the technique, we will find our hearts restless. What this restless world needs, what your and my restless heart needs, is to find true rest.
Listen to Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus Christ is where our true rest is found. Sabbath, ceasing from work one day a week, is a gift by which God re-orients us to where we are to look for rest. Sabbath as a call to cease and rest points us to Jesus Christ. In Christ, we find our true rest. Rest from trying to save ourselves, free from laboring for our salvation, our identity, or our worth. The world measures our value on our usefulness, but sabbath rest in Christ is a visible marker that our truest identity is not found in our usefulness at all, but in Christ. This is why Christians have traditionally shifted from celebrated the sabbath on the seventh day of the week to the first day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. We have recognized that the whole sabbath command pointed ahead to Jesus and is transformed by Jesus. In him and in his finished work, we find true rest, so it is fitting that we gather on the day of his resurrection to enter into the gift of his rest and to give that rest to others.
Sabbath rest in Christ also points ahead to the eternal rest we are promised in the life to come. As Hebrews 4 promises, our current Sabbath rest in Christ points ahead to the eternal rest we will have in Christ for all time.
Where do we Sabbath? Our true Sabbath rest is found in Christ and him alone.
So we have answered What is Sabbath?, Why we Sabbath?, and Where we Sabbath? Lastly, I want us to briefly consider how we sabbath today.
There are three specific commands in Exodus 20:8-11 that point us in the right direction. First, we are to remember. Remember the Sabbath day. We remember the Sabbath by fixing our eyes and hearts on the Lord of the Sabbath in worship. This is why worship of the LORD has always been a key part obeying the fourth commandment. We remember the Sabbath day when we come and praise the LORD who created the world in six days, but rested on the seventh and calls us into that rest. We remember the Sabbath day when we gather and praise the LORD who brought us out of the bondage of Egypt so that we, and others with us, could rest. We remember when we worship.
Second, we are to keep the sabbath. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. We are called to guard the Sabbath day as a gift, not keep it as a burden. It is a holy day, a day set apart. But far more than we need gatekeeping on Sabbath practice is the need to receive the gift of rest that God has given. In this way, Sabbath can be an occasion for gratitude, more than judgment.
Lastly, we are called to cease from work. On it you shall not do any work. As we have already said, Sabbath is a day to both receive and give rest. If have a family or people who work for us, we need to consider not only our own labor, but that of others. This is why some Christians see Sabbath as a day of service to care for the poor and the weak, to give rest to others.
Anybody tired this morning? I am going to enjoy a cup of coffee after church, but there is not enough coffee in the world to give us true rest. That rest is only found in Jesus Christ. The Sabbath is an invitation to orient our days, our weeks, and our lives around the true rest that is found in Jesus Christ. If you are tired this morning, weary and heavy laden, come to Jesus. Anybody know someone else in your life, in your neighborhood, at your work, who is tired and needs true rest. Bring them here, show them Jesus, let them find rest in him.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.