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.”
A few weeks ago some NASA scientists discovered they had made a very expensive mistake. You see, Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the ill-fated spacecraft known as the Mars Climate Orbiter, had measured the force of the small ship’s thrusters in terms of pounds. However, NASA officials expected them to have done so not in terms of pounds of force but “Newtons” of force-which is a metric system measurement. By the way, a “pound of force” is equal to about 4.45 “Newtons of force.” Well, this small misunderstanding affected the little ship’s trajectory in a BIG way….sending it about 90 kilometers-or 56 miles-off course….far too close to Mars. In fact it was close enough to cause the ship to disintegrate in the Martian atmosphere. An article about this accident in U. S. News and World Report stated, “A red-faced NASA revealed that a grade school-er’s error-like using the wrong side of a ruler and measuring in inches…when the teacher wants centimeters-sent a $125 million space probe fatally off course upon arrival at the planet Mars. NASA officials are now checking to be sure they aren’t making the same mistake with another craft en route to the red planet, the MARS POLAR LANDER due to enter orbit around Mars in December.”
You know, misunderstandings-even little ones-can be very costly! I imagine that several employees at both NASA and Lockheed paid for this little misunderstanding with their jobs! This week as I was studying the text for today this true to life Lost In Space story came to mind for due to many misconceptions about this particular commandment many LIVES are off course. God intended the Sabbath to be a source of renewal…a regular, weekly time in which we could get our bearings in life and make sure we were in the very center of God’s will. Unfortunately mankind has had a long history of misunderstanding this 4th commandment and so, many people have forfeited the benefits that God intended this day to bring.
All this 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 types of 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”could not be done on the Sabbath. A woman was forbidden to look in a mirror on the Sabbath lest she see a gray hair and pluck it out for this would be “shearing”or work. 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. Great 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 Sabbat. 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?” Well, they conceded that a man could lift his child on the Sabbath but not if his child had a stone in his pocket because then he would indeed be bearing a burden. The Eseenes, that very conservative sect of Jews who lived in the desert and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, would not go to the bathroom on the Sabbath. To them even the call of nature was unlawful on this day. 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. If a flea bit you on the Sabbath you couldn’t swat it because that would be fighting and fighting 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 the working man 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 the ancient Hebrew people greatly misunderstood this commandment! They were “miles off course” — far from God’s intent — for this special day.
But you know before we rush into criticizing the Jewish nation let us examine the ways WE have misunderstood and misinterpreted this text. You see….over the years Christians have also been known to make Sunday into a day of burden and misery, a day to be solemn and serious…..a day bereft of laughter and joy. This week I read of an incident that took place in New England in the early years of our nation’s history. A sea captain had been out at sea for two years and was finally returning home. His wife became so elated at his arrival that she ran from the house to where his ship was docked, charged up the gangplank and hugged and kissed her husband. And she was promptly taken and thrown in jail because she was doing this on a Sunday!
So, even believers have falsely interpreted this law to read, “Thou shalt be miserable on the Lord’s day!”
At the other extreme many of us have made this day just like any other day. I 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 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.
So 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 not on Saturday but 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 first adopted this practice of worshiping on the first day of the week instead of the 7th. 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. It’s WHO we worship that matters. 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 when it comes to this tender commandment concerning the Sabbath. And this morning I want us to try and get ourselves “back on course” when it comes to this commandment by dealing with three popular misconceptions about what this text really says. And the first is this….a close look at this 4th commandment shows that it actually….
1. …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.” And 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 these verses what God really commands is that we have a proper balance of rest and work in life. The word “Sabbath” literally means “rest” 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 our servants….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 our Designer, God knows that rest is that important for us. He has built within us a need to stop 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.
And you know, 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 read this week 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…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.” (NASB)….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. 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 when it comes to when to rest, what WOULD Jesus do? In today’s text it says that God would “REST on the seventh day.” 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 constructive, hard work. God created us in such a way that honest work brings us great pleasure and a unique sense of fulfillment.
We tend to downplay this truth in our society. When people win mega-millions on the lottery they are often asked what they will do now, and they usually say something like, “I’ll buy a new car, pay off the house, AND NEVER WORK ANOTHER DAY IN MY LIFE!” Our culture sees work as a necessary evil. People endure the five-day workweek to support the 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 BEFORE Adam 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.
And you know when you look closely at these verses you can correct another misunderstanding about this fourth commandment. You come to see that…
2. …it has more to do with maintaining our relationship with God than it does with a religious practice.
Remember-this fourth 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. 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. On this day 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.” 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.
And then one more thing we need to know to correct our misunderstanding about this law is that:
3. . 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 philosophy, 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. In the “Quotable Quotes” section of this month’s Reader’s Digest it says, “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 after the kids are off to school, Sue and I have about 6 hours alone together-no interruptions….no distractions. And we spend a great deal of that time just talking. 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 talk at night and in the morning. We talk anytime my schedule allows. And when I can’t talk to her, I think about her and I look forward to those Thursdays when we can have uninterrupted time together.
And 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. 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 want’s 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.
Well 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? On this Lord’s day do you need to 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?” 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 need a place in which to honor the Sabbath. Whatever decision you need to make to day, 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 Steve or me.