A Day of Rest
Topic: The Sabbath Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11
We have been working our way through the 10 Commandments. As we do this, I hope you see that since the moral law flows from God’s holy character these laws picture for us what righteousness and love look like. They are therefore much broader in application than we typically think. That is something Jesus made clear in how he applied them.
It is important to recognize these laws are completely reasonable and good. They reflect a reasonable response of any creature made by a God who loves them and provides for them. The things these laws require should flow logically from the hearts of those created in the image of God and filled with his love. The problem isn’t with the law, it is that we were all born with sinful hearts.
Every one of us has failed in some way, perhaps most ways, to keep these laws. And we have not merely failed because we have made mistakes or been put in difficult circumstances. Not at all. We have failed to keep the law of righteousness because we are unrighteous. We are not good people who sinned. We are sinners whose sin is the outworking of the corrupt desires of our hearts.
If we were to be judged based on these laws, we would all be found guilty and punished accordingly. None of us are righteous based on our performance. In fact, every one of these laws would bring an avalanche of condemnation upon us because they show us to be evil rebellious creatures. But praise God that he did through Jesus Christ what we could never have done.
We gather here this morning in the name of Jesus, as new creations because of what he has done. To have faith in Jesus means that we trust in him as our representative before God. It means that through faith we are united to him so that he stands in our place as our testimony before God, having paid for our sins on the cross and having kept the law as our representative. In Jesus our relationship to the law has changed. Romans 7:4–6 says,
4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
God’s moral law has not changed, but we have. We are no longer governed by the written code, but now live in the Spirit. Our problem with the law was our sinful heart, the old nature but in Jesus we have been made alive, given a new heart and a renewed mind. These laws have been transformed from commands into the desires of our hearts. We are now free through the Holy Spirit to pursue holiness out of joy rather than out of duty.
Today we come to the 4th commandment which is a command to keep the sabbath and the main point I want you to take away this morning is Our rest in God is perfected in Christ. Our rest in God is perfected in Christ.
This commandment is a command for us to be rested, satisfied, and renewed in God. The following commands to love others flow from our love for God. We can think of this as a transition within the commands where our love for God is applied to our own satisfaction in God before being expressed in our love for others.
Exodus 20:8–11 says,
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, 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. 11 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.
There are 6 parts to this commandment. What I want to do this morning is to look at how each part relates to Israel and then how it applies to believers in Jesus.
First, Israel is told to remember the sabbath. That just means that they are to observe it, they are to rest on that day. They are not to neglect it.
Second, they are told to keep it holy. To keep something holy is to keep it separated. This was not to be an ordinary day, but one set aside, a special day. Verse 10 says it is a sabbath “to the Lord your God.” It is set apart for God. That means not only are they to rest on the seventh day, but to rest unto the Lord. Their rest should be a focused rest that is holy because it is centered on God.
The third thing we see is that this holy rest is to happen every seven days. Verse 9 says: " 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” For every six days worked, a seventh should be set aside for God. The rule was one day out of every seven was set apart for rest in the Lord.
Next we see that the command involves not only our work, but also delegated work. They couldn’t keep it by making others do their work so they could keep it while not giving up any productivity. It says that servants, guests, and even animals were to rest as well. If you were a manager, you couldn’t take Saturday off but keep the work going by requiring others to work. The day was a holy day and your household or business was not more important than keeping this day.
Then verse 11 shows us that this command is patterned after God’s rest after creation. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day…” God created the world then on the seventh day it says he rested and blessed the seventh day making it holy. Genesis 2:2–3 says,
2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
The seventh day was not made holy beginning with Moses. It was a creation ordinance linked with God’s work in forming the world and all that is in it. The commandment calls the people to remember what God has done. This is why the Jews celebrate the sabbath on the 7th day, because God Himself rested on the 7th day.
That brings us to the final observation, it was God who set the pattern. The second part of Verse 11 repeats Genesis 2:3 saying, “the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” We already saw that to make something holy is to set it apart but what does it mean for God to bless the sabbath? We understand how God can bless a person or nation but what would it mean for a unit of time such as a day to be blessed?
I think what it means is that this day would be a source of blessing. The day is set apart for God and it is established by God as a source of blessing, and all this follows from the truth that God himself rested on the seventh day. It is important to keep this in mind or we can distort the true intent of the sabbath.
Surely, it is a blessing to have a day of rest. Perhaps part of the reason the sabbath is no longer appreciated is because people no longer have to work 12 hours a day in the hot sun to get the basics necessary for survival. We have become a people so saturated with ease and entertainment that rest sounds boring. Rather than using the additional time modern conveniences afford us to grow closer to God, we waste most of it on foolishness.
Even so, the sabbath involves more than physical rest because the pattern is set by God himself. That means that the sabbath is not merely a day of recuperation from those too weak to keep working and need rest. God does not get tired and did not need to recover from his work. No, when God rested, it means he delighted in his work. The pattern of rest isn’t laying on the couch, it is reflecting upon the glory of God as displayed in his works. In other words, the purpose of the sabbath is to help people grow spiritually stronger and closer to God. Physical rest is part of it for us, but the greater rest came from seeking comfort and satisfaction in God rather than in our own works and busyness.
Keeping the day holy is what would lead to its being a blessing. Think of all the anxiety and pressure that comes from focusing on everything we have to do. We elevate the importance of our labor, whether at work or in the family. We get sucked into thinking the world will stop if we do. God tells us not to forget to rest our minds each week by anchoring our satisfaction and confidence in God. How much more peace and rest would we really have if we listened to this. How much stronger would most of us be if we sought as much satisfaction in Jesus on the weekend as we do in sports, entertainment, or getting caught up on our work?
By setting aside this day Israel was reminded that true rest and blessing comes not as the result of their work, but from God. Those things that are most essential to true peace, joy, and human flourishing are things cultivated in reverent reflection and time with God rather than through preoccupation with ourselves or the things in the world.
This command calls us to be still and recognize that all we have is by grace. Every good thing we have comes from him. Every resource, every ounce of energy, all the materials that make our work even possible, are from him. Even the thoughts and affections that drive our creative impulses come from the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in his image. Think about how much more peace and joy most of us would have if we kept this in mind.
Israel was not only to reflect upon God as creator during the sabbath, but also on God as savior. The 4th commandment is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:12-14 and there Moses adds additional insight into the works of God to be contemplated on the sabbath,
15 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.
God is not only to be honored in sabbath rest because he is the glorious creator, but also because he is a glorious savior. The salvation of Israel from slavery in Egypt is the great Old Testament redemption that points forward to what God would do in saving the world from slavery to sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just like creation was all of grace, so was their salvation from Egypt. God brought them out of Egypt by his own power and brought them into cities they did not build in a land flowing with milk and honey. Neither were possible due to their effort, both were entirely dependent upon their resting in the work of God as it is with salvation in Jesus Christ.
The sabbath was intended as a way of resting in the truth that God is creator and deliverer. Everything we are and everything we have comes from him. He is the one who protects us from our enemies and leads us to a place of peace and rest. We are called to be fruitful and productive, but our greatest ability to do so can only come once we recognize that our works are only blessed when they flow from rest in God.
The sabbath was therefore to be a joy and not a burden. God says to Israel in Isaiah 58:13–14,
13 “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; 14 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.”
The sabbath was designed for our delight and joy? It was a holy day where holy people would rejoice in the Lord. This is what the sabbath was intended to be. A time where people could rest from their labor and have fellowship with God, leading to their joy.
What about us then? How does all this apply to believers in Jesus who live under the New Covenant? Is the sabbath part of the ceremonial law that is taken away or is it part of the moral law which is eternal? If it is eternal, are we sinning by not observing it on Saturday?
When we consider that the sabbath was intended to be a time for God’s people to find rest, renewal, and joy in God as their creator and savior I think we can quickly see that it is an eternal law and this principle runs throughout the New Testament. So, like the other 9, this law is not taken away, although our relationship to it is transformed when we are united to Jesus Christ through faith.
Remember, the sabbath comes before the covenant with Moses. It is part of the moral law. Nowhere does Jesus abolish the sabbath and Jesus has a lot to say about it. One of the most frequent disagreements Jesus had with the religious leaders of the day was about the nature of the sabbath.
The Pharisees distorted the sabbath making it about rules and regulations rather than rest and reflection and Jesus is constantly pushing back on that. Like an art restorer that removes years of dirt and build up from a painting to reveal its true beauty and vibrant colors, Jesus is peeling back the man-made religious rules that had accumulated to make the sabbath dull, revealing its true power and beauty. Rather than do away with it, he restores it.
In Mark 2:27–28 Jesus rebukes the pharisees saying,
27 … “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
28 “...the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
In a disagreement about the sabbath in Matthew 12 Jesus tells them they need to learn what it means that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice. God intends for our rest in him to be characterized by love and joy rather than strain. If you are a believer and when you meditate upon God it produces anxiety, burden, and fatigue then you have something out of place in your theology.
Listen to what the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 11:28–30,
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christ invites us who are weighed down with sin, anxiety, and duty to come to him for rest. He is not a reluctant savior, listen to what he says, “Come to me… I am gentle and lowly in heart”. Do not be afraid, you have been invited. Out of love, the great king has come as a servant, out of mercy the great judge has come with patience.
Jesus offers rest to all who come to him for forgiveness of our sins and freedom from the exhausting burden and guilt of trying to earn salvation by our own performance. His burden is light because he does work, pays the debt, earns the reward, and transforms our hearts so that we desire what pleases him.
Rather than remove sabbath rest, Jesus connects it with himself. That is also what we see in the early church in the New Testament. The early church met every day, but even the gentile churches continued to especially set apart a day to fellowship with one another and focus on the Lord. Rather than do this on the creation sabbath, which is Saturday, they began doing this on Sunday because that is the day on which Jesus was resurrected.
The creation sabbath commemorated God's work in creation and salvation. The Christian sabbath brings these two aspects even closer together, commemorating God’s work in the new creation and his work in salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus rising from the dead disrupted the entire flow of history that had been in place since God rested on the seventh day. It showed that God was working to bring about something new. This idea of a new creation was central to the early Church’s understanding of what God is doing. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says,
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
The law and all its regulations have been surpassed by the grace found in Jesus. In Galatians 6:14–15 the apostle Paul says,
14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
So the practice of the early Christians was to continue setting aside a day to worship, celebrate the Lord’s supper, and rest in the works of God but it is redefined by what Jesus has done. Just as the passover was transformed into the Lord’s Supper, which pointed to its fulfillment, so too the sabbath is transformed into the Lord’s Day, which points to its fulfillment. All that God intended for the sabbath finds its fullest expression in the joyful rest and worship of believers in Jesus.
Just like all these other laws, it has been translated from an outward set of expectations to an inward set of desires. The principle of pausing from our labor to honor and rejoice in our creator and savior is a moral imperative. We sin if we attempt to live autonomously as if we were our own creators and saviors. But like the other 9 laws, we no longer keep this law as an obligation or to earn righteousness, we now keep it because we have been made righteous in Jesus. Our failures no longer condemn us because Jesus paid for that. Instead, we have been freed from the curse and penalty so that we can pursue sabbath rest by faith.
We pursue it through the Spirit and have freedom in how we do it. Colossians 2:16–17 says,
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
We are called to worship and rest in Christ but it is not a sin if we do not do this on Saturday or even Sunday. We are called each day to find our rest in the Lord. Romans 14:5–8 says,
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
As a pastor I am concerned when folks miss Sunday worship not because attendance on Sunday counts for anything. It doesn’t. I am concerned because I know how much each of us needs to be encouraged, to find rest, to be reminded of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. I am concerned because the Bible tells us our growth and maturity are worked out in fellowship with others.
The Lord’s day provides an opportunity to live out those other commands to worship, pray, love one another, and bear one another’s burdens that we simply cannot do faithfully on our own. Our gathering on the Lord’s Day is a gift from God.
What person who has been saved by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus would not want to pause from their busyness and the demands of their life and rest and reflect upon the amazing grace and love that God has given them? Who has been called to be a disciple and to make disciples that would not desire such satisfaction for others whom they love? We come here each Sunday to praise God and to find joy and rest in him not because we are obligated to but because we want to. Any person or spirit who wishes to distract us and keep us from being satisfied in worship and rest in Christ is not our friend, but our enemy.
God calls us through the gospel to abandon our self-sufficiency and rest in God’s grace. We are strengthened in this by interrupting our routine tasks to be renewed in our faith. We find our eternal rest only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is through the sacrifice of Jesus that our communion with God is restored.
Each week we get a taste, a down payment of the glory of the world to come where we will no longer struggle to find rest. A rest that is only found in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Remember our main point, Our rest in God is perfected in Christ.