31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning - the sixth day. 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
1 Another time He went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Today we’re going to look at the 4th of the Ten Commandments – “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. The irony is that this message probably needs to be heard by everyone who is not here today. You are here – this means that you have some understanding as to how this commandment should apply to your life.
Some of you may have grown up in homes where your parents were very strict about what could and could not be done on Sunday, and Church was the way that you began your day.
There was a time when you weren’t allowed to do anything on Sundays, apart from go to Church.
It wasn’t that long ago when everything shut down for the day.
Things have changed a lot over the years. I remember when I was growing up how unusual it was to see a business open on Sunday. Now, it’s unusual when a business is NOT open on Sunday. Even Christian bookshops in our shopping malls open on Sundays. Sunday has become just another day of the week.
But the 4th commandment is not just about coming to Church and doing nothing else on a Sunday. Following God’s will in our lives is more about who we are than what we do. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” So you can actually be in Church every Sunday, but still not be fulfilling this command in God’s eyes.
Before we begin though, I need to say this: My purpose here this morning is not to make up some list telling you what can and can’t be done on Sundays.
Should you go out to eat on Sunday? That way you don’t work by preparing a meal, but then the staff at the restaurant have to work. Should you go shopping on Sunday? Should you wash the car on Sunday? Should a Christian work on Sunday? I’m a Christian; I work on Sundays.
I could go on, but this is where we easily fall into the trap of legalism, and the fourth commandment can easily be misinterpreted and misunderstood to such an extent that we end up with a long list of things we cannot do on a Sunday, which misses the entire point of the fourth commandment.
This is the mistake that the Jewish lawmakers made when they drew up an elaborate list of do’s and don’ts, and we don’t want to fall into that trap. This is exactly what Jesus was addressing when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees corrupted this commandment so badly, that they made it virtually impossible for anyone to obey it (at least as far as they were concerned).
They didn’t care about the people. Why else would they object to the sick being healed on the Sabbath? They warped the Law of God so badly that they even said it was wrong to feed a beggar on the Sabbath, because when you stretched out your hand to give food to a hungry person, that constituted work. And when he stretched out his hand to accept the food, he was working, so both parties were guilty of violating the Sabbath. It sounds ridiculous, but the religious leaders – those who were responsible for the care of the people – would rather see someone go hungry than violate their twisted interpretation of God’s Law.
Remember that the Law of God is a revelation of His nature and His character, and this is why it is vital for us to cut through all the legalism associated with the fourth commandment and to try and see what He wanted to accomplish in the lives of the Israelites through this command and how we can relate this command to our everyday lives.
So what did it mean in the lives of the Israelites?
It meant quite literally, that they were not allowed to do any work. Exodus 20:10 – “On it you shall not do any work.”
Did God give this command because He was against work? No. From the time that Adam was in the garden, work was part of God’s plan for our lives. God is not against work. But He is against work consuming our lives. He is against us escaping into work so that we don’t have to face life. He is against us finding our significance and self-worth in our work and our own achievements. He is against us filling our lives so full of work that we don’t have time for Him or other people.
He doesn’t want us to think that work is all that there is to life.
God sets us the example at creation. When He rested on the seventh day, it wasn’t because He was tired – it was because after six days, He knew that we would be tired!
On this special day of the week, the Jewish people and all those who lived among them were not only not supposed to work, but they were supposed to rest. In fact, the word “sabbath” means to rest, to cease from activity. Taking time to rest was a big part of what this day was all about. God made man’s body. He knows how much it can handle. He knew that if they didn’t take time to recharge their batteries, they were going to destroy themselves. The rest that He spoke of though was more than just physical rest. It was emotional rest and spiritual rest.
You or I can take a day of the week to stop our regular work and still not rest. We can have our minds so filled with all the stresses of the week and all the problems that the new week is probably going to hold and receive absolutely no refreshment from a day away from our usual routine.
Or we can have our spirits so filled up with sin and guilt that we are constantly fighting with God’s Spirit over who is going to have control of our lives.
There’s no way we will get rest if we’re like that.
Isaiah 57:20-21 says, “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ’for the wicked.”
In chapter 30 God says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength’, but you would have none of it.”
Tiredness is not just a physical or mental thing. We can be spiritually exhausted too. It is only as we learn to “be still and know that He is God” that we will find spiritual peace and restoration. Burdening ourselves with a comprehensive list of what we can or can’t do on our day of rest has the exact opposite effect of what God intended for us.
God promised the Israelites that when they walked in obedience to Him, His presence would go with them and that He would give them rest.
The Israelites were farmers, an industry where timing is everything, and the Lord gave them this specific instruction in Exodus 34: “Six days you shall labour, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the ploughing season and harvest you must rest.” He was testing their faith. The tendency at harvest time is to work non-stop, but God was asking the question – are they going to get the harvest in as quickly as possible, or is their faith in me, the one who makes the crop grow in the first place?
Do they have enough faith in me that they will sleep and sleep peacefully without pacing the floor in their mind even as their crops were waiting to be harvested?
But the Sabbath laws were not just about the 7th day. There were also about the 7th year. For a six-year period, the Israelites could plant and harvest their fields.
But in the 7th year, they were forbidden to plant anything. This gave the fields a chance to rest which we now know is a good thing. You can overwork a field just like you can overwork a person.
So long before we figured out that you need to rotate crops and let fields lie fallow to preserve the quality of the soil, God already knew that and had instructed His people to use good farming practices.
But God’s command to not plant the fields was about more than just good farming. It was about faith. God was saying, “Do you have enough faith in me to not even plant your fields once every seven years and see if I will provide for you?”
There was one more level to this test of faith. After 49 years – 7 cycles of 7 years – the 50th year was called the Year of Jubilee. Along with other things that the Israelites were required to do to celebrate that year, they once again were forbidden to plant any crops in their fields. So they can’t plant in the 49th year or the 50th year – two straight years without planting anything in the field. Isn’t that kind of risky?
It’s risky if you’re relying on your own work to provide for you, but it’s not risky if you’re truly relying on the Lord.
God made an awesome promise to them in Leviticus 25:20-22 – “You may ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?’ I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.” In other words, “You place your faith in me, and I’ll give you an over-abundance – more than you could ever imagine.”
How much of a rest and a relief must it have been for them to come to the realisation that it was not up to them to provide for their families? It was not their responsibility to protect their families. It was God’s. That took the whole burden off their shoulders. They didn’t have to carry it anymore. They could have rest. In Psalm 81:6, God says, “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket.”
We need to learn to rest in Him. One of the best ways of applying the fourth commandment is to listen to and take heed of what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33-34. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The problem is that with the Israelites and with us is that too often we don’t have enough faith in God to really believe that He is going to meet our needs, protect us, and carry our burdens. So we try to carry them on our own and wear ourselves out. Do you have enough faith to believe that God can carry your burdens?
Israel and God had entered into a covenant relationship with each other. God had promised to provide for them, and they had promised to be obedient to Him. God was Israel’s God, and Israel was God’s people. They had two signs of the covenant. One was circumcision. The other was the keeping of the Sabbath.
When other nations living around the Israelites noticed that the Jews would do no work on the Sabbath, they started asking questions. Everyone else worked 7 days a week. You had to if you were going to survive, or at least that’s what they thought. “Why do you Jews only work 6 six days a week and refuse to do any work on the 7th day?” To which, they could respond that they did this as a testimony to the fact that they belonged to God and that they were trusting in Him to provide for their needs.
But what does all this mean to us today? How are we to apply the fourth commandment in ways that bring glory to God? Is it really just about going to Church on Sunday, or is there something else? What does the command mean in the lives of the people of God today?
It means much the same as it did to the ancient Israelites. We have to learn to rest in Him, trusting that He knows what’s best for us. Work is not wrong. We were created to be productive with our minds and our bodies, but the God who gave us our talents and gifts in the first place is to take priority over those things.
There’s a story of a house on fire and a young boy was forced to climb onto the roof. His dad stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, were flames, smoke, and blackness. So, of course he didn’t want to jump. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy shouted, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”
Rest in Him. He knows what He is doing. So far no one has been able to improve on God’s work/rest cycle. God’s plan yields the best results.
God has arranged time in such a way that it unfolds in seven-day cycles. Some have tried to improve upon this seven-day pattern only to give it up later. During the French Revolution, anti-Christian leaders abolished the seven-day week, but they found that the health of the nation weakened, and they had to reinstate it.
In communist Soviet Union, they brought in a ten-day week. The social experiment failed as productivity suffered. God’s seven-day rhythm is best for us because God created us, and he knows us.
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.” In all our busyness, we fail often to stop and worship God. We don’t take the time to let Him heal our spirits and refresh our souls. Isaiah 40 talks about the fact that even the strength of young men wears out. But they that wait upon the Lord – trust in Him, rest in Him, let Him be their strength and refuge – shall renew their strength. They shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.
So if we really want to apply the principle of the Sabbath in our lives, we soon learn that it’s not so much about doing nothing every seven days, but more about finding our peace and significance in Him every day of the week. Part of what we do when we come to worship on the Lord’s Day is to acknowledge His goodness and provision as we set aside a special time for Him with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In closing, I think it’s important to understand the difference between the Old Testament Sabbath, and Sunday.
Up until the death of Jesus, the Jews rested and worshipped on Saturday. That was the Sabbath. It was the day that they stopped working, and just as God did at creation, they looked back.
On the 7th day the Jews would look back over their work, evaluate it, find some satisfaction in it and give thanks to God for His provision for them. Today, right now, we worship on Sunday, the first day of the week.
The reason that we worship on Sunday now is because this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. We celebrate the coming of life – the resurrected life of Jesus and the new life that He offers to all those who come to Him for forgiveness of their sins. All who come to Jesus are a new creation. But which day of the week is far less important that learning to rest in Him, and taking time to worship Him.
Someone once said that the easiest way to avoid being legalistic about the Sabbath and finding out to what extent we are applying the fourth commandment in our own lives, is to ask this simple question: Am I at rest in Him?
When we’re able to honestly answer yes, then the little things like whether it’s a sin to wash the car, mow the lawn or go shopping on a Sunday becomes nowhere near as important as we might have thought.
Are you at rest today? Jesus said, “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.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Mark 2:23-3:5
Jesus challenged the Pharisees by opposing their traditional teaching on what it meant to observe the Sabbath.
We might not have as comprehensive a list of do’s and don’ts about what we may or may not do on a Sunday, but how have we misinterpreted the Fourth Commandment?
Most Christians are saddened that Sunday has become like any other day of the week. How do you think we can make a difference in our own lives without becoming legalistic or critical of others? (Look again at Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27)
There is clearly a difference between just stopping work for a day and taking time to rest in the peace of God.
How do you understand the difference, and how has this challenged your traditional understanding of the Fourth Commandment?
Read Leviticus 25:20-22
The Fourth Commandment is really about learning to trust in God’s grace and provision, rather than in our own abilities.
How have you allowed the busyness of your life to distract you from resting in, and trusting Him?
Close by praying that God would teach us to trust Him more.
Next week: “Honour your father and your mother.”