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 the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
I have written several times already about the Sabbath, and I shall likely do so again. Why? I think it is because I am still trying to come to grips with what the Sabbath means, what it is about. Being a child of the 1960s, I was raised in a culture that was slowing letting go of Bible-based morality and turning to a worship of the self, a society that was listening to a call to indulge the senses and abandon the past structures that we were told held life at bay. As sexual immorality and institutionalized selfishness flourished, the ancient paths were forgotten or ignored–all in the name of “liberation” and “freedom” and “self-realization.” And one of the things that got left on the trash heap of our wanton culture is the Sabbath itself. So it is no surprise that in my desire to honor God, to truly love Him with all my heart and mind and soul, I am trying to find my way back to God’s commandments–and especially to the Sabbath itself.
Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'”
We have spent two full generations stripping away the commandments of God, de-sanctifying those ways and those traditions that the Lord Himself instituted eons ago, until today we have little left but the gospel itself. And there in the midst of the gospel story we have Jesus reminding us of this commandment:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.
35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 “This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like it: “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
“On these two commandments”–love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself–“hang all the Law and the Prophets.” What does that tell us? If we truly love God, then we will keep His commandments as a natural consequence of that love. It tells us that obedience to His ways follows from our love for Him. Yes, we are covered by grace, and the law does not lead us to righteousness. However, having been covered by grace and reborn in the Spirit, we are now covered in the righteousness of Jesus Christ–and His righteousness leads us to obedience to God’s law. That is part of the war we fight today, the war that is much more than a war against the flesh. (2 Corinthians 10:3) This is a war between us trying to live in the righteousness of Christ and the principalities and powers of this world trying to lead us away from God’s law. And so, I write about the Sabbath because I am struggling to remember it, to keep it holy, to bring it back into my life after having it stripped away by culture and by Satan.
For a commandment that is about NOT working, this fourth commandment sure does involve a lot. On the surface, it seems very simple: don’t work on the Sabbath. But look at how it is worded:
•”Remember the Sabbath day”: In other words, mark this day, set it up to be seen and not forgotten. And make sure others remember it, too.
•”To keep it holy”: We remember the Sabbath day to set it aside from all other days. It is not just another day of the week. The Sabbath is a day set aside for the Lord Himself–and, as we see in the Gospels, a day set aside for doing the Lord’s own work. (Matthew 12:1-8)
•”Six days you shall labor and do all your work”: Our weeks are expected to be a flurry of activity from sunrise to sunset. When the Lord cursed the ground because of that first sin in Eden, He told Adam and Eve they would toil and sweat, and so we do. (Genesis 3:17) But because the Lord is merciful and just, we need not always labor so.
•”But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God”: It is not OUR Sabbath, it is GOD’S Sabbath. He was the One who set the mark in the first place, the One who sanctified and made the Sabbath holy by His word. (Genesis 2:3)
•”In it you shall do no work…”: We are expected to lead our families and communities in this. This is not just a Sabbath for believers but also for unbelievers– “your stranger who is within your gates.” As the Lord later said, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you…” (Leviticus 18:26) The Sabbath is for everyone.
•”For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth…”: Just in case we are not sure why this commandment exists or Who commands it, here we have a not-so-subtle reminder that it is our Creator, the Almighty God, who orders this thing.
•”Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”: This is more than just a day the Lord hath made, it is a day that He sanctified, that He made holy by His grace. He set it aside for Himself, and if we love Him, then we will set it aside, too.
We could very easily say that we need not keep the Sabbath, that so long as we are covered by grace then we do not need to keep the statutes of the law. But Jesus has told us that the very love for God that leads us to accept His gracious gift of the gospel, the same love that we finally reciprocate to Him, this very love that we can now share because He first loved us–this love is the very thing from which depend all the law and all the words of the prophets. Like glittering jewels on a necklace, the Word of God and the laws He instituted for us adorn our lives with grace and love.
28 “Come to Me, all you 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.”
Jesus calls us to set aside all our toil, all our weariness, and to wear this yoke of His love. And from that crossbeam hangs not the heavy weight of our own past unrighteousness but the light burden of the law and the prophets. Obedience to God, following His will for us, living according to His ways–that may seem hard in the eyes of the world. But when we are burdened only by the love we bear for the Lord our God–when we truly love Him with all our being–such obedience is not so hard at all, for we have the Holy Spirit to aid us, and the written and living Word of God to guide us.
“Repent, and believe in the gospel,” Jesus said. (Mark 1:15b) Repent of what we have been taught, repent of the ways down which we have been led, repent of the unloving attitudes we in which we have been raised, repent of our indifference to the Word of God, and, of course, repent of our own sins. And believe in the gospel–not a gospel of prosperity, not a gospel of liberation, not a gospel of following our own ways, not a gospel of relying on grace to cover all we do. This gospel of Christ is the “good news” of peace with God–a peace that does not come from the law but that leads to it, a peace that surpasses our understanding because so much of our understanding comes from the world itself, a peace that is like a glorious day of rest from the toils of this life. You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of the great “Sabbath” that is to come, that glorious time when we will live in eternal joy and rest and peace, and when we will “labor” at only one thing: worship and praise and thanksgiving unto God. When we remember this earthly Sabbath day and keep it holy, we are but preparing for that day when we shall truly rest in the loving arms of the One who commanded it.
Holy Lord God, the Sabbath is so much more than I was raised to believe, because the world has tried to strip away the holiness You have ordained. But as You said to Your Son, Your name was once glorified and You shall glorify it again. And so, my Father, let me glorify Your name by loving You and keeping these commandments You have given. Help me with Your Spirit to fight against the unrighteousness of this world, to live in this grace in which I stand. May Your holiness come again to the Sabbath You have commanded. Amen.