We return to our study of the Ten Words this morning, picking up with the Fourth Commandment. As we’ve noted with the previous Commands, the Ten Words are not just 10 Rules to live by. They are not just things to check off in your Piety Check List. These Ten Words are the Old Covenant summary of the central Word requiring love (Dt. 6:4-5). And that Word has been made flesh in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:1). These words are the outline of a Man, and in Him, a family, a society, a way of life, the Kingdom of God.
The Text: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy… (Ex. 20:8-11)
Remember to Make Holy
Here, the central command is to “remember” (Ex. 20:8). Literally, the command is “remember the day of the Sabbath to make it holy.” The command closes explaining that we are to make the Sabbath day holy because God did (20:11). We should also recognize that the fact that God sanctified the Sabbath is a blessing (20:11, cf. Gen. 2:3). Previously, observance of the Sabbath was explicitly commanded in the manna regulations (Ex. 16:23-30). Here the command is to memorialize the day of the Sabbath to make it holy. The actions of remembrance are what make it holy. The memorial is specifically a memorial in time which is to be marked by a day off. But the entire thrust of the command is outward focused. God requires His people to think of all those they have responsibility for (20:10). The Sabbath day is the first of the feast days of the Hebrew calendar (Lev. 23:1-3) which indicates that in addition to rest and feasting, the day would also include a holy convocation, a holy gathering together, literally, a “called together of holiness.” The first instance of this holy convocation is in the Passover in Egypt (Ex. 12:16), and this marks all of the major feasts of Israel (Lev. 23).
It’s rather striking that in many of the early uses of the Hebrew word for “remember” the focus is entirely on salvation and safety and protection. God “remembered” Noah and saved him from the flood (Gen. 8:1). God sets the rainbow in the sky to “remind” Himself of His covenant promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen. 9:15-16). God “remembered” Abraham and saved Lot from the destruction in Sodom (Gen. 19:29). God “remembered” Rachel and listened to her prayers and opened her womb (Gen. 30:22). At the beginning of Exodus, God “remembered” His covenant promises and sent Moses to deliver His people (Ex. 2:24, 6:5). Later, in the law, the word is frequently tied to obedience as well as imitating God in this kind of remembering, beginning with the Fourth Commandment in Deuteronomy: “… that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt…” (Dt. 5:14-15, cf. 15:15, 16:11-12, 24:17-18, 21-22). Remembering means saving, delivering, and watching out for the weak and vulnerable.
Holiness is a Community
The Old Testament calendar and Sabbaths were meant to train Israel to be a particular kind of community, a people who guarded one another and looked out for the weak among them. The Sabbaths and feasts were regular reminders, calling Israel to be the holy people of their Holy God (cf. Ex. 19:6). All of the Old Testament regulations along with the holy places in the tabernacle and temple were meant to teach Israel that holiness is something that must be guarded and protected. Sin and death and guilt are threats that must be dealt with, and can only be dealt with at the holy place. The New Testament requires us not to make a big deal about observing days (Rom. 14:5-8), but it makes a huge deal about being a holy people (e.g. Rom. 6:19-22, 1 Cor. 3:9-17, Eph. 1:4, 2:21, Heb. 12:10-14, 1 Pet. 1:15-16, 2:5-9, etc.) and insists that in Christ a Sabbath remains for God’s people (Heb. 4:9-10). Our central memorial and holy convocation occur on the Lord’s Day, our weekly Easter Memorial. We set Sunday apart as a designated feast day. We “remember” chiefly through the Lord’s Supper, which remembers the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:25-26). But this is meant to make us into a particular kind of people, a particular kind of community where sin is dealt with, where orphans and widows are cared for, and where the weary find rest.
Keeping Sabbath at TRC
Keeping Sabbath has everything to with being a particular kind of community. The Church is called to be this and do this, but this requires particular congregations to take this calling seriously. How do we?