Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we bow before you now asking for wisdom as we consider your word. But we ask that you be particularly kind to us as we consider a subject that has been a cause a great stumbling and misunderstanding for many. We ask that you would protect us from the many potential stumbling blocks and that you would even protect us errors that we have embraced even without knowing. For Jesus sake, Amen!
It is necessary to review the context of the giving of the law in general and this fourth commandment law in particular. For many reasons the fourth commandment is perhaps the least appreciated and most controversial law in the Decalogue. But the story of the Exodus is the story of God redeeming his son from slavery and teaching him how to be free, how to live like royalty, and to serve in his Father’s house for the blessing of the world.
As we consider the concept of Sabbath we need to recognize that Sabbath rest was not limited to the bare cessation of work on the Sabbath day. As the command makes clear, the requirement to rest extended to family, visitors, and even to animals (Ex. 20:10). The Sabbath principle also applied to the land (Ex. 23:10-11, Lev. 25). Debts were to be cancelled every seven years (Dt. 15:1-2). Furthermore, in the 50th year (the seventh sabbatical cycle of seven years), a year of jubilee was proclaimed which required the release of slaves, the return on inheritance, and rest for the land (Lev. 25:8-17). The year of jubilee is in many ways the supreme expression of the Sabbath principle, and it began with the sounding of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 25:9-10) which celebrated the forgiveness of Israel’s sin, the gift of the covenant, freedom, release from slavery, and mercy. Therefore, the Sabbath day, year, and Jubilee were institutionalized ways for Israel to forgive the debts of others as their own debts had been forgiven. Israel was given rest and gives rest based on the shedding of blood.
Peace on Earth
The Sabbath rest given to the land is significant if we remember the Sabbath in the creation week and the curse pronounced on the soil. To give rest to the land is not only to enter the rest of the Creator God, but to rest in Him is to signify faith in his provision for the curse against sin. If the Israelites were faithful weeds would grow during the Sabbaths years. But those weeds would be used to replenish and rejuvenate the land. It was the lack of giving rest to the land that led to the exile (2 Chr. 36:21, cf. Lev. 26:34, 43). Thus Sabbath rest is not only for people but for land, for work, and a sign of faith in God’s provision. Ezekiel calls the Sabbath a sign of the covenant (Ez. 20:12, 20). This means that the Sabbath is also a plan for the future: it looks forward to the forgiveness, freedom, and rest of all the world. In this sense the Sabbath law is not merely about taking rest but giving rest, giving forgiveness, bestowing blessing, life, and health to others (Mt. 12).
Sabbath as Feast and Worship
The Sabbath is listed among the principle feasts of the Jewish calendar (Lev. 23:2-3). On these feast days there were to be holy convocations and cessation of regular, daily work. As we have seen previously, God’s desire is for his people to gather before him and rejoice. Part of honoring the Sabbath was calling the Sabbath a delight (Is. 58:13). The other feasts of Israel were Sabbaths as well: The Feast of Booths included the command to rejoice before the Lord for seven days (Lev. 23:40). In our OT passage it includes the requirement that the people of Israel tithe in order that they may bring a portion before the Lord and rejoice before the Lord with “whatever your heart desires” (Dt. 14:26). This, incidentally, is why it is fitting for the Church to sponsor feasts and meals and dances for the covenant community, and to pay for the expenses with the tithe.
Conclusions & Applications
First, before making any applications, we need to conclude that the Sabbath is an enormous blessing. We need to get this deep down in our bones. When we hear the word Sabbath it needs to hit us like the words “Christmas” or “chocolate” or “bonus.” God overflows with goodness, and Sabbath rest and freedom is a sign of this. God’s people are kings and queens, and therefore he gives them days, weeks, and years to live like royalty. They are his children; they are his nobility. Learn to say, “Happy Sabbath.”
Second, Sabbath keeping clearly means forgiving those who sin against you. This means that you may not hold grudges, keep accounts of what he/she said, did, etc. Cultivating a Sabbath culture means forgiving financial debts, being generous with food, and giving gifts. All of this requires understanding that you have been forgiven, redeemed, and set free in Christ. Therefore, go and do likewise.
We will return to this next week, but Paul tells us that the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant feast (1 Cor. 5:8). Therefore, the Lord’s Day is a festival day, a weekly holiday celebrating Christ our Passover who was sacrificed for us and is now risen from the dead. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the remaking of the world, the proclamation of freedom, forgiveness, and peace with God, man, and earth (2 Cor. 5:15-17). This fact is worthy of our celebration:
Prepare to celebrate: You don’t ‘wing it’ on Christmas or Thanksgiving. Plan ahead: Budget to keep the Sabbath. No need to be extravagant: just put forth your best. Prepare for worship on Saturday and during the week: train your children, family worship, etc.
Learn to rejoice as families and as a community on the Lord’s Day: laugh, invite your friends over, drink good wine, play games, give your wife flowers, have steak for dinner, read poetry, laugh some more, set your best tables, tell jokes, give gifts, laugh some more, dance, read stories, eat chocolate, and rejoice in all of it before the Lord.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you for your great provision for us your people. We thank you for the Sabbath rest that you have won for us in Christ. We rejoice in our salvation; we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus; we rejoice in the forgiveness of sins and the great freedom you have won for us. Give us grace that we might begin to recover a Sabbath keeping culture, that our homes be marked with Sabbath delight.