The Ten – Sanctifying Time
Many of us grew up with the teaching that every one of the ten commandments were reestablished in the New Testament except the commandment to remember the sabbath and keep it holy. We understand the need to only serve God, and we agree that we should not put anything above God or try to shrink God down to a manageable size. We understand how we live determines how people view God’s name, but we are a New Testament Church and the only thing holy about Saturday is College Football.
In terms of seriousness, where would you rank God’s command for us to rest? Honestly, it doesn’t sound as serious as Thou shalt not commit adultery or Thou shalt not murder. God says, I want you to take some time to rest. But have you ever noticed the penalty be for breaking that command? Somebody doesn’t rest like they’re supposed to, they get up and start washing the dishes or cleaning the house, what would you do about it? Maybe you’d talk with them, don’t you know that you’re supposed to rest today? Or maybe a slap on the wrist or a fine. Tell you what we’ll do, we’ll fine you all the money that you made on that day and put it in the building fund.
While it sounds trivial to us, God was not joking about the need to rest. In Exodus 31 we see that the penalty for breaking this command was death. If you don’t stop and rest one day a week, you will be put to death, which puts this command on an even plain with murder and adultery!
This morning I want us to look at this in two parts. First we need to see why this Command was necessary and then we will see what application it has to us as a 2015 church in Mid County.
First, God knows how important rest is to our physical wellbeing.
According to a Greek legend, a man noticed Aesop playing with some young boys. He laughed at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity. Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical man, "Answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies.” The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, "If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it."
We are taught that we don't need to rest, that it is somehow lazy to take a break every now and then. But God knows the importance of rest. God made us. He knows how much our body can handle. And he knows that if we don’t take time to recharge our batteries, that we will very quickly destroy ourselves.
God knows how much we don’t want to rest.
Those of you who parents fully understand this, because we see the same resistance with our children. Have you ever watched young children fight sleep? They whine and cry; keep themselves busy, running and playing so they can't fall asleep. But whatever they're doing, no matter how frenzied their efforts to stay awake, they'll insist they're not tired.
Some of you, take full advantage of our third rule, that you come to church to get what you need. I see your eyes lose focus while your head looks like it's going to bob right off your neck. I can see you from up here! There are times when our bodies need rest no matter how much we fight it.
God knew that man needed rest from his labor, and he also knew that man would resist it. And if God had told the Jews, You know, you guys really ought to take a break every now and then, there’s not a single one that would have taken God seriously. But when God says, Either you stop and rest for a while or I’ll kill you! Well, folks tend to listen to instructions like that.
The Sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant with Israel
The Sabbath served as a sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God. God promised to provide for Israel, and they promised to be obedient to God. And there were two things which stood as symbols of that covenant. One was circumcision, and the other was the keeping of the Sabbath.
When other people living around the Israelites noticed that the Jews didn’t do any work on the Sabbath, it would cause conversation. Everyone else worked seven days a week; you had to if you were going to survive, or at least that’s what they thought. The Jews were able to rest, because they had faith that God would be faithful to His promise to provide.
And the fourth reason that God was so serious about this commandment. The Sabbath was a test of the Israelites’ faith in God
I have never worked a farm, but I did help my grandparents enough to know that there is a certain time for everything. You plant things at a certain time of the year and you harvest at a different time. If you wait to long to plant or don’t get all your crops planted before the heavy rains come, then you’ve got real problems. If you allow your crop to stay too long in the field everything will rot and be of no value. Timing is everything.
So God, knowing how crucial timing was to a farming culture would make an exception for those times of the year when the crops were being planted and harvested. Surely they could work right through the Sabbath and then make up for it later on in the summer when they were just sitting there watching the crops grow. Right? Nope!
This was a test of their faith. Was their faith in their own ability to get that crop in the ground and then harvest it in the fall, or was their faith in God, the one who made the crops grow in the first place? Did they have enough faith in God that they would sleep peacefully as their crops were potentially rotting in the field?
The problem that faced the Israelites, and with us, is that sometimes don’t have enough faith in God to really believe that He is going to meet our needs, protect us, and carry our burdens. If we don’t work those extra hours, then we’re just not going to be provided for. So we work and we wear ourselves out because we just don’t believe that God can take care of us.
God was serious about this commandment, and, by the time of Christ, the Sabbath day was kept with a vengeance. By then it had become such a distinctive feature of the Jewish religion that anyone who knew anything at all about the Jews were aware of their strict refusal to work on the Sabbath day.
For many Christians, the Sabbath day has come to symbolize legalism at its worst. The Jewish rabbis had taken God’s command to such absurd extremes that the Sabbath was hateful to many Jews of Jesus' day. The Mishnah, a written record of Jewish tradition in the time of Christ, includes 1,521 rules on how a person could break the Sabbath. Among these are such things as separating two threads, writing two letters of the alphabet side by side, tying a knot, reading by candlelight, and so on. If that weren't enough, each of these prohibitions generated debate as to what constituted an offense of its kind.
For example, could you wear an artificial leg or was that considering carrying a burden? Some rabbis said you could, but others said it was wrong. The same teachers of the law added precautionary measures intended to prevent acts, which might lead to breaking the Sabbath. For example, a tailor was not even allowed to take his needles home the day before the Sabbath because he might be tempted to sew something. A scribe couldn't take home his pen because he might be tempted to write something.
But the Law of Moses was never intended for such absurd purposes. Jesus tried to put things back in their proper perspective by saying in Mark 2:27, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. God intended for the Sabbath to bring the Jews peace and rest.
The Jewish legalists had taken a beautiful commandment and turned it into a harsh and hateful ritual. They took a day of rest and turned it into a burden. From the start, God had intended it to bless His people. It was a time when families and friends could be together, a time when devotion to God could be shared, a time when the spirit and body could be refreshed. But instead, the Pharisees made the Sabbath something that absolutely wore people out trying to follow all their guidelines.
Like all of God's laws, the Sabbath was never intended to be a burden. It was designed to protect freedom. So as we close this morning let me share the three things the Sabbath law protects.
First, ironically, it protects the dignity of work.
Notice that verse 9 of Exodus 20 says, Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
Contrary to what many of us think, work is not a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. God gave Adam a job to tend the garden and keep it from the beginning. Work was a part of the world God called good. So when God gave the Sabbath regulation, He wanted to be sure we understood that He was not condemning work, He was giving us a way to protect the dignity of it.
Some professions are always looking forward to what’s coming next. Health care professionals care for the patient in the bed until they are well. But as soon as that patient goes home another patient takes his place. Teachers get to the hear the bell at the end of the day and know that tomorrow morning those little faces will back. You get to the end of the school year and after eight weeks or so of summer another batch of the little hooligans take their place.
Sales people. Government workers. Office staff. Full time mothers. It doesn't matter what you do, your work is never done. And if we aren't careful our work becomes toil. There is all the difference in the world between work and toil. Hard work gives us that good, tired feeling at the end of the day. Toil just makes us tired. Meaningful labor leaves us satisfied. Toil leaves us drained.
The Mishnah says that even if you can't get all your work done in six days, on the Sabbath, you should live as if all your work was done. The Sabbath was a way of dignifying labor. Imagine what the Jews felt when they heard God decree this command. They had been slaves for 400 years, and slaves don't get days off. Taking one day to rest and focus on God protects the dignity of work.
Second, it protects the dignity of human beings.
Did you notice that verse 10 includes slaves? On the Sabbath you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
Everyone and everything was to take a break from work. This is huge because we have always judged ourselves and others by what we produced. We get uneasy if we show up at a Doctors office and there is no one in the waiting room. I won’t leave my car with a Mechanic who has no other cars to work on.
Our phones and tablets come with a calendar app that we fill with tasks and appointments because we equate busyness with importance. The busier you are, the more important you are. We virtually celebrate our crowded schedules and unavailability to our families and our early mornings and our late nights because we have come to believe that an idle person is a worthless person. If you aren't out there pounding the pavement or burning the candle at both ends then you must not be a very important or successful.
Our dignity is determined by busyness. So God said, one day a week stop it. Just sit down and stop trying to prove how important you are by how much you have to do. Even God took a day of rest. And you are not more important than God. He wants us to realize that who we are is not the same as what we do. He wants us to understand that our worth isn't tied to our productivity. We are valuable because we exist in His image.
Thirdly, the Sabbath was designed to protect our relationship with God.
If all we ever do is work we not only lack the time to reflect on the nature and glory of God, we begin to lose our need for him. If by my skill and energy and power and knowledge I can manufacture a life of ease and comfort and success, then why do I need God?
Soon I begin to imagine that God is dispensable, and that I am indispensable. They need me, the people at the office or at the hospital or at the church or at the school. If I'm gone, what will they do? We become seduced by our own sense of importance. Taking a day away from the world of demands and deadlines and expectations is God's way of saying, Dip your finger into the ocean, then pull it out and see what an impact you made.
It’s not that we aren't important to the people who count on us and to whom we are responsible. The point is that the most important responsibility we have is to God. The Sabbath is a holy place in time where we remember our need for Him, the unquenchable necessity of His presence.
That's why taking a Sabbath from work has to include God. Rest without spirit is the source of corruption. A Sabbath is more than a day off. It is a day away from the world. A day in which we remember who God is and who we are. A day in which we get our priorities back in line. We recognize that God is the indispensable one, not us.
Time is the first thing God ever declared as holy. If we think that attending to our relationship with God is something we will get to someday, we treat time like one more commodity among all the other things we think we control. We desanctify it.
I know that the Sabbath day isn't binding on us any more. But the principle is. We need to redeem the time we have, because we never have as much as we think. I wonder how do you spend your time?
Jesus’ invitation is still offered. Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.