Ten Commandments – Sanctifying Time

Exodus 20:8-11

I am going to start this morning with a little assumption. I know it’s rarely safe to assume, but I am going to assume that there has been at least once in your life when you wished that you had more hours in your day, more days in your week, or more weeks in your year. I read a study out of Europe this week where they asked people how many hours they thought they needed in a day to get everything done. According to their survey on the average people would like an extra 6 hours and 33 minutes in their day. I looked for a similar survey among Americans but I think we must be too busy to fill them out because I couldn’t find one!

So many of us are frazzled because it seems like we spend our days running from one thing to the next. Have you ever answered the question, How are you? with, I’m busy or I am going in a hundred different directions. It’s almost like we find our validation in our overstuffed schedules. We feel this need to be doing something every minute of the day. That’s why I think it’s safe to assume that we all wish we had a bit more time.  Which is the whole point of the 4th Commandment.

Three weeks ago we learned that God doesn’t want to be the chief thing; He wants to be everything. Two weeks ago we discovered that how we worship God is extremely important. Last week Commandment three reminded us that what we say and how we live forms people’s impression of God. Today we get to look at how God wants us to view and value time.

In terms of seriousness, where would you rank God’s command for us to rest? Which is what Sabbath means. I know someone probably told you it means Saturday, because God rested on the 7th day, but Sabbath means rest. So where would you put this commandment to rest?

Honestly, it doesn’t sound as serious as Thou shalt not commit adultery or Thou shalt not murder does it? When someone 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? 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 is in stark contrast to how we view the need to rest. Many of us balk at this idea because we were 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, then we will very quickly destroy ourselves.

Those of you who are 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.

God knew that man needed rest from his labor, and He also knew that we 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.

Remember that the ten commandments are God’s way of defining the relationship. God had already saved the Children of Israel, He had already invited them to have a relationship with Him, and in this relationship He is describing how He will act and how they should act to keep this relationship exclusive. God promised to provide for Israel, and they promised to be faithful to Him.

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 trusted that God would be faithful to His promise to provide.

I have never lived on a farm, but I did visit 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.

Keeping the Sabbath was a test of faith. Was their faith in their own ability to get that crop in the ground and then harvest it, or was their faith in God, the one who made the crops grow in the first place? Did they have enough faith to spend time with God as their crops were potentially rotting in the field?

The problem that the Israelites, and we, faced is that sometimes 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. 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. Actually, 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 had become more of a heavy burden than the blessing God intended for it to be. 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, or reading by candle light. If that weren't enough, each of these prohibitions generated debate among the Rabbi’s 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 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.

The Scribes and Pharisees had turned the Law of Moses into a heavy burden. While, 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, You have six days to 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 command, 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.

I had a pharmacist tell me one time that they felt their work was just futility. Every month they see the same people and count out 30, 60, 90, or more pills that will just get them by until the next month when they go through the process all over again. 

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. Where 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. Can you 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? Keep it holy by not doing any work—not you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, or any outsiders living among you.

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.

Jerrie Barber tells the story that when he was younger he had a rule that he had to be standing every time he answered the phone. If the phone rang at 3 in the morning, he would get out of bed, stand by the phone and answer the phone, that way he could honestly say, “No you are not bothering me, I’m awake standing right here by the phone”. He was afraid someone would call him a lazy preacher. 

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 kind of 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 purpose 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.

If you grew up in a Church of Christ you were probably told, like I was, that Jesus reissued every one of the 10 commandments except the law of keeping the Sabbath. But that’s not true. Jesus was constantly telling His disciples to come aside and rest, Jesus would often retreat to find some solitude and rest away from the crowds. Jesus knew that we would struggle with our time, and He knew that of we were going to be able to take advantage of the relationship God is offering us, we would have to give Him our time. The Sabbath is at the heart of Jesus’ invitation: Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

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