O Day of Rest and Gladness

Series: God Reigns

Sermon by David Strain on Feb 14, 2016

Exodus 20:1-17

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Now please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands. You’ll find copies of our church Bibles in the pockets in the pews in front of you. Turn with me to the book of Exodus. We’ve been working our way through Exodus and we’ve slowed down as we’ve come to Exodus chapter 20 to the Ten Commandments so that we can work our way through the Ten Commandments in a focused and intentional manner. So we’ll be reading God’s Word. You’ll find it on page 61. God’s Word from Exodus chapter 20 verses 1 through 17. Before we do that, would you bow your heads with me as we pray together? Let us pray!

Our Father, before us is Your holy and inerrant Word. Would You please send us the help of the Holy Spirit so that we might understand and believe and obey it? Show us, as we read Your Law, our own sin and need. Show us, as we read Your Law, how Jesus embodies the holiness that is described here and has perfectly obeyed for us. And show us, as we cling to Christ who has obeyed this Law, that all the grace we need to begin to live in new obedience to it is available to us in Christ. And give to us renewed resolve to live for Your honor and glory with lives conforming increasingly to the pattern of this Law. Do it, please, for the praise of the name of Jesus, in whose name we pray now. Amen.

Exodus chapter 20 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“And God spoke all these words, saying,


‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.


You shall have no other gods before me.


You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.


You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.


Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.


Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.


You shall not murder.


You shall not commit adultery.


You shall not steal.


You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.


You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy and inerrant Word!

Today we are thinking about the fourth commandment, verses 8 through 11 of Exodus chapter 20, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” The Sabbath commandment teaches us, reminds us, that God is Lord of our lives and His lordship claims the prerogatives of ordering our days. In the way that He has arranged the week, He is, as it were, planting the flag of His sovereignty in our lives and claiming dominion over our days. He is the Lord of time! If you need proof of that, you need only think of the timing of this sermon. Given that last Lord’s Day was Super Bowl Sunday, many of you I’m sure were thankful that I was in Scotland last week when I would otherwise have been preaching on the fourth commandment! God is Lord of time! He orders our days; our days are in His hands. And yet the truth is, the fourth commandment is probably the most controversial of the ten and the most widely dissented from. Wouldn’t you agree? It’s the one with which many of us have most argument. And I think part of that is driven by a concern that to give one day away is too much to ask. And really that’s a misunderstanding, I think, of what is being said or being taught, the fundamental point that the Sabbath is making. You see, we tend to operate on the basis that our times are ours, but the Sabbath makes the point in a very dramatic and practical and functional way, that all time, that our every moment, belongs to God. He regulates our week and insists that we pay full respect to this basic idea, “God is in charge and we are not.” And keeping the Sabbath and the Sabbath requirement insists upon that point. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of my life. I am not my own; I have been bought at a price! And the Sabbath commandment is a way to express that fundamental commitment. When we set apart the Lord’s Day for rest and for worship we are saying, “God is in charge and He gets to order my days.”

Now there are various ways to come at the teaching of Scripture on the fourth commandment. We might simply work through the material in verses 8 to 11, noticing in verses 8 through 10 the commandment itself, the duty commanded. We might noticed in verses 10 and 11, verses 9 and 10 rather, the comprehensive reach of the command. It covers all people, even down to our livestock and the foreigners within our gates. And we might also notice in verse 11 the fundamental basis of the command, the way it relates to the creation week. But one of the great beauties of the fourth commandment, in my view, is the way that it connects to the Biblical storyline as a whole. You can plot that storyline in four simple moves, familiar I’m sure to many of us - creation, fall, redemption, new creation. Creation, fall, redemption, new creation. That’s the Biblical storyline! And all I want to do is consider the fourth commandment under each of those component parts of the Biblical plotline.

Before we do that, just as an aside, be careful to notice in verses 8 through 11, the way that the commandment is phrased in Exodus chapter 20, that it is as much concerned about the six days as it is about the seventh. The fourth commandment speaks to us not just about a day of rest and worship but also about our lives of labor and work, our vocations and our avocations. The fourth commandment is teaching us not just about a day set apart for the praise of God and the rest of our minds and bodies and souls, but also about devotion and duty, about rest and business, about work and worship - all of it together. It is speaking to the whole, the whole trajectory of our lives as a way of saying what you do Monday to Saturday and what you do on Sunday, all of it is to be lived under the Lordship and reign of Almighty God. Our little stories are being placed into the context of the big story - creation, fall, redemption, new creation. Actually, there’s no way to understand ourselves, why we’re here, what we’re supposed to be doing, unless we understand it in light of those four great moves in the Bible’s storyline. And so we’re going to think about work and rest in the light of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation and then at the end I’m going to give you three simple practical ways that I hope will help you keep the fourth commandment and then we’re done. Okay?

  1. Work and Rest in Light of Creation

So first of all, work and rest in light of creation. As we saw a moment ago from verse 11, look at verse 11, the fourth commandment drives us back to Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and to the pattern established by God of creation, work, and rest on the seventh day. This was the pattern of God’s activity at the dawn of history and it forms the basis for the pattern of our own week. We are to work on six days and rest one day in seven because that is the pattern of God Himself. Work and rest. So in Genesis chapter 1 when we read of Adam made in the image of God, we’re also immediately told that Adam was given work to do. Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Adam was given work to do. The verbs that are used there to fill the earth and subdue it can also be translated, “to tend the earth and guard it.” Those were verbs that were used later of the Levitical priests in the temple and their work, sacred work. The work given to Adam was sacred work. There was a dignity to it that brought honor and glory to God. And as he engaged in that work, he displayed his character as the image-bearer of God; he was made in the image of God. Human work is not a necessary evil merely to be endured in order to get to the leisure time for which we are living. That is the implication of the work given to Adam, the nature of work as God has ordained it. No, human work is a way for creatures to display the image of the Creator, vested with dignity and sacred value.

But God Himself has also built into our lives a cycle of one day in seven for rest and worship because we are built not just to exist and function on a horizontal plane, working in the world that God has made; we’re also built to exist in a vertical plane, worshiping the God who has made the world. Sometimes people will argue that the Sabbath principle is a Mosaic principle, that is, that it pertains and belongs only to the Law of Moses and does not bind all people and does not continue in its relevance and force today, especially now that Jesus has come. But Moses makes plain here doesn’t he? That the Sabbath finds its roots not in the giving of the Law at Sinai, but in the pattern of God at creation. It is a creation ordinance, a creation design, and so it is enshrined in the moral law of God, the same law written on Adam’s conscience in the Garden, as an abiding principle equally obligatory upon us as the other commandments are, as required of us as giving God honor and glory and worshiping no other God but Him, honoring our mothers and our fathers, and as necessary as the prohibitions against murder and adultery. The Sabbath is of a piece with the whole of God’s moral law and is rooted in the pattern God Himself has established at creation. The Sabbath cannot be jettisoned simply because we might prefer that it was. Work and rest, in light of creation, tells us that work is sacred and marked by this dignity that is ours as we display the image of God and tells us that Sabbath rest is part of God’s design for us that we may honor Him in every age. Work and rest in light of creation.

  1. Work and Rest in Light of the Fall

Then secondly, work and rest in light of the fall. The way God made it isn’t the way things continued to be. Adam, placed in the Garden to obey God, did not continue to obey Him. He sinned and fell by eating the forbidden fruit and “all mankind, descending from Adam by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression.” That is to say, Adam’s guilt is ours, Adam’s sin is ours, and the consequences of Adam’s rebellion touches all of us. It touches even the world that we live in. And so in Genesis 3:17 and following, God pronounced His curse on Adam’s rebellion. “Cursed,” He said, “is the ground because of you. In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life, thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. And you shall eat the plants of the field by the sweat of your face. You shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” In other words, while we’re still called to work and to serve God in fulfilling the vocations He gives us in His providence as image-bearers of the Creator, our work, now that sin has broken the world, is an immensely more complicated, burdensome, and challenging reality.

The other day I heard on the radio an advertisement for a job posted by the Chinese government that perhaps challenges the idea that this world this side of the fall requires work that is so terribly burdensome of us. The job title is, “Panda Hugger,” and you spend a year looking after baby pandas in exchange for about $30,000 paid into a US bank account. It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? “Panda Hugger.” But most of us, let’s be honest, don’t have jobs like that one. We have jobs that constantly remind us the world is a broken place, that demand more of us than we can give. We come home weary and tired and stressed and burdened. We live in Genesis 3:17, most of us, don’t we? We see the truth of it! We feel the truth of it in our bodies, in our tired minds. Whenever your back aches from sitting too long at your desk, it feels like your eyes are filled with sand because of staring at your screen for too long, when you feel like buckling under the stress of employers expectations or colleagues’ demands, whenever there is a conflict between the needs of your family and the obligations of your workplace, whenever making ends meet requires more work from you than you have energy to give, remember Genesis 3:17. When work is all thorns and thistles and the sweat of your brow, it’s a reminder in your body this is not the way things were meant to be and we were made for a different world, another world.

The Sabbath is an Extraordinary Act of Divine Mercy

And it is into that context that Exodus 20:8-11 speaks - a world of sin, a fallen world where work is all too often either avoided in our laziness or made an idol of in our greed, where we’re either working too much or too little. Into that world, God calls us to rest one day in seven. The Sabbath day is, do you see, an act of extraordinary divine mercy. It is a gift of grace that God would grant us one day in seven and say, because He knows our frame and remembers that we are but dust, “You need to stop! You need to stop! You need to be still and know that I am God. You need to rest, to close the textbooks and put down the pen, to stay away from the office, to say, ‘No thanks’ to the overtime, to give your tired minds and weary bodies some rest respite and give our souls some spiritual nourishment.” In our always on, 24/7 digital age, turning off the bleeping and the squawking screens and being quiet and resting and worshiping, keeping the Sabbath holy, in other words, is both a profoundly countercultural act, and a deeply nourishing and life-giving act that we desperately need.

Writing for The New York Times, actually from a secular Jewish perspective, Judith Shulevitz discovered for herself in the midst of the frenetic pace of her own life, the bankruptcy of life without a Sabbath rest. Listen to what she says. I’m sure her words may well resonate with many of us:

“My mood,” she said, “would darken until by Saturday afternoon I’d be unresponsive and morose. My normal routine, which involved brunch with friends and swapping tales of misadventure in the relentless quest for romance and professional success, made me feel impossibly restless. I started spending Saturdays by myself and after a while I got lonely and did something that as a teenager, profoundly put off by her religious education, I could never have imagined wanting to do. I began dropping in on a nearby synagogue. It was only much later that I developed a theory about my condition. I was suffering from the lack of a Sabbath. There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Ours is a society that pegs status to overachievement. We can’t help admiring workaholics. Let me argue,” says Shulevitz, “instead on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years. Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. That is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful; they were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as social sanction.”

Isn’t that interesting? What she’s saying is simply, “I could not keep going the way I was going, and she discovered that God’s plan for weekly rest was necessary and vital and beneficial after all. We need a Sabbath rest! It is a gift of grace! And we do ourselves, not just our bodies but our souls, damage by its neglect.

  1. Work and Rest in Light of Redemption

Creation, fall, then thirdly work and rest in light of redemption. The version of the fourth commandment that you find in Deuteronomy 5:15 grounds the reason for keeping the fourth commandment not in creation but in salvation. “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God brought you ought from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” The Sabbath day then became a commemoration and a sign of the saving grace of God, that there’s rest from slavery into which He has brought His people. And of course we know that that slavery is but a type of a deeper slavery, the slavery of sin, and the redemption from Egyptian bondage but a picture of the greater redemption won for us by Jesus Christ. The Sabbath is a Gospel day, a day that speaks to us of deliverance from sin and death and hell by the work of another on whom we rest, the Lord Jesus Christ who has obeyed and bled, died and risen for all who believe. That is the real, ultimate spiritual meaning of the Sabbath. It points us to the Gospel. It points us to Christ. It calls us not simply to rest our limbs but rest the whole weight of our souls, our destinies on Jesus Christ who may save us by His grace.

The Sabbath is a Gospel Day

Which is why, by the way, the day has changed from the seventh to the first. It is a Gospel day! And now that the work of redemption has been accomplished in its fullest by Jesus Christ, now that the stone is rolled away, and life and immortality brought to light by the resurrection of our Savior from the dead, we gather on Resurrection Day. You remember how, in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light” on the first day of the week and the old creation began. And again, in the middle of history as it were, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, on the first day of the week, triumphed, rising from the grave, shattering the darkness and began the new creation. It was on the first day of the week, John 20 verse 19, that the risen Christ stood in the midst of the assembly of the disciples in the Upper Room and spoke peace to them, as He continues to do by His Word and Spirit in the Gospel to God’s people who gather on that same day, even today. In Acts 20, verses 5 to 7, we learn how the Apostle Paul and his missionary team delayed their departure from Troas purposefully so that they could meet with the church who would assemble to hear the Word read and preached and prayed and sung on the first day of the week. In 1 Corinthians chapter 16 at verse 2, the believers were instructed to set aside a portion of their income for the relief of the needs of the church on the first day of the week, the day that the church assembled for worship. John, in Revelation chapter 1 at verse 10, tells us he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week. The New Testament church, like God’s people across the ages, kept one day in seven holy to the Lord for worship and solemn assembly to hear His words. But they kept the first, not the seventh, as a Sabbath to the Lord our God. And I think there’s something incredibly beautiful about that - the first day, followed by six days of work - because that is the Gospel pattern, isn’t it? We rest on Jesus Christ and then resting on His work for us we work for Him. We rest, then we work, and so in the Gospel pattern, we rest on the first day and we live for God’s praise in the days that follow.

  1. Work and Rest in Light of the New Creation

Creation, fall, redemption, and then finally and very briefly, new creation. What do we learn about the Sabbath in light of the world to come? Well, very simply, the Lord’s Day is a picture of a final rest, a wonderful rest that we do not yet enjoy. To be sure, Christ has purchased for us the forgiveness of sin. We rest on Him! We have rest from dead works that we may serve the living and true God. We have the rest of peace with God by our Lord Jesus Christ. But that rest is not yet complete. Sin still remains a deadly enemy and a constant factor in our lives. Suffering and sorrow and sickness and death continue to interrupt our lives and shatter our rest. We’re longing for a final Sabbath yet to come when all things are made new - a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. And so we continue to observe a Sabbath day as a way to say, as a declaration of faith, that this world is not our home and we are looking to a city that is to come, whose builder and maker is God. We are longing for the day when our earthly Sabbaths will cease and give way to the unending Sabbath of heavenly rest in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Creation, fall, redemption, new creation. We’re called to cherish and prize the Sabbath day and use it for the good of our souls.

Our Real Objection to the Sabbath Command

But of course, the real objection most of us have to the Sabbath principle and the Sabbath command is not that we cannot find Biblical warrant for it; it is rather that we wish we did not have to obey it. We would prefer that it did not say what it says. To set apart one whole day in seven for rest and worship, we think is to restrict our pleasure, it’s to impair our enjoyment. Listen to the way C.S. Lewis deals with that objection. “It would seem,” says Lewis, “that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased. We think the Sabbath will limit our joy because we’ll have to give some things up to keep it well, when in fact it is designed to bring us deeper joy than any earthly pleasure affords.”

That’s actually the message of one of the key texts on the Sabbath in the Scriptures in Isaiah 58 at verse 13. Listen out to the pleasure language the prophet uses, or God through the prophet uses. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the Holy Day of the Lord honorable, if you honor it not going your own ways or seeking your own pleasure or talking idly, then you shall take delight in the Lord and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth, I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Did you catch that? There is a deeper pleasure, a higher joy available than the distraction of shopping or the thrill of sport could ever afford us. Lewis was right, wasn’t he? We are far too easily pleased. We settle for mud pies in the slum, pursuing our pleasures, our entertainments. We want to be constantly distracted because we think that keeping the Sabbath will remove our joy when in fact it was designed to maximize our joy. We don’t need mud pies in the slum; there’s the offer of a holiday at the sea. There is delight, the prophet says, in the Lord. Delight! Call the Sabbath a delight. Delight yourself in the Lord. Exchange the lesser pleasure for the greater joy the prophet is saying.

Turn Off the Television

Well how do you do that? How do you keep the Sabbath holy? I want to be very careful! There’s a lot I could say. I don’t want to bind consciences or restrict Christian liberty or make absolute laws. Let me just offer three very simple, practical suggestions for a joyful Sabbath observance that I hope will be a blessing to you and then we’re done. Number one, turn off the television. Give your brain a rest from the noise and the distraction. Read a book! They have pages. They’re made of paper. Old fashioned things I know! Read a book! Take a nap! Play with your kids! Go for a walk! Make Sunday a day marked by quietness and conversation and a lack of digital buzz.

Practice Hospitality

Number two, practice hospitality! If you can, and not everyone can, open your homes. Make a little bit more for lunch on Sunday. Go look for someone you don’t know. Go find a student! They’re always ready to accept the offer of a free meal. Go find a new face and open your home. Practice hospitality, not entertainment - we’re not talking Martha Stewart. Be yourself, share your life, and open your home. Invite someone to spend an afternoon with you. Talk about the things of God; talk about the sermon. Talk about the worship; talk about where you’re at and encourage one another.

Attend Morning and Evening Worship

Number three, bracket the day with morning and evening worship. Come back to church on Sunday night. It’s hard to keep the whole day when the day is open-ended. Start with the people of God in the praises of God under the sound of the Word of God and end the same way. The Sabbath is designed for the delight and blessing of your soul. Use every means available to secure the blessing offered. Make much of the means of grace. Go hard after knowing Jesus and come back to church on the Lord’s Day Evening.

There’s a lot more we could say. We could go on and on! You’ll be grateful to know that I won’t. Let me just conclude with this. It’s been my experience that very often the spiritual vitality and health of a congregation is connected to the way its members spend the Lord’s Day. May God give us such an appetite to know more of Jesus Christ, the rest He can give not just to our bodies but to our souls, the deep delight that is offered to us in the Gospel, that we will resolve to make whatever adjustments to our lives necessary to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Will you pray with me?

Our Father, we bless You for the fourth commandment, for the Lord’s Day, for this day on which our Savior rose in victory, in which He promises to meet with His people in the preaching of the Word. We ask, O Lord, that You would give to us such an appetite, such a hunger for more of Him, that we will squeeze every moment from His day for the blessing and nourishment of our souls. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen!

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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