April 14, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
The Ten Commandments
Commandment 4 – Keep the Sabbath
Exodus 20:1-2, 8-11
Some of you who were here last week may be wondering, “Why are we looking at Commandment 4, Keep the Sabbath? I thought we were on Commandment 2 last week.” Well, you would be right. We have skipped Commandment 3 for right now, because I want to tie in Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday with Christ himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, and his keeping the Sabbath.
The Sabbath Day is a day of rest. In our scripture today, God rested on the seventh day of creation. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Our calendar is still configured to reflect this Jewish perspective. Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the seventh day of the week. Saturday is still the Sabbath Day.
Even in the New Testament, we still see Jews, who became believing Christians, reserving the Sabbath, our Saturday, as a day of rest. It was a day to be in the synagogue hearing God’s holy word. The Apostle Paul, many times taught the Jews on this day of Sabbath. However, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the day after Sabbath, Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead, became the Lord’s Day, Resurrection Sunday.
It is a day of gathering and praise and worship. It is the day of remembering the resurrection of Jesus. Eventually, as the Christian church developed and we move past the Book of Acts and into the rest of the New Testament, we find that the Saturday Sabbath is replaced by Sunday’s Lord’s Day, a time of gathering, praise, and worship.
Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, even kept the Sabbath before his jubilant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and even before his Resurrection on what we now call Easter Sunday. More about that and this Fourth Commandment in a moment, but first would you pray with me?
There are so many people who do not believe the Fourth Commandment, Keep the Sabbath, is particularly important, let alone binding. But Dennis Prager, a Jewish Old Testament scholar, and author of the book, The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code offers us five reasons why the fourth commandment is so important, so life-changing and even world-changing. It is still relevant to each of our lives.
“First,” Prager writes, “perhaps more than any other commandment, it elevated the human being.” If you think about it, for most of known human history, life was overwhelmingly one of work. In effect, humans were beasts of burden. This commandment and only this commandment changed all that by insisting that people cease working one day out of seven.
“Second,” Prager writes, “more than any other commandment, the Sabbath Day reminds people that they are meant to be free.” When Moses once again summarized the commandments for the Israelites later in the Book of Deuteronomy, before they were to cross into the Promised Land, he reminded them that they were once slaves in Egypt.
Now this is important. Slaves cannot have a Sabbath. They are always on duty. They always work. Unless it is necessary for survival, people today are essentially slaves if they choose to work seven days a week. They are slaves to work and slaves to money. Even the millionaire who works seven days a week is simply a rich slave.
“Third, while the Bible could not universally abolish slavery, the Sabbath commandment greatly humanized that terrible institution and even helped make slavery impossible,” Prager says. Think about it. By definition, a slave owner was under no obligation to allow a slave to ever rest, let alone to rest one day every week. Yet, that is exactly what the Fourth Commandment commanded. Even a slave has fundamental human rights. Therefore, a slave too, is a human being.
“Fourth, the Sabbath almost singlehandedly creates and strengthens family ties and friendships.” When you and I take a day off from work every week, that day almost inevitably becomes a day spent with other people, namely, family and/or friends. It also has a positive effect on marriages. Just ask anyone married to a workaholic how good it would be for their marriage if the workaholic would take one day off each week. I think then you can appreciate the power of the Sabbath Day.
And lastly, Prager writes, “the Sabbath commandment granted animals dignity. Even one’s animals had to rest one day a week.” Hear again what God told Moses: “On
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.”
This was probably the first national law in history on behalf of animals. It is thought that people who felt divinely obligated to give their animals a day of rest were much less likely to treat their animals cruelly any other day of the week.
What is amazing is that all five of these life-changing and society-changing benefits of the Sabbath are available to anyone. You don’t have to be a Jew, a Christian, or even a believer in God to derive all these benefits. But the truth is, those who believe the Ten Commandments were given by God are the ones who have kept the Sabbath alive.
The sad part of this life-changing pronouncement about the Sabbath is that by the time Jesus came on the scene with his ministry in Palestine, the Jews, for centuries, had been writing interpretations of the law of the Sabbath that began to put a great burden on the Jewish people. They were getting so technical about what did and did not constitute work on the Sabbath that they forgot about people and were only interested in the technicalities of the law. By the first century, Jewish rabbis gave intense attention to debating Sabbath restrictions.
For example, the rabbis had a great debate on this question: “If an egg is found under a hen on the Sabbath morning, may it be eaten?” It is a technical question. The question is this, “When is the labor by the hen performed? Obviously, the hen is not available for questioning. If the egg was the product of labor on the Sabbath, it is not to be eaten. If, however, the labor was done on some other day and it just appears on the Sabbath, then it is a gift. So, which egg can you scramble, and which must you destroy? Now, if I were a Jew and found an egg under my hen on the Sabbath, I would just have to presume it was a gift and laid the day before. After all, I’m hungry and I want to eat. So, do you see, the rabbis and scribes were debating the littlest of details about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.
Jesus changed all that. After all, he is the Lord of the Sabbath. And Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But the Jewish religious leaders had this all turned around. Jesus taught them it was fine to heal someone of the Sabbath. He said to them about healing, which is good work, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” He said it was okay for his disciples to pluck a few grains of wheat to eat while passing by a field on the Sabbath to squash their hunger. Any law that forgets about the people it is to help and protect is not a good law.
Now here is what it is amazing about Jesus. He kept the Sabbath even throughout what we call Holy Week, the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. On the Saturday before what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus was relaxing and observing the Sabbath in the house of his close friends, Mary, Martha, and the risen Lazarus. This is what scripture says about that moment, John 12:1-3, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
It wasn’t until Sunday, after that Sabbath day, that Jesus made his triumphal journey into Jerusalem. Again, from John 12: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
Later that week, Jesus celebrated Passover on a Thursday, was crucified on a Friday and buried the same day. But once again, he observed the Sabbath. Think about this, Jesus could have risen from the dead as soon as he was buried. He could have risen on that Saturday, but he didn’t. Since Sabbath began at sundown Friday evening and continued to sundown Saturday evening, Jesus observed it. He rested. He rose on Sunday morning, which is now observed by Christians around the world as the Lord’s Day. It is our time to worship the Risen Savior.
So what does this commandment mean for us as Christians today? I think it means that we should not be as convicted about keeping the Sabbath as we should be about breaking the Lord’s Day. It is more our responsibility to observe the Lord’s Day, Sunday. It is not mere ceremony. It is a day that should be anticipated and longed for. It should not be an imposition. As Albert Mohler says in his book, Words from the Fire, “It is to be our confidence that if we can only survive the week, if we can only arrive at the Lord’s day, we shall be with God’s people together. We can survive the drudgery of what appears to be meaningless labor. We can survive persecution and trial. We can endure sickness and death – if only we can arrive at the Lord’s Day to be with God’s people together.”
The Lord’s Day is not a Sabbath; it is the central Christian institution for our worship and gathering. It is distinct from any other day; it is set apart for worship. Are there things we ought not to do on the Lords’ Day? Certainly, there are. We are not to do anything that would detract from our worship. Anything that would rob the Lord’s Day of priority worship should not be done.
Israel was called to obey the Fourth Commandment and to “observe the Sabbath.” The church is called to find rest in Christ and to give ourselves to worship on the day that marks His resurrection from the dead. We cannot obey the fourth commandment if we do not understand the transformation of the Sabbath as it is fulfilled in Christ. That Sabbath transformation fulfilled in Christ is now our Sunday, the Lord’s Day. A time to worship our Risen Savior.