Kingdom Living has been the over-arching theme of our messages for these past couple months. We’ve been looking at how different God intends life to be in His kingdom compared to what most people experience in the kingdom of this world.
I think most of us have at least some understanding that when we choose to follow Christ, life is going to be different. But I’m not sure any of us fully realized just how differently God wants us to live and how differently He wants us to think. We’re told in Romans 12:2…
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2
And so we’ve been trying to figure out – what is God’s good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does God want to live as citizens & ambassadors in his Kingdom? How does He want us to change our thinking? What values in our life need to be replaced or re-ordered when we begin following Christ? What customs or behaviours need to be stopped or started? What elements of our Canadian culture simply don’t mesh with the culture of the Kingdom of God?
As we’ve been asking all these questions, we’ve been discovering all kinds of ways that God wants us to think and live differently from the world.
One of those ways that we’ve just started looking at is the practice of the Sabbath – which is certainly a very different custom from what we see in the world. And so understandably, there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what the Sabbath is all about.
We first brought up this topic last week and already I’ve had many conversations filled with questions about the Sabbath. What exactly is the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath something for the ancient Jews or is it relevant for us today? Is #4 of the ten commandments still a commandment for us, or has that law been somehow fulfilled in Jesus? And if it is relevant to us today, what does that look like? Should we practice the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday or does it even matter when? And what sort of things do we do? What do we not do?
There are all kinds of questions and we certainly won’t answer them all today – but hopefully we’ll begin to answer at least a few.
Now we started digging into this last week in what I think is the most obvious place – the ten commandments as found in Exodus 20. In fact, let me re-read that commandment for you just so that it is fresh in our minds. In Exodus 20 – verse 8 we read:
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. Exodus 20:8-10
So that was our starting point as we began looking at the Sabbath last week. Now the first thing we noted last week was that for these Israelites who had been living in Egypt for the last 400 years and who had just now been freed from their slavery, the idea of not working seven days a week was a very foreign idea. Slaves did not get vacations or weekends or days off. They most certainly did not stop working for a whole day every week. This was very new and very different.
You see, in Egypt, the Israelites were really only valued for the work they did. You’ll recall that Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go – not because he enjoyed their company so much – but because they did a lot of work for him. They were valued for what they did – what they accomplished.
But now that they were no longer slaves, God commanded them to stop working for one full day every week. And perhaps, while not the primary objective of the Sabbath, it reminded them that they were valuable and important to God not because they did so much for Him – but just because God chose to love them. God didn’t create the Israelites (or us for that matter) just to accomplish things for Him – He created us to have a loving relationship with Him and with each other. The Sabbath was a dedicated time where the Israelites could stop accomplishing and focus instead on their relationship with God and with others.
And I think that might be a good reminder to us too! Our world tends to value people by what they do – what they accomplish or what success they have. The Sabbath reminds us that God loved each one of before any of us accomplished a thing. We read Ephesians 1:4-5 which says…
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5
God’s love for us is pretty incredible, and the Sabbath reaffirms for us that God loves us – not because of what we do for him – but simply because he chose to love us. And furthermore, the Sabbath invites us to make sure that we don’t get so busy with all the activity of life – that we forget to focus on the relationships that God created us for. He has granted us the freedom to take a whole day every week to spend time with Him, with our loved ones, and with friends and family to build and to enjoy those relationships. The Sabbath is really quite a gift!
So that was kinda our introduction to the Sabbath last week and I want to build on that some more today.
The ten commandments here in Exodus 20 is where we first get the command to keep the Sabbath, but it’s not the first place where we hear about the Sabbath. In fact, built right into this commandment is the explanation of where this idea of the Sabbath came from originally. Let’s look at it again.
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.
And then we get to verse 11 which gives us the explanation…
11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:8-11
The pattern for the Sabbath – resting on the seventh day and setting that day apart as holy – stems from way back from the beginning of time – from Creation. This passage tells us that God created the world in six days and then on the seventh day – he rested. He blessed that day and he set it apart as holy. And this is actually almost an exact echo of what we read in the Creation account itself in Genesis. In Genesis chapter one we read of all that God did to create the world on each of the six days – culminating with his creation of man on the sixth day. And then we read at the end of Genesis 1 – in verse 31 it says…
31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. 1 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. Genesis 1:31-2:3
Now I find this to be an interesting detail in the Creation account. There are a lot of details of Creation that the Bible does not include – there’s a lot of things we wish we knew about Creation – there’s all kinds of questions about the how and when and where and why, but the Bible just doesn’t tell us. But yet it does tell us this, so obviously, this must be important.
So there’s two things in this passage that I want to point out – (And these are found both in the Genesis account and in the 10 commandments in Exodus.) The first thing to notice is how God declares this day to be holy – and the other thing to note is how God rested on this day. Those are the two things I want to look at today.
Let’s begin with the idea of God resting, because that just seems un-necessary.
I mean, God is all-powerful, right? It says in Isaiah 40 verse 28 that…
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary. Isaiah 40:28
So if God never gets tired – if he never grows weak or weary, why would God “rest”? Well, this word “rest” is the actually Hebrew word “Sabath” which means “to stop or to cease”. The NET translation actually puts Genesis 2:3 like this:
“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation.” Genesis 2:3 NET
So to “Sabath” is to cease, to stop, to rest. And that’s what God did. He had completed his work of Creation – and so he stopped that work. Now, of course, God didn’t entire stop doing everything – but he stopped his work of Creating the world.
While I was looking into this idea of God resting, I came across an interesting verse a little later on in Exodus chapter 31. Exodus 20 is where we find the ten commandments and that kinda the basic foundation for God’s covenant with Isreal and then much of the rest of Exodus and Leviticus fills in the details. And so in Exodus 31, God is adding a bit more detail about the Sabbath and but there’s a phrase in verse 17 that’s struck me as being a bit unexpected. I’ll start at verse 16 to give you the context.
“The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. 17 It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel.
Nothing unusual up to this point – but then it restates what we’ve seen before…
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.” Exodus 31:16-17
I found it very interested that God was refreshed. He doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t grow weary – but yet he’s refreshed? And so I had to look up that word in the Hebrew as well. How was God refreshed?
Well, I found that that word was only used three times in the Bible. This time here where God was refreshed on the seventh Day. Another time in Exodus 23 where it talks about how, on the Sabbath, even foreigners and slaves are refreshed. And then the last time is in 2 Samuel 16 when King David was on the run from his son Absalom who was trying to take the throne and kill David. And as David and the people with him fled Jerusalem, they became weary, but they eventually made it to the Jordan River and were refreshed.
So there are some very different contexts here – so what does this word actually mean? The Hebrew dictionary says this word “refresh” means “To breath”. It has this idea of stopping to catch your breath. Taking a breather as we might say today.
And I think that fits well with what we talked about last week. God created the Sabbath so that we can take a breather! So that we can be refreshed. We need to take time on a regular basis just to breath. Despite how our world would like us to operate, God didn’t create us to always be on the move – working 24/7 – or filling our days with endless activity. He designed us to need rest and the pattern that He established for that rest is one day in seven.
In my reading recently, I came across the story of the French Republican calendar. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about that or not, but around the time of the French Revolution, France decided to change the calendar from a seven-day week to a ten-day week in hopes that it would increase productivity and remove religious influences from the calendar. They even created new clocks that were based on the decimal system – so there was 100 seconds in minute, 100 minutes in an hour, 10 hours in a day, and 10 days in a week. So it’s kinda logical – kinda like metric time… But before long, it became very obvious that this experiment was colossal failure. Suicide rates had sky-rocketed, people were burning out, and productivity actually decreased and so it wasn’t long before they reverted back to the seven day week.
And I think this just gives more evidence that God established the pattern of resting one day out of seven for a reason. He created us to need rest – and I think sleep is similar example. You all know how well you function without sleep. God created us to need daily rest in sleep – and I would argue that He also created us to need weekly rest in the Sabbath.
God established that patterned for us right from Creation. He worked six days creating the wold, and then he rested and was refreshed.
As I’ve been thinking about how we might apply the Sabbath to our lives, this has been one the guiding principles in my thinking – that God wants the Sabbath to be a day of rest and refreshment for us. It’s a day to catch our breath – to take breather from the regular routines of everyday life.
And we’re going to come back to some of that practical application a little later on (probably more next week), but that brings us back to the second point I want to bring out of our Genesis passage and that is that God declared this day to be holy.
The Sabbath it’s not just intended to be a day off – a day just to do whatever you like. It’s not a “me-day” – it’s actually a “God-day”.
God set this day apart to be holy. Take look again at Genesis 2:2:
On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. Genesis 2:2-3
The word holy means “to be set apart”. It has the idea of being unique, special, reserved for a particular purpose. And here God declares that the seventh day is holy. We see the holiness of the Sabbath emphasized even more in the God’s commandment to the Israelites in Exodus.
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. Exodus 20:8-10a
God instructs the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day holy – keep it set apart – keep it special, unique, reserved for a particular purpose. It is a day dedicated to the Lord your God. The Sabbath was to be God’s day.
I found an interesting passage in Isaiah that I had never really noticed before – but it really seems to emphasis this idea that the Sabbath isn’t all about you – it’s all about God. In Isaiah 58, verse 13 it says:
“Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
14 Then the Lord will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
And when I first read this, I kinda found it to be conflict of ideas. If the Sabbath was to be a day of rest and refreshment, in my mind, that means its a day off. A day to do all the things I want to do – instead of doing the things I have to do. But yet, this passage says not to pursue your own interests on that day. Don’t follow your own desires. So that struck me as a bit of a conflict of ideas.
But as I thought about this apparent conflict, I came to realize that it’s really only a conflict in the kingdom of this world. In this world, we’re told to do whatever makes us happy. If it feels right – do it. And many times, what we think will make us happy – turns out – it doesn’t. A lot of the time, the pleasures we pursue end up being empty and unsatisfying.
But let me ask you this: Have you ever had a time in your life where you really felt close to God? Maybe after spending significant time alone with God – in His Word or in prayer? Or maybe after a worship service? Maybe after a time of confessing your sin and being real and honest God – and then having the assurance that you’re forgiven and still deeply loved? Have you ever had those really close times with God?
I’ve had times like that. And there is nothing on earth that I would trade for those experiences – those times of intimacy with God. Those are the most life-giving, refreshing times of my life. There really are no earthly activities that are more refreshing than times of intimacy with God.
And so in this passage where God tells the Israelites not to pursue their own interests, but to keep the Sabbath holy – he’s telling them not to chase after empty pleasure – but to seek true satisfaction and true refreshment that is found only in Him.
As we talked about last week, God created us for relationships – the most important one is our relationship with Him. And God has invited us to take one day every week just to enjoy and build into that relationship.
It’s a holy day – God’s day – set apart for us to worship our Creator, to spend time with Him, and to reflect on and to enjoy his goodness.
The Sabbath reminds us that there is nothing more important that we could or should be doing than worshiping God. We exist for this reason. The Westminster Catechism says:
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” ~ Westminster Catechism
Now, of course, we can do that every day of our lives. We can glorify God and enjoy Him in everything we do. But if that’s our chief end – if that’s what we have been created for – why would we not take advantage of the opportunity that God has given us every week to spend the day specifically doing exactly that?
With all the busyness and activity of life, it’s easy to forget why we’re here. We get caught up in the activity of work, and school, and even church – which are all good things – but in all the busyness, we forget why we exist.
We don’t exist to get everything done on our to-do list. We don’t exist to arrive on-time at every event on our calendar. We don’t exist to pay off our mortgage or even to have a clean house. Again, those are all good things – but that’s not our primary purpose in life.
We exist to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And the Sabbath reminds us of that every week.
For a whole day each week, we can rest from our busyness – we can stop and be refreshed in body and soul as we take time to glorify God and to just enjoy Him and all His goodness.
So how do we do that? How do we take advantage of this weekly opportunity that God has given us? Certainly, our culture doesn’t consider any day to be dedicated to the Lord. And unlike the Isrealites, we don’t live in a nation that has any concept of resting every seven days. As we noted last week, our world is a “go-go-go” 24/7 kind of a world. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. Even when I was growing up, there was at least some cultural idea of resting on the seventh day, but things have changed significantly over the past 20-30 years – so that today, we really have no concept of this idea of Sabbath. So what does that look like for us here in Central Alberta in 2018?
Well, I’m glad you asked, but we’re not quite ready to answer those questions just yet. So far, we’ve really only looked at the Old Testament for how we understand the Sabbath, but there’s a lot of discussion about the Sabbath in the New Testament too. The question of the Sabbath is one that Jesus had to address on several occasions and so I think we’re going to want to see what He has to say before we can figure out exactly how to apply this to our lives.
So that’s what we’re going to look at next week. What did Jesus practice and teach about the Sabbath? What did the early church do? And then what should we do today?
And if you just can’t wait until next Sunday – if you have some questions about the Sabbath – I am more than happy to talk about this with you. I enjoy coffee and a good conversation, so call me up!
But for today, I just want to leave you with those two thoughts. #1. That the Sabbath was intended as a day of rest and refreshment. #2 That the Sabbath Day is holy – a day set apart and dedicated to the Lord your God.
Both of those things enable us and remind us to regularly take the time to glorify God and enjoy Him now and forever.