Exodus 20:8-11
The Sabbath

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The word of God given to us for today is the section on the fourth commandment in the Decalogue, where the text is on the Sabbath. We read it once already four weeks ago. But, as we wrap up what we have read for over three months, I think it would be meaningful for us to take up the Sabbath law once again. As we compare ourselves with Israel, which was made a people to worship the Lord who set them free from Egypt, I'd like for us to think about that and what God's word means.

The Day To Remember God's Works

2. The Lord said, "Remember the Sabbath and make it holy." As I mentioned before, the word "Sabbath" comes from the verb "to stop." It means that what God is commanding is for us to "stop," to "rest." Concerning the reason that he has commanded this is written about in verse eleven as follows: "For six days the Lord created the heavens, the earth, and everything that is in them, and because he rested on the seventh day, the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy," (verse eleven). The reason, then, it is offered as the basis for the Sabbath law is it is God's work of creating the universe.

3. The Sabbath is the day we're supposed to remember God's work in creating the universe. Genesis chapter one depicts the creation of the universe by God in a truly impressive manner. Humanity was made last and put where everything had been created and designed. While all the universe was being made, people had not yet existed in it. Humans did not work, God worked. Therefore, humankind does not sustain and support the world, God does. We do not grant life to ourselves by our own power, God prepares what we need and lets us live. Even if a person doesn't believe in God's creation, he or she will not make the claim that humanity prepared all that he or she needs. When we notice it, everything has been prepared. In this way then, the telling of the simplistic account of the creation of the universe is all about the work of God who even now still holds up the world, lets us live in it, so filled with God's love and gifts.

4. The Sabbath is the day to think about God's work which is filled with his love and gifts. The reason such a day is given is that we truly take a rest. God took a rest on the seventh day. God's resting was on this day. And God himself did not only rest himself, but wants to let us take part in the Sabbath, too. Ultimately, God promises that we will take part in God's rest in a perfect way, (Hebrews 4:1). And we begin to take part in God's rest on the Sabbath from this hour on as we embrace this future hope.

5. By the way, the ten commandments themselves are not only written in Exodus, but also in Deuteronomy. As you'd expect, it also commands regarding the Sabbath day. But, with the situation in Deuteronomy, the reason the Sabbath is commanded is quite different. It is written as follows: "Recall that you were once a slave in the land of Egypt, but the Lord your God stretched his mighty hands and arms and lead you out. Because of that, the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath," (Deuteronomy 5:15). Thus, in Deuteronomy what is offered as the basis for observing the Sabbath is God's work in salvation.

6. The Sabbath is both at the same time a day to think of God's work in creation and a day we're supposed to think of God's work in salvation. This world is one in which it was made according to God's work of creation that has been filled with his love and gifts. But, simultaneously, this world is one that rejects God's love and turns against him, and consequently it is a world filled with suffering and sorrow, a world so in need of God's salvation. In this kind of world the Israelites also had their existence. And these slaves in the land of Egypt were saved by the Lord's mighty hand and arm.

7. What did the saved Israelites see? They had seen that God, the creator of heaven and earth is also the one who outstretched his powerful hands and arms. As a result, the account of the creation of the universe, to them, was not one that taught them a simple origin of the world. To Israel it was not possible for it to be an abstract notion regarding the universe's creation because they knew the God who had outstretched his hand in the created world, the God of salvation alive and at work in their history. To the people who knew this, as a day to recall God's salvation, God commanded them to observe the Sabbath. God revealed to Israel that this world is certainly God's and is the object of his love. Also, God has been wanting to reveal it to this world through the Sabbath keeping people.

8. So, the Sabbath is the day to think about God's work in creation and the day to think about God's work in salvation. We usually live each day thinking about our work. At times we feel pride in the greatness of our work and other times we feel degraded and bemoan the smallness of our work. But, the Sabbath is the day to think through out the day totally about God's work, it is the day we think of where we are in His work.

9. It is the same for us, [though] we do not set apart as holy the seventh day of the week, but we set apart the first day of the week. From the earliest times the church set apart the first day of the week as holy and it was done to observe that day as "The Lord's Day." That is because that day is a remembrance of the resurrection of Christ.

10. Christ was born from the womb of his mother the same as a worldly child. The cross of Christ was set in the world. The redemption of sin was made by the blood of Christ that was shed in this passing world. The resurrection of Christ was shown to the disciples who lived in this world and they were sent as witnesses of the resurrection into this world. The events that took place in Christ clearly shown that this world is God's and it is loved by Him. The events that took place in Christ clearly show that God is the God of salvation and the one who saves us living in the world from the rule of sin and death. Therefore, the Lord's Day, as a remembrance of the resurrection, is a day to thoroughly and totally think of God's gracious works. It is a day no different from the Sabbath, but rather a day upon which the meaning of the Sabbath is totally fulfilled.

The Sabbath Was Set For Humanity

11. Thus, the Sabbath is a most excellent gift from God. It is a gift but at the same time it is a command. Jesus put it like this, "The Sabbath was set for man. Man is not for the purpose of the Sabbath," (Mark 4:27). One rabbi in Judaism wrote this about it, "Without the Sabbath, the Jews would most certainly perish. The Jews have not just kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews." Those are true words. The same might be said about Christians. Even more than saying Christians have kept the Lord's Day, the Lord's Day has kept Christians. "The Lord's Day" given to us is God's gift.

12. But, the fact that the Sabbath is a gift of God given for humanity is not usually understood [as so]. In Mark chapter three and verse one the following event is recorded. "Jesus went into the synagogue again. There was a man in it with one of his hands withered. The people were observing to see whether the man would beseech Jesus and he would heal the man's disease on the Sabbath or not. Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, 'Stand in the center.' Then he said to the others, 'Is practicing good or practicing evil permitted by law on the Sabbath? Or is saving or killing a life?' They were quiet. Then Jesus angrily looked around the people and while sorrowful over their stubborn hearts, he said to that man, 'Stretch out your hand.' When he stretched it out, his hand went back to its original state. Those of the Pharisee sect left and immediately began to converse with those of the Herodian sect on how they might kill Jesus," (Mark 3:1-5).

13. There we have the figure of the people passing the Sabbath with hatred and animosity. They were'nt the bad guys of the world. They weren't the disturbers of peace and order. Rather, they were the people who had strictly kept the Sabbath day law. They were the people who had truly accepted the literal words of "You shall not do any kind of work because the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God" and who debated the finer points of what "work" fell under and who strictly observed the fixed prohibitions. But, regretfully, the Sabbath had not been much of a gift to them. The more strictly they kept the law of the Sabbath, the more conscious they were of only the act of "keeping" the law. They got to the point where they were not putting their eyes on the gracious works of God.

14. Those who had not been able to accept the Sabbath as a gift of God were unable to accept the gracious works of God that were happening right in front of their eyes. Those who had not rejoiced together in the Sabbath as God's gift were not able to share in the joy of the man healed by God. Instead, they spent that day filled with animosity. They spent it in conversation on wiping out Christ. What kind of Sabbath keeping was that! But, we keepers of the Lord's Day are not beyond doing that either. Whenever we don't think of God's gracious work and forget that the Lord's Day is a gift of grace, then the same thing takes place in us.

15. "You shall not do any kind of work because the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. It is the same for you, your son, daughter, male or female slave, cattle and the sojourners within your city gates," said the Lord, (verse ten). What he really wants is that they all joyously celebrate together the gracious works of God. In order for the male and female slaves to keep the Sabbath, their masters had to let them rest. But, it was not commanded just from a humane standpoint. It was [commanded] so that they would celebrate together. That was the reason, God was wanting that they would celebrate his works and they would all take part in the Sabbath, including the cattle. And God must all the more want this for us who keep remembrance of Christ's resurrection and keep the Lord's Day.

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