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I’d like to begin this morning’s look into the 3rd Commandment the same way that we began last Sunday’s look into the 2nd Commandment. Would you take out your bible and turn to Exodus 20:8-11 (page 61 in your pew bible.) Let’s read the text of the 3rd Commandment together – verses 8-11. “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.”
We notice here that the 3rd Commandment is anchored in creation. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day.”
Notice that the first six days of creation are set apart from the seventh day. In six days God does all of His work of creating and then His work is finished and the seventh day is not for working but for resting.
Interestingly, of all of the seven days of creation, it’s only the 7th day that we are told to ‘remember.’ “REMEMBER the Sabbath day.” We’re not told to “remember” the day that God made the earth and the sky, or even the day that God made the man.
Only the “Sabbath day,” are we told to “remember.” To “remember” it is to ‘honor’ it, like you ‘honor’ your birthday or your anniversary. You pay special attention to it. When it comes to the Sabbath day, we are to “remember” it by “keeping it holy.” The word “holy” literally means, “something that is set apart.” To keep it ‘holy’ is to keep it ‘set apart’ from the other six days of the week.
We do not ‘make the Sabbath day holy.’ God made it holy. “The Lord blessed the Sabbath day AND MADE IT HOLY.”
It’s ‘holy,’ ‘set apart,’ its different than the other six days of the week because it’s the ‘SABBATH DAY.’ The word in Hebrew is“Shabbat.’ It comes right over into English as ‘Sabbath.’ It’s an interesting word. When the word is used for men and women, it has to do with the stopping of physical work for physical rest and recuperation.
But when the word is used for God, it means something altogether different. When the Scriptures say, “God RESTED on the seventh day,” “Shabbat,” it doesn’t mean that God was tired from the hard work of creating everything. Whenever the word ‘shabbat’ is used in reference to God, it always has to do with the perfect peace and satisfaction that God has with His work. Immediately after “God saw all that He made and it was very good,” He calls for this day of ‘Sabbath rest.’ Simply put, God’s “SABBATH” is the time set aside for God to enjoy what God has done. And this “SABBATH REST” is what God is inviting us, commanding us to participate in, in the 3rd Commandment.
So, before we move along any further with this, let’s be sure to see once again, just as we have seen with Commandments 1 and 2, the 3rd Commandment is rooted in God’s good and gracious will for you. This is not a Law from God to make our life miserable or break up our precious weekends or to test our loyalty and devotion. It is an act of sheer grace that rather than simply allowing us to work ourselves to death, the Creator invites us into His Sabbath Rest, the joy and satisfaction of THE WORK HE HAS DONE.
The “Sabbath rest” then is really a whole lot more than just physical rest and relaxation. It is definitely a part of it. “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.” Can’t help but notice God’s compassion and care for the lowest, the children, the servants, even the immigrants and livestock are not to be worked to death.
But the ‘Sabbath rest’ that God has woven into the fabric of His creation is much more than that. The Sabbath is about the spiritual rest that only God can give that refreshes THE WHOLE PERSON, mind and body, spiritual and physical.
This kind of ‘holistic rest’ was the constant condition of Adam and Eve in the beginning. But after their sin, their heart was no longer at peace with God and so their work was always carried out with a great deal of stress. “Am I working hard enough to please God?” “If I work hard enough, will God forgive me my sin?” Their labor was laborious.
Because of THEIR sin, there is a spiritual weariness and fatigue in the world today that can be so much more draining and tiring than any physical or mental labor we do. The worry and fear that the ground that we stand on is so thin that it could give way at any moment drives us to work harder and harder just to keep from sinking – in the economy, in the job, in the marriage. The shame and guilt we carry, both before God and others, weighs heavy on everything we do. We’re emotionally and spiritually weary and exhausted and consequently, we lack the energy and strength to do the work we have been called to do in our daily vocation in life.
We need ‘Sabbath rest.’ And Jesus invites us to enter into it. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you REST (Shabbat) Take my yoke upon you for my burden is light and easy and you will find REST (Shabbat) for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29).
The ‘rest’ that Jesus offers you is His own life. He is inviting you into the deep peace and satisfaction that He has with the WORK that He has accomplished, by His life, His suffering, His cross, His death. After He atoned for all of your sin by suffering the punishment that we deserve, and reconciled the Father to you by His perfect obedience and renewed the Creation with His precious blood, He saw all that He did and “it was very good.” And He said, “It is finished.” And He entered His rest, His deep peace and satisfaction with the work that HE has done.
And we are invited to come into His rest. We come into it through the preaching and teaching of His gospel and the administration of His Sacraments. His Word and Sacraments are the way that we enter into His rest. This is a REST that you must STOP ALL OF YOUR WORK in order to receive. Only by stopping all of our work and letting the Holy Spirit do His work on us do we enter into His Sabbath Rest.
It’s this Sabbath rest that the 3rd Commandment wants to give to us. Let’s rehearse our assignment for this week. Without looking, what is the 3rd Commandment? “I am the Lord your God. Honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
So, in the 1st Commandment, God took control of our heart. “We should fear, love and TRUST in God above all things.” In the 2nd Commandment, God took control of our mouth. “We should CALL UPON God in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.” Now in this 3rd Commandment, God wants to have control of our ears. “We should not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly HEAR and learn it.”
Simply put, the 3rd Commandment calls us to come to church on Sunday. It’s not as simple as that, but if you leave out that much, you lose it all. Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday is not the issue. We call the Sabbath day Sunday just because that’s the day that the Christian Church has set aside for the public preaching and teaching and administration of the Word for a long time. And sometimes it’s not good to be different unless you have a darn good reason for it.
At regular, dependable, scheduled times and places, God’s Word is preached and the Sacraments administered and God’s Sabbath rest is given. To ignore it and deliberately not come is to DISPISE God’s Word. And we’ll all have to answer to God for that. But, just to come church at the right place and time and sit in the pew, isn’t necessarily honoring the Sabbath day either.
We are to “gladly hear AND LEARN IT.” That is, we are to let the word get into us and have its way with us. We are to hear the absolution that says, “I forgive you all of your sins” and let it sink down deeply into our troubled heart. We are to listen to the readings from the scripture and the sermon, and hear them as God Himself speaking to us through the pastor. And we are to receive the Sacrament of the Altar as the very body and blood of Christ from the cross of Calvary to the bread and wine on this altar and to my hands and lips for my salvation.
Practically speaking, we learn the Word of God, just like we learn a lot of things, not just by memorizing it so that we can recite it back when called on, but by doing it. We learn how true and powerful this Word is when we try it out, when we actually put our trust in it and put it into practice.
This is what it means to “keep the Sabbath day holy,” not that we make it holy, but that by being here and listening to and learning God’s Word, it becomes holy FOR US. And we get a taste of God’s Sabbath rest.
Granted it is just a taste. But it is a foretaste of the rest to come. It’s that REST TO COME that the author of Hebrews writes about. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Heb.4:9-10)
It is more than just ‘interesting’ that in his Revelation, St. John notices that in hell, there is no rest for the weary. “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and THEY HAVE NO REST, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image.” “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may REST from their labors…” (Rev.14:12,14).
The 3rd Commandment is there to steer us to the final rest that awaits us. For now, we live in between that perfect Sabbath rest that was in the beginning and that we have never fully known, and the Sabbath rest that is yet to come and that we will know fully. But for now, “we remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”