Kevin DeYoung / Oct 16, 2016 / Exodus 20:8-11
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Oh God, your word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We ask that you would do a good work now through your word, that we might hear, see, believe, and rest. In the name of Christ we pray, amen.
This morning, we come to the fourth commandment. Hear God’s word:
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. Exodus 20:8-11
I imagine that many of you are aware that the first full-service, freestanding Chick-fil-A in Michigan opened right here in Lansing this past week. Some of you stayed out in the rain, waiting in tents all day and all night (like the ancient Israelites) that you might receive a year’s supply of that manna and quail in the morning. I’m very proud of you.
We tried to go on opening day—and then we saw the line wrapped around the building several times. They said it was a 45-minute wait, and I had an elders’ meeting to attend, so we passed on. We’ll go there some other time. That’s a measure of my sacrificial service to all of you!
Thinking of that grand opening and preparing for this sermon made me think of a song by comedian Tim Hawkins which many of you have seen on YouTube: “Chick-fil-A”, to the tune of the Beatles’ “Yesterday”.
I could eat there 7 times a day
Where the people laugh and children play
Oh I’m in love with Chick-fil-A
I need waffle fries in front of me
With some nuggets and a large sweet tea
Oh Chick-fil-A, you set me free
Kids get in the van
So we can go there today
But their stores are closed
Oh I know, ‘cause it’s Sunday…
What a dirty rotten trick to play
Now I’ll have to settle for Subway
Oh I’m in love with Chick-fil-A Tim Hawkins – Chik-fil-A
Go watch it. It’s worth a minute and a half of your time. By the way, I was not paid to do a two minute commercial there! I think this song captures not only how many Christians feel about Chick-fil-A, but also how they feel about resting on Sunday. We say to each other, “Isn’t that great that Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday? Good for them! That’s wonderful.” Then, when you want to eat there, you say, “I can’t believe that they’re closed on Sunday. I was looking forward to that.” It’s kind of annoying.
That’s sort of how we feel about the fourth commandment. We have some sense of respect for those who try to honor it. Many of us have seen Chariots of Fire: “Isn’t that a great story? He wouldn’t run on Sunday.” Then, when it comes to the inconveniences in our own lives, we think, “Well, that’s a bit annoying.”
The fourth commandment can be confusing. Every one of the Ten Commandments is still binding, but every one has been deepened and transformed by the coming of Christ—this one more noticeably than the others. The fourth commandment is fulfilled and profoundly transformed by the coming of Christ. This means that, more than for any of the other Ten Commandments, Christians have not agreed on how to obey the fourth commandment—or even if it needs to be obeyed at all.
Even within the Reformed tradition, which has always taught the importance of the Lord’s Day, there are different understandings of how closely connected the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Lord’s Day are. For example, the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith said,
[God] hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. WCF, Chapter XXI
Elsewhere, the Westminster Confession says that the day is to be set aside from all “worldly employments and recreations”.
The 1563 Heidelberg Catechism is a little different:
Q. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?
that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained,
and that, especially on the festive day of rest,
I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people
to learn what God’s Word teaches,
to participate in the sacraments,
to pray to God publicly, and to bring
Christian offerings for the poor.
that every day of my life
I rest from my evil ways,
let the Lord work in me through his Spirit,
and so begin in this life
the eternal Sabbath. Heidelburg Catechism, Q.103
That’s little different. It’s a “festive day of rest”.
Let me give you one other answer. This is from The Second Helvetic Confession, which you probably haven’t heard of. It came out of the Swiss Reformation in 1566, and is one of the most important confessions of the 16th century. You’ll hear yet another note:
[W]e see that in the ancient churches there were not only certain set hours in the week appointed for meetings, but that also the Lord’s Day itself, ever since the apostles’ time, was consecrated to religious exercises and to a holy rest; which also is now very well observed by our churches, for the worship of God and the increase of charity. Yet herein we give no place unto the Jewish observation of the day, or to any superstitions. For we do not account one day to be holier than another, nor think that mere rest is of itself acceptable to God. Besides, we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Jewish Sabbath, and that with a free observation. Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XXIV
There is an emphasis in all of these on worship and rest on the Lord’s Day—yet there’s a pretty significant difference in their theology: is Sunday some kind of Christian Sabbath, as the Westminster Confession said; or is the Lord’s Day in no way the Sabbath, and we keep it with a free observation, as the Helvetic Confession said?
If the fourth commandment can be confusing, and is (in some ways) unique among the Ten Commandments, that doesn’t mean that it’s in any way unimportant. In fact, you can make a good argument that the Israelites would have understood this to be the most important of the Ten Commandments. Why?
It’s the longest commandment.
Sabbath observance is mentioned more often in the Torah than any of the other Ten Commandments are: 11 times in the Pentateuch, and more than 100 times in the Old Testament.
It’s the only one of the Ten Commandments which the Lord clearly gave to the nation of Israel before they reached Mt. Sinai. Remmber Exodus 16, where he says, “You are to collect two days worth of manna on the sixth day, and rest on the seventh.”
The Sabbath is the only other day in the Jewish calendar, besides the day of Atonement—the great, high, holy day—where all work is strictly prohibited.
The Jews understood that this was of the utmost significance. Even if we conclude that there are significant points of discontinuity between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day, this doesn’t mean that we can ignore the fourth commandment, or that God no longer cares about worship and rest.
Here’s what I want to do. I want to spend some time giving a biblical overview of the Sabbath, the Sabbath principle, and the New Testament Lord’s Day in the New Testament, to help us figure out where this leaves us in regards to this commandment. Then I’ll finish with three ways in which we can observe this commandment in our own lives.
The Sabbath in the Old Testament
Let’s start with a birds-eye view of the Biblical Sabbath. We already read Genesis 1-2—that lengthy passage on creation. It says, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” The Sabbath principle was not invented by Moses. A Mosaic Sabbath was (perhaps) added to the Creation Sabbath, but the principle was at work from the very beginning.
Have you ever thought where we get weeks from? Days makes sense, because of the earth’s rotation. Months are more or less gauged to the Moon’s cycles. Years occur because of the earth’s revolutions around the sun. Scientific phenomena would lend us days, months, years—but why do we have weeks? A week is arbitrary, relative to the natural rhythms of the universe. We have a week because God made the week. He did his work in six days and then rested. As far as I know, they have a week everywhere in the world, and it goes back to God himself.
So what is the church calendar? We celebrate Easter, Good Friday, and Christmas by church tradition, but the calendar given to us at the very beginning is the week. God instituted it by resting—not because he was exhausted (he is God!), but because the work was finished. It was his way of saying that the way things were was the way they were supposed to be.
Verse 8 specifically says to “Remember the Sabbath day…” It was calling to mind something that already existed: this creation account. To “remember” it meant to do it. It wasn’t just accessing your cerebral cortex. On your anniversary, if you said to your wife, “I remember: today is our anniversary. I remember it. There it is!”, and then you don’t do anything or even have anything planned, you haven’t remembered it. You’ve just brought it to mind. So “remember” in this verse means both to recollect it and put it into practice.
There’s a parallel account of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 that roots the Sabbath a little differently. In Exodus, it’s rooted in creation—but in Deuteronomy, it’s rooted in redemption. Deuteronomy says, “Remember: you were a slave in Egypt.” Both of those serve as a foundation for this commandment.
Leviticus 23:3 also calls the Sabbath a day of sacred assembly. It was a day to gather for corporate worship. These were the twin engines of the Sabbath: worship and rest. The two were inextricably linked. We rest so that we might be free to worship God; and we give God worship, in part, by trusting him enough to rest.
The last command given before Moses came down from the mountain (in Exodus 31) is again this Sabbath command. It was not only a creation ordinance, but also a sign of the Mosaic covenant. Just as a rainbow in the sky was the sign of the Noahic covenant, so the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant.
The prophets would often rebuke the people of Israel for failing to keep the Sabbath, or for doing business as usual on the Sabbath (Isaiah 58; Amos 8).
The Sabbath in the New Testament
In the Gospels, we see that Jesus did not break any of the Sabbath commands, but he didn’t hesitate to break the traditions and customs that had been built up around the Sabbath—the so-called “Halakha” (“the walking”; the way of the Jews). If you know the Gospels, you know that he was constantly in conflict with the scribes and Pharisees over the observation of the Sabbath.
In Mark 2, the disciples are picking heads of grain, and Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man. It’s okay to get something to eat.” Further, he says that he is Lord of the Sabbath. In Mark 3, he heals a man with a shriveled hand, suggesting that we ought to do good on the Sabbath. In Luke 13, he heals a crippled woman, suggesting that the Sabbath is a day of freedom. In Luke 14, he heals a man suffering from dropsy, suggesting that the Sabbath is a day for healing.
So we see Jesus doing good works, often (seemingly intentionally) wanting to blow up some of the traditions and accretions around the Sabbath, but he does not disobey the commandment.
Then we come to Paul’s epistles. I want you to have your Bibles open, because we’re going to look at two passages which are really significant in our understanding of the continuing significance of this commandment. In Romans 14:5, Paul is talking about things in the church that are “adiaphora”, meaning “indifferent”. “What things can we agree to disagree on?”
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. Romans 14:5-6
Here we see the principle. These Jewish Christians are learning how to live together with Gentile Christians. The Jews come with all of these Mosaic commands, some of which have to do with foods: “These foods are clean, and these are unclean.” Some of them have to do with days: “Here are the holy days and festivals that you have to keep.” In a really radical way, Paul is relativizing these commandments as having been fulfilled in Christ.
He says, “Look, don’t judge each other. Some of you are going to think, ‘This food is unclean. I can’t eat it.’ Well, don’t judge those people. Others will say, ‘I still want to keep the days.’ Don’t go around saying, “Well, there’s a legalist.” Still others will find freedom in Christ from the observation of days and from food laws.” That’s the point.
Now turn to Colossians 2:16-17. Paul says something similar here. In this context, he’s talking about the old written code, which has been nailed to the cross. The aspect of the law which condemns us has finally been abolished in Christ. Then he says:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17
Now I grew up with a very strict Sabbath observance. I’m thankful for it. I don’t rebel against it. We had to take naps. Kids, if that’s not in the Bible, then it should be. Mom and Dad need naps. I would go into my room, and count down the time. We couldn’t ride our bikes on Sundays. You could do work, but not to the point of sweating. There was some disagreement about whether we could swim in our pool. My dad said, “Yes, after the evening service.” My mom wasn’t so sure. There were certain things that we could or couldn’t watch. In other words, we had pretty traditional Dutch Reformed rules about the Lord’s Day. The one person who worked like crazy was my mom, who made the traditional feast every Sunday.
Because of those rules, when I come to something like this, my instinct is not to say that I don’t want them. My instinct is to think, “Isn’t that right? Isn’t that what we should have? Isn’t that tradition fully rooted in the Bible?” Yet, when I come to these passages in Romans and Colossians, I can’t help but conclude that there’s some significant discontinuity between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day.
I know that some people have tried to argue that the Sabbaths mentioned here in Colossians 2 are the monthly festivals, not the weekly festivals. I’m not exegetically convinced that you can find that meaning in the word. In fact, that triumvirate there—festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths—occurs several times in the Old Testament as well: Ezekiel 45 and Hosea 2, in the same order; and a different order (Sabbaths, new moons, annual feasts) in 2 Chronicles 8 and 31. This threesome of items moves from festivals (which were annual), to new moons (which were monthly), to Sabbaths (which were weekly). So I can’t avoid the conclusion that this is talking about the weekly Sabbath.
Something pretty significant has changed. Where does this leave us? Well, as I said, there’s a significant discontinuity. I don’t see how we can escape the conclusion that the Mosaic Sabbath is no longer incumbent upon Christians. Martin Luther, who was always good for an overstatement, said,
If anywhere the day is made holy for the mere day’s sake—if anywhere anyone sets up its observance on a Jewish foundation, then I order you to work on it, to ride on it, to dance on it, to feast on it, to do anything that shall remove this encroachment on Christian liberty. Martin Luther – Table Talk
You may say, “Well, that was Luther. He was crazy.” Well, here’s a good Reformed Presbyterian, B.B. Warfield:
Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with him on the resurrection morn. B.B. Warfield – “The Foundations of the Sabbath in the Word of God”
There’s discontinuity, but also points of continuity. You hear it in that quote. There’s an abiding principle still at work. Resting one day in seven is a creation ordinance, after all.
If we had time, we could look at the Greek in the resurrection accounts. In John 20, Luke 24, and Mark 16, the Greek literally says “on the one of the Sabbath,” usually translated as “on the first day of the week”. That’s a fine translation, but the Greek doesn’t use the word “first”. It uses “on the one of the Sabbath” because the early church was reckoning Sunday according to the Sabbath. “This was now the so-called eighth day of the week—the day of recreation, the one of the Sabbath (one more than our Sabbath). It’s now an easter week.
Acts 20:7 says that they gathered for worship on the first day of the week. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 speaks of gathering on the first day of the week. Revelation 1:10 refers to the Lord’s Day. From the second half of the early church’s second century, it’s clear that the term “Lord’s Day” is being used for Sunday. Justin Martyr, the second century apologist, said that the church met for worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. The Didache, from the early second century, used “the Lord’s Day” to describe this day of corporate worship. The church father Ignatius, by the end of the first century, said “[Christians] no longer observe the Sabbath, but direct their lives toward the Lord’s Day, on which our life is refreshed by him and by his death.”
If you look at the first four centuries of the church, you see that Sabbath keeping was spiritualized to mean a life of devotion and humility to God. Insistence on a strict observance of the seventh day was seen as Judaizing. In fact, The Council of Laodicea (363) went so far as to say that Christians should work on the seventh day and honor the Lord’s Day instead.
Putting it All Together
How do we put this all together? The ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath has been abolished. It was fulfilled in Christ. The Mosaic Covenant was meant to reinforce the principle that we are to rest from our labors and trust in God. This is the principle that we find fulfilled in Christ. Jesus showed us the fullest, deepest meaning of the Sabbath: namely, that we should have no reliance on ourselves and complete trust in God to be our provider, sustainer, deliverer, and savior. Therefore, the binding nature of Sabbath observance has been eliminated.
It’s probably worth mentioning this: when a pastor gets ordained in the PCA, he has to take all of these exams, and to make vows to uphold the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. He’s given an opportunity to state any exceptions he takes to the catechisms or the confessions. It seems like nine out of ten times, a man will take some exception to the language regarding the Lord’s Day—usually the line about recreation, seeing that (depending on what is meant by it) most people will take exception if it means they can’t ride their bikes with their kids on the Sabbath. When I was transferred into the PCA last year, I wrote up a paragraph taking exception to the way in which the terminology of “Christian Sabbath” is used in the Westminster Confession. So it’s okay (at times) to even disagree with elements of our own tradition.
Having said that, I believe that certain principles of Sabbath rest remain. They seem to have been quickly appropriated for the Lord’s Day. This is actually what Calvin taught, I think, though he wrote so much that it becomes a little murky when you read his writing from many different decades. But if you read The Institutes, he says:
There is no doubt that by the Lord Christ’s coming the ceremonial part of this commandment was abolished… Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days. John Calvin – The Institutes of the Christian Religion
But then he goes on to argue that there is a place for observing the Lord’s Day. He says that it was instituted as a substitute for the Sabbath, and it carries forward some of the same principles.
It is a day to gather for worship.
It is a day to rest from our labors and give rest to others.
The main way in which we obey the fourth commandment is to find our spiritual rest in Christ every day.
In the second half of this sermon, let’s look at each of those three points.
The Fitness of a Day for Worship
It is fitting for one day in seven to be set aside for worship. We see it clearly both in the New Testament and the early church. Though they understood that the Sabbath (as Warfield said) was buried in the grave with Christ, what rose forth was the Lord’s Day. So we find that it’s still the Christians’ habit, inherited from the Jewish tradition, to gather together for worship—now on the first day of the week instead of the seventh.
Do you make corporate worship a priority? You’re here this morning, so you’re thinking, “Whew. Yes, I’m here on the Sabbath sermon.” But do you feel the need to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection with your brothers and sisters? I hope so. I daresay that the discipline of corporate worship is even more important than that of private worship—though we certainly want to do that as well. Perhaps even more strikingly, do you think of Sunday as climax or collapse? This is where it even hits my own heart. I think it’s often collapse. Friday is climax. Saturday? Yes! But Sunday is: “Oh, Monday is right around the corner. I’m so tired from everything that happened yesterday. Why do we live in the Eastern time zone? All of these games are on so late!” Sunday becomes a day of collapse. We must prepare to worship.
Look, the Sundays that I have off from preaching are sometimes more work than the Sundays that I’m preaching on. Then, instead of preaching to several hundred people, I have a few children whom I need to get here with my wife. How she does it every week, I don’t know. I understand that it’s hard for families with kids to feel like the day is completely restful. Yet we must prepare accordingly. We must think about our week—about our Fridays and Saturdays, and the time when we go to bed and get up—so that this is a day of great climax, as we celebrate the resurrection, not a day of collapse.
Is it wrong to watch football on Sunday? I don’t see how you could say it is from Romans 14 and Colossians 2. But is it wrong or unwise to make the focal point of Resurrection Sunday the watching of football or the playing of soccer? I think it certainly is. If Romans and Colossians tell us not to judge one another, there is still a principle here. If this is the one day of the week when we gather together for corporate worship, it ought to have some sense of priority.
Are we teaching our kids that Sunday is the day we go to church or the day we try to squeeze in church? You’ll have to wrestle with this, because the world around us doesn’t understand this at all. It used to be that you could go to places where everything would shut down. When we were in Orange City, Iowa (it’s probably still like this), everything would shut down. I think they would’ve turned off the traffic lights if they could. If you heard a lawnmower going, it was scandalous. It was nice that the world around you helped you honor this day.
But that’s not the world we inhabit here. Stuff is not going to stop on Sunday (except for Chick-fil-A), so you’ll have to wrestle with it and come to some conclusions. But I think this is an important question: is there a more important habit to ingrain in your children than the regular, virtually immovable pattern of gathering with God’s people for worship every Sunday? I have to imagine that few of us are in danger of being over-scrupulous about this.
Sunday is the day that the Lord has given you to attend to your soul. You can do the good things that you have been meaning to do on Sunday. You can read that Christian book, spend time in your Bible, go on a walk, pray, sing with your kids—and yes, take a nap!
If you were physically sick and didn’t know what was wrong, you would go to doctors, set up appointments, check the internet, call your insurance company, and read up on the latest treatments. You would go far and wide to get some sort of cure for this physical illness.
But when it comes to spiritual illness, we spend so much time in soul-shriveling activities. Yet here is God, the Great Physician, saying, “I’ll give you one day in seven to attend to your soul, to come and worship, to grow, to breathe, and to be nourished.” God understands that you have to eat. He understands that you have jobs to do. He understands that there’s school to attend. He doesn’t say that you have to do nothing around the clock. “If you’re a really good Christian, all you do is read the Bible every day.” No, this Lord’s Day—one day in seven—is set apart to worship him. What could be more important to instill in our children than that fixed pattern and habit?
Trust Christ Enough to Rest
The second abiding principle is to trust in Christ enough to stop one day out of seven and rest. The Sabbath was meant to be a day of gladness, not of gloom, but God’s people have not always seen it as such:
“When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale… Amos 8:5
God’s people are saying, “Enough with this already. This is keeping us from doing the stuff that we want to do.” Like I said, I had to be in my room for an hour on Sunday. I’d look at the clock and try to do anything to make that time go. “Can I hold my breath for a minute? Let me try that.” I think my parents were hoping, “Maybe he’ll pass out. That’s okay. He can sleep.” “When is this going to be over?” is how some of us think of it.
In New England, there were 39 pages of small-print Sabbath laws in the days of the Pilgrims. John Owen once said, “A man can scarcely in six days read over all the duties that are proposed to be observed on the seventh.”
Yes, we have twisted this at times, but listen: the day was meant to be a blessing. It’s an expression of trust. It’s for our good. What did Jesus say? “The Sabbath was made for man.” As Ben Patterson says, “What do we lose when we lose the Sabbath? We lose grace.”
You know, I never look forward to any day as much as Sundays. When I was in college and seminary, I said, “I’m not going to do any homework on Sundays. No studying for tests on Sundays. No writing papers on Sundays.” It was a habit that served me well. It made Sunday a wonderful day of all the things that I could do, and all of the other things that I didn’t have to do which I had to do the rest of the week. Can I say that all of you students, if you are going to study today, are dishonoring the Lord? No. But can I suggest to you that you’d find surprising blessing and freedom in setting aside Sunday—apart from your school work, study groups, and papers? I’d be shocked if you didn’t find a tremendous blessing in that. Sunday became for me an island of get-to in an ocean of have-to.
There is a tension here. We’re told not to judge each another on the keeping of days. Yet if God has hardwired us from creation, modeling resting himself, then surely we’re only hurting ourselves when we never stop. It would be a fine challenge for all of us to see if we can actually get more done in six days than seven. I bet we will.
Is there anyone here this morning who thinks, “You know what? Life is a little underwhelming for me. I’m not really busy. I wish the days could be more crowded with things. Pastor, is there anything else that I can do?” Very few of us feel that way. Don’t you want a day where you can say “No” to so many of those “oughts” in your head—and you’re given permission to set them aside? The other six days have no claim on this day. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful day of freedom?
“Sabbath”, in Hebrew, means “ceasing”. It is the ceasing day—the stopping day. In an agrarian society, resting meant, “Sit down and don’t worry about the fields.” For many of us with desk jobs, resting might mean, “Go on a walk, ride your bike outside, and (for the love of God) don’t answer any emails!”
Sabbath was not bondage. They were slaves! Can you imagine what good news the Sabbath was for slaves? After constant activity, God says, “I give you one day in seven.” Perhaps it’s God’s wisdom, because he knows what we’re like, and how hard it is for us to slow down and stop. He understands, “These people of mine won’t rest unless I tell them to.”
The Lord’s Day is the first day of a new week. It’s the eighth day. It’s not the day of recreation per se, but of re-creation: to cease from what is necessary and embrace what gives life. We’re not just vacating or evacuating, but re-creating. Let us not approach Sunday by saying, “How much can I get away? What’s everyone going to think about me?” That’s not the way to go about it. Instead, think, “What blessing does God mean to give me in worship and rest on this Lord’s Day? He made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He means to bless you. That’s why I’m not preaching this sermon as, “Look over your shoulder. We have spies. I want you to have an accountability partner.” God has so much good to give you that you have been squandering.
Cease from Works and Rest in Christ
Of the three Sabbath principles that remain, this is the most explicit and important. If you look at Hebrews 4, the writer is talking about this rest that God commanded the people to enter into. Yet, in their rebellion, some of them did not.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 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.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
God has always graciously given his people rest. We saw it when they were wandering in the wilderness, resting by the palm trees at Elim. We see it in creation. We see it in the wilderness. We see it in Joshua. We see it in David’s day. We still see it today. Hebrews tells us, “There remains a rest.” What is that chief rest? It is to cease from our flawed, sinful works and rest in Christ.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Don’t you hear that? That’s not God pounding you, saying, “What are you doing?” He’s saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary.” “Let me do a mental check. Weary? Check, that’s me! Got it! What else do you have, Jesus?” “And all who are burdened!” “Okay, two for two, Jesus. Check! What else?” “I’ll give you rest!”
Do we still need to obey the fourth commandment? Yes! Jesus says (Matthew 5:17) that he didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. We obey it, but Jesus has transformed it. He gives us the substance instead of the shadow. The shadow was the Mosaic covenant. All of the Sabbath was to point in the direction of trust. Do you understand? That’s what the Sabbath was about. Could they trust that God was going to give them enough manna on day 6 to rest on day 7? Can you trust that this burden you’re carrying is not yours to carry alone? Can you trust that if you just cease and stop that God can take care of it?
As I’ve asked before, why God make us to need sleep? He didn’t have to make us that way. One reason is that it’s a daily reminder. Every time we get up, God whispers in our ears, “Hey you! Buddy, I was fine without you! I managed! It’s okay! I’m God, you’re not. Take a nap!”
Notice the irony here in verse 11. We must strive to enter the rest. You have to fight the fight of faith, to trust this God against the disobedience of unbelief and your own nature. Resting can be the hardest work you have.
Sabbath rest is about making Jesus Christ the center of who we are. It means ceasing to find approval in others, stopping the foolish quest for our own righteousness and doubting God’s promises, and trusting that true health, strength, vitality, and freedom can only be found when we cease from our labors and rest in his. Can you trust God enough to stop?
It’s hard for me. I was thinking this week: “Okay, I’m preaching on the Sabbath. I should probably take a day off this week for my wife’s sake and my sake. I need rest.” It’s harder for most of us to stop, go, do, strive, achieve, accomplish, and then say, “You know what? That can wait for another day. The dishes are going to sit in the sink. We’re going to eat from paper plates and have leftovers again. We’re going to have a bowl of cereal on Sunday and rest.” It’s hard to stop and believe Psalm 62: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation… For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
Some of us are running, thinking, “Oh, God. Why don’t you give me some kind of break?” And he says, “I made this day for you—not to punish you or keep you in bondage, but to give you the freedom you so desperately need.” Some of you are desperately seeking the rest which you have not found in Christ—or you’ve found it, but you frequently forget it and never stop working, cleaning, planning, plotting, fretting, fussing, worrying, and trying to prove yourself to someone—your parents, spouse, kids, or the church. You’ve never really appropriated what it means to have grace. There’s always something else that you need to do to show the world that you’re worth something—that you’re valuable, loved, and okay.
You don’t have to earn anything. You don’t have to prove anything. The world does not depend on you. Your salvation does not depend on you. In an ultimate sense, your family does not even depend on you. Can you hear the sweet voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest”?
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for this Lord’s Day, for us to remember and be refreshed—to gaze upon the cross of Christ and find all of our burdens nailed there, and all of our weariness laid down at the foot of that rugged cross. Give us ears to hear, believe, come to you, and rest. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Transcription and editing provided by 10:17 Transcription
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.