God has given us a circle of love, a circle of safety, security, and prosperity, called the 10 Commandments. But in order to know this favor, we must remain within the circle – meaning we must remain within His will. I keep saying this because it can’t be forgotten – “You step outside God’s will, you are now on your own.”
The story of the Prodigal Son is the greatest illustration of this statement. The son had everything his father could give him. He just needed to remain with his father and fulfill his father’s will. The son instead said he wanted to do it his own way and left home. While on his own, he squandered all his wealth – all wisdom was gone as he was no longer in the father’s will. So he found himself broken with nothing – his strong self-will was now hopeless and helpless – he could do nothing more for himself. So he went home, no longer proud, but humble, seeking to be in the father’s will, and the father restored him.
And the lesson for us is, even though we may step outside the will of God, maybe for a short time, maybe for a very long time, God always welcomes us back when we humbly return to be in His will again. That’s the story of grace and mercy – the story of Jesus.
Well so far, God has made it very clear that His will starts with Him – that no one (gods) or no thing (idols) can take His place of power and authority in our lives. And if they do, we must remove and destroy them from our lives.
Then He reminds us that our use of His name is to never be used for our benefit and desires. To do so is taking His name in vain. He wills that our lives be lives of character and integrity that will bring glory and honor to His name. And when we claim His name, but act outside of His will, we are taking His name in vain.
Today, God gives us His 4th Will, His 4th Commandment – Exodus 20: 8 – “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
When God established this command with the Israelite nation, it was very black and white – “Know when the Sabbath day is and keep it holy. Don’t work on this day. Rest in me.”
Exodus 20: 9-11 states, “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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien (stranger) within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
But you know what? Among the Church, this is the one we find most optional. It is the one that we break most often because we easily justify why we are doing what we do, though we do have a choice many times. It is the one our culture has made gray because of our schedules.
Where the Sabbath day for the Jew is always the same (sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening), the Sabbath for the Church has become Sunday (the day upon which Jesus rose from the grave). Yet because the Church is part of this world, the Sabbath is becoming harder to discern. I say it is hard to discern simply because a nation must choose a day as their Sabbath, and we know that our nation has given away more and more of this day to the Capitalist.
So where once a Sunday was clearly the Sabbath for the Christian, it now varies per follower.
Please understand that Sabbath doesn’t mean Sunday church as we’ve come to know in the haste of our society. A Sabbath is a day of remembrance – a day of giving worth to God – a day of honoring Him with our obedience and also trusting Him to provide.
So let me put into perspective why Sunday Church can’t be our Sabbath. Did you know that in a year’s time there are 8760 hours? So if you define time spent in a church service as your Sabbath and your worship (1.5 hours times 52 weeks = 78 hours), you just spent 8682 hours for yourself. How is that worship? How is that giving worth to God? You just spent a little over 3 days of your year in worship of God. No wonder we feel restless and lost, even in the Church.
But as I insinuated earlier, the Church now faces an epidemic where there is no longer “Weekends off”. The Church can no longer just be on Sundays, which causes a dilemma. Some have off Sundays. Some are working on Sundays. Some have off Sunday morn, but must start work Sunday afternoon. So how are we, in a nation that cares only about money, supposed to keep the Sabbath holy?
Well before answering that question, which is critical to our being in God’s will; let’s look at what Jesus was facing and how He answered.
In Jesus’ day, this command had become so black and white, so legalistic. So Jesus rebuked the religious leaders that they were making the Sabbath nothing like God intended. Instead of resting in the Sabbath, they had made the Sabbath wearisome – a burden. So Jesus rebuked them often and found Himself in much trouble because of this.
Matthew 12: 1-14 gives an account of one of these conversations.
You see the religious leaders had gotten so sick of being taken into captivity due to Israel’s disobedience of God. So they finally took leadership and began teaching the people that the nation would only worship God and follow His decrees. But to keep the nation from falling out of God’s will – from making the same mistakes – they tried to interpret God’s commands and added many, many, many more rules. And over time, their rules/traditions then became God’s rules / God’s ways.
And so Jesus was dealing with one of these rules/traditions – “No harvesting on the Sabbath.” Technically, Jesus’ disciples were harvesting some grain on the Sabbath day. But Jesus took the time to rebuke their statement – their tradition – to let them see what God intended for the Sabbath.
He said (my paraphrase), “These same laws that you say my disciples and I are to follow, your father David didn’t follow, nor do the priests in the temple. David and his companions ate what was only designated or lawful for the priests to eat. The priests break the law every Sabbath with their work associated with sacrifices. Yet you excuse David and you excuse the weekly work the priests do on the Sabbath.”
He said (my paraphrase), “The Sabbath is not about if work is done or sacrifices are made, it’s about doing good – about showing mercy, compassion, and love. And I want you to know, this Sabbath day that you are protecting for God, it’s mine and I can do with it and on it whatever I will to do. So if I want to rescue someone or something on the Sabbath, then I will. If I want to pick some grain on the Sabbath because I am hungry, then I will. If I want to heal someone on the Sabbath, even though it’s not life threatening, then I will. I am the Lord of the Sabbath.”
Jesus said the Sabbath is not about following a bunch of burdensome rules/traditions, but is about understanding God’s intent for the Sabbath and keeping it holy by choosing to follow this intent.
Man has thought for years that he was made for the Sabbath, that God created the Sabbath before He created man. But that thinking is wrong, because if you look at the creation story, humankind was created on the 6th day and on the 7th day God rested. Jesus said in Mark 2: 27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Do you get that? You weren’t made for ritual/for habit/for religion. You were made to willingly and lovingly be in relationship with God – to take time to stop life as you know it and find rest in Him.
Jesus was saying to us, “If God rested, then we, who are much weaker, must rest as well. By doing so we remember God and bring honor to His name – we bring worth to His name, which is worship.”
And if we are too busy doing what we feel we need to do, then we are not remembering and honoring God for what He has already done. We are not remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.
So let’s go back to that very important question: How are we to keep the Sabbath holy in a world that cares nothing about the Sabbath?
First, understand that the Sabbath is a choice. The day you call Sabbath may not be a Sunday, but you must choose to make one day you are free from your work to call your Sabbath. It must be a day where you rest and remember what God has done for you, which will lead you to worship Him. And it should also be a day where you can at some time be in fellowship with other followers, for “iron sharpens iron.” We were never called to be “Lone Rangers,” but be in Community.
Jesus says to us that a Sabbath is a day (a substantial time period during the calendar week) where we stop what we do (in obedience to God’s will) and remember Him – we stop what we do that we feel we need for our survival and trust Him to meet our needs. So unless it’s an emergency – someone is sick, a car needs repaired to get to our job the next day, our refrigerator dies, etc., we don’t do it. Mowing grass, changing oil or doing a tune up, doing construction in and around the house, planting or harvesting a garden, etc. can always wait until the next day.
But you say, “I don’t have time to push it back another day.” I say, “You do have time, you just choose not to trust that God will expand your time in the 6 days that lie ahead.”
Sabbath is kind of like tithing, living on 90% makes my money go further than living on 100%. Makes no sense, but it is how God works. A little sacrifice on our part goes a long way on God’s end, and we are the ones blessed for being obedient.
Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” But in order to receive that rest, you and I must first obey by coming to Him.
So how important is the Sabbath to you? It should be very important because remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy will energize you. It will provide you with the strength to face the next week. It will provide you rest – rest that you desperately need.
But to receive it, you must first obey. And your obedience is solely for your benefit. That’s a pretty good return.