(This is my sermon from March 20, 2011)
Last Sunday, church was strange for me. It’s happened to me before, but last week I was particularly bothered by it. I was distracted. During the service my mind was wandering and getting focused was tough. As we were preparing for communion, it felt like nobody was really focused on what was going on. I hope I was wrong, but it felt like we were going through the motions.
Has that ever been true for you? Have you ever taken your body to church while your mind stayed home, or at work? Instead of thinking about God and His glory, have you ever been lost in your to-do-list or appointment calendar? Instead of giving cheerfully, have you ever been burdened by the bills on your desk or questions of where your next paycheck will come from? Have you ever found yourself watching the clock instead of connecting with God, because work was screaming for your attention?
It’s happened to me before and it got me asking why we even bother. Why do we come to church? Why get the kids dressed to come to a church building and go through the motions? Why waste our time mindlessly following along in a songbook? What’s it all for?
This may sound strange if you have little kids, but it has a lot to do with rest.
The church gathering itself is about God, period. It’s not about the songs, the preacher, or even communion. It’s about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When I say that Sunday’s have a lot to do with rest, it’s on a deeper level than your comfort in a church service.
We go to church on Sunday’s because Jesus was resurrected from the dead on a Sunday.
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. –Matt 28:1-2
In the book of Acts we have evidence that the early church held meetings on Sundays
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. –Acts 20:7
There’s also evidence of the early believers meeting on Sunday in 1 Corinthians.
Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. – 1 Cor. 16:1-2
Some people believe that we should meet on Saturday, because Saturday is the Hebrew Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. This morning’s message isn’t about the day of the week we meet; it’s about why we meet at all, why we keep the Sabbath in the first place? Like so many other things, God has given us multiple patterns and specific commands to clue us in on His desire. Let’s start at the beginning.
God had just spent six days making fish and tossing stars into the universe, then scripture tell us:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. –Genesis 2:2-3
He rested, but not because He was tired… Psalm 121:4 says,
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
He had reasons beyond His own fatigue and He fills us in with the 4th commandment.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 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.
In Genesis we learn that God made it holy, here in Exodus we are commanded to keep it holy. Holy means, to consecrate or to set apart as sacred. This is a cool commandment, because it’s a “for dummies” version. Not only does He tell us what to do, God tells us how to do it.
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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
The first six days are for work, the seventh is set apart as sacred so we are to abstain from work. We are to rest. One day out of every seven we are called to lay down our plows and leave our work behind. We need it. Look at these other patterns.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. –Psalm 127:2
Where God never sleeps, we need to sleep every day. Pastor and author, John Piper, offers this thought on the purpose of sleep:
“Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign… Man is not sovereign… Man is not sovereign; Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the Great Worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.” – John Piper, “Taste and See,” In Quest of Rest, p.336.
If we don’t sleep, there are all kinds of side effects. We develop poor attitudes, we become sensitive and irritable, and our brains lose their effectiveness. If we absolutely go without it, we die.
After God instituted the Sabbath for people, he instituted it for the land as well.
1 The LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. –Leviticus 25:1-5
I want to stop here because in my research I found people who were using the concept of leaving fields fallow for one year as a tool to invalidate the Bible. One guy said, “Did God just not know that crop rotation was better for the field and produced more food than keeping the field fallow?”
Men like George Washington Carver, who helped to make crop rotation a standard in farming receive great praise for their contribution to agriculture. I’m not going to deny Carver’s intelligence or intentions, but I’m not going to assume he knew something God didn’t either.
God instituted the land Sabbath because the soil needed rest. However, the Sabbath isn’t about the soil’s fertility; the Sabbath is about the farmer’s faith.
God used the soil’s need to help us see our own.
The argument that productivity is better when we do it our way is steeped in greed, pride, and hoarding. It’s not a new idea either.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” 20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them. 21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” 24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” – Exodus 16:19-26
The Hebrews thought they were smarter than God too, so they got greedy and hoarded and their honey bread turned to maggot food. It’s not that the bread couldn’t be preserved for more than a day because he proved that to be false when he provided for the Sabbath. It isn’t an issue of could, the question is properly asked with should.
We can run our businesses 24/7, skip church to get a head start on our emails, or stay busy on Sunday’s to get caught up from last week. We absolutely CAN do it, but SHOULD we do it?
In the Old Testament, if you did such nonsense it was punishable by death. God was much more coercive with His people then.
When’s the last time you threatened to slap someone’s hand for touching a hot stove? We would do that with a toddler for a few reasons: they don’t know better, they’re curious, and they’re stubborn. But when they are older, it’s no longer necessary to use coercion.
This is a simple picture of what God has done with us. One of my kid’s could touch the stove and not get a reprimand. In fact, we might rescue them and heal their wound. We can skip the Sabbath and be just fine. However, just because you won’t be stoned for disregarding the Sabbath doesn’t make it less of a command.
- The fact that you can function of three hours sleep doesn’t mean you should
- The fact that Sunday is one of the most lucrative sales days of the week, doesn’t mean you should be open
It’s not about could. It’s about should.
- The world is texting us to give it attention, God is saying turn off your Blackberry.
- The world is begging you to follow-up with that client; God is saying close your office door and lock it.
- The world is sending you urgent emails; God is telling you to close your laptop.
Can you send the text, call the client, or send the email? Yep, and you won’t be stoned for it. Should you do them? I don’t think you should. I believe they can wait. I believe that God knew what He was doing when he made us for sleep, the fields for rest, and commanded the Sabbath.
We have been sucked into the vortex of urgency and productivity. We believe that if we don’t get to it now, we will miss the sale. We’re scared to say no to the appointment, because the client might not understand… and we trust that God will.
That should sting a little. God is gracious and we are thieves. He offered to buy our dinner so we ordered the Filet and dessert. We abuse His grace with our defiance. We disregard the cross with our justifications and excuses. We lie to God, we lie to our families, and we lie to ourselves.
We are tired. We are stressed and frustrated. We need to rest.
God gave us the Sabbath to do just that; to set one day apart and devote it to Him. In spite of our business or our deadlines, we are commanded to set them aside and “remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.”
It’s worship with reward. We set the day aside for God and He blesses us with rest. Notice something else about the 4th commandment.
The first three commandments are God focused:
- No God’s before me
- No idols
- No blasphemy
The last six are people focused:
- Honor your parents
- Don’t kill anyone
- Don’t commit adultery
- Don’t steal
- Don’t lie
- Don’t covet
Look back with me on number 4…
10 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
The 4th commandment is a practical example of Jesus words in Matthew 22
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
As we practice our love for God by setting the Sabbath apart; we show love to others by freeing them to do the same. We are loving God and loving others at the same time.
If you own a business and are keeping your doors open, requiring your employees to be there, while you are in church, you really need to think about what you are doing. It sure looks like trying to love God with outward behavior but grossly missing the point. The Pharisees held this legalistic view of the Sabbath and thought they could worship God while ignoring His people.
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. – Matthew 12:1-14
Jesus honored the Sabbath as He loved another person. He beautifully modeled the 4th commandment and the Pharisees completely missed it. I hope we don’t.
Jesus referred to himself as “The Lord of the Sabbath,” but what does he mean exactly.
We will look back at the previous chapter for a clue.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” –Matt 11:28-30
True burden comes not from hard work. When you have a deadline to meet it can be stressful, but when that deadline comes, there is relief. True burden comes from striving constantly for a moving target, never reaching the end, never experiencing relief.
Countries used to use this tactic as a form of torture. They would keep a prisoner awake for days on end, let them fall asleep, then immediately wake them up. The prisoner was desperately striving for sleep, but the finish line kept moving and the result was brokenness. That’s being burdened and heavy laden.
This is the way so many people feel in their desire to get right with God. We work at holiness by getting ourselves to church, abstaining from four letter words, or putting $5 in the offering plate. We aren’t real sure what complete holiness looks like but we keep striving. We punish ourselves with guilt when we do something wrong and force ourselves to do another “holy act” or good work. We effort and toil with no end because we cannot define just how good, good enough, is. We become exhausted with chasing God so we replace it with chasing something else. We begin to run after fame or fortune and believe that we will be find our rest in the completion of those races, but we find ourselves just as weary, just as burdened, just as heavy laden. We need rest. We need Sabbath. We need Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath.
He freed us from the burden of sin and death when He paid for it on the cross.
We no longer have to labor for treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
Instead we can store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where is your heart?
Is it thinking about an appointment? Is it distracted by a deadline? Is it exhausted from chasing expectations?
Can I invite you to cast your burdens onto Jesus?
Is your heart trying to prove itself to men? Is it seeking their approval? Does it want to be noticed and cared for by others?
Can I invite you to rest?
You can be freed from all of that, by setting is aside and letting Jesus be the Lord of your life and finding rest in the Lord of the Sabbath. I hope that you will.