Sermon for Sunday June 3rd, 2018, the First Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 81:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; St. Mark 2:23 – 3:6
The Text: Deuteronomy 5:12-15
The Topic: Keeping the Sabbath day holy
Two men had to clear a field of trees. The contract called for them to be paid per tree.
Bill wanted the day to be profitable, so he grunted and sweated, swinging his ax relentlessly. Ed, on the other hand, seemed to be working half as fast. He even took a rest and sat off to the side for a few minutes. Bill kept chopping away until every muscle and tendon in his body was screaming.
At the end of the day, Bill was terribly sore, but Ed was smiling and telling jokes. What’s more, Ed had cut down more trees. Bill said, “I noticed you sitting, while I worked without a break. How did you outwork me?”
“Did you notice I was sharpening my ax while I was sitting?” Ed said, smiling.
– Robert M. Dubrul, Stand Firm (Morris, 2000)
DEUTERONOMY 5:12-15: THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT
The illustration above points to the value and usefulness of rest even for the purpose of work. Many people today never rest enough, claiming there is really not enough time to do so. This is to labor under a mistaken assumption.
The Fourth Commandment, “Keep the Sabbath day holy,” is one of God’s gifts to mankind, not an unreasonable burden. God has always known how easily people will ignore their own need to rest from their daily work, just as He has always known that people need the Sabbath rest to be refreshed, renewed and edified in their relationship with Him and with their fellow human beings. God has also always known how easy it is for people to exploit servants, slaves and workers, so that they receive no rest at all. In considering the reason given for this Commandment, we note that it differs from the reason God gives in Exodus 20:11, where He emphasized that it was because He rested on the seventh day from all His work of creation that He hallowed that day as a day of rest. The reason given here in Deuteronomy 5:15, is that Israelites must remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt, and that God delivered them from that bondage. In other words, the Sabbath day would remind God’s people that they were not to live as slaves do, without rest and recreation, as if condemned to that way of life for generation after generation on this earth.
More than this, their day of rest was not to be at the expense of their servants, slaves and animals. Their whole household, including their animals, had to have a Sabbath day of rest. So important was this principle of Sabbath rest in ancient Israel, that the seventh year was a year in which the land itself enjoyed a Sabbath rest, no ploughing, planting or harvesting being done, so that the poor of the land could eat from what the land produced as a result of what had been sown the year before, and then any leftovers from this, the animals could eat. Vineyards and olive groves would also have the same Sabbath year, in order to benefit the poor (Exodus 23:11).
The Sabbath day commandment applied to citizens, slaves, servants, and aliens alike in ancient Israel. On account of this, it was not a commandment that allowed for exploiting weaker members of society for the sake of the ease of the wealthy. It was rather a command that gave rest to all, since all need it.
HOW THE SABBATH DAY’S REST APPLIES TODAY
The principle of the Sabbath day applies to Christians today in that we observe Sunday as a day set apart for God and for rest. The Lord’s own words in our Gospel Lesson today also remind us of the enduring value of the Fourth Commandment, and that it was issued for the sake of mankind:
The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.
– Mark 2:27, KJV
This means that God instituted the Sabbath for the sake of man, for his rest, renewal, and recreation, but He did not create man for the sake of obeying a whole lot of petty and restrictive rules concerning how the Sabbath should be kept. In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ, being God, is also Lord of the Sabbath, directing us in how to keep it. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ here do not abolish the Sabbath, but show that under His direction, the principles of the Sabbath day, rest and worship must be honored.
For Christians, Sunday continues the principles of the Sabbath day, but adds to them the celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Since He is Lord of the Sabbath, He has a right to command us to use Sunday to worship Him in company with our fellow-Christians, but also to spend time with our families in rest and recreation, or to visit our fellow parishioners, or to spend time alone in prayer.
There are at least three principles to remember: the Sabbath, and for us Sunday, belongs to the Lord, since it is called the “Sabbath of the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 5:14). This means that the day is consecrated to the Lord, and is a day set apart for worshipping Him and for rest. Both worship and rest renew and refresh us. The Lord also directs the way in which each of us keeps Sunday as a day of worship and rest.
Secondly, Sunday, as the Sabbath day given us by the Lord, is a day on which we remember that Christ has delivered mankind from bondage to sin by His death on the cross, and the accomplishment of this has been demonstrated by God’s raising Him from the dead, appointing His resurrection to be the example of our own future resurrection. We are therefore no more to live life in bondage to sin and to work, but in the freedom Christ has purchased for us through His atoning death.
Thirdly, Sunday reminds us that just as we are to spend time worshipping God and enjoying rest and recreation with those we love, so we must give that blessing to any employees we might have, any servants, and even family members who do things for us.
What use do you make of Sundays and days of rest? How will you keep the Sabbath in ways that glorify God and honor God’s intention in giving His people this commandment?