Sunday is the Son’s Day

Exodus 20:8-11

July 15, 2012 | Brian Bill

Would you like to have more hours in your day?  More days in your week?  More weeks in your year?  More years in your life?  If you could have more than 24, how many would you like?

According to a survey in the UK, men would like an extra 6 hours and 36 minutes in their day, and women want 6 hours 30 minutes.  In France women only want an extra 3 hours and 36 minutes.  I looked for a similar survey among Americans but I think we must be too busy to fill them out because I couldn’t find one!

Some of us probably feel like all we’re doing is running around from thing to thing.  Have you ever noticed how many times people answer the question, “How are you?” with this phrase, “I’m busy” or “I’m crazy busy” or “We’re going in a hundred different directions this summer.”  It’s almost like we need to validate our lives by letting people know how busy we are.  That reminds me of the song sung by Archibald on Veggie Tales: “I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy; you’ve no idea what I have to do; busy, busy, shockingly busy; much, much too busy for you.”  When people tell me why they haven’t been to church for awhile, the number one answer I hear is, “We’ve just been so busy.”  

We should probably sit forward a bit because the fourth commandment deals with 1/7, or 14% of our time.  Let’s say it this way, if you’re 14, this command covers two years of your life; if you’re 21, it applies to 3 years of your life.  If you’re 42, then 6 years; if you’re 63, then you’re looking at 9 years of your life.  

Three weeks ago we learned that God doesn’t want to be the chief thing; He wants to be everything.  Two weeks ago we discovered that how we worship God is extremely important.  Last week Commandment #3 clobbered us as we were challenged to watch our words so that we don’t take God’s name in vain.  Would anyone like to share how your language changed this past week?

Let’s review the Commandments we’ve been learning in consecutive order.  We’re doing this because many of us don’t know them.  A survey of 1,000 Americans by Kelton Research has discovered that participants had an easier time remembering the names of the six kids on the old TV series “The Brady Bunch” than to name six of the Commandments.  The least remembered children, Bobby and Peter, were listed by 43 percent of Americans.  The two commandments least recalled were to keep the Sabbath holy with 34%, and have no other gods besides God at just 29%.

I recognize that we have new people each Sunday but you’ll be able to pick them up pretty quickly…if you participate.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says that these commands are to be inscribed on our hearts so that we can impress them upon our children.  Would anyone like to come up front and help me with them?

1: Hold up one pointer finger – point to the sky (one God; no other gods)

2: Hold up two pointer fingers – have one bow before the other (no idols)

3: Hold up three fingers – place over mouth (don’t take God’s name in vain)

4: Hold up four fingers – place on cheek as if to nap (Sabbath rest)

5: Hold up five fingers – place hand over heart (honor parents)

6: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun”  and aim at the other hand (don’t murder)

7: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other – intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together (no adultery)

8: Hold up four fingers on one hand and four on the other – using one hand grab the other four fingers (no stealing)

Let’s add another one today.

  1. Hold up four fingers on one hand and five on the other – move the four up and down as they face the five to show that they are lying or bearing false witness about others (no lying)

Let’s give our attention now to Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien 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.”

I wrote down six observations:

  1. This is the first positive command. Actually, only one other command is stated in the positive – “Honor your father and mother…”
  2. This is the final vertical command.  The first four have to do with our relationship with God; the next six deal with our relationships with others.
  3. This is the longest of the 10 Commandments.
  4. This commandment is difficult to interpret and the most controversial. More has been written and debated about this commandment than perhaps any other one.
  5. This is the only one of the 10 Commandments not quoted in the New Testament.
  6. This command was unique to Israel. Think of how this would have felt to people who just spent the last 400 years working as slaves with no days off!

Here’s our outline today.  We’ll start by looking at the requirements of this command and then we’ll list the reasons why it was given. We’ll conclude by considering its relevance for today.

1. Requirements. 

I see two of them.

  • Remember.  This is stated clearly in verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath day…”  In Deuteronomy 5, which is a restatement of the Commandments, we read this in verse 5: “Observe the Sabbath Day…”  This is much more than just jogging our memory that the Sabbath Day has arrived.  I remembered our wedding anniversary on Friday but if I had not picked up roses and a card and taken Beth out for dinner, it wouldn’t have been much of an anniversary, would it?  The word “Sabbath” literally means, “A cessation from labor; to desist from exertion.”  Ligon Duncan refers to the Sabbath as “the stop-working day.”
  • Rhythm.   God is setting up a rhythm of work and rest; of labor and then leisure.  Look at verse 9: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…” and then at verse 10: “…But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…”  God actually established the pattern for this when he started providing them with manna to eat in Exodus 16:23.  They were to collect twice as much on the sixth day so that they would not work on the seventh: “Tomorrow is to be a day of 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.’”

God calls us to be a people who are productive by doing an honest week’s work: 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”  We are commissioned and commanded to work.  Notice that while work is for six days this one day of rest is compulsory and comprehensive – it’s for everyone in the household: “…neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien with your gates.”

2. Reasons. 

After laying out the requirements, God gives three reasons behind the command in verse 11.

  • His example.  The model for Sabbath rest is the cadence found in creation: “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…”  
  • His exaltation.  “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath…”  This was the first time God blessed anything.  There was the blessing of bodily rest, of fellowship with God and of a weekly reminder of God’s creative work.  It also set Israel apart from other nations.
  • His expression.  “…and made it holy.”  It’s all about keeping it holy, or setting it apart.  The root means to “separate” or as John MacArthur says, “To elevate.”  We could say that God set the Sabbath apart for sacred use.

3. Relevance. 

Let’s look now at the question of relevance.  Specifically, does the fourth commandment apply to our lives today?  I’ve come across at least three main views.

  • The Sabbath is still Saturday and that’s when Christians should worship (Seventh-Day Adventists).
  • Sunday has replaced the Sabbath and its rules and regulations should still be followed.
  • Sunday is the Son’s Day and is a day set aside for the celebration of our salvation.  The Sabbath requirements have been fulfilled by what the Savior did on the cross.

Which view is correct?  Well, let’s let the written Word and the living Word to speak to us today.  There are 134 uses of the word “Sabbath” in the Bible.  I looked up each verse and made some notes.  Exodus and Leviticus have the most references, followed by Nehemiah where there is strong teaching about the importance of returning to Sabbath-keeping after the exile.  The land was to have a Sabbath as well; every seven years it was supposed to rest.  Incidentally, because the Israelites didn’t follow this, the captivity by default enforced this regulation for 70 years (see 2 Chronicles 36:20).

The seventh day was a special memorial of God’s work of creation and of the fact that they had forfeited paradise because of their sin

As I looked up these verses, and contemplated them in context, it became very clear to me that Sabbath observation in the Old Testament is very different from how Jesus viewed it in the gospels and how it is referenced in the epistles.  It seems to me that the key is found in Exodus 31:12-13.  Simply put, the Sabbath is but a sign or symbol or shadow of a much deeper reality: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, You must observe my Sabbaths.  This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.’”  We see the word “sign” used again in verse 17: “It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.”  The seventh day was a special memorial of God’s work of creation and of the fact that they had forfeited paradise because of their sin.  

God loved to give signs when he made covenants with His people.  With Noah, the sign was the rainbow.  With Abraham it was circumcision.  With Moses, it’s the Sabbath.

The Lord of the Sabbath

Let’s look at how the Lord Jesus viewed the Sabbath in each of the Gospels.  Someone has said that it’s the Sabbath Commandment that shows most clearly how Jesus transforms the Law.  Get ready to get on the Bible bus as we make a number of stops to look at some key passages.  Let’s start in Matthew.

Matthew 12:1-12: “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look!  Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’  He answered, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  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.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?  I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’”  

“Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’  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?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’” 

Did you know that Jewish leaders came up with 39 Sabbath clarifications, with each having multiple subdivisions?  If you count them all up, there were more than 1500 prohibitions, including not killing a flea that lands on your arm because that would make you guilty of hunting on the Sabbath.  If a man’s ox fell into the ditch, he could pull it out but if a man fell in, he had to stay there.  You could dip your radish in salt but if you left it there too long you were pickling it, and thus working.  Jesus is Sovereign over the Sabbath.  He owns it and redefines its purpose.  

In Mark 2:27-28 Jesus said two things about the Sabbath:  “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  The Sabbath was never intended to be a burden but rather a blessing; not a duty but a delight.   “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  Jesus is Lord of all of life, including the Sabbath.

Mark 3:1-6: “Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.   Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’  Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’  But they remained silent.   He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” 

Jesus wanted everyone to know that doing that which is good trumps Sabbath-keeping

Serving as religious traffic cops, the Pharisees were waiting to write tickets about Sabbath-breaking.  Jesus wanted everyone to know that doing that which is good trumps Sabbath-keeping.   By the way, are you picking up that Jesus purposely did things on the Sabbath in order to rile up the religious leaders?

Luke 13:10-17: “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.  When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’  Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.  Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, ‘There are six days for work.  So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’  The Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites!  Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?  Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?’  When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.”

Luke 14:1-6: “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.  There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.  Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’  But they remained silent.  So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.  Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’   And they had nothing to say.”

In John 5, Jesus heals another man on the Sabbath and in verse 16 we read: “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.” 

In John 9, Jesus heals a man that was born blind and guess what?  He did it in the Sabbath. After interviewing the man who was healed, we read this in verse 16: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

So let’s ask the obvious question.  If Jesus kept all the commandments, why did He seem to not keep this one?  Here’s why.  Sabbath-keeping was a sign, or a shadow of a much deeper reality.  Sabbath rest points to salvation rest and just as Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system, so too He fulfilled the Sabbath system.  

John MacArthur says it well: “When Jesus came, everything changed…. He didn’t just want to eliminate the bad priests and keep the good priests. He eliminated the priesthood. He didn’t just want to clean up the people’s attitudes as they gave their sacrifices, He obliterated the sacrificial system because He brought an end to Judaism with all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the Temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it…including the Sabbath…The Sabbath observance went away with all the rest that belonged to Judaism.  We begin to understand this by watching Jesus and how He treated the Sabbath.  How did Jesus treat the Sabbath?  Any way He wanted, absolutely any way He wanted.  He is the mediator, we know, of a New Covenant, a better covenant.”

Hang in there as we look at some other passages in the New Testament.

Sabbath is a Shadow

In the Book of Acts, we see that the early church utilized the Sabbath for evangelistic purposes since that was when Jewish people gathered in their synagogues (see Acts 13:42; 17:2; 18:4) but they started meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday in honor of the Resurrection.  The shift begins in the Gospels and picks up steam in the practice of the early church.  Our calendars are redefined because of the Resurrection, putting the first day as the launch pad of our weeks.  The theologian B.B. Warfield put it like this: “Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with Him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with Him on the Resurrection.”

Acts 20:7: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread…”  

1 Corinthians 16:2: “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.”

Revelation 1:10: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit…”

One of the most definitive passages in the Bible about Saturday Sabbath being fulfilled by the Savior is found in Colossians 2:16-17: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Now that the substance is here (Christ), you no longer need the shadow.

In the Book of Galatians, Paul is concerned about those Jewish believers who started out strong but were going back to following the Law and all its demands.  Paul asks a couple penetrating questions in Galatians 4:9: “But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”  He answers these questions in verse 10: “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”  Christians are under no obligation to go back to calendar feast days or the observance of Saturday Sabbath because they were all part of the Mosaic covenant.

In Romans 14:5-6, Paul is a bit softer in his approach as he establishes the principle of liberty.  While some Jewish believers had a hard time letting go of the Sabbath, others worshipped on Sunday.  Paul basically tells everyone to take a chill pill: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord…”  Don’t make an issue about the Sabbath, recognizing that those believers who celebrate it do so as to the Lord and those who don’t do it as to the Lord.

Let me add three additional thoughts.

  • In Acts 15 when the Jerusalem Council decided what to require of newly-converted Gentiles, not one word is said about Sabbath-keeping.  The Apostles never tell anyone to observe the Sabbath nor do they ostracize anyone who doesn’t.
  • Believers are warned about many different sins in the epistles, but Sabbath-breaking is never listed as one of them.
  • The early church fathers beginning with Ignatius to Augustine, taught that the Old Testament Sabbath had been fulfilled by Christ and that the church was to meet on Sunday to commemorate the Resurrection.  Luther and Calvin believed the same.

Practicing the Principles

Here’s my take on how to take the fourth commandment: Let’s preserve the Sabbath principle of rest by setting Sunday apart as the Son’s Day.  The principle behind Sabbath remains the same: one day in seven we stop what we are doing to remember the Lord as Creator and Redeemer.  Here are some ways we can do that…without coming up with a list of 1500 prohibitions!

1. Focus on God as the Creator on Saturday. 

Enjoy your day.  Get outside.  Give God glory for the beauty of His creation.

2. Focus on God as our Redeemer on Sunday

Six days are for work and Sunday is for worship.  Unfortunately, Sunday is fading away as a special day.  One writer put it like this:

Our great-grandparents called it the Holy Sabbath.

Our grandparents called it Sabbath.

Our parents called it Sunday.

We call it the weekend.

Last week we were challenged to reclaim words like “awesome” and “glorious” and “amazing” and use them only in reference to God and His works.  In a similar way, let’s reclaim Sunday as the Son’s Day!  Some of you are simply out of the habit of making this day special.  Make today your first day of a new habit.

Come ready to worship on Sunday.  Get up early on Sundays and meet with God.  Confess any sins (see Psalm 66:18).  Make peace with someone you’re in conflict with because reconciliation with a brother or sister trumps corporate worship (see Matthew 5:23-24).  When you do come, don’t just sit and soak; give glory to God by giving Him the praise that is due His name.  Begin seeking God as soon as you sit down.

Tim Keller writes: “The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.”

3. Get ready for Sunday on Saturday.  

I read this week that when the Mayflower reached Plymouth Harbor it was Saturday afternoon.  They must have been very eager to finally set foot on solid ground after thirteen weeks of homesickness and seasickness.  Do you know what they did?  They spent Saturday afternoon in preparation for Sunday and then all day Sunday in worship.  They finally disembarked Monday morning, 42 hours after arriving in port.

One thing that really impressed Beth and I in Israel was how serious the orthodox Jews are about getting ready for Shabbat.  The first Sabbath we were there we heard a loud siren pierce the countryside at sundown to announce the start.  Interestingly, it’s the same siren that is used to announce an air raid.

Shortly after noon on the final Friday we were in Jerusalem, we saw men scurrying around with flowers and food items, eager to make it home so they could celebrate Shabbat with their families.  We learned that it’s so important to get everything ready for that their writings allow them to break another commandment like stealing (flowers) if it would help them properly prepare for the Sabbath.

Most of us think Sunday worship prepares us to handle the rest of the week.  And that’s true.  But I wonder what would happen if we thought of the other six days as preparation for our worship on Sunday?

One suggestion for many of us is to simply go to bed earlier than we normally do on Saturday nights so that we’re rested and refreshed for Sunday.  We don’t really need more time; we need to use the time we already have differently.  We don’t need an extra day because God’s already given us a special day in order to pour extra into our lives.  We all have enough time to do what God wants us to do, don’t we?

4. Invest time in your family…but not at the expense of faith formation. 

John Ortberg writes, “For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so busy and distracted and rushed that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.” Let’s slow things down in our families.  Some of us are way too overscheduled that there’s no time for rest, for refreshment or for rejoicing together on Sundays.

One way that we want to come alongside families is by giving parents a tool each Sunday called, “Family Connect.”  This one-page sheet is designed to help you talk about what your child learned in their KidZone class.

Can I share a secret desire that I have?  I wish that all the believers from all the churches in town that have children that play sports on Sunday mornings would get together and say, “Not anymore.  We’re not going to allow this any longer.  Sunday is the Son’s Day and we’re going to church as a family.”  If believers banded together, these leagues would find another day to play.

Salvation Rest

Let me summarize…

  • We are not under the law of the Sabbath because we are under the Lord of the Sabbath.
  • The precept of Saturday Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ and now we follow the principle of Sunday Celebration because of our redemption of Christ.

Sabbath is all about rest.  Instead of being busy and working to be accepted by God, it’s time to believe and rest in our acceptance.  Check out Hebrews 4:1-3: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.  Now we who have believed enter that rest…”

The promise of a temporary Sabbath rest or entering Canaan was really a picture of the eternal rest that Christ provides.  Once we put our faith in Christ and believe in Him, will we find the only rest that will satisfy our souls.  We are to make every effort to enter the salvation rest that God is offering to us.

Hebrews 4:9-11: “There remains, then, a Sabbath–rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”

Friends, there are only two ways to get to heaven.

  1. You can try to work your way in, which will never work.
  2. Or you get in by the work of another. We must rest from all efforts to be saved by our own works because in Christ we find a total rest.

Jesus said this in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  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.” 

Yes, we’re busy and tired and going in a hundred different directions.  It’s time to stop striving and to cease trying to measure up to God’s standards by entering His salvation rest right now.

Now is the time…of salvation rest.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?