The Third Commandment
August 22, 2010
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11
These words forbid working on Saturday. When God gave this commandment to the children of Israel, he wanted them to take a day off of work so that they would have the time and opportunity to hear God’s word and to worship God together as his people.
God explained to them why they could not work on Saturday. God himself rested on Saturday from his work in creating the world. When God’s people rested on that same day they were confessing their faith in their Creator who had called them out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom that belongs to the children of God. They were confessing their faith in the one true God and they were rejecting the gods of the Gentiles as idols. They were also receiving spiritual rest and peace. When they rested from physical labor, this served the higher purpose of finding rest for their souls in the gracious promises of God.
God chose the day of rest for Israel. It was to be Saturday, not Wednesday or Sunday, but Saturday. God said it and that settled it.
Some folks, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, insist that God intended that Christians should also obey the Sabbath Law given by God to Moses and to set aside Saturday as the day of rest and worship. They insist that the seventh day Sabbath is a part of God’s moral law. But they are wrong. The moral law is that law of God that is not time bound in any way but applies to all people of all times equally. The command not to work on Saturday and to set this day aside as the day of worship is not a part of God’s moral law. The Bible says: “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
There was good reason for those preparing for the coming of the Savior to rest on the day that God created the world. They were not only confessing that God had made them, but they were confessing as well that they had sinned and fallen from the perfection in which God made them. They gathered together to confess their sins. And they confessed their faith that Shiloh, the Prince of Peace, the Messiah and Savior of the world would come to bring them true spiritual rest and peace. They did not work on Saturday as a confession of the pure doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Just as they did no physical labor on Saturday, we cannot gain heaven by any amount of spiritual labor, striving, or struggling. We are saved by God’s grace alone. Jesus does the work. We don’t. The Bible says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5) There can be no true spiritual rest or peace except that which Jesus Christ provides. He is our true Sabbath rest. So we sing, “In Jesus I find rest and peace.” Jesus seeks us out and finds us when we are lost – like the sheep and the coin – and when he finds us and takes us home the angels in heaven rejoice.
We need Jesus to find rest and peace. Jesus has chosen to be present with us whenever and wherever his holy gospel is purely proclaimed and his sacraments are rightly administered. Jesus stood before his disciples on the first Easter Sunday and displayed the wounds of his crucifixion on the cross. He said, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Jesus gave to his disciples this ministry of the gospel. He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus has joined himself to the preaching of his gospel. Jesus still gives rest and peace wherever his gracious words of life are proclaimed.
We honor the Sabbath Day today, not by resting from all our labors on Saturday, but by holding the preaching of God’s word as a precious thing, the most precious thing we could receive from God in this life. Obeying the Third Commandment deals with much more than where you happen to be on a Sunday morning, it deals with how you regard God’s word. Do you despise it and think it is quite an ordinary or even a boring or useless thing? Do you think that you can live without hearing the voice of your Shepherd? Or do you love God’s words as the voice that gives your soul true peace? Do you know that if you don’t hear the pure gospel of Jesus Christ – and not just once in a while, but regularly and often – you will stray and get lost? The gospel is the power of God to save everyone who believes because the gospel reveals Christ’s doing and Christ’s dying for us. The gospel gives Christ to you. Jesus finds you in your sin and he covers you with the spotless robe of his own righteousness. He covers your shame, your failure, and your guilt. We need this gospel. This is why God gave us the Third Commandment. That we may receive what Jesus wants to give us.
There was a time when Sunday was honored as a day of rest for the sake of those who went to church on Sundays. God never told the church to worship on Sunday. The church certainly has no authority to require anything that God’s word doesn’t require, but God does require us to hear his holy word. Since the First Century the church has gathered together on the first day of the week for divine services.
Church is on Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday and first appeared to his disciples on Sunday. Christ’s church gathers together to hear the gospel and to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper and thereby to see Jesus. Every Sunday service is another appearance of the risen Savior to his people. Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him after he had risen from the dead. When the disciples on the road to Emmaus finally recognized the risen Jesus at the breaking of the bread he immediately disappeared from their sight. He was teaching them and us that we should not expect to see him as he was seen during his earthly ministry so many years ago. Today we see him under the humble form of simple water used by his command and joined to his saving word. Today we see him in the preaching of the minister who teaches the words of the Holy Scriptures in Jesus’ name and by Jesus’ divine authority. Today we see him under the forms of bread and wine that are indeed without any doubt the body that was nailed to Calvary and the blood that flowed from his wounds to save us. Wherever these precious means of grace are given to us, it is Jesus who is giving himself to us. We come to church to find Jesus. And here he is.
Years ago Sunday morning belonged to the Church. Times have changed. Everything under the sun competes with church, even on a Sunday morning. Buying, selling, hockey, basketball, farming, driving to the lake, or just sleeping in because it’s the only day it can be done, all come before going to church to hear God’s word and to sing praises to him. The service isn’t supposed to last too long. The sermon is supposed to make the worshipper feel good about himself. The preacher isn’t supposed to make folks feel bad about themselves, as if they have sins for which they must repent! Since the historic liturgy of the church focuses so much on things like begging for mercy, praising the Holy Trinity, and asking God for forgiveness, why that, too, must be tossed out in favor of “contemporary” services that are supposedly more “positive.” People today are looking for something to enhance their self-esteem so they can feel good about being spiritual. The market demands that the Sunday service change to meet the so-called "felt needs" of religious seekers. But what if the seekers aren’t seeking Jesus?! Woe to the church that doesn’t offer them Jesus! Better to stay at home and watch the Sunday news or go out and contribute something of benefit to the economy than to attend a church that doesn’t proclaim the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for sinners. It is only in the wounds of Jesus that we find any peace or rest for our souls.
Alan Jackson expresses the prevalent view of work and worship in his popular song, “Where I Come From”:
Where I come from, tryin’ to make a livin’
And workin’ hard to get to heaven
Where I come from
That’s what folks do. They try to make a living. And they figure that getting to heaven is much like making a living. But it’s not. No, it’s not. Heaven is for those who can’t do the work. Heaven is for those who have tried and failed and hunger and thirst for what they just can’t provide. Heaven is a place of rest and peace for those whose souls are tormented by their sins.
What God did in his Law demand
And none to him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.
Heaven on earth is where God comes to us vile offenders and forgives us our sins. He does so because he loves us. He does so for Christ’s sake. It is not because we have worked hard to get to heaven. It is because of Christ’s works, not our own. God forgives us our sins on account of the holy precious blood of his dear Son. Jesus labored for us by bearing our sins in his own body. Therefore, it is for Jesus’ sake that God promises us eternal peace and rest in heaven. That’s where our true Sabbath rest will be.
Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Jesus brings heaven to earth. We come to church to find Jesus, our Shepherd. He is our true Sabbath rest. Amen