Week 5: The Fourth Commandment
This week, the Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr. is teaching on the fourth commandment, looking at what it means and how Jesus teaches His followers to keep it. Here are the notes to accompany his message:
“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.”
“Jesus knows we must come apart and rest awhile,
or else we may just come apart.”
Vance Havner, d. 1986
“It is only when men (and women!) begin to worship that they begin to grow.”
Calvin Coolidge, 1933
Does our soul sing with the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 42:1–2? “As the deer longs for the water-brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God; My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God…”
The Sabbath commandment invites us to three very important disciplines: rest, worship and sacrifice.
In 1992, one of the best-selling books was an intriguing work called Care of the Soul. It was written by a former monk turned psychotherapist who began with these words, "The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is 'loss of soul.' When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning."
The commandment reads this way: “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…”
Edmund Clowney, in his book How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments, writes, “…The most simple and basic (reason for the Sabbath) of course, is God’s provision for bodily rest and refreshment. The people were not to work “24/7,” a principle workaholics finally realize after their first heart attack.” (p. 54)
We are to rest because God Himself rested. We are to rest because Jesus rested. We are to rest to be reminded of God, of Jesus and–perhaps most importantly–to stop the noise of the world’s demands upon us, and even our own demands, so we can turn our attention to God.
Our word “worship” finds the roots of its verbiage in the word “worth.” We give homage in our lives to those things and those persons that are of worth to us. For God’s children, the foundation of all other things in our lives should be our acknowledgement, our praise, our thanksgiving and our worship of God in Christ Jesus.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:25) To quote Edmund Clowney, when we make this kind of time and space in our week or in our daily lives, these Sabbath moments turn our attention away from six days of life’s demands on us and back to God. He writes, “This blessing shows that the peace and rest experienced by the people is the peace that comes because God is with them, among them, loving and caring for them. The blessing is God’s presence, God’s rest. The Sabbath marks the fact that God delights in the presence of His people.” (p. 55)
Luke 4:14–16 tells us that after the Temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue, as was his custom.”
Thomas Merton, the wonderful Christian writer and a Trappist monk who died in 1968, wrote, “It is a law of man’s nature, written into his very essence, and just as much a part of him as the desire to build houses and cultivate the land and marry and have children and read books and sing songs, that he should want to stand together with others in order to acknowledge their common dependence on God, the Father and Creator.”
When it comes to the Sabbath, one of the purposes of setting aside that day–that Sabbath time–is to get in touch with anything–any thing–that may, in fact, get in the way of the Lordship of Christ in our lives. The Sabbath day is to be a holy day. The commandment explains that for six days, the Lord was at work and then He deliberately chose to stop, to “sacrifice” any further divine energy. He stopped and His “stopping” was, in and of itself, holy. “For in six days the Lord made the heaven 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.” (20:11)
In many ways, this Sabbath Commandment is connected to the first. If you have been following this series, you will know the Rev. Chad Martin offered a wonderful teaching on the first commandment against idolatry, or making anything other than God “god.” He reminded us that the Exodus story reveals God as one “who has set His people free from bondage.” And idolatry is, in fact, bondage.
In both resting and worship, we are placed in a context that should bring these idols to the surface. It is in the space of Sabbath silence these things can become clear. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, says, “If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence in intimately related to trust.” (p. 101)
Life is a journey of sacrifice. At the end, with our last breath, we sacrifice everything: naked we came into this world and naked we will leave it. (Job 1:21) Honoring the Sabbath by stepping aside from the demands and the pace of this world allows us to more fully live an abundant life here, as well as prepare us for life eternal, which we often describe as “eternal rest.” Perhaps another way of describing it is as an “eternal Sabbath.”
When Jesus is challenged by religious leaders for picking grain with His disciples on a particular Sabbath, Jesus is quick to reinterpret their thinking on the Sabbath. They had become obsessed with “the letter of the law,” the commandment, the law and not the “Law-giver.” He goes on to say, “I tell you one greater than the temple is here…. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (12:6, 8) In some sense Jesus names the purpose of the Sabbath: to turn us away from idols (in this scene, for instance, the Law as they had interpreted and applied it, and their rituals concerning the Temple) and toward the one who is the Lord of the Sabbath. If work is your lord, if wealth is your lord, if things are your lord, if pleasure is your lord... If anything other than the Lord is your lord, well, then Jesus cannot be lord! To “pick up your cross” and follow Jesus means laying down those things that keep us from picking that Cross up.
These are just a few things we learn about the value of allowing this Sabbath commandment to be part of our lives. Honoring the Sabbath allows us to rest, worship and loose the idols by sacrificing them–literally turning them over–so that God can be God and we can be His children.
Joy Davidman, writes in her reflection on the commandments in Smoke on the Mountain, “Most of the ordinary people who lose their faith are not overthrown by philosophical argument; they lose faith because they are disillusions by the churchmen they meet. One sanctimonious hypocrite makes a hundred unbelievers. One little knot of gossips tearing a neighbor’s reputation apart on the church steps smashes the Sabbath to splinters. If we are to put it together again, we must be Christians indeed – must show the rest of the world that a Christian gets something worth having out of his worship, (Sabbath). It is not much use asking others to turn to God unless we set them the example. Let the church members behave like Christians seven days a week, and it is likely that the Sabbath will take care of itself. For how do you make a day holy? By seeing that it is holy already; and behaving accordingly.” (p. 59)
So how do we remember the Sabbath? Rest, worship and sacrifice. And be a blessing to the Lord and others.
Questions for Reflection
- How did you “honor” the Sabbath in your home growing up? How do you honor it today?
- Why do you think the Sabbath was such an important command in the Hebrew faith? In our faith?
- What does the word “rest” bring to mind?
- Recall your first experiences of worship. Are those happy memories?
- Answer this question seriously! When COVID-season is over, will it be hard for you to come back to Church and worship with others as you once did? If so, what can you do to help foster a hunger to return to gathering?
- How did God “sacrifice” by ceasing to create? Knowing that Jesus calls us to pick up our own Cross and follow Him in a life of sacrifice, what idols might you need to release (sacrifice) that you may more fully serve Him?
- How does Joy Davidman’s reflection on our “witness to others” by observing the Sabbath speak to your own submission to this Commandment?
A Prayer for the Week
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your call to keep the Sabbath holy. Help us to enter into the fullness of that rest, that we might learn to truly rest from our labor, worship You as our Provider and to sacrifice those things that get in the way of our faithfulness to Your Son, our Lord and Redeemer. In His name we pray, amen.