Keep Sunday Special Exodus 20:8-11

We are looking at the Ten Commandments which God gave to Moses written on two tablets of stone on the top of Mount Sinai. And today we come to the Fourth Commandment.
Exodus 20 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
The Fourth Commandment is all about the Sabbath day. The root of the word Sabbath means to cease or desist, and therefore to rest. The Bible speaks of rest or resting 370 times and nearly fifty of those occasions are talking about the Sabbath. The Sabbath is about making one day different by ceasing from the work of the other six days.
“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.”
There are at least three purposes for this day of ceasing from work.
First purpose – a day of rest and refreshment – spelled out later on in Exodus 23
Exodus 23 12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
The Sabbath is set apart to be a day for physical and mental and spiritual refreshment. A day not spent in the usual activities of the week. Not doing a job to earn money. Not doing housework or chores. It is unusual to find that kind of different day even among Christians today. But a hundred years ago, even fifty years ago, most churchgoers would not have done their daily work on Sunday. Many wouldn’t have played games, some wouldn’t have even cooked their meal on a Sunday. They wouldn’t have travelled by car or bus except to go to church. In England so much of our pattern of life changed when Sunday trading laws were relaxed in the 1980s. So much of what Sunday as a day of rest used to be like has been lost, for everybody. We have been on holidays in parts of Europe where it is still the case that none of the shops open on Sundays. And that in itself is very refreshing!
Second purpose of the Sabbath – a day for family and community
So many people are too busy for family and neighbours and community today. God’s plan is for us to have one day a week when we give priority to relationships – to people. God within Himself is community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And human beings created in God’s image are designed to be in community. We are designed to be in relationships with each other as well as with God. To Jews even today the Sabbath is very much a time to be together in family. As Christians we also need to demonstrate the importance of family and friendships and community to a world which is becoming ever more isolated, individualistic, impersonal and self-centred.
Rest and recreation: recharging our batteries. Family and community: reinforcing our relationships. These first two purposes of the Sabbath are not just for Christians. They are for the whole of humanity. This is made very clear in the reason which God gives for the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20. The Sabbath is a way of celebrating Creation. In a world which is trying so hard to forget God, God gave one day in seven as a Sabbath as a way for all human beings to remember that God is our Creator.
Exodus 20 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 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.
So one day in seven is set apart for rest. That pattern did not begin with the Ten Commandments. Earlier than that, Exodus 16 tells us that God sent manna from heaven to feed the Israelites miraculously in the wilderness.
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 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, …. 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.”
So the pattern of a Sabbath day one day in seven came before the Fourth Commandment was given. In fact, it was there from God’s very act of Creation. Exodus 20:11 repeats Genesis 2:2 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 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
The command to keep the seventh day special is rooted in Creation. So it applies to all peoples in every place and in every age. Sabbath is a pattern built into creation. Some people describe that as “a creation ordinance.” All human beings are created in the image of God. God worked for six days and rested on the seventh and so human beings are designed to do the same. Not just believers, but all human beings. We are called to a pattern of work and then rest because we were made by the God who works and then rests. By resting for one day in seven we follow the example of our Creator. Genesis 2 tells us that God blessed the Sabbath day. So people who ignore the principle of a Sabbath Day are rejecting God’s blessing. And at the same time, God set apart the Sabbath Day and made it holy. People who ignore the Sabbath are trampling on what God has declared to be holy. The point is that setting apart the seventh day is not just for believers. Setting apart one day in seven is God’s pattern for health and well-being for all human beings, because that is the way we are all made. In passing, this gives us good reason for believing that all of the Ten Commandments are for all human beings everywhere. But specifically with regard to the Sabbath. Rest and recreation: recharging our batteries. Family and community: reinforcing our relationships.
That is God’s pattern for all people everywhere – whether they choose to worship God or not. And it really works. When I was a student, and when I was working as a school teacher, and then when I went to Bible College, I made it a point of principle never to do any work on Sundays. That often meant rearranging work and missing out on fun things I would have liked to do on Friday evenings and Saturdays to fit everything in. When I was teaching it meant I had to give up playing sport on Saturdays because I had too much school work to catch up with. But I never, ever, worked on Sundays – and that pattern was a real blessing to me!
I said there are three purposes for the Sabbath – and here is the third. The Fourth Commandment has a special significance for believers. Initially it was for the Jews, now it applies to Christians as God’s redeemed people. In the Book of Deuteronomy the Ten Commandments are listed a second time. They are all exactly the same, except for the Fourth Commandment, where the reason given for keeping the Sabbath Day special is different.
Deuteronomy 5 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
What is commanded is the same – but the reason given is different. This time the Commandment is not in order to remember God the Creator, but in order to remember God the Saviour. For believers the Sabbath is also given to celebrate the Exodus and all God’s blessings of Salvation. For the Jews that mean giving priority to Temple or synagogue, to worship and prayers and teaching. So they had their laws restricting the kinds of work you were allowed to do on the Sabbath. “Works of necessity” and “works of mercy” – but nothing else. By making space for God in their busy lives, by what they did and what they would not do, God’s chosen people would honour God and recognise His importance.
Exodus 31 12 Then the LORD said to Moses, 13 “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.
14 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. …. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever.
So celebrating the Sabbath is a sign for God’s chosen people, a way to remind each other, and at the same time to show to the world, that they belong to God. As Christians we are not bound by the dos and don’ts of the Jewish Law. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But the principle remains. We can show that God is the most important part of our lives by making Him our number one priority. And if God isn’t the most important part of our Sunday for even one day a week, we can’t pretend that He is Lord of the rest of our lives.
Many things changed when Christ died and rose again from the dead, and those included the significance of the one day in seven. The one day in seven which had been set apart to celebrate Creation and to celebrate the Exodus became the one day in seven when Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus.
Very early on in the Early Church and certainly well before the end of the first century Christians had stopped celebrating the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week and had begun celebrating the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people
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.
Not the seventh day but the first day. And don’t forget that until the fourth century the first day of the week was the first working day. So Christians would meet for worship early in the morning or late in the evening of a working day and still do a full day’s work. Church was a priority for those early Christians even when they had their jobs to go to. They made time for worship and prayer and teaching. Between keeping the Lord’s day as a day of rest and keeping it as a day for drawing close to God, the first Christians’ priority was spending time with God and with each other. So the Sabbath Day became the Lord’s Day setting apart the first day of the week to celebrate Creation and to celebrate Salvation and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
So what can we do to “Keep Sunday Special” in practice?
Try to make one day a week special: no work earning money, no housework, no homework;
Keep one day for relaxation: time to unwind, to enjoy hobbies;
Keep one day for the family: hospitality, visiting relatives;
Above all, make worship and fellowship a priority. Some Christians think coming to church on a Sunday doesn’t matter any more. I think that view is mistaken.
Hebrews 10 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
During the rest of Sunday, make some time for prayer and reading the Bible. Read a Christian Book. If you don’t come to our evening services you can always catch up on evening sermons online on the blog. Some Christians don’t have a choice about going to work on Sunday, but some have more choice than they think! And for Christians who do have to do their jobs on Sundays, remember those early Christians who gathered for worship and fellowship before or after their full day’s work because they wanted to celebrate “the Lord’s Day”. Like them, we celebrate the Lord’s Day to show God how much we love Him.
Ezekiel 20 10 Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. 11 I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy. … 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.”
God invites His children to make one day in seven special as a sign between Him and us. By keeping The Lord’s Day we celebrate creation and we celebrate salvation. We set apart one day for God, for worship and learning and fellowship and family and recreation. Recharging our batteries. Reinforcing our relationships. And above all honouring God and keeping our lives centred on Him, as a sign of our love and commitment to Him. And when we do that, the blessings that follow are enormous! Listen to God’s wonderful promise in Isaiah 58.
Isaiah 58 13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

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