Summary: The Sabbath is to be Holy as unto the Lord. But what does that mean for the people of the New Covenant? Could doing the works of God be the best way to honor the Lord.
The Lord’s Day
Do any of you remember the old ‘blue laws”? For those who are younger than 30, our state used to have rules about what could and could not be done on Sunday. Almost all stores and restaurants were closed on Sunday. The vast majority of people did not have to work on Sunday’s because just about everything was closed, with a few exceptions like gas stations and hospitals. In the Bible belt regions of our state people would spend the day with their church families and their extended families. After Sunday services people would go home and have a Sunday meal with their families. The afternoon would be spent quietly in devotion, worship and prayer in the most devout homes. In other homes people would spend the time playing family games or reading books. It was a quiet day of rest for much of the country.
It was in the context of that culture that Eric Liddell refused to run a race on Sunday in the Paris Olympics of 1924. Eric was a devoted Christian who believed that he must defy his home country, and the Olympic Committee. He was scheduled to run in the 100meter race, a race he was highly favored to win. But the event was scheduled for Sunday, and Eric refused to run. The government of England did not want to lose their chances at a gold medal, and so they tried to persuade Eric to race. But he wouldn’t budge.
In the end he did not run in the 100 meter, but he was entered on another day in the 400 meter race, a race he had never run in competition before. Many race commentators said that he ran that race like a man on fire. He broke the world record and went home with a gold medal in the 400. In 1981 a movie titled: “Chariots of Fire” was made to tell his story.
Was Eric right to refuse to run on Sunday? Are we to cease from all labor and all sports on Sunday’s? Should shops and restaurants be closed? What does God want us to do with the first day of the week? Should we be keeping the Sabbath for a day of rest? Is the Sabbath Saturday or Sunday?
I am going to try and answer these questions this morning by looking at the principle of the Sabbath in the Bible, and by taking a closer look at Jesus and His approach to the day.
Theme: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.
1. Why a Sabbath?
The word Sabbath, or in Hebrew – Shabath, literally means to rest, or to cease from your labors. This concept of rest goes all the way back to creation. God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th day God rested. In setting apart the 7th day as a day of rest, God declared that the 7th day of the week was to be a Holy Day unto the Lord.
On the 7th day God enjoyed His creation. He declared that all that He had made was good. Adam and Ever were in the Garden. They were enjoying the ‘rest of the Lord’. They were at peace with God and with each other. This didn’t mean that Adam and Eve did not work. God had placed them in the Garden to be fruitful and to multiply. Adam named the animals, and together with Eve they tended the Garden. But they were in a state of rest. Their work was not laborious, but a joy.
This rest was broken when sin entered into their world. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, and their labors would now come at a great price of pain, suffering, and even death. The world no longer experienced the rest of God. There was separation, sorrow, and sin. But God began a new work, the work of redemption of mankind.
At first he chose a people, the Israelites to enter into His rest. They were slaves in Egypt, but God would deliver them from their slavery and bring them to a Promised Land, a land of rest. They were to set apart the 7th day of the week as a Holy Day, a day of rest from their labors. On this day they were to remember that they had been slaves, but that God had delivered them. And so Moses gave them the 4th commandment. It is listed in several sections of the Old Testament, but I will quote this morning from Deuteronomy 5:12-15
"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any kind of work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out with amazing power and mighty deeds. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.