Summary: A study of the Sabbath and how that should fit into NT Christianity
490 B.C., the Persians are at war with the Greeks. Persian soldiers have just destroyed the Greek city of Eretria and are on the move toward the plain of Marathon. A Greek soldier named Pheidippides runs a hard 24 miles without stopping to take the news from Athens to Sparta. He arrives, delivers the news, and then drops dead from exhaustion. He gave his life for the run. Today, every time a marathon is run, it harkens back to that effort of Pheidippides the runner. The people in those runs don’t expect to die for their running. But at the same time, in our modern culture, people everywhere are giving their lives for the run in another way – and deep down they know it.
The 4th command is to keep the Sabbath. Here’s more proof that God’s ways are not our ways.
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.
Of these Big 10 basic principles for godly character laid out for Israel, God makes one the command to rest. (“Sabbath” doesn’t mean Saturday, it simply means “rest.”) So on this list of not murdering, not stealing, not committing adultery, is this positive command to rest. If I had been making the list of the top 50 or top 100 I might have thrown that in – but Big 10, and one of those is “rest”? Maybe we should rename the Big 10 God’s “Father Knows Best List.” It’s not what I would have included.
Yes, this is the one command that isn’t somewhere repeated overtly in the NT. Some of you would be all too quick to point that out this morning. Why is it that we squirm and finagle to prove that we don’t need rest? Sure, the New Covenant gives us the ability to discard an Old Covenant ordinance, but like a baby and the bathwater, we’ve discarded the day and the principle together.
Like a toddler at bedtime, we run around, because if we sit still, we’ll succumb to the obvious need for sleep. And, like I’ve had to tell my own children, I can hear God indicating to us, “This isn’t to punish you or spoil your fun. I give you rest for your sake.” In fact, that’s how God says it, “ Ezekiel 20:12 I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.
Jesus pointed out in Mark 2:27 "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was something that God gave to be celebrated and enjoyed.
Yet, in Jesus’ day, that good thing had been taken and made over until it was a burden, not a break. The Talmud, the book of Jewish traditions, has 24 chapters that list the different ways a person is supposed to keep the Sabbath. Some say the teachers had taken the 39 letters of this 4th law, multiplied it by 39, and that’s how they came up with the 1,521 rules about Sabbath breaking!
Can you imagine what they were?
• You couldn’t walk over 3,000 feet from your house.
• You were not allowed to carry anything that weighed more than a dried fig.
• You couldn’t carry a needle for fear you might sew something.
• Women were not to look in a mirror - they might pull a gray hair.
• You couldn’t untie a knot, strike a hammer, weave 2 threads, or write 2 letters of the alphabet.
• Since it was illegal to carry a burden, you couldn’t pin a ribbon to your garment. But, if it was sewn to the garment, it was part of the garment. Good thing they didn’t wear false teeth!
• Taking a bath was forbidden - water might splash on the floor and wash it.
This is why there are run-ins between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning breaking the Sabbath. He wasn’t anti-Sabbath. He just observed it the right way, in the right spirit. We would do well this morning to ask if our times of rest are actually times of rest. Or, have we changed our days off and vacations into another reason that we’re tired? “Can’t wait till I get back to work so I can get some rest!” Ever said that?