Summary: The Sabbath is not just a day of rest. It is the fulfilment of the whole wek of God’s work and our part in that work
I think you’d have to agree that the fourth commandment has led to more legalism than all the other 9 put together. It’s such a quantifiable thing isn’t it? "Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work." So we make up lists of things we shouldn’t do: housework, sport, gardening, shopping, movies, and the list goes on and on. Basically anything that looks like work or that might be fun is excluded. And we’re left feeling cheated. All the goodness of life as God created it is gone. All the fun of life has gone. All celebration has gone. And that actually defeats the whole point of the Sabbath.
So I want to avoid giving us another set of rules today as we look at the fourth commandment. Rather I want to give us a feel for what I think God intended by this commandment. I want us to end up wanting to celebrate the Sabbath with the people of God, every week, as our greatest desire.
The Sabbath rest marks the end of God’s creative process. God looks at his work and sees that everything he’s made is very good. If I can be allowed to apply human emotions to God, it’s as though he sits back with a grin on his face and a sigh of satisfaction and thinks, "Now I can relax and enjoy it all." So there’s a real sense of celebration in the rest of God.
The Rhythm of Time
In fact we can’t really understand the Sabbath unless we understand the first chapter of Genesis. Genesis 1 is all about time. When you get to Genesis 2 you discover that creation is also set in a place, but in Chapter 1 the focus is on time. The creation account is structured to give us a sense not just of time but of the rhythm of life. There’s that repeated cycle: each day goes "And God said ...", "And it was so", "And God saw that it was good;" "And there was evening, and there was morning -- the ... day." You almost feel like tapping your feet as it’s read out. There’s a rhythm to the creation story that reflects the natural rhythms of life.
But when we come to the seventh day there’s a change. Here we read "on the seventh day God finished ..." Then seventh day is repeated two more times. It’s as though God wants us to sit up and take notice of this seventh day. The seventh day is different.
What’s more as you look at the creation account you find the days are grouped into threes. And then you notice that on the third and sixth day there are two creation activities of God. So you get this development of the rhythm into a 1,2,3,3, / 4,5,6,6, / 7,7,7; in rhythmic cycles that come to a climax on the 7th day.
I’ve just been overseas so I know all about the natural rhythms of life. My body clock was totally out of sync for several days both when I went and when I returned. We’re designed with that rhythm built in.
One of the things we learn from this chapter is that time is part of God’s gift to us. God opens his revelation of himself with this account of creation in time because he wants us to see that time is a gift that allows us to participate in the ongoing work of God. Sabbath and work aren’t in conflict. In fact the opposite is the case. Sabbath actually completes work, brings it to fulfilment.
Sabbath as the Completion of Work
You see, God resting on the seventh day doesn’t mean that he does nothing. Forget my suggestion a moment ago that God’s sitting back relaxing, enjoying his success. That’s actually far from the truth. Ours isn’t a clockwork universe, set in motion by God but then left to its own devices. No, God continues his work in it, even on the seventh day. Colossians 1, in that great hymn to Christ, tells us that in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, and in him all things hold together. The universe continues to be held together by the word of God. John’s gospel makes much of the fact that Jesus has come to continue God’s work in the world. The word work occurs 27 times in John, often in a context like this: "My Father is still working, and I also am working." (Jn 5:17) Jesus tells his disciples: "14:12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father." So God continues to work through us as time moves towards it’s conclusion.