Remember the Day
- Reflect on how the fourth commandment is often misunderstood.
- Ponder Jesus'words about the Sabbth
- Be grateful for a day of rest and worship—a day to enjoy God and God's good gifts.
It's important to note that there are two different renderings of the Sabbath commandment in the Old Testament. The Exodus 20 setting emphasizes that this commandment is based on the creation order. God rested on the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Of course, that doesn't mean that God needed a break from all his hard labor. It means that God built a work/rest rhythm into creation. One commentator says that the six days of labor demonstrate that there is a place for human dominion in the created order, and the seventh day of rest indicates that God is the final Creator, and we rest in him.
The other setting for the commandment in Deuteronomy 5 sets forth another reason for the Sabbath. It is a day of freedom---freedom from being dominated by our work or becoming slaves to it. Both of these emphases, the rhythm of work and rest, and the freedom from slavery to our work, are captured in Jesus' statement: "the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
In Jesus' day the religious leaders seemed to have lost some of the original intent of the Sabbath by burdening it with all sorts of rules. There were thirty-nine activities specifically forbidden on the Sabbath, two of which were reaping and sowing. The rabbis spent a lot of time honing the rules so that almost every conceivable situation was covered. Even on a recent visit to Jerusalem I heard a group of young men arguing passionately about whether receiving a call from Los Angeles (where it was no longer the Sabbath) was right or wrong.
So Jesus and the disciples are casually picking grain to snack on as they walk through a field. It fell outside the rules, so Jesus was attacked as a Sabbath-breaker. His reply is a classic word of wisdom that captures God's intention. The Sabbath was made for people, for their welfare, freedom, and enjoyment.
On another occasion, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and again the religious leaders attack him. And once more his answer is a classic statement of Sabbath truth: "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil?" (Mark 3:4). Again, Jesus declares the positive purpose of the Sabbath.
The Q&A expresses a new understanding of the Sabbath commandment. For one thing, in a relatively short time after the founding of the Christian church, people began to worship on Sunday, rather than on the Sabbath (Saturday), in honor of the Lord's resurrection. Does that mean the Sabbath command is no longer in force? Yes, if it pertains only to the seventh day of the week. But the reformers saw it more widely than that. God still intends us to keep a rhythm of work and rest, not just because God said so, but because it's good for us. God also intends his people to live in freedom and not be slaves to their work or to anything else.
Today, it seems, we are probably in more danger of forgetting the Sabbath commandment than ever. In our busy, 24/7, on-the-grid lives, we have much too little time for God and for ourselves. If there's one thing we do need in the middle of our hectic lives, it's the rest and rejuvenation of worship that's centered on God and leads us to rest in him all the days of our lives.
Have you ever experienced Sabbath-keeping that was too legalistic?
In what ways have Christians tended to ignore the Sabbath commandment altogether?
Is the “Sabbath” (whether Saturday or Sunday) a day on which Christians should worship, or does the day have little to do with it?
It might be helpful to relate to the class some positive and negative experiences of Sabbath in your life, or your own struggles in trying to keep the Sabbath.
As the group gathers, tell them that the focus for today is “resting.” If there is a cozy, comfortable place in your church with soft furniture or a quiet sense of peace, consider moving to that space when everyone has arrived.
Ask your group to get comfortable in the chairs or couches or to spread out on the floor. Let them know you are going to turn off the lights and quietly read a poetic version of the story of creation as they rest.
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