The Ten Commandments Part 4
Give Me a Break!
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 23, 2005

 

Main Passage: Exodus 20:1-17 (NLT)

 

[Top section used at the beginning of the service as a welcome/teaser]

Two blizzards this week. I hope you survived them. I suppose if you didn’t survive them you wouldn’t be here this morning. Of course, in many ways we pride ourselves on being able to handle a snowstorm now and then. We laugh at places in the south (like Georgia or Florida) where everything shuts down for a week after a light dusting. Even when we complain about the snow we get here, you can always detect a bit of bragging hidden in the complaint. Somebody posed the question to me earlier this week, “What made our ancestors settle here, anyway? You’d think that after the first winter they’d pack up and head south!” But they didn’t, so here we are living in PEI. And so this morning I thought I’d give you the Top Ten Signs that you live in PEI:

 

Top Ten Signs You Live in PEI:

10. Your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a tractor on the highway.
9. Taking a vacation means going to Moncton for the weekend.
8. You drive at 100 km/h through 6 feet of snow during a raging blizzard… without flinching.
7. You install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked.
6. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.
5. You carry jumper cables in your car and your wife knows how to use them.
4. There are 7 empty cars running in the parking lot of Canadian Tire at any given time.
3. Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.
2. Every trip back from the mainland involves filling your trunk with cans of pop.
1. You know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and construction.

 

That’s my Top Ten list for the morning. Later on we’ll be taking a look at God’s Top Ten, the Ten Commandments. We’ve already examined the first three and if you missed those messages they’re available on our website. This morning we’ll be exploring the fourth commandment which simply states, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What did that mean for the Israelites, and what does it mean for you and me today? Well, stay tuned and we’ll try to answer that a bit later.
 


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[Play the Veggietales song, Busy, Busy
"I'm busy, busy, dreadfully busy. You've no idea what I have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy. Much, much too busy for you."]

Do you ever feel like you’re "busy, busy, dreadfully busy?" I know I do. Or maybe you’ve felt like the Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland”. You know the one… listen to this…

[Play audio from Alice in Wonderland… White Rabbit: "No, no, no, no, no, no, no! I'm overdue! I'm really in a stew! No time to say goodbye...hello! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!!"]

He’s always rushing this way and that looking at his watch and muttering, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

What a crazy world that we live in. It seems that every hour of every day is filled to the limit with things that need doing and we never seem to have enough time to do it all. How often have you caught yourself wishing for more hours in the day or more days in the week so that you could finally catch up and finish everything that you are supposed to do?

That wouldn’t do any good though. We all know Murphy ’s Law… “if anything can go wrong it will.” Some of us know about Newton’s First Law of Motion… “an object moving in a straight line will continue to move in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.” But does anyone here recognize Parkinson’s Law? This Law was first articulated in 1955 by C. Northcote Parkinson, and it states…

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
~ Parkinson’s Law

So regardless of how much time you have available to you it will never be enough. And if you were granted your wish of having an extra day in each week your stress level would simply be added to, because you would have one more day to try to jam too much into. Maybe instead we should wish for shorter days with fewer days in the week to limit our crazy schedules.

It’s really ironic, though, in our technological world that we find ourselves getting busier and busier and busier. Modern technology promised us that all of the new conveniences would save us time and make our lives easier. But computers, fax machines, the Internet, and cellular phones have increased the pace of our work rather then reducing it. At home dishwashers, washing machines, vacuums and microwaves have made life easier but in accordance with Parkinson’s Law all that freed-up time has been filled up with other chores, serving on community committees, both partners working outside the home, schlepping the kids around to hockey, music and school activities, and a host of other time-consuming activities. Even kids are stressed out these days because so much of their time is scheduled with something different every night and no time left for just being a kid… playing with their friends and allowing their imaginations to run wild.

As I was preparing this message, I suddenly realized that I actually feel guilty whenever I take some “Greg-time.” I always feel that if I’m not working at something I’m slacking off. I have way too much to do to just sit around and relax. So more times than not, if I’m home, I’m on the laptop. (Actually, the laptop’s on me, but you know what I mean.) Even if I’m home watching a movie, my attention is divided between the movie and some project I’m working on. If I’m driving in the car, I’m listening to seminar tapes or sermon tapes or working on my to-do list in my head.

It is a never ending cycle that seems to escalate over time until, finally, there is no more time. Henry Twells was an English poet who lived in the 1800s, and he wrote:

When as a child I laughed and wept, Time crept.
When as a youth I waxed more bold, Time strolled.
When I became a full-grown man, Time RAN.
When older still I daily grew, Time FLEW.
Soon I shall find, in passing on, Time gone.
~ Henry Twells

And it is into this crazy, rushed world, that you and I both live in, that I would like to re-introduce you to the fourth commandment…

[PowerPoint – Commandment #4]
Exodus 20:8
Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

(If I were to be honest with you this morning, I would have to say that this is the commandment that I struggle with the most. But I’m not going to be honest with you because we haven’t reached that commandment yet, so forget I said that.)

Let’s start by taking a look at the word, “Sabbath”. The word “Sabbath” literally means “cease; rest.”

Sabbath = Cease; Rest

It means, “Knock it off.” And basically it’s referring to taking a full day off from all our work and busyness and investing that time in finding ourselves refreshed and renewed as we devote the time to worshipping God and to God-honouring activities. For the Hebrews who were the first to receive this Commandment, their Sabbath day was from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night. For Christians, dating back all the way back to the apostles and their disciples, the Sabbath has traditionally been Sunday. I think the principle behind it is that we need to find one 24-hour period someplace in our week where we can set aside our work and spend time resting and worshipping our Creator.

This has meant different things for different people through the years. Let me give you a little history.

  • According to the Synod of Elvira in Spain from A.D. 306, if you missed three consecutive Sundays from church you could be excommunicated. By the 16th century, they had figured out exactly how late you could be arriving at the service to still be counted as being in attendance. (Some of you would have been in trouble.)

  • In the mid-1600s, the Puritans of England developed a rulebook governing their Sunday activities. This rulebook dictated how far you could travel on the Sabbath, how you should dress, and what household chores were acceptable. This rulebook took up 13 pages of fine print.

  • Some of these rules have survived at least in spirit and exist in our society today. Many sincere Christians, for example, will not read a newspaper or watch TV on Sunday. Others will not buy any unnecessary products on Sunday, including going out to a restaurant for dinner. Some believe that it’s not really a Sabbath unless they literally rest by having a nap. Still others believe that the entire day should be spent in spiritual activities and not just an hour or two. So they devote the entire day to worship, study, meditation and prayer.

So throughout Church history a lot of regulations were developed to tell people what was and what wasn’t appropriate on the Sabbath. But none of these rules hold a candle to the rules developed and held by the religious “experts” of Jesus’ day. Here are some examples…

  • People were not permitted to pick a single stalk of grain and rub it in their hands to retrieve the kernels because technically, that was considered harvesting. And the religious leaders were shocked when Jesus did just that.

  • The distance a person could travel on the Sabbath was defined as 2000 paces, or about 1.2 km (¾ of a mile). To travel any farther was considered a sin.

  • The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament has preached against carrying a “burden” on the Sabbath, so the religious establishment felt they had to define exactly what a “burden” was. So they determined that a “burden” was equivalent to the weight of a dried fig. And since nails were heavier than dried figs, it was considered a sin to wear shoes manufactured with nails. Anyone carrying any change in your pocket today? You’d be violating the Sabbath.

  • Walking in the grass was on the list, too. You couldn’t do that because that could be considered threshing, and that’s work.

  • Here’s an interesting one I read: dipping a radish in salt and letting it remain for any longer than a quick dip was forbidden , since this constituted pickling, which of course was work.

  • I even heard one time that you couldn’t spit on the ground because the spit would curl the dirt which would mean you were tilling the soil.

(most examples taken from What Jesus Said About… edited by Stephen M. Miller)

So for many, in the past and today, how to honour the Sabbath is a critical issue. But on the flip side, for some believers it’s not all that big a deal.

Romans 14:5 (NLT)
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter.

I tend to feel like everyday is the same. Not that anything goes everyday, but that every day should be holy. Every day should be a day you aim to please God in all that you do. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do believe that this commandment is still important today.

  • With the sky-rocketing number of heart-attacks, ulcers, depressions, chronic fatigue sufferers, and other stress related problems, I think we’d be a much healthier society if we could relearn to enjoy a Sabbath.

  • With divorces, broken-homes, dysfunctional families, latch-key kids, and a growing alienation even within families, I think we’d be a much stronger society if we could relearn to enjoy a Sabbath.

  • With God being pushed to the margins of our lives, with Christian teaching being thrown out of the classrooms, with religious leaders giving in to temptation and committing all kinds of crimes, and with you and me having a tough time to find even five or ten minutes a day for the most important relationship we could ever have, I think we’d be a much more God-pleasing, more balanced, more moral society if we could relearn to enjoy a Sabbath.

It’s important to recognize that there’s some wisdom behind this Commandment. God wasn’t trying to create a whole list or dos and don’ts for Sunday activities. People have turned it into that, but that wasn’t God’s intention. His intent was to teach us the priority of having a weekly date with Him, to help keep ourselves in good working order, and to show us how to enjoy life beyond our work. Read this with me…

Mark 2:27 (NLT)
“The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath.”

I like the way Bill Hybels expresses this thought…

“The Lord tells us specifically that His commands are never burdensome. By this, He doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy to keep. Rather, He’s telling us that they’re never foolish. They are never unnecessary or purely arbitrary. He doesn’t force us to observe meaningless formalities, nor does He impose rules that have no value. On the contrary, every guideline, every law, every imperative in the Bible was crafted in infinite wisdom. They were given not only to honour God, but to benefit us as well.”
~ Bill Hybels (The God You Are Looking For)

If we look at the full passage where this commandment is found in Exodus 20, this is what you’ll find…

Exodus 20:8-11 (NLT)
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”

Basically, it says, On the Sabbath, everyone gets the day off. You do, your family does, your employees do, any guests you may have do… don’t even make the dog fetch your slippers. The Sabbath is for everyone to enjoy!”

What I want to do for the rest of our time here this morning is describe three ways in which we “Remember the Sabbath” and then we’ll take a quick look at Seven Benefits of the Sabbath.

 

Three Keys to Observing the Sabbath:

A. Rest (Set aside your workload for one day a week)

We’ve already been talking about this one. Rest. Take another look at Exodus 20…

Exodus 20:9-11 (NLT)
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… For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day.

When God created everything that exists, He did it in six day. Not seven, six. And on the seventh day, He rested. Why? Did He get tired? Did uttering those words that spoke the world into existence wear Him out? No, of course not! He didn’t take a rest because He was exhausted or because He had to. He took it because He wanted to! Rest is a good thing, and God wants us to enjoy it. “All work and no play” was never part of His design for humanity.

So we need to rest because rest is a good thing. And we need to rest because we do get tired. God may not get tired, but you and I do. And we need time to recover and recuperate. In fact, I think part of why God took that seventh day off was to set us an example because He knew we’d need it.

We need the Sabbath so we can rest and recover from the busyness of life. But it’s not just a day of rest. There is more to observing the Sabbath than simply staying in bed. Sorry. It’s also a day to reflect.

 

B. Reflect (spend time worshipping God for who He is and what He’s done)

Deuteronomy 5:15 (NLT)
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.

In this verse God is calling the Israelites to reflect on how He had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt. But I think it would be fair usage of the passage to say it instructs us to reflect on how He has delivered us from slavery to our sinfulness.

Some people would argue that spending a Sabbath out golfing, shopping or going to the beach is fulfilling the spirit of the Sabbath. Golfers in particular plead their case by saying, “I do more real praying on the golf course than I do in church.” However, “Please God, let me sink this for birdie,” is no substitute for a good worship celebration.

Sunday is set apart for God’s people to get together and to reflect and celebrate on what He has done for us. We do that by singing His praise, by reading and hearing from His Word, by coming to Him in prayer, and by giving to His work.

People throughout history have observed the Sabbath in extremes. One extreme has been those people who have made Sunday into a day of gloom and depression instead of a day of joy and gladness. This is what had happened in Jesus day. The Scribes and Pharisees had counted 39 letters in the original language of the fourth commandment and reasoned that they needed to multiply 39 by 39 and to arrive at 1521, and then that was the number of rules they had come up with to observe the Sabbath. Made great sense to them, makes no sense to me.

We don’t do the fourth commandment any favours when we turn it into something like, “Thou shalt not enjoy life on Sunday.” Such a rigid observance of Sunday, even by well meaning people, can become just as corrupted today as it was in Jesus’ day. And that is what He warned us about just about every time He mentioned the Sabbath.

There are people today who try to take all the fun out of Sunday. But I think our greater problem in 2005 is found at the opposite extreme. We tend to take this holy day and turn it into a holiday… a day completely filled with commercialized recreation, entertainment and profit.

Take another look at the life of Jesus. What do you find? You find a man who rejected the legalism of the Pharisees, yes. But at the same time you find a man who made it a point to observe the Sabbath each week in the synagogue.

Luke 4:16 (NLT)
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

Circle those last four words in your notes: “as was His custom.” Jesus valued the Sabbath Himself, and He set the example for us to follow, too.

Of course, if we’re talking about following the example of Jesus, we can’t help but recognize that even on the Sabbath He responded to the needs of the people He saw around Him.

 

C. Respond (Meet needs you see in the people around you)

Let me read the account of an event that happen in Luke 13…

Luke 13:10-12, 14-16 (NLT)
One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit… When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are healed of your sickness!"
But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. "There are six days of the week for working," he said to the crowd. "Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath."
But the Lord replied, "You hypocrite! … Wasn't it necessary for me, even on the Sabbath day, to free this dear woman from the bondage in which Satan has held her for eighteen years?"


It would seem that Jesus is saying that there are some activities that are very appropriate for the Sabbath. Sure, resting and reflecting should be part of the day. But so should responding to needs.

“We have traditionally seen Sunday as a day of rest and worship. Perhaps it is time for us to rediscover the Sabbath practice of ‘doing good’ in response to human need: visiting the lonely, helping the poor, feeding the hungry, or caring for the sick.”
~ Ed Robinson (What Jesus Said About…, p. 35, edited by Stephen M. Miller)

Of course, there are people that take this to extremes. In Luke 14 Jesus asks the people…

Luke 14:5 (NLT)
“Which of you doesn't work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don't you proceed at once to get him out?”

So Jesus is saying it’s appropriate to meet needs and it’s appropriate to deal with emergencies that may arise on the Sabbath. But some people take that passage and use it as an excuse for everything and anything on the Sabbath. The truth is, though, if we are careful to avoid pushing the cow into the ditch on Monday through Saturday, then we won’t have to spend Sunday pulling it out. And if your cow has a habit of falling into the same ditch every week then you ought to fill in the ditch or get rid of the cow.

 

According to the Bible, God created the Sabbath. And He didn’t create it as a day to do nothing. But it also isn’t a day to do everything. It’s a day God blessed, and He made it holy. It is intended as more then just a day of fun or rest. The first six days the Bible tells us God called “good”, the seventh day God made Holy.

Now, there are certain benefits that we experience by observing the Sabbath. Lots of them, in fact. Let me share seven of them with you this morning.

 

Seven Benefits of the Sabbath:

1. You experience a refreshing which enables you to handle the week ahead.

I drive an 84 Toyota Corolla. It’s over 20 years old, I’ve owned it for over 10, and it’s still chugging away. My car has its problems and may be on its last wheels, but it has still outlasted most other cars around here. Why? Other than the fact that Toyota builds good cars, I think regular maintenance has been essential. In fact, when I first bought the car I would wash it every two weeks and I had it in for an oil change before the recommended time, not afterward. There was even a time when I would have it rust-checked.

But then money got tight and I figured I couldn’t afford to take good care of it anymore. The funny thing is, shortly after I stopped taking good care of it, my mechanical costs shot up. I now spend more on that car in any given year than I did in the first six years combined! I don’t think that’s just a coincidence and I don’t believe it’s just a matter of age. I believe a lot of the problems I have with my car now are a direct result of the neglect of regular maintenance. If I could turn back time, I would make sure I kept up the maintenance, because in the long run it’s cost me a lot more to neglect it.

I think the same may prove true for you and me. I think a lot of the problems we encounter in life are because we haven’t taken the time for regular maintenance. We’ve figured we couldn’t afford the time and so we neglect our Sabbath. But in the long run, I think it has cost us a lot more than we would have ever expected. We need our Sabbath so we will be refreshed and will be able to continue chugging away.

 

2. You find yourself more able to resist temptation.

I’ve never conducted such a study, but I would speculate that if you did a survey of believers who suddenly found themselves enslaved to sin and temptation, more times than not you would find that they had been neglecting the Sabbath. Because you and I have no power in ourselves to resist. Our ability to resist temptation and overcome sin comes from God and the time we spend with Him.

“Every now and then go away—even briefly, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer; since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power.”
~ Leonardo da Vinci

Our Sabbath gives us the opportunity to get in touch with the Source of all power.

 

3. You will be able to accomplish more, not less.

People who take a day off each week are consistently able to accomplish more during the remaining six days than the rest do in seven days. In agriculture, the soil needs to be given some time off every now and then (say, one year out of every seven), and when that happens it produces an even greater crop the other years.

Here’s a story I read online… maybe you’ve read it, too. It says:

One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.”
But the winning woodsman replied, “But you didn’t notice that every time I sat down to rest, I was sharpening my ax.”

When you take the Sabbath to sharpen your ax, you can return to your work with more energy and focus and drive and effectiveness.

 

4. You regain a proper perspective.

In our LIFE Group this week we looked at what Jesus did right before and after some of His miracles and most important decisions. And without fail, we saw that He spent time away from the crowds talking with His Father. I think He did that for a couple reasons. First, I think He wanted to set an example for us to follow. And second, even though Jesus was 100 % God, He was also 100 % man. And as a man, He faced the same kind of fatigue and pressure and frustration that you and I experience. And He needed that time to regain His perspective and perhaps even to make the right decisions.

 

5. You increase your trust in God.

It’s not easy to take time off when you already feel like you’re behind and don’t think you’ll ever catch up. But you and I are told to take a Sabbath… to take a rest. Yikes! This commandment can be very tough to obey. And in order to obey it, you have to believe that there’s a reason you need to rest, you have to believe that time spent with God is of critical importance, and you have to believe that God will enable you to make up for lost time. And that in fact, that time is not lost. It has been invested in much more important ways.

“The ability to calm your soul and wait before God is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life. Our old nature is restless… the world around us is frantically in a hurry. But a restless heart usually leads to a reckless life.”
~ Warren Wiersbe

 

6. You discover time for God you would have otherwise missed.

God didn’t give us the Fourth Commandment just to annoy us or to mess up our plans for the weekend. He did it because he knows what we are like. He knew that if He didn’t direct us to take a time out in our lives that we wouldn’t take one. That’s just what we’re like.

Now, you need to understand something. Work is not a four-letter word. (Well, it is a four-letter word, but it’s not a four-letter word.) Work is a good thing. It’s actually something given to us by God. And if you look at the entire section where we’re given this commandment, you see that it’s not just a commandment dealing with one day a week; it deals with all seven! It tells us to remember to observe the Sabbath, but it also tells us to work the other six day!

We don’t have to work in this world because Adam and Eve sinned against God. No, they were already given work to do in the Garden of Eden before sin entered this world. It’s a good gift given to us by God that helps define who we are and adds meaning and purpose to our lives. And when we do something well, we even feel a sense of accomplishment. That’s all good.

But God knows all about our ability to take a good thing and abuse it, distort it, and corrupt it to the point that it becomes a bad thing. And He knew that we could easily become slaves to our work. So by instructing us to take a Sabbath, He accomplished a couple of things. First, He counteracted the power that our work can exercise over us. And second, He created a day each week when if we are obedient to Him we will always be able to find the time to spend with Him.

“Imagine becoming more independent of consumerism and work-obsession because you practice resisting them on a regular basis.”
~ Dorothy C. Bass (Christianity Today, March 6, 2000 p. 67)

 

7. You feed your faith and strengthen your relationship with God.

Conversely, if you neglect the Sabbath, you starve your faith and your relationship with God may very well fade away into nothingness.

“As we keep or break the Sabbath, we nobly save or meanly lose the last hope by which men rise.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

 

Some of you may have come here this morning knowing that I would be talking about this commandment and expecting me to give you a detailed list of dos and don’ts for how to observe the Sabbath. If that was what you were expecting, then you may be disappointed. But if I did that, It’d be no different than what the religious leaders did in Jesus’ day. And besides, you already know that this commandment says to keep the Sabbath holy, and you know whether or not you’re doing that. You don’t really need me to tell you.

So as we wrap up, let me encourage you to recognize the intent and the value of the Sabbath Day. Determine that each and every week you’re going to observe it. I understand that for some of you because of the nature of your work that can’t always be on Sunday. But I think the principle can still be applied regardless of the day. And when it can be Sunday, then be here. You’re here this morning, so you already recognize the importance of this to some degree. Don’t allow busyness, family pressures, time constraints, or the weather (good or bad) to rob you of your Sabbath.


 

 

 

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