Exodus 20D:The Purpose of Sunday No. 1
Sorry, Audio Not Available.
Sorry, Video Not Available.
Exodus 20d – The Purpose of Sunday No. 1
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I think most of us probably have had that feeling at some time or another, “Oh, if we could just stop everything — just stop and rest and be quiet.” Perhaps we tend to tie it up with times when our mind has been rolling and revolving, with thoughts tumbling over each other. But at other times too, in the midst of a hectic day, or in the midst of even a weekend where we’re trying to get a lot things done fast, we at times wish, “Oh, if things would just stop and be quiet.” I read a report about three weeks ago about the cellular phone enthusiast, some of them are becoming a little less enthusiastic because they say, “I don’t want to be able to be contacted by all my business contacts whenever they want to get hold of me because when the phone rings in the car, I feel an obligation to lift the receiver lest I lose some business. I find that I’m being continually bombarded by people who want to carry on business all the time and I don’t want that, I want to have a break. I want to get the phone out of the car so that I can have some kind of break from the constant pressure of business.”
And I think it’s becoming more and more the situation with our modern technological equipment and strategies; it’s possible to carry on business all the time if we want to. And it’s becoming more and more vital for us to be able to have some kind of break from the business of doing business all the time every moment. More of us are feeling that we have to get some kind of detachment from this constant ability to keep on with our business whether we’re in the car or at home or we’re walking down the street.
It’s interesting that freedom from religious regulations and from holy days seemed at first to bring great liberty to modern society. At the beginning everybody thought, “Oh, great, I don’t have to observe Sunday, I don’t have to observe Easter, and I can do whatever I want.” But now it’s turning around the other way and even atheistic states observe the seventh day because they realize that some kind of break, some kind of interlude is needed if they’re going to carry on with the routine of work week after week month after month year after year.
So it’s interesting that the clock is turning back the other way, maybe not for religious reasons, but for simply psychological health reasons, people are beginning to go back to the observance of Sunday as at least a day when normal activity ceases and you do something different. Yet probably most of us here who have observed European Sundays or American Sundays, certainly those of us who have observed Asian Sundays would admit that they are often anything but restful. The roads to the seashore, and the roads to the resorts, and the roads to the public parks are more crowded on Sunday than any other day and in fact, the hotel where we stayed in Taipei is located in what is regarded by the Taipei citizens as a very desirable place because it’s up in the mountains above the pollution of the city.
So on Sunday, when we were in Asia, we did not go out because the roads were absolutely jammed with the traffic of people going out to the public parks and the recreation areas. So we’ve seen that even though there is an observance of Sunday as a holiday, it itself is becoming a pretty hectic experience. And of course, all of us back in Minnesota would remember when our dad was almost glad to get back to work on Monday after the hectic weekend of waterskiing and sailing and all the other things that we were doing as an interlude.
So even though the world is turning back to more observance of Sunday just for the sake of psychological and physical health, yet even the Sunday that they observe is being filled with its own hectic activity. So it really makes you wonder what is Sunday supposed to be and what’s the point of it and that is the commandment that we’re studying today in our study of the life of faith in the Old Testament. It’s found in Exodus 20 and it’s the commandment about the Sabbath. You find it in Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
The Sabbath in Hebrew means rest, and the idea of the Sabbath started back in Genesis 2:1-3, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.” And if you look at the previous chapter and verse 31 you can see why many people interpret these as 24 hour days. Genesis 1:31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.” “Ereb” is Hebrew for evening and “boger” for morning and many scholars interpret these as 24 hours days because they say, “Why go through the trouble of saying there was evening and there was morning if in fact it was just a variation of cosmic light and not actually morning and evening as we know it. So it’s normally interpreted as a 24 hour day and that on the seventh day God rested.
Presumably God doesn’t need to rest. One assumes that the Godhead can keep on going forever. And certainly if he did rest he had no need to tell us that he rested unless he wished to indicate that there is something in the very nature of deity, in whose image we are made, that is expressed by resting from work. Now obviously we can’t with our little minds hope to probe the depths of God’s mind and indeed we are not justified in trying to do it so there’s a limit to how much we can explain. But we certainly can see what he tells us; that he did rest on the seventh day after making the world he rested, and that that rest was a cessation of the work that he had done for six days. So at least that much we do know.
Then we can go a wee bit further, don’t you think, because we can look at Genesis 2:3 and see what God did as he rested. “So God blessed the seventh day” after it was over, “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.” So you can see that because he had rested on that seventh day from all the work which he had done in creation as a kind of memorial or as a celebration of that, he blessed the seventh day and he hallowed.
Now you can interpret blessing in various ways, but normally we think of God blessing a day as giving to it special grace. So obviously, God gave special grace to that day and it says he hallowed it. That is he marked it as something that we should respect and something that we should respect not because it was Sunday, not just because it gives us psychological rest, or emotional peace, or a physical break from work, but because by doing that we recognize that on that day God ended the creation of the world, and so in a sense we respect him as the Creator when we hallow the Sabbath day. It’s something that goes beyond this earth.
We’re saying, “Lord God, on the seventh day you completed the work of creation and so we hallow this day. We treat it as holy, we treat it as different.” And then on top of that God gives to this Sabbath special grace. That’s what it means, God blessed the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day is not just another day; it’s a day that God has given special grace to.
Now the Father emphasized how strongly he felt that there should be a Sabbath resting from survival activities by the story that we read about the manna. God made it very plain and he followed this up; he rested the seventh day himself, then he blessed the Sabbath day and he hallowed it. If we look back at Exodus 16, he did something further with it in connection with the manna. The manna was his way of enabling the Israelites to survive in the wilderness because they had no food and he provided this manna, this miraculous mixture of honey and bread, it seemed to be, that was found on the ground each morning. But Exodus 16:22, “On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers apiece.” So you remember how he commanded them in ordinary days, he said in verse 16, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, every man of you, as much as he can eat; you shall take an omer apiece, according to the number of the persons whom each of you has in his tent.’ And the people of Israel did so; they gathered, some more, some less.”
That’s interesting, isn’t it? They were to gather an omer according to the number of the persons who each of you has in the tent, “But when they measured it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; each gathered according to what he could eat.” So the general impression you get is they all gathered different amounts but it all ended up an omer and they all ended up with as much as they needed.
In other words, it brings home to you very clearly that it was not due to their labor, or due to their work that they had enough; it was due to God’s provision. And it was in the light of that that God gave them the commandment about the Sabbath. He said, “I want you to gather it and eat it that day, don’t keep any over.” Some of them kept some over and it went bad. He said, “Only keep some over on Saturday, on the day before the Sabbath because on the Sabbath there’ll be none.” And yet God made it very plain, “You will survive. Even though it’s essential for you each to gather each day, on the Sabbath day there’ll be none and you won’t need to gather it because the stuff you gathered on the previous day will not spoil as it had the previous five days, it will keep fresh.”
And it seems plain that it was God saying, “For the sake of survival, you don’t need to work on Sunday. You don’t. I’m going to provide. Actually, it’s me that provides all the other five days because you’re all gathering whatever you want yet you all end up with an omer and yet you’ll have enough, so you can see it’s all a miracle anyway.” It’s as if he says to us, “Okay, you sell like mad and you think you’ve done wonderfully today because you’ve sold $1,500 and you think the next day you’ve done terribly because you’ve sold $5. Why don’t you get the message; it doesn’t actually matter too much what you achieve or how hard you work, I’m the one that provides for you.”
It’s as if he’s saying to us plainly that Sunday is to be a day of retreat, resting from the normal tasks of life and a time when you concentrate on God’s creative work in making us. And he says to us, “As I provided for the Israelites on the Sabbath day, so I will provide for you. This is a day when you imitate me; you cease from the normal activity that has occupied you during the week and by doing that, you declare to me that you trust me. You declare to me that you trust me to provide the manna for you, you trust me to keep you alive, and you trust me to keep you in a survival state. You declare to the whole world of angels in heaven and hell that you trust that I have made you and that I will preserve you and that I will protect you.”
So it seems that’s the emphasis he gives and you remember what he says in Exodus 16:28, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?’ See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days; remain every man of you in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.” And of course that is mirrored in the next step that God took in regard to the
sabbath, it’s just a few chapters later in Exodus 20.
He stated that anyone who trusted him as their Father would remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. That was a law of his Spirit life in them and that’s the way he put it you remember. The way we read these commandments is, “If you trust in God as your Father you will have no other gods before him. You will not make for yourself a graven image. If you trust in God as your Father you will not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. If you trust in God your Father you will remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” And he gave it as a law of the spirit of life in him. He said, “This is the way you will express your confidence that the manna that I will provide for you will be enough and that it will keep through Sunday without spoiling and therefore you can afford to trust me to keep you alive.”
I think that’s one of the great spiritual reasons for the Sabbath. I don’t think it’s connected up with legalism at all. I think it’s a glorious, gracious gift of the Father to us. I think it’s him saying to us, “This will deliver you from the miserable treadmill on which you think you are placed for life. This will deliver you from this self-confidence and this dependence on your own ability and this confidence that you can make it with your own ability and with your own labor and your own work. Sunday is a declaration to me that you know that it’s all of grace and that you survive because I provide for you. That you do not survive by your own effort and your own skill and your own cleverness. You survive because of your trust in me. This delivers you from that dreadful slavish treadmill that you get yourself onto when you live inside your own little world with your own little home around you, and your job is to keep that together by your own efforts. Sunday delivers you from that narrow miserable little world which becomes a prison with such narrow walls that you become more and more a tight little routine machine that has nothing of beauty or grace in it but just has its eyes on its own survival and on making it itself. Sabbath delivers you from that. Sabbath is a glorious extravagance.
It brings into your heart my own extravagance. Look at the slopes covered with daffodils. Do you think those daffodils are needed? No, only a fraction of them provide seed for more daffodils. Only a fraction of the crops and the plants that I put throughout the earth actually provide seed for the next generation. Thousands and millions of them are just destroyed. I simply scatter them over the hills to show my extravagant love for you and to show you that life is meant to have extra and surplus and plus. It’s not meant to be a little “just make it” situation. And so my Sabbath is that — almost for no reason at all you may say except that you know the reason. The reason is that I rested, myself, on the Sabbath day and that I want you to recognize that I made the world and I rested on the seventh day. But really in a way for no reason at all you stop what you’re doing on Sunday. You stop what you’re doing on the Sabbath and you declare to all the invisible hordes of the universe I am here because I trust my Father not because I can make my money by the sweat of my brow.”
So in a way, Sabbath is a bow on a dress — something that isn’t essential, it just adds beauty to it. Sabbath is a vase of flowers in a room. It’s not vital; it just adds beauty and grace to life. It brings into life a peace, a resting back, a separation from the condemnation, in a sense, that came with the fall. You are dust and to dust you shall return. And you’ll eat of the ground by the sweat of your brow. It’s a deliverance from that. It’s a declaration by God that it is him that we look to for our survival and for our provision. As a result of course, it’s one of the healthiest and most solitary events in our life. It brings a great healing and a great peace into life when you live observing the Sabbath. It delivers you from the hectic drive to have recreation that fills the roads of the west and the east with carloads of people trying to have fun on the Sabbath. It
delivers us from the feeling that we have to do this in order to make the money that we need to make the next week. It brings in a beautiful grace that actually spreads into the rest of our lives and takes from us the tightness.
Do you have to observe it? Do you have to stay out of the office? Do you have to abstain from yard work and house work? No, not at all, do all that if you want. But if we do we’ll miss something beautiful that God has for us. There’s sanity and restfulness in life that strengthens our faith and our trust in God’s provision that comes when we honor the Sabbath. There’s a release from stress and strain that obedience to a higher power brings to every driven man and woman. It takes the drivenness out of your life. It gives you the rest back; it gives you some of the gracious rest and relaxation of kings, that’s what it does.
It brings the glorious extravagant rest and relaxation of the children of the king of the universe and delivers them from the miserable slavish struggle to survive that drives every mere creature. Yes, there’s great reason for observing the Sabbath, but not a legalistic reason at all. Not because God will strike us dead but because on the seventh day the Father himself rested from the work of creation and he, at that moment, imparted into the Sabbath day a special grace that comes into the life of all that honor and observe that day because they trust their Father to provide enough manna for them on the other five or six days.
What is its application to us? I think very, very powerful for a group like us. We can do anything. That’s one of the great advantages God has given us since we started Christian Corps. We can do anything. We have our computers downstairs, we have our fax machines, we could even have our factory in Thailand working on a Sunday and we ourselves could work all day Sunday. We can do anything. One of the strengths that God has given us is that we are a world within a world, we can operate independent of the world and that was part of the vision; that we would work apart from the pressures of the world and we would be able to do what we needed to do. We fly on a Sunday, we travel on a Sunday, we have our service when we think is best for us, we have a service in here rather than at a church, we can have it out on the deck. One of the strengths we have is we can do anything.
That freedom becomes our destruction if we are governed by what we think in our pragmatic commonsensical minds is best for us. If we go by those pragmatic commonsensical minds we will wear ourselves out. We will drive ourselves to destruction. There’s something in doing what a higher power than ourselves tells us to do, there’s an amazing grace and deliverance comes into our life when we observe that. There’s some beauty that comes, there’s some relaxation, some deliverance from strain and stress that comes when you observe a day like Sunday simply because a power higher than yourself has told you to do it. You yourself can’t bring out all kinds of reasons for it except the reasons that God gives himself, but you observe it and when you do that brings a gap, a peace, an interlude, a detachment into your life that nothing else can bring so that in a real way, Sunday touches all the other days in the week with its grace.
I’ve dealt with this simply because we came to it in the commandments here, and I haven’t been wildly enthusiastic about dealing with it because I wasn’t absolutely clear myself on what you can do and what you can’t do on Sunday. And that’s why I’m so glad to be able to say, do we have to observe it? Do we have to stay out of the office? Do we have to abstain from yard work and house work? I say no, you don’t. But you’ll lose something beautiful if you don’t honor the day the way God wants us to.
Now if we can do those things without a sense of necessity, if we can go and look at a flower, and we can pick sunflowers for somebody’s room not because we have to pick them but because Jesus’ Spirit has prompted us to do it, then there is a beauty in that. If we go out and mow the lawn because we have to mow the lawn, then that brings the necessity into Sabbath and it makes it a work. I never could get hold of the idea that my mother expressed — she hated it — but she was brought up in what seemed to have been a very strict home. It seems to me legalistic, but who’s to say. They had to clean all their shoes on Saturday and they weren’t permitted to clean them on Sunday, so to my mind it was extreme, but you can see that one of the things it does do is it stops you distracting yourself. Sunday is meant to be a day which we give to God and a day in which we stop distracting ourselves.
So maybe you’d think about this as we go into this new week. Let us pray.