Exodus 20e: The Purpose of Sunday No. 2
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’ve been studying what God has shown us of the life of faith. Really, what we’re talking about is
what it means to depend on God day-by-day. We’re saying that God has shown us that in this book
[the Bible] and that’s why we’re studying it particularly in the Old Testament. And you remember
we’ve touched on the point in Exodus where God says, “If you are to depend on me you will not have
any gods before me, you will not make graven images for yourself, you will not take my name in vain
and you will observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” He’s saying, “If you really depend on me
you’ll automatically do those things.” And with the Israelites that was the proof that they trusted
him in regard to the manna.
You might want to refresh your minds about it, its Exodus 16 where the account is given of the
miracle of the manna which God used to feed the Israelites when they were in the wilderness. It’s
Exodus 16:20-22, “But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it till the morning, and it
bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it,
each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. On the sixth day they gathered
twice as much bread, two omers apiece; and when all the leaders of the congregation came and told
Moses, he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a
holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left
over lay by to be kept till morning.’’ So they laid it by till the morning, as Moses bade them; and
it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a
sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on
the seventh day, which is a sabbbath, there will be none.’” So that was God’s plan and as they
obeyed him and trusted him, the world worked for them.
Then Exodus 16:29 “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 of course, when they did trust God lo and behold on the seventh day there was
none, but on the sixth day there was enough for two days. Every other time it wouldn’t keep, but on
the sixth day it kept. So when they trusted him the world worked for them. I think it’s the same
with us, we think it’s really quite unimportant, but when we go into a store with real trust and
peace there’s a miraculous way in which the crucified world works for us and yet the opposite is
We used to talk about it in terms of if you have faith God answers and if you have fear, what you
fear comes about and that’s what happened with the Israelites in 16:20, “And Moses said to them,
‘Let no man leave any of it till the morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of
it till the morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.” Some of us
have found that again and again in regard to money and other things. We’ve found that if God gave
us a sense that we should trust him and we trusted him then lo and behold the money worked however
little of it there was. But if he told us to trust him and we lived in fear and anxiety and we
therefore tried to protect money, the money went bad, the money disappeared, somehow it went anyway.
And I don’t know if you all have come to the point, I think I’m at last at it, where I see it does
not matter how much money you have or how little money you have, if you’re trusting God that money
will be sufficient for you and that comes home to us with the Israelites.
When they trusted God the crucified, the world that had been crucified in Christ worked for them and
served them and they were able to subdue it. When they didn’t trust God the wretched world worked
against them and beat them over the head and destroyed them and so it is with us. The Sabbath for
them was an expression of their trust in God. The Sabbath for them was an expression, “Lord, we
normally gather manna. We gather it every day. You told us to gather it every day. You told us we
had to gather it every day. You told us if we tried to keep it, it would go bad. But you have said
on the Sabbath don’t gather it and the Saturday stuff will not go bad, or the day before it stuff
will not go bad. So Lord, we’ll trust you.” And that was the first meaning of the Sabbath for
them; it was an expression of their trust in God. So it’s good for us to remember that as we for
the last time look at this observance of the Sabbath.
We said one reason that we should observe the Sabbath was God himself observed it and we’re made in
his image and so we share the nature of God. That’s in the verse we’re studying today in Exodus
20:11, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested
the seventh day.” We remarked at the beginning of the study some Sundays ago about the amazing fact
that God, who has infinite power and has the ability to do anything forever, and who is able to keep
the sun rising and setting day after day without any effort, this God of ours actually rested on the
So there’s something in his nature that either enjoys rest or that rests, its part of his nature to
rest like that. We’ve said that we are made in his image and so it’s part of our nature so we said
that one reason we should observe the Sabbath is because it’s part of our nature; we’re made in the
image of God and its part of our nature to rest. We pointed to the communist states and everybody
who at least breaks from their normal every day occupation on the Sabbath and I shared with you how
in Taipei where Dan and Dan live, it’s full of activity because all the people are busy resting.
That is they’re going to the recreation places and the parks and even though they have no particular
respect for the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ, yet they end up regarding the Sunday as a
kind of holiday.
So there’s something in us that needs a break from ordinary work and strangely enough the whole
civilized world has seen that as necessary every seventh day, strange though it is. So there’s
something in us that needs that break and we talked about what kind of work you abstain from. It
might interest you to know that the word used for work here is a word called “Melaka” in Hebrew and
it’s the work that you abstain from on Sunday or on the Sabbath, “Melaka”. Now on ordinary feast
days you abstain from what they call “avoda Melaka” and “avoda Melaka” are just laborious work. You
get it in Leviticus 23:7. “On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no
laborious work.” On feast days you weren’t to do any laborious work.
That is you weren’t to do anything that you normally did on the six days; labor, business, or
industrial employment. Anything like that you were not to do on a feast day. On a Sunday or on a
Sabbath you were certainly not to do those things but you were not to do any “Melaka”. “Melaka” is
a more comprehensive word and it means you weren’t to do any plowing, any reaping, any pressing
wine, any carrying goods, any bearing of burdens, any carrying on trade, any holding markets but
also you weren’t to do any collecting of manna, you weren’t even to kindle fire for boiling or
Now that’s extreme and you find it in Exodus 35:3 because I know you’ll wonder, “Oh wait a minute,
all cold food?” Exodus 35:3, “You shall kindle no fire in all your habitations on the sabbath day.”
So it’s interesting that on feast days you were to stop the work that you did during the six days.
You weren’t to engage in any industrial occupation or any business but on the seventh day, on the
Sabbath you weren’t to do anything. You weren’t to kindle a fire so that you could bake or boil,
you weren’t to gather manna, you weren’t to press grapes, and you weren’t to do anything.
Now why was the command that you weren’t to do anything so absolute? You’ll see the real reason is
in Exodus 20:11b which is the main part of the study this morning. “Therefore the Lord blessed the
sabbath day and hallowed it.” One reason for observing the Sabbath day was because we’re made in
God’s image, we’re like him and he observed it so we work best when we observe it. But do you see
that even an independent atheist can do that? A person who doesn’t really have any respect for God
can say, “Look, I am so built that I actually work better when I rest on the seventh day.” So even
a person who says they are a Christian can do that and there’s actually a lot of self interest in
it. It’s that kind of prudent healthy-mindedness, “I’m made in God’s image so I have to rest on the
Sabbath day because I just operate better. My life just goes better.”
But the thrust of that is still self. The thrust is still, “Yeah it’s a good, sensible thing to do
because then I can really go for it during the week.” It sounds holy, but actually it is not a holy
attitude and that is not the primary reason why we observe the Sabbath; it’s simply because we’re
made like God and he observes the Sabbath so we work better if we observe the Sabbath. That finally
is actually an atheistic reason for observing the Sabbath. And so we get that shared in many of our
churches and many of us think, “Oh yeah, that’s a very holy thing, the Sabbath, it’s necessary for
us to live right to observe the Sabbath; the organism needs a break. It needs a break from the
constant tension and strain and so that’s why we observe the Sabbath.” But actually that’s
basically a selfish reason for observing the Sabbath.
It’s a bit like C. S. Lewis’ dog, you remember he said, “he never really obeyed me he sometimes
agreed with me.” We’re really kind of agreeing, we’re speaking from a proud position, “Yes, we
agree with observing the Sabbath because it’s good for us. So there God, you got it right.” It’s a
bit like that and I think we have to watch that in our general lives — it’s very easy to have a
proud, unbowed will towards God where you just agree with him on certain things and so you go with
it, but you don’t give him any room at all where you disagree with him.
The primary reason for observing the Sabbath is the one given at the end of this verse, “Therefore
the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” Now you’ll get it more clearly even if you go
back to the origin of that in Genesis 2:1-3, and if you read those three verses that we read before
you’ll see how they peak at the very end and lead up to the final reason and the most important
reason for observing the Sabbath. “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.”
That’s it. That’s the reason for observing the Sabbath.
“So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all his work which he
had done in creation.” You can see the subordinate clause is, “Because on it God rested from all
his work which he had done in creation.” That’s the subordinate clause of reason but the principle
clause is, “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.” And that’s the only real reason for
observing the Sabbath day; because God blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it and that’s why the
command is so categorical that we shouldn’t do anything that distracts us from God on the Sabbath
day. That’s why the command is so absolutely categorical, because this is God’s holy day.
God has hallowed this day, he has made it holy. Holy means a thing is set apart from ordinary uses.
It’s set apart from what they call profane uses, or from secular uses and its set apart to God for
him and him only. That’s why the emphasis in the Bible is — don’t even kindle a fire to boil or to
bake on the Sabbath day. Don’t do anything that will distract you from God and that’s the heart of
it; don’t do anything that will distract you from God.
Now, where do we find ourselves in the new covenant? Obviously in a slightly different position in
Colossians 2:17, and if you look at verse 16 you get the context, “Therefore let no one pass
judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a
sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come” the Sabbath is only a shadow of what is to
come, “but the substance belongs to Christ.” So obviously in the new covenant we’re in a different
Matthew 12:8 points that out in a different way through Jesus’ own words. Matthew 12:8, “For the
Son of man is lord of the sabbath.” If you look back at verse 5, you get the context, “Or have you
not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are
guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this
means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son
of man is lord of the sabbath.’” There’s no doubt Jesus is the one who is Lord over the Sabbath
and gives it new meaning. Because on Sunday, on the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead
and from that time on the people who believed in him observed the first day of the week as the
important sacred and holy day for them and that’s what helped to distinguish them from the Jews and
from the old covenant because Jesus rose on the first day of the week.
So where are we left — maybe it’s not so important then to observe the Sunday. But do you see that
suddenly, then, Sunday for the Christians became a wonderful day? Sunday, the first Sunday, one
week after he rose from the dead, they all got together and said, “A week ago Jesus rose from the
dead. He’s alive. He’s with us. Let’s talk to him and let’s sing to him, and let’s praise him and
worship him.” So for them the Sunday came into the fullness that God has meant for the Sabbath.
The important thing about the Sabbath was not that you wouldn’t boil or bake, it wasn’t even that
you would stop your work, it wasn’t even that you would rest for the sake of your physical and
mental health, it was that you would not allow anything to distract you from thinking about God and
meditating upon him, and reading about him, and going out in the garden or the yard and worshiping
and praising him. That was all the more emphasized when Jesus rose from the dead because suddenly
it was seeing that the King of the universe is here. The President of the world is among us. He’s
here. This is his day. This is the day when we give our whole attention to him so that every other
day will begin to be sanctified by the way we live our Sabbath.
The Sabbath became, not a negative thing of don’t do this or don’t do that, but a positive thing, a
rejoicing time when you give you whole attention and thought to the President of the universe. And
it’s a bit like that; if one of our President’s came into our home it would really be quite
difficult to go into the back room and carry on with some little activity we had been doing. We
would all feel, “Oh, the President is here,” or, “The ex President is here we’ll welcome him.”
That’s what Sunday is; the President is here, the King of the universe is here. This is his day.
This is the day that God blessed and hallowed.” Blessed means that he’s filled it with blessings
for us, he’s filled it with graces for us and hallowed means hallow evening, Halloween, it’s a
hallowed, a holy time. And you can see what they’ve done with Halloween; it was meant to be a
hallowed evening and of course they’ve filled it with symbols, and really they’re just symbols ,but
we know in our world it’s become more than that at other times of the year. They’ve filled it with
symbols of witches and evil spirits and when God looks down upon us now, he sees the same thing
happening so often to his hallowed day.
So for those of us who love him, Sabbath is not just a time of rest though it is that, but it’s
above everything else, a time when we give attention to him and give time to him, and give thought
to him, and meditate upon him. It’s the day when we bring out our holy books, most of us bring them
out through the week, but this is a special day when we give attention to him and give our thoughts
to him. So that’s the primary reason for observing the Sabbath; that this is the day on which Jesus
rose from the dead and broke the dreadful barrier that kept us out of heaven, so for us it is a
celebration day, a joyful day.
It is glorious really, because it’s not a matter of do we bake, or do we boil. Actually, in a funny
way, finally it isn’t even really a matter of do we go to the office or do we not go to the office.
Finally, it isn’t even really a matter of do we cut the lawn or not cut the lawn. Really, the issue
is not those things at all. The issue is, on the Sabbath are we giving our mental and emotional and
physical attention to Jesus our Savior? Are we giving this whole day to him and giving our thoughts
and our attention to him because this is a day that God has blessed and that he has hallowed? It’s
a holy day.
It’s the same as what Moses found at the burning bush. He immediately felt, “Let me take off my
shoes because I’m on holy ground.” Sunday is that kind of a day. I think that’s what our
grandparents were getting at because I’m sure you all wonder, I’ve wondered- how do you dress —
still a bit different even though we’re just having an informal service here, but I think it is part
of what they were getting at. Sunday is a day when we go into the holy of holies and we look up and
are elevated into Jesus’ presence and so it is a glorious time.
Let us pray.