Description: Why is Sunday a holy day? Because on that day Jesus broke the barrier that kept us out of heaven. We can celebrate and give God our full attention.
Why Keep Sunday a Holy Day
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 does it mean 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. In particular he shows it in the Old Testament.
We’ve touched on the point in Exodus where God says, “If you 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.” [Exodus 20:1-11] He’s saying, “If you really depend
on me, you’ll automatically do those things.”
With the Israelites that was the proof that they trusted him in regard to the manna. You might want
to refresh your mind about it, it’s Exodus 16 where the account is given of the miracle of the
manna. Here God used it to feed the Israelites when they were in the wilderness. 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 the 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 Sabbath, there will be none.’”
And so that was God’s plan and as they obeyed him and trusted him the world worked for them. It’s
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 true. You remember, we used to talk about it in terms of if you have faith, God
answers. If you have fear what you fear comes about. So, of course, that’s what happened with the
Israelites in Verse 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 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 cause it and protect money, the money went back, the money disappeared, and
somehow it went anyway. 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 however little money you have, if you’re
trusting God that money will be sufficient for you.
So of course, that comes home to us, you know, 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 really with us. And that was what they had to do
on the Sabbath day, 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. What we gathered
on the Saturday, it will not go bad or the day before the Sabbath will not go bad so, Lord, we’ll
trust you.” That was the first meaning of the Sabbath for them, it was an expression of their trust
So it’s good for us to remember that as we just for the last time look at this observance of the
Sabbath. You remember, that 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 actually today 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.” And so we remarked at the beginning of
this study some Sundays ago, the amazing fact that God who really has infinite power and has ability
to do anything for ever and is able to keep the sun rising and setting day after day without any
effort, this God of ours actually rested on the seventh day.
So, there’s something in his nature that either enjoys rest or that rests as part of his nature.
It’s part of his nature to rest like that and we have said that we were made in his image and so
it’s part of our nature and 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 it’s part of our nature to rest. Of course,
we pointed to the communist states and everybody who rests actually on the seventh or at least
breaks from their normal everyday occupation on the Sabbath. I shared with you how in Taipei,
Taiwan where Dan and Dan lived, it’s full of activity because all of the people are busy resting as
it were. That is, they’re going out to the recreation places, the parks 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 that it is. So there’s
something in us that needs that break. 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 ‘malacca’ in Hebrew and
it’s the work that you abstain from on Sunday or on the Sabbath [Shabbat].
Now on ordinary feast days you abstain from what they call ‘avoda malacha’. And ‘avoda malacha’ 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 Malacca. Malacca is a
more comprehensive word and it means you weren’t to do any plowing, any reaping, any pressing wine,
any carrying of goods, any bearing of burdens, and 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
baking. That’s extreme.
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 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 even to bake or boil, 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 so absolute? Why was the command so absolute that you weren’t to do
anything? Well, the real reason is in Exodus 20:11B which is the main part of the study this
morning. Exodus 20:11, “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’m so built that I
actually work better when I rest on the seventh day.”
And so even a person who says they’re a Christian can do that and there’s actually a lot of self
interest in it. You know, it’s that kind of prudent healthy mindedness, “Oh yeah, yeah, I’m made in
God’s image and 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.” And it sounds Holy you
know, but actually it is not a holy attitude and that is not the primary reason why we observe the
Sabbath, simply because we are 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 of course, we get
that shared in many of our churches and many of us think, “Oh 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 never really obeyed me, he sometimes agreed with
me.” We’re really kind of agreeing. We’re speaking from a pride position, “Yes, we agree with
observing the Sabbath because it’s good for us. So there God you got it right.” You know, it’s a
bit that. And I think we have to watch that in our life, our general life. It’s very easy to have
actually a proud unbowed will towards God where you just agree with him in certain things 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.” You’ll get it more clearly even if you go back
to the origin of that in Genesis 2, and if you just read those three verses that we read before
you’ll see how the 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.” That subordinate clause is, “Because on it God rested from all his work
which he had done in creation.” That’s the subordinate clause in 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 say profane uses, or from secular uses, and its set apart to God for
him and for him only. And that’s why the emphasis in the Bible is doing 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 of course in the new covenant? Well obviously, in a slightly
different position in Colossians 2:17. If you look at 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
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. 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.” So there is no doubt Jesus is the one who has Lord over the
Sabbath and gives it new meaning because on a Sunday on the first day of the week Jesus rose from
the dead. 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 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 a week
after he rose from the dead they 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
So for them the Sunday came into the fullness that God had meant for the Sabbath. The Sabbath – the
important thing for the Sabbath was not that you wouldn’t boil or bake, it wasn’t even that you’d
stop your work, it wasn’t even that you’d 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 into the garden, and the yard, and worshiping and praising
him. That was just all the more emphasized when Jesus rose from the dead because suddenly it was,
“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.”
Suddenly Sabbath became not a negative thing — don’t do this or don’t do that, but a positive thing
— a rejoicing time when you give your whole attention and your thoughts to the President of the
universe. And it’s a bit like that when you think of Reagan, even Reagan you know – I mean, for
some of us here Quayle of course but if Reagan or if Bush came into our home it would really be
quite difficult to go into the back room and carry on with some little activity that we had. We
would all feel, “Ah, the president is here or the ex-president is here. We welcome him.” And
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 has 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 holly 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 but we know in our world it’s become more than that at other times of the year, but they’ve
filled it with symbols of witches and evil spirits. And of course, when God looks down upon us now
he sees the same thing happening so often to his hallowed day. For those of us who love him,
Sabbath is not just a time of rest, it is that but it is 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, but most of us bring them out through the week
anyway, 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, the day on which Jesus rose from the
dead and broke the dreadful barrier that kept us out of heaven and so it for us is a celebration
day, a joyful day. It is glorious really because it’s really not a matter of do we bake or do we
boil. Actually, in a funny way, finally it isn’t even a matter of do we go to the basement or do we
not go to the basement. Finally it isn’t even 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 old grandparents were getting at because we all wonder – I’m sure you all wonder, I’ve
wondered, I do 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.