Sermon: The Sabbath
Text: Deuteronomy 5:12
Lections: Deuteronomy 5:12–15; 2 Corinthians 4:5–12; Mark 2:23–28
Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 5:12–15
12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:5–12
5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Holy Gospel: Mark 2:23–28
23 One Sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Grace, mercy and peace be yours in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s message is about the Third Commandment, which we heard read in our Old Testament lesson. I read again verse 12:
“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.”
Hear ends the reading of our text. May God add His blessings to the reading of his Word. Amen.
The Third Commandment has been the source of far more controversy over the years than one might expect when you simply read it. But leave it to fallen humanity to obscure God’s Word and twist it out of shape. So, we see in our Gospel lesson that the first century Pharisees had lost the real meaning of the Third Commandment and substituted empty works. Many do so today who count themselves as Christians. So, it is always worthwhile to return to this Commandment and consider it fresh, even though we have heard it our whole life and can’t remember how many sermons we have heard about it.
The first thing we should note is that, as the Commandment stands in Deuteronomy, it is focused on Israel. This is obvious from verse 15 where Moses writes, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Not a single one of us were ever slaves in Egypt, nor were our ancestors.
The Sabbath, or the seventh day, is now and always has been, Saturday. This was the day selected by God for Old Testament Israel to worship. The command, though, was only for that nation. That worship day was to remind them of their great deliverance. Our great day of deliverance is the first day of the week, Sunday, for that is the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. So, the Church immediately began gathering on Sundays, also called ‘the Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10). They did this not based on a command but in grateful recognition of God’s great deliverance in Christ Jesus.
When some wanted to return to Saturday worship, St. Paul was clear that such clinging to Old Testament ritual was a mistaken application of the Old Testament. He wrote:
16 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. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
Behind the words of the Third Commandment, though, is a moral imperative, and that imperative remains in full force. We are to gather and remember our great deliverance, which is recorded in the Scriptures. Therefore, Luther gave the meaning of the Third Commandment in his Small Catechism as: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
Luther correctly captured the meaning, the moral imperative, of the Third Commandment because it is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit calls us to faith in Jesus and keeps us in that true faith. As Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). So, it is attending to the Word of God that sanctifies our Sundays. Indeed, it is the Word of God that sanctifies all things. So, without the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper is nothing more than bread and wine. With the Word of God, it is a means God uses to bring us forgiveness of sins. Baptism, without the Word of God, is nothing more than water. With the Word of God, it is a washing of regeneration. The Word of God sanctifies all things, including us (1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Timothy 4:4-5). So, we sanctify every day of the week with the Word of God, reading it, learning from it, living by it, meditating on it, memorizing it, asking ourselves “how does this apply to me,” and so on.
As our Confessions state, “God’s Word is the true “holy thing” above all holy things. Yes, it is the only one we Christians know and have.” A day is made holy as we dwell on and live by our holy thing, the Word of God. It is not that this or that day is more holy than others in and of itself, but the day is made a holy day when we dwell on and live by the Word.
We may sanctify every day of the week, and all that we do, by spending time in the Word. In fact, we should do so. It would be grand if we could have a corporate worship service to do so every day of the week, but that isn’t practical. People must go to work, people have to go to school, and so forth. So, we continue the custom of the Apostolic Church and use Sundays. Services on days like Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and so forth, are an extra blessing.
This use of God’s Word is not optional according to God. It is his command. Luther, in his Large Catechism, emphasized this.
Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also about learning and retaining God’s Word in memory. Do not think that this is optional for you or of no great importance. Think that it is God’s commandment, who will require an account from you [Romans 14:12] about how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word.
Now, we are not able to provide a daily opportunity for this here at Our Redeemer, but you can take time every day to be in God’s Word. One of the many wonderful resources in our hymnal is a Daily Lectionary. It can be found on page 299. By following this daily reading schedule, by pondering the readings, by incorporating them in your prayers, by asking what it means for you in your life, you sanctify your day. As you find a Scripture reading that is particularly meaningful, you can select it to be memorized. You may wish to read something like Portals of Prayer every day as part of sanctifying your day. You may wish to make pondering a hymn from our hymnal each day, or a hymn a week, as part of your way to sanctify each day. These hymns are all based on the Scriptures and are like reading or singing a great devotional book. You may wish to read Luther’s Small Catechism each day. It really isn’t that big and slowly you would commit it to memory. Or you may wish to select some other quality book, like the Large Catechism, or the entire Book of Concord, or you may decide to read and ponder one of the documents from the Missouri Synod’s “Commission on Theology and Church Relations.” These can be found on the Missouri Synod’s webpage. You can purchase The Lutheran Study Bible from Concordia Publishing House and read the many excellent notes in it. All I’m saying is that there are many ways that we can apply this command in our daily lives, many ways we can endeavor to keep this commandment each day of our lives.
There is a danger our smug and fallen hearts thrust upon us, almost unaware: We can grow cold to the Word, thinking we already know all we need. “Oh,” we might think, “I read the Bible through once. I don’t need to read it again.” But that isn’t true. That is our Old Nature, in concert with the devil, speaking. Sneaking in while we are not paying attention and doing all sorts of damage (Matthew 13:24-30). The devil is the same one that whispers to our hearts that attending worship on Sunday is enough; we don’t have to heed the sermon, consider how it applies in our lives, and so forth. Such thinking makes Sunday worship a superstition. “I’m blessed because my body is in a worship service, even though my mind is miles away.”
The cure is the very thing such thinking seeks to have us avoid: The Word of God. Return to faithful and diligent use of the Word of God and such false ideas flee. The Word of God is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit (Isaiah 55:11). It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts (Philippians 4:8). For the Word of God is not lazy or dead but is a creative and living Word (Hebrews 4:12).
Furthermore, we live in the world, and in this world, we have no end of opposition by the devil, the world, and our sinful Old Man (Romans 7:5, 18; 12:2; 1 Peter 5:8). The Word is our main weapon against such foes. It is with Scripture that we are able to resist the devil and put him to flight (James 4:7). Through the Word, the Holy Spirit calls us to, and keeps us in, the true faith. Not automatically, but as we meditate on it, as we reflect on what it means for ourselves today. How often we are reminded of this by God!
Joshua tells the people, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). This theme is repeated time and again in the Psalms. The very first Psalm reminds us that the blessed man delights in the Word of God and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). Or consider the Giant Psalm, Psalm 119, which is all about God’s Word. Consider how important the Word of God was in the life of our Lord Jesus. He was customarily in corporate worship services, attending what was being taught or teaching himself (Luke 4:16). How many times did Jesus quote the Old Testament? Wouldn’t that be an interesting question to ask yourself as you read the Gospels? How did Jesus rebuke the devil when he was tempted at the outset of his ministry (Matthew 4)?
This is what the Third Commandment is all about. You sanctify the day for yourself by being occupied with holy words and deeds. Those deeds are holy as they are shaped by the holy words of God. This is what our confessions say as well:
So when someone asks you, “What is meant by the commandment: You shall sanctify the holy day?” Answer like this, “To sanctify the holy day is the same as to keep it holy.” “But what is meant by keeping it holy?” “Nothing else than to be occupied with holy words, works, and life.” For the day needs no sanctification for itself. It has been created holy in itself. But God desires the day to be holy to you. Therefore, it becomes holy or unholy because of you, whether you are occupied on that day with things that are holy or unholy.
How, then, does such sanctification take place? … [A]s said above, we occupy ourselves with God’s Word and exercise ourselves in the Word.
We have made a good start in sanctifying this day. We are here. We are hearing God’s holy Word as well as singing and praying it. We continue to sanctify this day as we take that Word home with us and make it part of the rest of the day. Think of it as you mow your yard, or make your dinner, or carry on a conversation, and so forth. We ask ourselves, “How will this message shape our lives in the days to come?” Amen.
Now, may the peace that passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.