Sermon

The Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11)

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Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

In the Fourth Commandment the Lord told His people to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” They kept it holy by refraining from work (Ex 20:10) on the Sabbath and taking it as a day of rest. The Lord “blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex 20:11), therefore the children of Israel were to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8). In our sermon on the Fourth Commandment we will consider the Sabbath in the Old Covenant and how it relates to Christians in the New Covenant.

The Sabbath in the Old Covenant 

In Genesis 1, we are told about how God created the heavens and the earth in six days. In Genesis 2:2 we are told that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” God did not need to rest but instituted the seventh day as the Sabbath[1] to provide a holy and refreshing day for the children of Israel.

A Holy Day

The Lord rested on the Sabbath and “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gen 2:3). It was a special day for Israel. In Exodus 31:13, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” Ezekiel 20:12 says, “Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.” The Sabbath was to serve as a reminder to the children of Israel that the Lord cares for them and provides for them.

A Refreshing Day

The Sabbath was also a refreshing day. The Jewish people remembered the Sabbath and kept it holy by resting from their labor. In Exodus 31:17b we are told that “on the seventh day [God] rested and was refreshed.” The Lord said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day…you shall not do any work” (Ex 20:9-10). This day was unique in that it was blessed by God and set apart especially for Himself. The Sabbath was not just for the people but also for the land. In Leviticus 25:4, the Lord instructed them to “neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard” every seven years because “in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land” (Lev 25:4). The Sabbath is proof of God’s grace because He—knowing our limitations—knows we need a day for rest and refreshment.

The Sabbath in the New Covenant 

We have already answered the question in this series, “Should Christians obey the Ten Commandments?” The answer was “Yes and No”. Christians should not obey the Ten Commandments as a means of securing righteousness before God. Christians, however, should obey the Ten Commandments because “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). But what about the Fourth Commandment? Should Christians observe the Sabbath day like the Jewish people did? To answer this question, we need to remember that Jesus came to this world to institute a new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). All the Old Covenant requirements (Civil, Ceremonial, & Moral) were fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17-18). The Sabbath (7th Day) regulations of the Old Covenant were fulfilled by Jesus. God’s children no longer look to a day for rest (Sabbath) but to a person (Jesus). For this reason, the Apostle Paul can say: “no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16-17).

God’s children no longer look to a day for rest (Sabbath) but to a person (Jesus).

A Blessing, not a Burden

In Jesus’ day, the Israelites had turned the Sabbath into a burden rather than a blessing. For example, a person could only walk a certain distance (Acts 1:12), could not pick a head of grain (Mark 2:22-23), could not heal (Mark 3:2) or be healed (Luke 13:14) on the Sabbath. Jesus regularly challenged the legalistic regulations constructed for the Sabbath and reminded the people that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). While the Lord’s Day (1st day of the week) is not the same as the Sabbath (7th day), we see in the New Covenant that the Lord’s Day is a blessing in that we get a glimpse of the promise of eternal rest through Jesus.

A Promise of Eternal Rest

In the Old Covenant, the Sabbath meant rest from your labors on the seventh day of the week. In the New Covenant, the Sabbath means eternal rest in Christ. In Hebrews 4, we are reminded of God’s rest on the seventh day (Heb 4:4 & Gen 2:2) and “the promise of entering that rest” (Heb 4:1 & Ps 95:11), and the encouragement for us to “strive to enter that rest” (Heb 4:11). This eternal rest with God can only be entered by faith in Christ (Heb 4:2) and it is available to you today (Heb 4:7). The promise is that you can cease your vain attempts to earn God’s favor and instead accept God’s gift of salvation and enjoy a personal relationship with Him. John MacArthur described this well, “For believers, God’s rest includes His peace, confidence of salvation, reliance on His strength and assurance of a future heavenly home.” Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). The Lord rested on the 7th day in order to provide a model week of work and rest and to provide an eternal rest for your soul. Jesus is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8) and we can enjoy a true Sabbath as we trust completely in Him and believe all His promises. Are you a follower of Christ? If not, today is the day of salvation.

[1] The seventh day of the Jewish week became known as the Sabbath because the Hebrew word for rest is Shabbat.