All right: here we are, three commandments into the 10 Commandments that God gave to his people from Mt. Sinai.
The whole thing started with God saying, “I love you. I have proven that by saving you from slavery. Now I want you to love me in return.”
But of course this led to an important question: how are people on earth supposed to love the God who is in Heaven, the God who is infinite, eternal, all-knowing, perfectly self-existent? It is sort of like asking, “What gift can you get for the person who already has everything?”
So God went on to say, “Well, I really cannot tell you everything love is in a positive sense, because true love is actually unlimited and unconditional, like me.
“But I can tell you what love is not. Love is not idolatry. And love is not hypocrisy. Idolatry is false worship, hypocrisy is false living, and both of those are the opposite of love.”
So what we have discovered so far is that the first three commandments are all about how to love God. The first one describes the road our Heavenly Father wants us to travel: toward a place where we shall have no other gods before him. The second and third commandments are like guardrails to the left and right of that road: avoid false worship, and avoid false living. Those guardrails are designed to protect us from running off the road.
Which means that now we can actually define love in a positive sense — at least, one aspect of what love means. When we take these first three commandments as a whole, we realize that the quality God is describing here is loyalty.
Love means loyalty.
When God says, “I want you to love me the way I love you,” he is not really talking about warm gooey deep passionate feelings, he is talking about covenantal commitment to the relationship, no matter how you feel. We are his only people; in return, he wants to be our only God. That is what God means by love. That is covenant loyalty.
So, to summarize what we have learned so far through the 10 Commandments: we are on a journey together. The road we are to follow has been clearly defined: this is the road of love for God, this is the road of covenant loyalty. We cannot know everything that “covenant loyalty” is, because the road goes on and on ahead of us into the distance, a road we have not yet fully travelled. But we do know now where the road is not: it is not the disloyalty of false worship or the disloyalty of false living.
But as we closed last week, it occurred to us to wonder: what is our destination? Covenant loyalty — Love — is the road that will get us there. But: where is “there”?
Well, during the two months since the nation of Israel passed through the Red Sea and began this journey through the wilderness, God has made it clear that this is actually a journey that will end in healing for them — and for us, for all his people in every generation. God has made it clear that he is not content to just save his people from physical slavery; he wants to save us from spiritual slavery, the self-imposed slavery that comes from the unresolved trauma of shame and fear and self-love that our first parents handed down to us.
God has promised that, at the end of our journey together down the road of covenant loyalty, we will come finally to a place of perfect healing.
But now, here is our next question: what does perfect healing look like? We were all born traumatised by self-love, shame and fear. That is all we know. We have never experienced perfect love, perfect covenant loyalty. We do not know what this destination looks like. So how will we know when we have arrived?
Hear now the next Word of the Lord:
 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
Okay. We have just been told to do something positive. We have been told to remember. Remember what? The Sabbath Day. How are we to do this remembering? By keeping it holy.
All right. But what do these words mean?
What does remember mean?
Well, over the last three weeks our fundamental application of the first three commandments was: remember. Whenever we are overwhelmed by the shame and fear of realizing we have no hope of keeping these commandments, what should we do? Panic? Try to hide? Try to work harder? No: remember.
Remember that we are bound in covenant to the Covenant-Keeping God. No matter how bad we are at keeping the covenant, remember that our Heavenly Father is strong enough to keep the covenant for both of us.
And, over the last three weeks, we have learned that the more we focus on remembering this great truth, the more we will find ourselves delivered from shame and fear and self-love.
So the act of remembering the covenant is actually the medicine that helps heal us in real life. As we actively practice remembering the covenant, we will be healed.
That is what remember means: it means remember to take your medicine.
Except that here we are not told to remember the covenant, we are told to remember the Sabbath day.
So, okay, next question: what does the Sabbath mean?
Well, this word ”Sabbath” is the English pronounciation of the Hebrew word ”shabbat”. Shabbat means “stop”. The Sabbath day is the Stopping day.
What is the Stopping day?
Well, back in Chapter 16, the Stopping day was introduced to us as the day when the people must stop going out to gather the bread from heaven, the miraculous manna that God was giving them. Six days a week, God provided bread. But on the sixth day he provided a double portion. That way the people could save it up and have something to eat on the seventh day without having to work to gather it.
By doing this, God was trying to help his people realize that they are no longer slaves who have to work 24-7 just to stay alive. Under his rule as their loving Heavenly Father, now they get to rest one day out of seven. So:
That is what the Sabbath means: Sabbath=Stopping; Sabbath=rest from work; Sabbath=freedom from slavery. Somehow, as we actively practice remembering the Sabbath day, we will be healed.
Okay. But now we have to ask: what does it mean to remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy? What does holy mean?
Well, the word holy means…perfection. Which means that holiness — just like love — is actually unlimited and unconditional. We will never fully understand what holiness is in a positive sense.
But we can understand what holiness is not. We discovered this in Chapter 19 when God told the people to put boundaries around Mt. Sinai and then stay away from it. The mountain is holy and cannot be touched; everything not mountain is not holy, and can be touched.
And that is what the word holy means on a human level: it means “set-apartness”. So “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” means putting boundaries around it. So:
A literal translation of this verse could go like this: Remember the Stopping day by putting boundaries around it.
Which leads us quite naturally to a new question: how exactly are we supposed to set boundaries around a day?
“Like this,” the Lord says:  “Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath — a stopping — to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.”
So here we find that God is setting up two more guardrails for us, brackets around the concept of holiness so that we can at least know what holiness is not: on the one side we are commanded to work for six days. On the other side we are commanded to stop working for one day.
That is how we are to keep the Sabbath day holy: by minding these two guardrails. If we keep working on the seventh day, we break this commandment. But if we do not work during the other six days, we also break this commandment.
So…that is interesting, isn’t it?
If you have been a Christian for a while, you are used to hearing this commandment preached as: “Stop working on Sunday. If you work on the seventh day, you are violating God’s Sabbath!” Which is quite correct.
But that is only half the commandment! The other half says: “You must work. If you do not work on the other six days of the week, you are also violating God’s Sabbath!”
Now: why do we traditionally emphasise only half of this commandment?
Well — to be fair — that is the emphasis of this commandment. The Sabbath day is, quite literally, the Stopping day. So the emphasis really is on stopping. Probably because, for most people, work is something we do without having to be told to do it.
But last week we talked about how easy it is for us to minimise God’s commandments, making them smaller and less demanding, easier for us to keep. Could that also be happening with this fourth commandment?
For instance, it is easy for a well-paid, well-fed individual to stop working on the Sabbath day, because they really do not have to worry about whether they will go hungry. Such a person loves to focus on the “stopping” aspect of this commandment, because that is easy for them. They have the power and the ability to stop work without going hungry.
But it might be very difficult for such a person to realize that their tendency to take many weeks of holiday every year could also be a violation of this commandment. It is easy for a rich man to judge a poor man who has to work like a slave, 24-7, just to keep his family alive — while totally overlooking the fact that he uses his own wealth to make sure he works less than six days a week.
And this is why God does not just say, “On the seventh day you shall not do any work,” he also goes on to say:
“Neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”
See: it is not enough for just certain individuals — who can afford it — to stop work. Everyone is to stop — even those who cannot afford it. Even animals! Even foreigners, even refugees who are not actually part of the covenant nation.
But how can those who are too poor to stop working stop working without going hungry? They will only be able to stop if someone else helps feed them during that day off.
Now, who can afford to feed the poor who can barely afford to feed themselves? Only those who are already so rich that they find it no problem to take a day off every week. Or two days off. Or three.
So when the rich man stands in judgement upon the poor man who cannot afford to stop work on the Sabbath, that rich man is actually judging his own selfishness, because the poor man would not have to violate the Sabbath if the rich man helped him instead of judging him.
What God is describing here, in this fourth commandment, is the complete transformation of society. What God wants Israel to do is learn how to live as a community, a nation where everyone has the chance to work six days a week, and everyone has a chance to stop working every seventh day.
Basically, God wants his people to become like him. While they are in the wilderness, he is giving them a double portion of bread every sixth day, so that no one will have to work on the seventh. By doing this, God is providing an example for his people, so that after they arrive in their homeland, and he stops providing bread from heaven, those who have more will help provide a double portion every sixth day to those who have less, so that no one will have to work on the seventh day.
And just in case we miss this point that God wants his people to become like him in this, he goes on to say:
 “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
In God’s work of creation, he did not work six days to create life, and then just sit back on the seventh day to let all that life survive the best it could on its own. No! During those six days God poured out an abundance of his life upon the earth, such an abundance that, at the end of the sixth day, he was able to say, “It is very good, it is finished.” God completed his work of creation so perfectly that, when he stopped to rest on the seventh day, that perfected system continued to produce new life even while he rested.
The point of God “resting” on the seventh day is not to say that God was tired and needed a break. Not at all. The point is that God’s work was finished. There was nothing left for him to do except sit back and enjoy perfect communion with all the life he had just created.
And God is saying here that he wants his people to imitate him, to become like him in this way: work hard for six days so that all creation will have a chance to rest on the seventh.
So, that was God’s fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Actively remember the Stopping day by putting boundaries around it.
Then we asked: how are we supposed to put boundaries around this special day?
God answered by installing these two guardrails, these two boundaries: work six days every week so that every seventh day we will be able to stop work, and look around, and say, “Ah! That is very good! Our work is finished. Now no person, no creature, no refugee on earth will have to go hungry, but we will all together get a chance to rest!”
So now we have to ask ourselves: how well are we doing? Are we keeping this commandment? Have we transformed our society into a place where everyone and everything under our care gets a chance to rest every seventh day?
We have not.
Oh, sure, more and more of us here in KL are able to take one day, two days — three days? — off every week. But how many people in our city today work every single day of the week — with one day off a month, if they are lucky? We cannot claim, in any way, that we have managed to transform our society into a society in which everyone gets to rest every seventh day.
Which means that, even if we stop work every single Sunday of our lives, we are still failing to keep this commandment. As the prophet Isaiah has said: We have not brought salvation to the earth.
Now: what are we supposed to do with our failure to keep this fourth commandment?
Well, before we talk about what we are supposed to do with our failure, let’s take a moment and talk about what we naturally do instead: we try to minimise this commandment in order to make it look like we are not failing.
And we do this in two ways: on the one side, we minimise the commandment to just, “Stop work on the Sabbath.” We ignore the other guardrail that talks about our responsibility to make sure everyone can stop. Or, on the other side, we minimise the commandment to, “We have to work harder to transform society!” We ignore the other guardrail that says, “Stop work on the Sabbath. Rest! Don’t stress!”
And both of those minimising approaches have been condemned by God.
Let me explain why:
When — on the one hand — we minimise the commandment to just, “Stop work on the Sabbath,” what inevitably happens is that we start cutting the commandment up into smaller and smaller pieces, trying to define what exactly is “work” and what is not — and then we start judging one another based on our own definitions.
Now the good news is that we Christians are not the first to indulge in such foolish and stupid arguments: the Jewish people during Jesus’ time got caught up in the same obsessive nonsense.
The bad news is that Jesus actually cursed those who indulge in such legalistic nonsense.
For instance, at one point in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “God’s curse be upon you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are super careful to give a tenth of even your spices, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, it is possible for someone to keep every single tiny detail of God’s law, and yet completely violate the spirit of the law, which is all about the transformation of society through justice, mercy and faithfulness.
And another time, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “God’s curse be upon you, experts in the law, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”
Like requiring the poor to stop work every Sabbath…without making sure they get a double portion every sixth day. And isn’t making sure everyone is gets to rest the spirit of the fourth commandment?
At another point, in the Gospel of Mark, when the religious teachers get upset because Jesus’ disciples pick some grain for a snack on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “Guys! Don’t you understand? The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath!”
Basically: if we all spend every Sabbath obssessing over the tiniest details of what is work and what is not work, we are not exactly resting, are we! And isn’t resting the spirit of the fourth commandment?
And then, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath, and the Jewish leaders get upset, Jesus says, “Hey, it’s okay. My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
In other words: since God continues to sustain life even on the Sabbath, it is only right for God’s people to continue to sustain life even on the Sabbath. After all, isn’t becoming like God the spirit of the fourth commandment?
So those who minimise the commandment to just “Stop work on the Sabbath” have been cursed by Jesus himself.
And those who minimise the commandment to just, “We have to work harder to transform society!” are also under a curse.
But why? Isn’t transforming society what we are supposed to be doing?
Well, in the Book of Deuteronomy — the second book after Exodus — Moses does say this: “There need be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you he will richly bless you.” Basically, Moses says, if you all become as generous to others as God has been to you, there will no longer be any poor. And that is a true statement.
But then, a few verses later, Moses says this: “There will always be poor people in the land.” And Jesus agrees. He actually repeats Moses’ words in the New Testament: “The poor you will always have with you.” So that is also a true statement.
So there need be no poor among us, but at the same time there will always be poor people in the land. Why? Because we — God’s people — consistently fail to be as generous to others as God has been to us.
But once we learn this, what is our immediate temptation? We want to double down. We have already worked hard to transform society, and it has not worked. So the solution must be working even harder, right?
That is the mistake the disciples made, the mistake Jesus was rebuking them for when he repeated Moses’ words.
A woman had just washed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. And the disciples objected: “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
So Jesus rebukes them by saying, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
In other words: Jesus’ disciples were focused on the wrong guardrail. Yes, they could have sold that perfume and helped a few poor people. But then the money would have been spent, those poor people would eventually grow old and die, and society would go on untransformed.
But the woman in that episode had the proper focus: she understood that there is only one thing that has the power to actually transform people and society from the inside-out, and that one thing is the death of God’s Messiah, the burial of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. So she chose to use that perfume to highlight Jesus’ death instead, trusting that one day her investment would result in a world where there will be no more poor.
When we minimise this commandment to just “We have to work harder to transform society!” we are still guilty of pretending that we have the power to keep this commandment. Which is crazy! We don’t even have the power to transform ourselves, so how arrogant are we to think that we can transform society? When we do this we are still actually guilty of trying to make the law small and manageable — and then we start judging one another based on our own definitions of what kind of generosity will transform society in the right way.
Both of these minimising approaches are condemned. On the one hand, if we minimise this commandment to “stop working!” then we are violating the spirit of this commandment, and we are cursed by Jesus. On the other hand, if we minimise this commandment to “work harder!” then we are violating the spirit of this commandment, and we are cursed by Jesus.
So what are we supposed to do with our failure instead of trying to minimise it?
Well, the first thing scripture tells us to do — whenever we fail — is confess. Admit it!
So let’s do that together right now, brothers and sisters. Let’s just admit to our Father and to one another that we cannot avoid crashing into both of these guardrails: on the one side, we fail to rest ourselves. Even when we stop work for a day, we continue to worry about our food, our future, everything. On the other side, we fail to provide rest for others. Even when we work six days a week, and give generously to the poor, our society is not transformed.
…okay. Now we have confessed our sin. What’s next?
Well, the second thing scripture tells us to do, after we have confessed, is repent. Stop breaking the commandment, stop smashing through the guardrails, and start keeping it holy.
So let’s go back and look, once again, at what the commandment requires of us. What does it say?
Remember the Sabbath day.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Remember to work for six days out of every week. Remember to rest on the seventh.
And remember — above all! — remember that this commandment is actually pointing forward to the work of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can actually keep this commandment. He is the only one who can actually finish the work that he began in creation. He is the only one who can actually provide rest for every human being and every creature under heaven.
In other words: Jesus is the only one who can actually provide a place of perfect healing for his creation.
We started this sermon by wondering where this road of covenant loyalty is leading us.
The answer was: healing. Our ultimate destination is a place of perfect healing.
But then we wondered what that place looks like, and how we will know when we have arrived.
This fourth commandment has given us the answer: the place of perfect healing looks like rest for all creation.
This fourth commandment has given us God’s vision for a transformed creation where everyone has a chance to work productively for six days, and everyone has a chance to stop work every seventh day. We have discovered that we cannot provide this for ourselves or anybody else. But Jesus can. Jesus has. Jesus will.
Our ultimate destination is God’s transformed society, God’s perfected kingdom.
But we are not there yet, are we! We are on the road, but we are still passing through a world dominated by shame and fear and self-love. We still suffer from the unresolved trauma that we inherited from our first parents. So practically speaking, now: how are we supposed to remember the Sabbath day without smashing into the guardrails?
Well, let’s start by accepting that we are going to bounce off the guardrails. That is why they are there: to keep us on the road. Just bumping up against them does not mean we are automatically condemned. We are going to work sometimes when we should not; we are going to be lazy sometimes when really we should not. But because we are bound in covenant with the Covenant-Keeping God, we have the comfort of knowing that as long as we are between the guardrails we are still on the right road. And his guardrails are certainly strong enough to keep us on the right road. We may arrive badly scraped up on both sides, but we will arrive at this place of perfect healing, perfect rest!
And that is very Good News for us.
But are there ways we can learn to not scrape up against the guardrails quite so often?
Yes. As we have noticed over the last four commandments, remembering is key. For three weeks we have been commanded to remember the reality of God’s covenant loyalty, which is the road that leads us to our destination. This week we have been commanded to remember the reality of the Sabbath day, which is our destination.
And scripture tells us that, as we actively practice remembering these realities, and reminding one another of these realities, we will find ourselves beginning to heal from our shame and fear and self-love. And as we begin to heal, we will find that we learn to steer a little better. We will not be quite so prone to the legalism of religion on the one side — thinking we can keep the commandment by minding all the details. We will also not be quite so prone to the legalism of liberalism on the other side — thinking we can transform the world through our own efforts.
So we do have this Good News also: we will not always be scraping ourselves. As we diligently focus more and more on the destination we long for — instead of on the guardrails we fear — we will begin to experience what real rest in Jesus Christ looks like in everyday life.
But still we have some even more practical questions ask, don’t we?
For instance, some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but I have to work on Sundays, my boss makes me. Am I sinning by working on the seventh day?”
Well, if that is your situation, then this commandment does challenge you to examine your heart carefully. Ask yourself: “Do I really have to work? Is my continued work an act of trust in God, or mistrust? Could I have the courage and the ability to respectfully decline my boss’s request and perhaps miss out on promotions, advancement? Could I have the courage to even give up my job if necessary?”
I cannot answer those questions for you. But neither can you, not on your own. Scripture would encourage you to seek counsel from elders and older, wiser Christians as you contemplate these things.
But I do want to acknowledge this: it could be that you really do have to work. I know that, when you are young and just starting off in your career, you are often more like a slave than a free person.
And that is okay!
This is what the apostle Paul had to say about it: “Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so.”
Twenty years ago, when I was a young slave with a young wife and very young children, there came a point when I could not attend worship for two years, because I was a long-haul lorry-driver. My work week began on Wednesday mornings, and I only got home on Sunday nights, five days later.
That was painful for me. My conscience felt torn between “remember the Sabbath day” and “anyone who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever”. Both of those laws are in scripture — how could I obey both at once? I did not know. So I took Paul’s advice: I did not let it trouble me. I did my best to live as a believer in that situation the Lord had assigned to me.
But when the opportunity came for me to gain my freedom, I took it! After two years I changed to another company that paid me about 40% less to start, but gave me every Sunday off with my family. We were poor! Our bank account was always almost empty, no savings. But we finally had the freedom to worship together again…so we were actually rich.
That is what scripture says you should do if you find yourself working on Sundays: first, examine yourself. If you are working out of fear and lack of faith that God can provide for you, repent, and stop. But if you really are a slave, then don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so. If you can give up your job, do so.
But now some of us on the other side are thinking, “I am in a position now where I do not have to work on Sundays. I don’t even have to work on Saturdays! Am I sinning by not working six days a week?”
Well, this commandment also challenges us to examine our hearts carefully. We should ask ourselves, “Could I work more? Are there people under my care who cannot rest because I am not generous enough with my money or my time?”
I have to admit, when I look at my own life, the answer to those questions is most likely yes. I could probably be more generous.
And again, this is what the apostle Paul has to say about those of us who can afford to rest on the seventh day, this is what he tells me as a pastor to say to you: “Command those who are rich to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
So there it is: we who rich enough to rest one day out of seven are commanded to be generous.
And truly, when I look around at the hunger and suffering of people in our city, I do think to myself, “I have got to do more to change this!”
— but then I remember that generosity based on shame and fear is actually generosity focused on myself. For those of us who have managed to gain some freedom from slavery, our temptation is to try to take on too much responsibility for transforming the world…which is really just another way of saying that we like to seize power for ourselves while pretending that our real motivation is to help others.
So what should we do? How can we challenge ourselves to be more generous while also avoiding the selfish sin of over-generosity?
Well, first, we need to understand our biblical circle of responsibility. We do not rule the whole world, so we are not responsible to give the whole world rest — that is Jesus’ rule, that is Jesus’ job. But who have we been given responsibility over? Our families first, then our brothers and sisters in the church, then friends within our reach, then enemies within our reach. And some among us will have a larger reach than others. A higher position in church or society means a greater reach which does mean greater responsibility.
Second, once we understand the limits of our responsibility, this is what we should do: make sure that those who are under our care get to rest from work on the seventh day, attend worship on the Sabbath day, and get a chance to perform works of mercy during their days of rest.
Those are the three specific ways Jesus commands his people to remember the Sabbath day: by resting from ordinary work, by attending worship, and by serving those who are in need. And it is the added responsibility of those in authority to make sure those under their care have the ability and the opportunity to do these three things.
In other words, brothers and sisters: just like the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, the best way we can be generous to others is by pointing everyone to the death of Jesus Christ.
If we are poor, that means making every effort to rest and worship and serve every Sabbath day — so that the nations can see us do it and wonder at our faith in our Father’s covenant faithfulness.
If we are rich, that means making every effort to make sure everyone under our care gets the chance to rest and worship and serve every Sabbath day — so that the nations can see us do it and wonder at our generous response to our Father’s covenant generosity.
Friends, our world is going to be transformed. It will happen all at once — in the twinkling of an eye, as Paul says — on the day our Lord Jesus returns, and that day is nearer now than when we first believed.
More than this: that transformation will happen completely without our help — and that is very Good News for us!
But even now, even today, while we wait, we are called to imitate our Father’s rhythm of rest as best we can. All the other nations of the world live in the wilderness to our left and right. But we live between the guardrails; we live on the road paved with covenant loyalty. So what kind of people ought we to be? We ought to live holy and goldy lives as we look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his covenant promise we are looking forward to a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells, where we will at last find our place of perfect healing.
So let’s do that.