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The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day By Keeping It Holy

April 06, 2018

The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day By Keeping It Holy

The 10 Commandments have been an important part of the Christian church since Moses came down the mountain with the stone tablets carved by God. Since that day, we have studied them, memorized them, used them as a guide for the faith of the church. In this series on the 10 Commandments, we will examine each one and reflect on its application to our lives.

The Third Commandment

The third commandment reads, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” It’s one of the few commandments with explanation, too.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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. Exodus 20:9-11

In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to rest from all work on the Sabbath day. From sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night, they were to do no work. The regulations were so severe, that people who violated the sabbath rest were put to death!

The Sabbath rest for God’s people points to the rest that God took after he had created the world. When God created the world, he made everything in six days, but he rested on the seventh. The Sabbath command, then, rests on the rhythms of creation. It’s built into the very fabric of the world.

Sabbath Years

Sabbath was more than just a day of the week. Leviticus 25 describes how God created regulations for other kinds of sabbath rest. The first is a sabbath year, which God’s people would observe every seven years. In this year, they allow the land to rest from agriculture. There was no sowing, tending, or harvesting in the seventh year. The people would only eat the food that grew from the untended lands.

After seven sabbath years, they celebrated a jubilee year. If property had been sold, it would revert back to the original owner. Debts were cancelled, and slaves were set free. It was a public reset of the economic system.

Sabbath rest, in these instances, was about trust in God’s ability to provide. God said,

“You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.” Leviticus 25:20-22

Sabbath meant resting in God’s promises rather than trusting in their own work to provide. Israel didn’t get food and security by working hard or by being wise. God protected them from their enemies and provided for their needs. Sabbath rest was trust in God rather than trust in self.  

The Sabbath and Christians

Since Jesus rose from the dead, Christians have approached the Sabbath differently than the Hebrews. Like all of the Old Testament regulations, the Sabbath was fulfilled through Jesus Christ. He is our Sabbath rest.

Jesus perfectly fulfilled Israel’s Sabbath rest with his Sabbath rest in the tomb. It is no accident that Jesus was crucified on Friday and lay in the tomb on Saturday, the Sabbath. As Genesis 2 reads, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Jesus’ rest in the tomb is the ultimate rest in the Father’s promise to raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus, the very Son of God, was dead. He could do nothing to help himself. But the Father raised him up on the third day, fulfilling the promise that he made.

The author of the Hebrews describes Jesus when he says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4).

Rest from Our Works

Jesus’ death and resurrection means that we are saved by his grace and not by our works. Resting in God’s promises means that we do not need to worry about our own works to give us security or to provide for us. Jesus does that through his obedient death and through his glorious resurrection.

When Christians remember the Sabbath, we remember how God gives us rest from our works in Christ. There is one time when this very Sabbath rest comes to his people, when we gather in worship to receive God’s grace. Jesus comes to us as the Word of God. When we hear the scriptures read or we hear the proclamation of the gospel, Jesus gives us himself as our Sabbath rest.

That is why Christians typically apply this commandment to Sunday morning worship. We rest in God when we hear his word. We don’t rest from work on Saturdays, like ancient Israel did, instead we rest from trust in our works by receiving God’s promise.

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