Catechism Series: The Third Commandment
Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15
October 8, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is from Exodus 20:8-11. Moses writes: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
The author of the book of Hebrews writes that Christians should not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24). But why? Why should Christians meet? Why is attending church services so important? A recent survey revealed that seventy percent of Americans identify as Christians but only thirty percent worship regularly. That’s millions of Christians who found there wasn’t a good answer to why they should attend church services. This is as sad as it is sinful. God demands we worship regularly, but it’s not because He trying to stroke His divine ego. It’s because He created the Sabbath Day for a reason, and that reason is you. The Sabbath day is a gift from God to you so that you may rest, refresh, and remember.
The word sabbath means leisure or rest, so that means part of regular worship is getting real physical rest. This is one reason God implemented the Sabbath Day. He says in Exodus that He rested on the seventh day after creating the previous six. Now did He really need to rest? Of course not, but by doing so He was setting that day aside as holy, as His day. The people worked six long, hard days, they needed a chance to physically recover, so the Lord commanded that no one, not even a slave or an animal, should work on the seventh day.
Times have changed greatly, and yet, it still takes hard work to make a living, jobs that are backbreaking and stressful, dirty and frustrating, unpleasant and unfulfilling. If you work and have a family, you’re on the run all day, every day. If you’re retired, there’s grandchildren’s activities, doctor’s appointments, all sorts of things to keep you busy. To not rest is to invite health problems, stress, insomnia, exhaustion, the list goes on. And this includes children as well! They need to rest, to take a break from sports, and extracurricular activities. Luther said, “What you lose in work on this [Sabbath] day, you’ll gain back in the other six.”
It isn’t just a day to rest, you can do that at home or on the lake, rather, it’s a day to rest in God’s presence. Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath is meant to give you break from the chaos in your life and this world and instead focus on God, the giver of rest. God knows you need rest, so He gave you a day to do so, and to step into His presence and receive physical and spiritual rest.
It’s easy to look at the Third Commandment and assume that attending church services is what keeps it holy; that’s not entirely true. You can attend service but still not be keeping the Sabbath holy. This happens when Christians are inattentive or bored during the service, or when they come just to make someone happy, or to fulfill an obligation. Have you heard someone say that they don’t get anything out of the service? Whose fault is that? You get out of the service what you put into it. At multiple points the Lord condemned the Israelites who were worshipping Him only with their mouths and not their hearts – they were only worshipping outwardly. Martin Luther said that part of keeping this commandment is to hold God’s Word sacred and to gladly learn and hear it. We don’t always do a very good job of that, do we?
God makes clear that when we fail to worship, we’re corrupting what He has declared to be holy. I know there are so many reasons for not coming to service: – it’s hard to get everyone going, it’s been a long week, there are chores to be done, there are kid’s sporting events, not to mention you’re tired from your own jobs and responsibilities. You’re sore and aching. It’s your one day for sleeping in. And sometimes you just don’t feel like going to church. Nevertheless, you have to look at the big picture. What I’m about to say is widely unpopular, that doesn’t change the fact it comes from God.
There is nothing more important than worship and the gifts God gives us here in His house.. There is nothing more demanding of your time, than finding rest and refreshment in God’s house. You can obtain nothing better than what God offers here every Sunday. While, it goes against prevailing attitudes, it’s okay to miss things other than worship. I know kids love sports, but their relationship with God is more important. Not to mention, that it’s hard on kids to be constantly running from one sport to another. The chores around the house can be done in the afternoon. The fish will still be biting at noon and the golf course will have plenty of tee times. There will still be time to gather with your friends at the campground. The best part of a summer day is in the afternoon. Sure, winter days are cold, but the church is warm, and you’re only outside for a little bit. Instead of sleeping in, take a nap or go to bed earlier on Saturday night. The Lord’s Day has been created for you. Make the Divine Service your excuse for missing everything else.
Does this mean that you’re sinning whenever you miss church services? Of course not. There are always exceptions, especially if you have to work. Our times of missing Sunday morning activities need to be exceptions and not the norms. And if you can’t make it here on Sunday, the Missouri Synod Lutheran churches in Wall Lake, Auburn, Carroll, Glidden, Schleswig, Ida Grove, and Storm Lake offer weekly or monthly Saturday evening services.
The main obstacle to keeping the Sabbath Day holy is the failure to understand the purpose of the church service. Many Christians think the Sunday service is about giving offerings, saying prayers, thanking God, and singing songs. The service is seen as what we’re doing for God. It’s true that these things take place, however, they’re secondary reasons for attending. Have you noticed the liturgies we use on Sunday mornings are called Divine Services? Does this tell you anything about who is doing the serving? It’s the Lord!
The Divine Service is first and foremost about God serving you with His gifts. We start with the invocation which tells you that God is here in a way that’s unlike anywhere else. The service starts with Confession and Absolution when you’re forgiven. It continues to “the Lord be with you”, the promise of God’s presence and forgiveness. In the readings and the sermon God speaks His living word into your ears. The Lord’s Supper, the supper provided by Jesus Himself (and of Himself), refreshes your soul, forgives your sins, equips you for another week of battling Satan and temptation, and spiritually refreshes you. Think about the Proper Preface where I describe the invisible scene at the altar rail: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name evermore praising you and saying.” What an incredible perspective! We’re worshipping and communing with the angels and all the saints who have gone before us. Finally, the Benediction is God’s holy blessing on you as you leave this holy assembly. It’s all about what God does first for us and then it’s about our responses of hymns, praises, and thanksgivings. And when you leave this holy assembly, you go forgiven and refreshed, fed and nourished by God who declares it’s not just His day which is holy, you’re holy as well. It’s no wonder that the author of Psalm 100:4 encourages us to “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!”
The Sabbath Day is for rest and refreshment, it’s also for remembering. In Exodus, the people are told to keep the day holy because God rested on the seventh day. In Deuteronomy, they are told to keep the day holy to remember how God led them out of slavery in Egypt. We remember God’s incredible creation, the gifts that come to us through this miraculous world. With the coming of Jesus, we remember how Christ led us out of slavery to sin and death. We remember how He purchased us from sin and the devil with His holy precious blood. We remember His sacrifice that gives us all the blessings of the Divine Service! These things never would’ve have happened had Jesus not been Lord of the Sabbath. He is the Lord of the Sabbath because He was the one who declared it to be holy. He’s the Lord of the Sabbath because He rested from all His saving work as He laid in the tomb. He is Lord of the Sabbath because He rose from the dead, on the day we worship, and will lead us into our eternal Sabbath rest.
Martin Luther taught that keeping the Sabbath holy wasn’t just about regular worship. It’s also hearing and learning God’s Word. It’s about meditating on it and making it part of our hearts and minds, and living pure lives with pure hearts. It’s seeing the beauty of what God has done in the Divine Service and responding with songs of thankfulness and praise. The Divine Service makes the church different from any other association of like-minded people. The church isn’t like the Legion or the Men’s Club or the breakfast club at Carley Mae’s that you can decide to attend if you feel like it. Instead, church is a gathering of God’s holy people in a holy place to receive His holy gifts, and when a Christian is missing it affects them and the whole congregation, because everyone brings something unique to the congregation. May we, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, always keep this Sabbath day holy.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen