“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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 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. 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.’” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (ESV)
The word “slave” has a particularly offensive connotation to modern Americans. Even though the Civil War was fought over 150 years ago, the source of the conflict and its ramifications still echo through our society and culture. It could be argued that most human beings alive today have ancestors who literally were slaves, owned slaves, or sold others into slavery at some point in history. We should find the idea of buying and selling and enslaving human beings – and judging another human’s value based solely on the color of his or her skin to be morally reprehensible, though racial and social stereotypes and discrimination still persist. The old Adam dies hard.
Yet all of humanity- regardless of our skin color or nationality- has been born into slavery. All of us are born dead in trespasses and sins, slaves to the essential depravity of man (or original sin) that humanity inherited from our first parents in the Fall. (Genesis 3:14-24,) The apostle Paul instructs us:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
Apart from the blood of Christ we are forever bound to our imperfection and mortality. But for the Cross- we would be doomed to wallow and die in our sins. But for our baptism, where God names us, claims us as His own, and sets us free of the slavery and the curse of sin, we would have no hope.
God gave us his Law because it’s good for us. All of the Commandments are for our benefit, and place good boundaries around human behavior. The Third Commandment, spelled out in the verse above from Deuteronomy- to remember the Sabbath- is first mentioned in Exodus 20:8.
Martin Luther (from the Small Catechism) has this to say about the command to observe the Sabbath:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean? 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.
We remember we were all born as slaves, set free by the grace of God, so that we are free to take the observation of Sabbath rest seriously. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for man, a gift given to us so that we would remember God- not because God needs us, but because we need God. Matthew 12:6-8.
We as the Body of Christ need to take the time to rest, but not just bodily rest. We need spiritual rest and rest for our souls. We are not bound by the Mosaic Covenant or the observance of the Jewish Saturday Sabbath, but God still commands us to hear His Word taught and preached (because it’s good for us, not because God really needs us warming up seats in church) and to take a break from our regular work.
While we live in this world of now, but not yet, we desperately need the rest and the comfort of the Word of God. We need to hear it, study it and immerse ourselves in it. We need to be reminded to stop, to take advantage of the freedom Jesus has won for us even as we are still living in bondage to our weak flesh. We are free in Christ, but we still live in various forms of servitudes- we must work, we must provide for our families, we must endure physical pain and all the trouble of living in this fallen and broken world. Yet the brokenness and pain and struggle is not all there is in life.
We are invited to take refuge in the solace of the Psalms, and the comfort of the Gospel. We are invited to celebrate in the declaration that for those of us in Christ, our bondage has been broken and death is no more. (Revelation 21:4)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV)
The gift of the Sabbath for Christians is the opportunity and the privilege to celebrate the fact that Jesus has set us free from slavery. We need to be reminded to stay connected to the One we belong to, to stay wired in to the kingdom that is now, but is also to come.