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. (Exo 20:9-11)
One of the longer commandments, the command to observe the Sabbath Day has been the cause celeb for more than one denomination. For example, the Seventh-Day Adventists make the observance of the Sabbath Day the center of their faith, even to distinguish themselves and be so named. They take their cue from the Law, the Old Testament Law, which they believe is still binding on Christians today. While that would be an interesting rabbit trail to pursue, I would like to take a different tack today.
The statement on the Sabbath Day is based on the historical fact of the latter half of the commandment, one which often gets ignored. God commands His people to observe this day of enforced rest because He took a day of rest after creating the Universe in six days. Why would you think this is important to God?
Did God need to take a day off? Was He in some way diminished after the Creation of the Universe? Was God tired? Did such creative power drain Him? The answer we should already know is “of course not.” God does not change. He is neither strengthened nor diminished by anything He does. He is immutable. So if God did not need a day off, why does He tell us to take a day off?
First, it could simply be to keep up from making work an idol. We are built to be satisfied by working and bringing jobs to completion. When I see a freshly mowed yard, and newly finished house, and project that I’ve been working on finally finished, I am pleased with myself. I tell myself, “I did that” with a smile on my face. We are built to be happy when we complete a task, or at least to feel better, relieved at having accomplished something. Telling us to take a day off forces us to shift our focus from pride in our own work and make room for God.
Second, it could be God’s way of saying that there is nothing so important that we do that we cannot take a day off. The logic goes that if God took a day to rest from all of His labors creating the Universe, then there is nothing so important about what we are doing that we cannot also take a day to rest from our own labors. Again, our focus is shifted from ourselves to God.
However, I think another option may be at work here, pardon the pun. While both of these aspects certainly have meaning and could preach, I might suggest another option. God calls us to rest on the seventh day. Why? Because He rested after creating the World. Why is this significant?
It seems to me that over time, we lose our sense of wonder. Jesus said:
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mar 10:15)
Children have the amazing ability to conceive of literally anything, especially the inconceivable, since they have not been taught the laws of reality. They imagine dragons and wizards, magic and princesses. Deus Ex Machina is not in their vocabulary, but certainly in their play. They don’t think about rules or what is supposed to happen, but more about the what if, and the imagination of possibility.
Christians are often accused of not accepting reality, but believing in a fairy-tale, because we believe in a God we cannot see, hear, taste or touch. We believe in a Creation of this Universe 6000 years ago from nothing, by a God we cannot see, and told in a book whose origins we barely understand. We believe in a Savior who we say is alive today but no one today can prove. We accept things by faith. Like Children, we believe in a world we cannot prove.
As we get older, have jobs to hold down, and bills to pay, our sense of wonder erodes in the face of reality. There is no fairy godmother who is going to pay the light bill for us. No Knight in shining armor who will whisk us off to live in his bright and shiny castle, or even help us with rent. As adults, that world was lost in our childhood in the face of work and the drudgery we have committed ourselves to in order to take care of ourselves and our responsibilities.
No I believe there is a third reason that God tells us to rest on the seventh day, and it is to regain our sense of wonder. But instead of an unguided play-time where we invent and imagine, it is a wonder based in the truth that God created the world around us. This invisible, unseen and untouched God created the natural world. This same God loves us and calls us according to His purposes. This God’s Son died for us and gently leads us. We are called to observe this day of rest to restore our focus, or sense of priority, our sense of wonder at God.
I get this every time I look into the sky, especially on a beautiful sunset evening. I am struck with a sense of awe. God did this. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the interplay between air pressure, water vapor, light and dark, that complex ballet of science that takes place every time I look up, but maybe it is the complexity of it, the incomprehensible mechanism of nature itself that draws me to the throne of grace. My God made that. That the God who made all of this calls me His child.
Dealing with the futility I am faced with every day, despite the fact that I gain some pleasure from completing tasks, I need that. I need that awe that is a reminder of God’s presence. It opens my heart to hope and to possibility. Maybe even to wonder.
God commands us to take the seventh day to rest, not because He needed to, but that we needed to be reminded of His work. We need to pause and acknowledge the wonder of what He has made. We need to remember that there is something beyond paycheck to paycheck, beyond the day-to-day, that one day will call us home.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Php 1:21)