7th Sunday After Pentecost July 31, 2011


Why the Sabbath?

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Scripture Readings

Colossians 2:11-23
Mark 2:23-28


16, 10, 284, 46

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

God gave His law to Moses on Mount Sinai as recorded for us in Exodus chapter 20. Part of that Law is God’s summary of right and wrong—the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are also recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 5—a second giving of the Law as Moses prepared to die and turned the leadership over to Joshua. Today’s text is taken from the second giving of the Law and speaks concerning the third commandment.

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 the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

In Christ Jesus, our true and complete Rest, dear fellow redeemed:

I would expect that almost all of you, if not all of you, did some work yesterday—if not in your place of employment, perhaps around your home. If that is true, it would appear at first look that you broke the Sabbath Day. Yesterday, Saturday, is the seventh day and God commanded that on that seventh day no work should be done.

Quite a number of years ago when I was still living in Florida, I mowed my lawn on a Sunday. Knowing that I was a pastor, a neighbor questioned why I was mowing my lawn on the Sabbath day. He took what he knew about the Old Testament Sabbath Day and applied it to Sunday—something which is not at all uncommon.

There is actually a fair amount of misunderstanding regarding the Sabbath Day, what it means, and how this third commandment still applies to us today. On the one hand, there are those who say that by not worshiping together yesterday and by doing work yesterday, we broke the third commandment. On the other hand, there are those who say that everything God said about Saturday in the Old Testament now applies to Sunday. Neither one of these understandings is true and scriptural. There is another error in the opposite direction which concludes, “The third commandment was just for the Old Testament and doesn’t really have much relevance today.” That’s simply not true because there is a great deal of this third commandment that absolutely applies to us yet today.

Today we consider the question: WHY THE SABBATH? We go to the words of the Law given to us in Deuteronomy and we find that I. The essence of the Sabbath day is the same then and now, II. The motivation is the same then and now, and III. The observation is fulfilled by Christ then and now.


First of all, it may be helpful to refresh our memories as far as the kinds of law that God gave on Mount Sinai. He gave the law in three distinct areas: 1) Ceremonial Law—the instructions and regulations concerning the forms of worship, the sacrifices, the festivals, and so forth; 2) Civil Law—the law of every day life, good order in a community, in other words, the kinds of laws that our city, state, and national governments make today; and 3) Moral Law—the very basics of right and wrong as summarized in the 10 Commandments.

The Old Testament Civil Law is replaced by our earthly governments. The Ceremonial Law is fulfilled in Christ as we heard in our Scripture reading (Colossians 2:11-23). Because they are fulfilled by Christ those ceremonial aspects no longer need to be kept in the New Testament—something we’ll look at more closely in a few moments.

The Moral Law—that very basic right and wrong—never changes. So the essence of the Ten Commandments, whether it be the first commandment, or the tenth, or anything in between including the third commandment, never changes. That moral characteristic of the Law remains the same year after year, generation after generation.

This is where so many people of our time go astray. They begin to try to change the Ten Commandments into something that supposedly fits the modern day. They find the Ten Commandments and their moral limitations too constricting. But God’s Word is still God’s Word. His Law is still His Law. So it becomes very important that we understand what part of the third commandment is ceremonial and fulfilled in Christ and what part is moral and still very applicable to us today and also very meaningful and important for us to observe and follow.

God describes the Sabbath day in this way: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.” [vv.13-14] The basis for this seventh day—Saturday—of no work was that when God created the world He brought His creation-activity to an end on the seventh day. On that day His creative work came to a rest. The penalty in the Old Testament for working on the Sabbath day was death (cf. Numbers 15:32ff).

The essence of the Sabbath Day was to stop day-to-day activities—to rest. There is a physical component to the Sabbath Day—the need for physical rest. As we’ll hear and understand there’s a much greater spiritual component as well, but the need to take a “time out” in this sinful world and rest—to take a break from labor and rejuvenate your body for good health and well being is part of this Sabbath rest. In the Old Testament God commanded this rest to take place specifically on the seventh day. Rest specifically on Saturday is no longer directed in the New Testament, but the essence of the law the same, namely, take time for physical rest.

The time for physical rest was part of the Ceremonial Law picturing and pointing ahead to Jesus, our true Rest. But the bigger picture was God’s command to take that physical rest—to take a break from all the day-to-day chaos—in order to spend that time focused upon and dedicated to the worship of the one true God and His coming Messiah.

The day of rest was highlighted by additional sacrifices that were to be carried out on the Sabbath Day. The focal point of everybody’s day was to take the time away to see what God said about the coming Savior, to look back at what He had done for them, and to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Even though the Old Testament Sabbath Day had the strict parameters of no work and even though death was the punishment for doing work on the Sabbath, the essence of it was never the “no work” by itself. If the essence of the Sabbath were a complete absence of work there would be a problem because the priests were very busy working on the Sabbath Day. They were sacrificing extra animals in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. So it wasn’t just the absence of work across the board that made the Sabbath Day. It was the essence of that day of rest and that focal point on the coming Savior and the God of salvation.

In the Gospel reading (Mark 2:23-28) heard Jesus speak of the incident when David ate the tabernacle showbread which the priest Abiathar had given to him. David was on the run fleeing from King Saul, fleeing for his life. By rights David had no business eating the showbread—that was reserved for the priests. David wasn’t a priest. He wasn’t a Levite. He had no right to that bread, but he was the anointed king of Israel. He hadn’t begun reigning yet (King Saul was still the active king), but David had been anointed by Samuel. He was the chosen one of God fleeing for his life and Abiathar, the priest, recognizing that David and his men would die without sustenance for their bodies, gave them the bread so that the chosen one of God could go forward, live, continue fleeing from King Saul, and one day become king. The greater law of love toward God’s anointed king superseded the rigid letter of the Ceremonial Law concerning the showbread.

Therefore, we can understand that the essence of the Sabbath Day had a deeper meaning and significance than just lack of work and just the outward festivals. This is where the Pharisees went wrong (cf. Gospel reading). They created their Sabbath Day based on those external things. They created a whole list of what one could and could not do. The disciples got in trouble because they hand-picked some grain along the pathway. Picking handfuls of grain along a path while walking was something that God’s Law actually permitted (cf. Deuteronomy 23:24-25). However, the Pharisees in their law determined that hand-picking grain and working the chaff out of it was the same as harvesting and threshing. Thus, the disciples while doing what God allowed were breaking the Pharisee’s Sabbath. The Pharisees were so caught up in the externals that they lost the essence. The essence of the true Sabbath Day was the same in the Old Testament as it is now—physical rest and time set aside to focus primarily upon our spiritual needs while spending that time in worship and study of God’s Word.


The motivation was also the same then and now. What is it that brought you to worship today? It wasn’t because you didn’t have other things to do. You didn’t come here because you were planning to see five miracles and an additional healing. You didn’t come here because of the “give-away” at the door or the drawing and the raffle at the end of the service. You didn’t come here because it’s the “in-thing” to do and everybody’s doing it. You came here because of your Savior. You came here to worship your Lord and your God, to give Him praise and honor and glory for all that He is and all that He has done. You came here to hear His Word, to be strengthened in your faith, to be assured again of the forgiveness of sins, and to have that confidence for now and for eternity that you are in your Father’s keeping. You came for the same reasons that the faithful Israelites sacrificed, did no work, and observed the Sabbath Day.

God said, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.[v.15] Why all of this business of the Sabbath Day? Why do we set aside this day? Remember what your Lord has done. There is the motivation. This is not only the motivation for the Sabbath Day, but the motivation for keeping God’s entire Law. When God gave His Law He began with identifying Himself as the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. Remembering who God is and what He had one for the people was the motivation for keeping the Law. It is a motivation that understands who God is—the Creator of heaven and earth, but at the same time knowing that He is also the One who promised and then sent Jesus to accomplish salvation.

We observe the Sabbath Day essence—we worship Him and go to His Word—because of who He is and what He has done. It’s not for show, if it is it is an empty, worthless practice. It’s not to look religious—if it is, we’re just like a Pharisee. We come, we gather, we “do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as [we] see the Day approaching(Hebrews 10:25). We do these things because we need it. Our souls need the rest! Our souls need the recharging! Our souls need to be assured that they’re forgiven that the guilt is gone! Our souls need the strengthening to stand against the Devil, the world, and our flesh who are trying to bring us to destruction. The motivation to observe the Sabbath isn’t because of some law that says, “thou shalt go to church because if you’re not there three out of four Sundays you’re going to be in trouble.” The Law—God’s will—is given for our blessing and benefit because we need what God offers, because we want to learn and understand more about that God and what He has done.

Now certainly in the unfaithful days of Israel there were plenty of times where the Children of Israel were just going through the motions. At that point their motivation was to try to appease some God by what they would do, but the genuine motivation that answers the question, “Why the Sabbath?”, is to hear God’s Word, to lift up one another, to encourage one another “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord(Colossians 3:16), to grow in faith and be strengthened in that faith.


The observation of the Sabbath Day then and now centers in and is fulfilled by Christ. The Sabbath Day rest was an ongoing weekly reminder of the true rest that Jesus would bring. Think of the most exhausting day you’ve ever had. You worked hard all day, perhaps you didn’t sleep well the night before for one reason or another, and at the end of the day you are just dragging. Your body hurts because it’s so tired. You just need sleep! Oh, how wonderful that shower feels. You lie down in bed and don’t even remember sinking into the comfort of it because you are fast asleep; and what sweet rest it is!

That’s what it is like for your soul to drink deeply from the Gospel. Your soul is worn out. Your soul can become exhausted trying to appease God. Your soul is going to run itself ragged trying to find peace and meaning in life apart from God and His Word. Your soul will be run down and beaten by its enemies. You are going to come worn out, tired, aching, and limping to the Savior on the cross. There you hear the wonderful news: Your sins are forgiven, be at peace. “Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden—worn down by every burden, every imaginable problem—and I will give you rest,” says Jesus (Matthew 11:28).

That is the rest to which the Old Testament Ceremonial Law pointed. That is what we enjoy as we remember and observe the Sabbath. Our Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. He alone gives the rest for our souls, removes all sin and its guilt, and gives the forgiveness of sins that culminates in the eternal rest from all of the troublesome things in this life to live with our Lord forever.

The command stands: remember, observe the Sabbath day. The ceremonial aspects are fulfilled in Christ, but heeding and treasuring God’s Word, coming to that Word for sustenance and rest, that part of God’s Law is still present and active. That is still needed. That is still God’s will and we honor Him by honoring His Word. We honor Him by not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together but rather gathering together around God’s Word as a congregation even as we use His Word personally day-by-day.

Honoring God, honoring His Word, heeding His Word is “remembering the Sabbath Day.” In that will of God we also find our rest through Jesus who has fulfilled the Law for us, who died for our sins, and who lives again. Remember your “rest” in Jesus…and that’s “why the Sabbath.” Amen.

—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt

Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.