How would you feel about having one day each week when you had absolutely no work to do at all? No mowing the lawn or washing the car, no repair projects or doing the laundry. With each week came a 24 hour reprieve when no labor was demanded of you; in fact, none was permitted.
Before you think, “That SOUNDS great, but with my schedule it could never happen,” let’s go back to a time when there was a day off in everyone’s life. It was a day when all physical labor stopped. Regular work was prohibited by God. He said: “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. . . . Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath of the Lord your God. . . . Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you from there with a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm” (Deut. 5:12ff).
The world of ancient Israel seems a far cry from our age of cellular phones and ATM machines and it certainly is. Not only have we been liberated from the ceremonial laws they were under, our lives are probably a lot busier than theirs ever were. Ironically, despite a multitude of time-saving devices, Americans find themselves so far behind in the frantic pace of life that the prospect of a day off each week sounds absurd. It is for that reason precisely that we need to pay careful attention to what God is saying in this passage.
In His infinite wisdom God did not simply suggest a day off for rest and worship. He commanded it. From dusk on Friday to dusk on Saturday all labor was forbidden. Why? Because God had set His people free from bondage in Egypt; He did not want them to become enslaved again.
First Things First
There was little danger that the Jews, once settled in Canaan, would dream of returning to the sweatshops of Pharaoh. But there was every danger that they would become enslaved right where they lived. Like us, they were probably tempted to work around the clock, seven days a week, trying to carve out a better life for themselves and their children. Like us, they ran the risk of losing their perspective by overestimating the value of material things. What better way to correct one’s perspective than a day off with God’s Word?
Each Sabbath reminded them of their amazing deliverance from Egypt. Today, the Gospel reminds us of our deliverance from an oppressor more ruthless than Pharaoh and from a bondage far worse than making bricks. God sent His own Son to liberate us from death, sin, and the devil’s power. Otherwise held in bondage, God has set us free for all eternity. Those who are eternally free should not allow themselves to be enslaved by the temporal things of this life.
What if you can’t afford time off with God’s Word? Well, the Sabbath taught them that it wasn’t their power or ability that brought them freedom. It was the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God. Today God’s Word reminds us that it isn’t our ingenuity or effort that brings happiness in life, but God’s grace. We like to think that it all depends on us, but it doesn’t. We may worry about losing time or money by putting God first, but we never do. Our Savior’s promise, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you,” whether believed or doubted, is still true.
–Pastor James Albrecht