The Third Commandment (Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 4—Series B)
“Remembering the Sabbath Day”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 3, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text today is the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”
Dr. Luther explained the Commandment this way in the Small Catechism, “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.” Seems so simple and straightforward, doesn’t it? If you were living at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it wouldn’t have been as simple as it should be. The Pharisees interpreted God’s Law by adding to it, strictly defining what “rest” on the Sabbath or “rest day” ought to look like. Those who tried to follow the Sabbath rules found that God’s good Commandment had been turned into a heavy burden, a yoke around their necks. Yet Jesus promised just before the events of today’s Gospel lesson, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
You and I, like the Pharisees of old, are the ones who can turn the Third Commandment into a burden when we misunderstand its purpose. Following the Third Commandment is not to be a burdensome thing as 1 John 5:3 reminds us that God’s commandments are not burdensome. Neither is the Third Commandment meant to be a chore. And it is not something that, by accomplishing it, makes God love you more. Rather, the Sabbath or rest day is a gift of God’s love to His creation. It is precisely something good that God has given us to relieve the heavy burdens and the yokes of life. Jesus said in Mark 2, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” The day of rest was established by God to restore people, not to burden people and make them slaves of arbitrary rules and regulations.
So how can we turn the Sabbath day into a burden? Perhaps something like this: “I have to go to church. It’s part of the rules of being a Christian.” “Going to worship makes God happy. If I want to make God happy, then I have to go.” But the Lord didn’t set aside the Sabbath day to make Him happy. He didn’t set apart the day of rest as a burdensome rule for people to follow. He set aside the day of rest to bless His people, a day set apart for you.
The blessing of the Sabbath day, the seventh day, was first carried out at the completion of creation, not at the giving of the Law on Mr. Sinai. We read in Genesis, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:2-3 ESV). It is chiefly for people that this rest of God is given. Luther commented, “. . . man was especially created for the knowledge and worship of God; for the Sabbath was not ordained for sheep and cows but for men, that in them the knowledge of God might be developed and might increase.”
As with all of God’s creation, the Sabbath was designed for people to serve them. “The seventh day, blessed and consecrated by God, appears to man in the form of a concrete, earthly day, set apart for God. Man’s course on earth begins with their earthly day which is designed for participation in God’s rest! . . . So long as man with his work is bound to this earth, the workday of man shall be [bordered] and interrupted—[bordered] and interrupted from the very beginning by a day on which man rests from his labors and is free for the testimony of the blessed and hallowed seventh day.” So God creates Adam and Even on the Sixth Day and gives them their work of caring for His new creation. The very next day, God gives them a day of rest, a day off even before they start their work—a day set aside to be with Him as their Creator and Lord.
From the very beginning, then, Jesus’ saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” is true. The Third Commandment is really for our blessing and benefit as God’s creatures who work and care for the earth and our families and who show mercy to our neighbors. We abuse the day of rest when we turn it into a burden rather than receiving it as a blessing. God wants us to have a day of rest from our daily routines. And He wants us also to have a day of spiritual rest from the bombardments of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. God desires to refresh and to renew us with His Gospel Word so that we might have our day of rest in Christ and so keep the Sabbath day holy.
You see, “keeping the Sabbath day holy” is not a work that we perform as if we’re doing God a favor or earning a special place in His heart because we went to church. The Sabbath is holy because God made it so and blessed it to be so for us by grace from the very beginning of time—a day of rest and gladness, as the hymnwriter penned. To borrow language from Luther’s Catechism, “The day of rest is holy without our prayer. But we pray that it would be kept holy among us.” This happens as God gathers us together around His Word. “God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy” (LC I:91).
It is especially the work of God the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” us in the Christian faith. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, has fulfilled the Sabbath by giving us “rest” in the forgiveness of sins. Remember His Words? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30 ESV). “The ‘labor’ and the burden signify the [sorrow], anxiety, and terrors of sin and death. To ‘come to’ Christ is to believe that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. When we believe, our hearts are brought to life by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word” (Ap XIIA:44-45).
Jesus offered Himself to death on a cross so that you would receive the forgiveness of sins as a gift by grace through faith in Him. Sabbath rest comes to you through the Gospel Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. So that you might continually be blessed by the gifts of God in Christ, the Spirit calls us together as “Church” and gathers us around the Word of Christ and the Sacraments of Christ so that you and I might receive the Savior’s promised blessing of rest in Him. Here in worship, when you gather on the day of rest, God in His Word tells you that you are His. Your sins are forgiven as the Gospel is declared to you in the spoken Word, in Baptism, in the Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper. It is no accident that we call this the “Divine Service” because here God serves you and me with His gifts of grace—forgiveness and eternal life—purchased and won for us by Jesus on the cross—by means of Word and Sacrament. Through those Means, the Holy Spirit by the Gospel makes us holy and so enables us to keep the Sabbath day holy, set apart, for the very purpose of receiving Christ’s gifts guaranteed to us by hearing His Gospel Word.
The holy day of rest, the Sabbath, was not created to be an obligation for people to keep as a burden or as one of a list of rules. It is a time that God made for you and me to give rest to our bodies through leisure and especially rest to our bodies and souls from the attacks of sin and Satan through the hearing of the Word and the refreshment of the Gospel. Receiving the gifts of God in Christ through His Gospel and Sacrament is how the Lord serves us and we respond to those gifts in prayer and praise. Yet we receive much more from the Savior than we can ever give. The time set apart for the Divine Service on this day of rest and gladness is an opportunity to encourage each other and to be encouraged by one another as we receive the promised rest of forgiveness, life, and salvation from Jesus so that we might truly keep the Sabbath day holy. Amen.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 80.
 Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, trans. M.H. Bertram (St. Louis: Concordia, 1968), 38-39.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 163.