Text: Third Commandment
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 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.Genesis 2:1-3
On the seventh day of creation, God rested from all the work He had done. He then sanctified that day – set it apart to be a holy day, a day of rest. As God reflected on His work at the beginning, so He intended that the Sabbath day be a day of reflection where His people might rest from their labors to reflect on His Word and receive His gifts. This, in short, is the meaning of the Third Commandment. God desires that a day (if not a time every day) be set aside for us to hear His Word and receive His gifts.
Let’s go ahead and read the Third Commandment together. [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.] Now, before we unpack this Commandment further, we should answer this question first – What is the Sabbath day? Well, the Sabbath day comes from the seventh day of creation, as we heard just a moment ago. On that day, God rested from all His work. He set the seventh day of the week apart as holy. It was to be observed as a day of rest by God’s holy people. This pronouncement of our Lord then became codified as a Commandment on Mount Sinai.
Because of the Fall into Sin, men did not observe the Sabbath as God had intended. Though some did hear and obey God’s Word, most didn’t. Over the course of time, and probably through 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the observance of a day to rest and reflect on God’s Word was absent even among God’s own people. Therefore, He spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 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 gatesExodus 20:8-10
There, God commanded the people to remember the Sabbath He instituted. Now, as a command, God’s people were to refrain from all work on the seventh day of the week. They were to cease from their labors, they, their children, their servants, their animals, and the travelers within their gates – so that all might hear and learn God’s Word and be given to works of love.
St. Paul later wrote to the Colossians, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” By this he showed that the Sabbath was not instituted to stand forever on its own, but as a sign pointing ahead to Christ – just like many of the other Old Testament observances. The sabbath pointed ahead to Christ in (at least) two ways: the Sabbath (Saturday) was to be a day where all labor ceased, what day did Christ rest in the tomb; second, the sabbath also pointed ahead to the eternal rest that awaits all of Christ’s faithful at His return. Such, the author wrote to the Hebrews, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…let us therefore strive to enter that rest.”
The Sabbath was instituted by God at creation to be a day of rest and reflection. He later commanded it as a Law among Israel that, on the seventh day of the week, all labor stop so that they might rest in God’s Word. This law (that Saturday, specifically, be a day of rest) is fulfilled in Christ. However, the substance of the Third Commandment remains: time should be aside for God’s people to hear His Word and receive His gifts. From the earliest age of the Church in the book of Acts, Christians observed Sunday as that time – since it was the day the Lord rose from the dead. Sunday was the day they gathered to hear the teachings of the Prophets and Apostles, to pray and break bread – that is, to receive the Lord’s Supper – together.
The Third Commandment teaches that this should continue among us. Therefore, the Third Commandment condemns all things that are opposed to this. We spoke these words earlier, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word;” What does it mean to despise preaching and God’s Word? In short, it means two things. First, it means failing to gather together in worship to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts in a regular fashion. When our attendance in worship falls, we cut ourselves off from our Lord’s Means of Grace – the means by which His forgiveness is given to us. When we attend services only infrequently or only when the mood strikes us, we show how much we really value what God gives us – and how far the devil has made it into our heart. We should fear and love God so that we remain in regular attendance.
Second, we show that we despise God’s Word when we fail to hear, read, and learn it, and when we otherwise reject in our lives. God has given us His Word, a book unlike any other book in all creation. The Bible is the very Word of God breathed out by the Holy Spirit and put to writing by the prophets and apostles of Christ. The Word is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit creates and enlivens faith, and by which He brings to us the forgiveness of sins. The Third Commandment teaches that we, who have been called to faith by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, should be continually given to hearing it, learning it, committing it to heart. It is, as Paul says, “the sword of the Spirit,” our defense against the assaults of the devil.
“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.” This is the meaning of the Third Commandment. Though the observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest is fulfilled in Christ, the substance, the meat, of this commandment remains. As God’s holy people, we should have time set aside in our lives to hear God’s Word, to receive His gifts, and to increase in wisdom by studying the Scriptures. Ideally, a portion of each day would be set aside. Though, based on life’s circumstances, this is not always possible.
Therefore, the practice of the Church from the NT is to set aside Sunday as that time – though there is Christian freedom here. Some congregations have worship at other times. In this, there is freedom. We should continue always to gather together for worship, because that is where the Word is preached by God’s called pastors and where we receive His holy sacrament. We should also continue to gather on Sundays because it is good for our sinful flesh to have a routine. By regularly attending service, we keep our bodies in check and our minds captive to the Word of Christ. Lastly, we should continue to gather together for this reason: the author to the Hebrews also says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We continue to gather so that we might encourage one another. And, we need that. Living life is hard, but here we are a family – and families help each other.
On the Seventh Day of creation, God rested from all His work. Therefore, He set aside that day as a time of rest and reflection for His people. The observance of that day as Saturday, specifically, is fulfilled in Christ – but the substance remains. In the Third Commandment, we are encouraged to hold the Word as sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.
Let us pray:
We thank You, kind Father, that You give us time to hear Your Holy Word. Grant that fearing and loving You, we may set aside our work to receive Your Son’s words, which are spirit and life, and so, refreshed and renewed by the preaching of Your Gospel, we might live in the peace and quietness that come through faith alone; we ask it for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.