|The Third Commandment|
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.
Hope everyone had a great vacation. The 12 days of Christmas are over and regular rhythms start reasserting themselves.
One of those regular rhythms of life should be what this third commandment calls a Sabbath.
But before we get too far along we should ask what Sabbath means. Most people at all familiar with the word would say Sunday. The front row students would say Saturday (it was a Jewish law first). But read again Luther’s explanation. Does he ever mention a specific day? No. Luther’s explanation is a marvel of rightly dividing Law and Gospel. I could tell you that to keep the 3rd Commandment you should be at church on Sunday. I wouldn’t be wrong. The Law is good and wise. But if all it took was me telling y’all that you should be at church, we’d be overflowing each week. The law, the fear of God, just doesn’t have the power to enforce or change behaivior. It is only the Gospel, the love of God, that changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.
Jesus, in Matthew 12:1-8 and the parallel in Mark 2:23-28, is confronted with the Pharisees quoting to him the third commandment. In his day keeping it holy was about minimal work sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It was the day of rest. Jesus responds to those religious teachers, not that they are wrong, but that they are missing the point. King David, the Lord’s anointed, took the sacramental bread, even though he was not a priest. And this was not held against him. Likewise, the priests, on the day of the Sabbath do a whole lot of work, yet they are guiltless. What the Lord desires is mercy, not sacrifice. The rote act is not what is desired, the mere obeidience to the letter of the law, even though that is good and wise. What is desired is the heartfelt appreciation and acceptance of what that act says – “your sins are forgiven.” The sabbath is good, but man was not made for the Sabbath, instead the Sabbath was made for man. The Sabbath was given so that we can understand how much God loves us and takes care of us.
And we understand that not by dutifully carryingout the sacrifices, but by listening to the Word. If the gospel has come to abide in our hearts, yes, we will not despise going to church on Sunday. But more importantly, we will hold that Word of God in its proper place. Not something to be segmented off from our lives for one hour a week, but something that we gladly hear and learn. Everyday, all day, we live, and move and have our being in the Father. Our days and our burdens are made holy by his presence. We live in that Sabbath of His grace as the old spiritual has it – “I need thee every hour.” Every hour we gladly hear and learn. Sometimes by study, sometimes by trial.
So yes, the fear of the Lord should drive us to set aside one hour. But we live not by the weekly sacrifice, but by every word the comes from the mouth of the Lord. The Word that gives us rest, because Christ has defeated for us all our great enemies.