Is bending the rules the same as breaking them?
David L. Baker in his book The Decalogue: Living as the People of God (InterVarsity Press, 2017) looks at the Ten Commandments which literally mean “ten words”. The English term Ten Commandments, he argues, “is rather misleading because the text is much more than a list of commands to obey”.
As he reviews the commandments, or the ten words, one by one he comes to a very distinctive commandment – the Sabbath. What makes it so special? Well, as the author notes: “None of the Near Eastern laws make provision for holidays”. It’s a special commandment in that it provides first and foremost: rest. And this is “particularly important for the poor, who are employed as hired workers or forced to work because of their status as slaves, contra the wealthy, who are free to choose when they work and how much time they spend on leisure activities. Because of this, the sabbath has been described as ‘perhaps….the greatest social revolution in the history of mankind'”. (p75)
But it is a holy day first and only then a day of rest. We read in the New Testament that Jesus also kept the Sabbath and went to the synagogue. Luke 23:56 describes how the myrrh-bearers prepared spices to take the next day…. “But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Of course, let’s not forget that one of the biggest complaints against the Lord’ was the fact that He didn’t keep the Sabbath; that is, when He healed and showed mercy to those in need. Moreover, in Mark 2:23-28 “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”….
Jesus never broke the Sabbath but He definitely had a different interpretation of it than the Pharisees. Man has his own interpretation of it today as well. I remember as a kid stores would only be open until five on Sundays; then it was 10 and now it’s just another day. Not observing the Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, because one doesn’t believe in the Lord – nor His Sabbath – is one thing. But let’s remember Christ’s words, we don’t exist for the Sabbath it exists for us, it’s given to us. God is trying to tell us something. We need to rest. But more than just rest and relaxation. You ever hear people say after they come back from vacation, Now I need a vacation from my vacation? Because it’s true, vacations are hard work, they take planning, you get to the hotel, get used to your new surroundings, make plans, go sightseeing, etc. etc.
God offers us another kind of rest and He gives it to us at the end of every seven day cycle: it’s called worship and unlike vacation it’s not action-packed, it’s not thrilling and exciting. On the contrary, it’s boring. But that’s the point. We’re called to stop and take a breather, hear the Gospel and Epistle reading, the sermon, enjoy the fellowship of one another.
This is our new and revised commandment – Thou shalt work at keeping the Sabbath.