THE SABBATH IS FOR SALVATION.
In the name + of Jesus.
We have all been taught that the definition for “holy” is to be without sin. That is true to a point, but it is not entirely right. When we speak of the Holy Bible, we do not mean to say the-Bible-without-sin. When we speak of Holy Communion, we do not mean “Communion-without-sin.” Even when we speak of God's holy people, we do not mean to say that we are without sin. After all, we confess our sin in every Divine Service. To be holy means to be set apart by God for his special purpose. Therefore, the Bible is the book set apart for God's special purpose. Communion is bread and wine consecrated for God's special purpose—in fact, the means by which Jesus comes to us in his very presence, giving to us the very body and blood which were sacrificed at the cross and which are risen from the dead. And you are, indeed, God's holy people. You have been set apart by the Holy Spirit as Christ's redeemed—saved by grace through faith created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
The Lord had set apart the Israelites to be an entire nation holy to the Lord—chosen for his special purpose as the people through whom the Savior would come. The Lord also commanded them to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. That is, they were to set apart that day for God's special purpose. It was a day on which they were to refrain from all work. This was more than a command to take a day off so that they would not run themselves into the ground because of too heavy a work schedule. While there is wisdom in that, the Lord's purpose was greater.
When the Lord first gave the commandment, he linked it with creation. He spoke at Mt. Sinai: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11) God's people were to follow the pattern set by the Lord. For six days, they were to labor and care for their needs—shepherding their flocks, tilling their fields, building their homes, buying, selling, and carrying on business. All of these were beneficial and necessary for them to live. But the seventh day was to be a day of rest.
Why? The Sabbath is for salvation. It was to be holy—a day set apart for the Lord. For six days, the Israelites would labor and serve their neighbor. But on the seventh day, they were to rest. The Lord would serve them. And so it is for you. You are God's holy people, set apart for God's purpose. All week long, you labor. You go to work. You care for your family. You tend to your business. All these are beneficial and necessary to live. But you need the Sabbath far more—not for a break from work, but for salvation and life everlasting. This time is holy, that is, set apart for God's purpose. We do not come to God's house to do something for God. After all, what do we bring to the service that God needs? Nothing. We are beggars. We come indebted to God because we have not given him the love, the obedience, and the dedication that we owe him. We may be God's holy people, but our lives do not reflect the title. We all come as guilty sinners.
But the Sabbath is for salvation. Here, it does not matter what your income is, if your work is recognized or ignored, or if your labors are fulfilling or drudgery. Here, you rest, and God serves you. Here, the Lord provides all that you need for your salvation. When you invoke God's name, God reminds you that you are baptized into Christ and are clothed in his perfect obedience. You confess your sins, but the Lord abolves you of all guilt. When you confess your faith, you repeat the promises which reveal God's mercy and assure your eternal life. You come to the altar where Jesus gives you the body and blood which were given into death for your sins and which have overcome death to give you new life. Here, God proclaims his word, gives direction for your lives, comforts heavy hearts, soothes fearful minds, relieves guilty souls, and grants everlasting life. The Sabbath is for salvation.
When the Lord first commanded the Sabbath at Mt. Sinai, he connected it to the week of creation. When Moses repeated the commandments about four decades later, he made a different connection. He declared, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:14-15) Moses connected the Sabbath to Israel's deliverance from Egypt. When the Lord delivered Israel from the land of Egypt, the Lord did all the work. Israel did not need to draw up battle lines, polish their shields, or sharpen swords and spears. In fact, Israel did not have weapons at all. The Lord acted on their behalf. The Lord put the Egyptian army to death. Israel celebrated their salvation even though they did nothing but benefit from the Lord's work on their behalf.
That is also how we are to remember the blessings of our Divine Services as well. The Sabbath is connected to Jesus' deliverace. Jesus Christ has delivered you from sin, death, and the devil by his works. Jesus bore your guilt when he went to the cross. He endured the curse sinners deserve. You did not suffer God's wrath, and you won't. Jesus has delivered you from your sins so that you will not be condemned for them. Jesus has also delivered you from death. Jesus died for you, but then Jesus overcame the grave at his resurrection. And this is what he promises to you, too. The grave may hold you for a moment, but Jesus will raise you up; for you do not belong to death, but to Jesus who is victorious over death. And Jesus also delivers you from the devil. The devil will continue to hound you all your life about your sins. He will accuse you and try to convince you that you are not good enough to be saved. But the devil is a liar. Jesus Christ has rendered his verdict upon you: You are forgiven. And Jesus has delivered you from the devil's grasp. The devil does not rage because he has you, but because he doesn't. You are Christ's. Therefore, you are saved.
The Sabbath is for salvation because this salvation is delivered to you when we gather to hear his words and to receive his sacraments. Salvation is not delivered to you because you are busy and obedient all week long. While your good works are pleasing service to the Lord and beneficial to your fellow man, they do not save you. After all, most people are busy all week long. Many are diligent in taking care of their families and good at their jobs. They may even be more generous, more cheerful, and more polite than you. But diligence does not erase disobedience, and being polite does not purify anyone from their guilt. Only Jesus Christ does that. Jesus does not give salvation to people who work hard; Jesus gives salvation to people who rest.
That is why the Church continues to observe the Sabbath. The Sabbath is for salvation. Salvation is not given at the office, in the mountains, in the coffee shop, or at the gym. Salvation is not given because you are successful, because you are well-liked, or because you are busy. The Sabbath is holy, set apart for God's purpose of saving sinners. Whenever we gather in the name of Jesus, Jesus is present with his gifts of forgiveness, new life, and salvation. It is in the preached word that God's grace is bestowed. It is in the sacraments that God's mercy is given. It is through the Church that our Lord brings people into his kingdom. He does the work; we rest from our labors and from all effort to try to make God happy. When we rest, we get to hear that our Lord is pleased with us for Jesus' sake. And when our last day comes, our Lord will be at work again to deliver us from this sinful world to the eternal rest of heaven. And then, we will have our eternal Sabbath.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.