Sunday Morning Sermon — Exodus 16:22-36 — Rest in the Wilderness

24 Sep

Exodus 16:22-36
Rest in the Wilderness

One of the most common complaints people make in our day is that they are too busy. I hear it all the time. Men and women who have jobs have to put in long hours and it seems like their dollars get stretched and become thinner as the years go by. Parents are running their kids from one activity to another, from sports to dance to drama to school clubs. Students are stressed out by school, overwhelmed with their class work and just trying to hold on. And many people view church as just one more thing to do, another commitment in an already busy schedule. Even retirees can struggle with busyness as they attend activities and even talk with friends or go out to eat. With their lessened energy, life can seem very busy even for them. I’ve even seen people struggle with vacations, as they get so into all the details of making it a perfect trip that the vacation makes them more wound up than they would have been had they never gone.
In addition, we are always feeling flustered and stressed because we not only have to deal with our own lives but also with a constant barrage of information coming to us from all sides. TV, internet, our cell phones, car stereos, everywhere we go electronic things are talking to us, giving us lots more to think about, most of it useless. Have you noticed how there are hardly any restaurants you can go to anymore that don’t have 20 or more TV’s inside? It’s all overwhelming. Now I’m thankful for technology, but there is a downside, it helps us along the way to a stressed-out, restless life. And this is not the life God has for us. He certainly brings us into stressful situations, but it is not His calling for us that our inner life should be in a constant state of turmoil. Our sufferings may bring seasons of difficulty but the overall course of our life ought to be marked not by stressed out despair but by rest and peace as we hope in God. Thankfully, God has woven into the very fabric of our lives a way to point us toward that rest. The passage we are going to look at today shows us that God set for the people of Israel a day of rest which was for their good and He has done the same kind of things for us.

We see first in this passage that . . .
1.    God Gives Us REST     (16:22-26).
22  On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23  he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'”
    24  So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25  Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26  Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”
The word Sabbath means to cease or to rest. One of the things I really hope you will see today is how this day of rest is a gift. God is good in giving the Sabbath. He is gracious. The Israelites would have felt this deeply because for the last 400 years they had been slaves. They had worked day after day in backbreaking labor but now they had been delivered from slavery. God freed them and gave them rest. He is a different kind of Master than the Pharaoh they had served in Egypt. He is a Master who loves His people. He loves us. So when He gives us a day of holy rest He is doing good to us. I think most of us think of the idea of Sabbath in terms of what it restricts us from doing rather than looking at in a positive way as an opportunity to worship and serve and be renewed. So church becomes a drudgery and the day becomes a burden rather than a blessing. This should not be. The day of rest is God’s good gift. We turn away from it to our detriment, as we do when we turn away from any of God’s Ten Commandments.
But if you’re listening and thinking along with me, you may be wondering whether as Christians the Sabbath is even an issue for us. Isn’t the Sabbath something that we no longer have to observe? Didn’t Jesus have some harsh things to say about people who tried to keep the Sabbath? The answer is yes, but His main criticism was not for observing the Sabbath but toward those who used observing the Sabbath as a burden to place on people as they added one restriction after another to observing the Sabbath. The religious leaders drained the day of its joy and turned it from a gift of God to another way to try to earn favor with God. But Jesus wasn’t against the Sabbath, He was Lord of the Sabbath. He allowed for works of mercy and works of necessity on the Sabbath.
But since the Sabbath is Saturday, why are we here in church on Sunday?  Well most Christians believe that the day of worship and rest has shifted from Saturday to Sunday. And most Christians don’t call Sunday the Sabbath but the Lord’s day, yet the principle of rest and worship still applies. Now why the shift from Saturday to Sunday? There is no specific command to make that shift, but it does seem warranted for several reasons. First, it ties our day of worship more closely to the work of Christ. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, and the work of the  Holy Spirit, who came to the church on the day of Pentecost, which was a Sunday as well. Paul seems to refer to the first day of the week as a special day of worship in 1 Corinthians 16 and John receives his prophecy in the book of Revelation while he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, a Sunday. So this shift seems to be already happening in the New Testament period and the evidence of early church history is that believers set aside Sunday as a day of fellowship and worship. One of the strongest pieces of evidence for this shift is that when the Emperor Constantine gave an Edict in 321 legally establishing Christianity in the Roman Empire, he made Sunday an official day of worship and rest. This is a sign that the shift had already happened and that Constantine was just affirming what was already in place. Throughout church history, most Christians have marked Sunday as a special day of worship and rest and most have seen it as a gift, not a burden.
But should we observe the Lord’s Day, since Jesus has fulfilled the law? Some people believe that Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath in the same way that He has fulfilled the sacrificial system or the temple. In other words, because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we don’t sacrifice animals. Because Jesus is the God in flesh, we come to God through Him, not through the temple. And some people put the Sabbath in this category. They look at Hebrews chapter 4 and say that the work of Christ enables us to rest from our labors so that there is an eternal rest for the people of God and the rest of faith in this life as we walk day by day. And I say, Amen. But I also think the observance of the Lord’s Day is a good thing for us today. In other words, I don’t believe this greater fulfillment of eternal rest and the rest of faith fulfills the Sabbath in the same way the work of Jesus fulfills sacrifice or the temple. There are two reasons I lean this way: first, the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. It is one of the foundation stones of God’s law. These commandments show us how God desires us to live. Now to be sure, we can’t obey these commandments in any way to earn favor with God. We can’t be made right with God through the commandments. We will often fall short of the commandments. Yet they still provide for us the core of how we should live before God. To understand this, how many of you would think that the command to not bear false witness is now fulfilled because Jesus is the truth and therefore we no longer have to be concerned with lying? Or because Jesus never stole anything now we can steal because He fulfilled the law? Or we can disrespect our parents because Jesus honored His Father and mother? So it is with the Sabbath. The righteousness of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit enables us to keep the commandments but Jesus does not do away with the commandments, He fulfills them so that we can have power to walk in them, not as a way to earn favor with God but as a way to express gratitude to God for the favor He has shown us.
The second reason I think the Sabbath still has application to our lives is that it is rooted in creation. Exodus 16 is not the first time in the Bible we see the Sabbath. We see it in Genesis 1 and 2, right in the beginning of creation. God creates in six days and rests on the seventh day as a pattern for humanity.  During this same creation week he establishes marriage. I think this provides a helpful analogy because marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His Church, but even though this is so we don’t say, “well Christ fulfilled marriage so we don’t have to worry about it any more.” We still keep the institution of marriage as Christians and understand that in Christ it has an even fuller meaning. I think we should treat the issue of the Sabbath in a similar way. Christ infuses it with a fuller meaning and it changes so that we can observe it in an even fuller way than the people of Moses’ day could. Robertson McQuilkin has said in his book on Biblical Ethics, “If the teaching of Paul does not certainly bind the Christian to observe a special rest day, even less certainly does it annul the strong teaching of the balance of Scripture in setting a special day for rest and worship. Therefore we positively choose that which certainly would please the Lord. To turn away from our daily occupation to spend a day in fellowship with Him and service for Him must certainly please Him even more than offering to Him a portion of all our possessions in token of the fact that all belongs to Him. The only way the careful observance of the rest day commandment could displease our Lord would be if a person looked to that obedience as a means of earning merit or as a way of salvation.” And I might add, it would also be displeasing if a believer enforced their specific patterns for the rest day on other believers. I think this was at the core of Jesus’ words of criticism for the religious leaders’ Sabbath keeping and I think it is also at the heart of Paul’s concerns. Paul’s main concerns about the Sabbath are seen in three passages; Galatians 4:10-11, Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:1-6. I think the first two passages are more about Paul criticizing those who rely on Sabbath keeping for righteousness or judge others about the particular way they keep the Sabbath. But Romans 14 is more challenging. It says . . .
Rom 14:1  As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5  One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 

This passage does seem to be talking about the Sabbath day but Paul seems to be giving here a certain freedom of conscience in relation to the Sabbath. Yet Paul still says that those who observe the day do it in honor of the Lord. He doesn’t put down the observance of the day, he just gives the perspective that some observe it and some don’t. So this is an area where there is some diversity of views and we are best served by searching this out in the Scriptures and weighing the evidence before God. I am convinced that the Lord’s Day is a good thing for us and is something we should observe. But I understand how people arrive at another perspective after studying Scripture.
Some people may say, if the Sabbath is still a command for Christians now observed as the Lord’s Day, why is there not more in the New Testament letters about it? And I say it is really dangerous to make arguments from silence. We have to take Scripture as a whole and understand that the New Testament letters usually addressed areas where there was controversy or where there were problems. So the lack of words about the Lord’s Day could just as easily mean it was the assumed practice of the early church rather than that it was ignored.
There are two preachers I really admire, and they’re both named John; John MacArthur and John Piper and they come out on different ends of this question. But one of them says this, and I think he is right. “The early church knew that the final rest was still future. But a day was still needed to bear witness to a self-reliant, self-sufficient world that our work does not save us or define us, Christ does.”
Our Baptist Faith and Message summarizes the truth about the Lord’s Day very well, I think. It says, “The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord’s Day should be commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” That last line, I think, addresses the concerns Jesus and Paul had about the Sabbath, namely that people would point to specific behaviors as being out of bounds and use those behaviors to put burdens on people they shouldn’t be bearing. And that’s where I come out. Each one of us here, each family, we need to think about how we can best honor the Lord with this day and then we need to walk in that without condemning others because they haven’t chosen to observe the day in the same way we have.
Remember, it’s a gift. That is the key in this whole thing. My thing is, why would you not want to set aside a day each week to devote yourself to worship and rest and service? It’s a joy to have this day, that’s what we need to always keep in mind.

The last two points will be very brief in comparison to the first point. We see second in this passage that . . .
2.    We Often RESIST Rest        (16:27-30).
27  On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28  And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you (plural/ y‘all) refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29  See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30  So the people rested on the seventh day.
Isn’t it so much like us sinful people that we go our own way in the face of God’s clear commandments? Some of the people went out to gather on the Sabbath, but there was nothing to gather.
God was displeased with the resistance of the people to the gift of rest. He wanted them to trust Him in their activity and in their rest. He wanted them to lean on Him and not their own understanding.
In our day, we think time equals productivity. One of the funniest illustrations of this to me is football coaches. Football coaches, on the college and pro level, put in the most insane hours. Sometimes that’s even true on the high school level. Now I like football, but please, don’t tell me that coaching a football team at Skunk Hollow High School means you have to work from 6am till midnight. But a lot of guys do. You know, there are people researching cancer, there are nuclear physicists, and they’re not putting in the hours football coaches are putting in. That probably tells us something very disturbing about our culture. But I am convinced that time does not always equal productivity. You all have known people that work all hours seven days a week but they’re just doing it so they don’t have to go home to their family, or because they’re greedy or because they want the applause of others. I think most of the 90 hour work week people I have met are really pretty unproductive, because they are so tired.
Maybe some of us are afraid that if we don’t work on Sunday, everything won’t get done. God may be testing our trust in Him. I have found that I am much more productive when I set aside a day each week for worship and when I set aside time each day to pray. It is amazing how much more I get done on days I really set aside time for prayer. God will work through us as we trust Him. This is what He was trying to teach the Israelites and this is what He is teaching us. Trust Him that you can set this day apart and still accomplish what He has given you to do. And let me say, that is an especially important word for students. If you are in school, I want to encourage you to do a radical thing. Don’t study on Sunday. I don’t say that as a legalistic command, but as an encouragement. It will force you to manage your time on Saturday more effectively, but I believe it will also refresh you and enable you to be more productive during the week.
Our tendency is to resist rest. We like to think that it’s all up to us. We like to think we don’t need God. And this once a week observance of a day of rest and worship reminds us that we do need God. What we should be reminding ourselves of is seen in the last few verses of the chapter.

3.    We Should Remember that God’s PROVISION is the Basis of Our Rest (16:31-36).
 31  Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
32  Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'”
    33  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” 34  As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept.
    35  The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36  (An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.)
Why is the manna mentioned right after this section about Israel observing the Sabbath? It is because the manna was God’s provision which made the day of rest possible. And God called Israel to remember the manna and put it in a jar as a way of remembrance for all the people, even when the manna was no longer provided. The manna became an illustration to the people that God would continue to provide for them and that they could trust Him, therefore they should set apart this day of worship and rest because they served a faithful God.
We serve that same faithful God. And He has provided for us and that gives us the basis for our own day of rest. Jesus is God’s provision for us. And do you remember what Jesus calls Himself in John 6? He is “the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” He is the bread of life. He is the true manna of God. He is God’s provision for us, that we might be reconciled to God and forgiven our sins and given eternal life. Is He not worthy of one day of special remembrance where we can focus on His goodness and greatness toward us?

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