Sunday, A Day of Rest
March 5, 2017 / No. 3870
Dear radio friends,
Today we consider the fourth of the Ten Commandments. We find this in Exodus 20:8-11:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” This is one of the ten requirements of the moral law of God. Today, our secular society rejects the idea of a Sabbath Day of rest, and instead this day is used for sports, recreation, work, and every other selfish pursuit of man. Sadly, this has also come into the church. Though they may go to church for an hour or so on Sunday morning, most who call themselves Christian will use the remainder of the day for themselves—for work or pleasure. Sunday is viewed as no different from any other day of the week.
This is sad. It is sad because it speaks to the spiritual condition of the church and the influence that our secular society has had on the church. The world rejects the idea of a day of rest because it rejects the idea of a creation week. It says that there was no creation in six days, no measurement of time in a seven-day week, no creation of man by God. But instead that all that we have and all that we are today is the result of evolutionary chance. As the church adopts the world views on the origin of all things, it also rejects the idea of a seven-day week, with one of those days set aside by God to be a day of worship and rest.
The world’s teaching of evolution has led to immorality in many other areas of life. Just as it rejects the Sabbath, so it rejects the creation of man as male and female and rejects the creation of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life. Sadly, too, this has come into Christian circles.
Some, in relation to the fourth commandment, put it this way: “We are not Sabbatarians.” The implication is, of course, that to teach the requirements of the fourth commandment, is to be legalistic—to teach salvation by works. That sounds like a good argument. We are not under law but under grace. But, in the end, it is a dismissal of any and of all the requirements of the law of God.
Today, I want to begin by giving five reasons that we should still, in our modern day, keep the Sabbath Day, that we should do this on Sunday—the first day of the week—and that we should keep the entire day holy to the Lord by laying aside the normal activities of the labor and work of the other six days, and devoting this day as a day for worship.
The first reason to do that is that God created a seven-day week. Not only did God create this universe in six days and rest on the seventh day, but God created the seven-day week itself as a basic measurement of time. In that creation of a seven-day week, God ordained and set aside one day of the seven as a day of rest. God Himself rested on the seventh-day, not because He was weary, but as a pattern for man to follow. He created a day of rest because man would need a day of rest—spiritually, mentally, and physically. He created a day of rest as a day for man to find his rest in Him, in God. The first reason to keep this commandment is creation.
The second reason is that the fourth commandment is one of the moral requirements of God’s law. There were, in the Old Testament, also civil and ceremonial laws that had to do with Israel’s life as a society and Israel’s worship with a view to the coming of Jesus Christ. Those civil and ceremonial laws were expansive and comprehensive, and for the most part they passed away with the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In contrast to those laws that had specifically to do with the life of the nation of Israel, God established His moral law of Ten Commandments, which He wrote with His own finger on two tables of stone to be a permanent statute for all of mankind. The Sabbath requirement is one of those ten permanent, moral requirements. As we look at the fourth commandment from a New Testament perspective, we do acknowledge that there is a ceremonial aspect to the fourth commandment, namely, that the Sabbath was kept on the seventh day of the week. But this does not mean that we dismiss the entire commandment. Exodus 20:11 says, not that God blessed the seventh day, but that He “blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” This means that the Sabbath is not necessarily Saturday. But it does mean this, that one day of the seven is created by God as a rest day and that He hallowed that day—He set it apart, which means that He set apart the whole of it as distinct from the other six days as a day of worship and a day of rest. This is what He requires in the fourth commandment.
The third reason we are to keep the Sabbath Day is that this is a pattern and requirement throughout the Scriptures. The prophets, later in the Old Testament, spoke to this. In Isaiah 58:13 and 14, Isaiah contrasts using the day for yourself and for your pleasure and for keeping it your way and according to your words; he contrasts that to using it as God’s and finding your delight in Him and honoring Him in that day. So, when Jesus came, we see that He customarily entered the synagogue on the Sabbath Day to worship God (Luke 4:16). Also we see that in His disputes with the Pharisees, Jesus did not speak dismissively of the Sabbath Day itself, but He spoke against the legalistic abuses of the Sabbath Day, which denied mercy and the gospel (Mark 3:4). So, Isaiah speaks of God’s blessing remaining on the New Testament church from one Sabbath to the next (Is. 66:23). If nothing else, this means that the New Testament church would continue to keep the Sabbath and to measure time according to the creation week of seven days, punctuated with a day of rest and worship. God’s blessing would come especially on the Sabbath, the day of worship in the New Testament church.
Fourth, we are to keep the Sabbath Day holy—and now especially Sunday, the first day of the week—because this was the day in which Jesus not only arose from the grave, but also the day on which He gathered with His disciples—that Sunday, the Sunday that He arose, and subsequent Sundays until His ascension. In the book of Acts, we find that the church had gathered on the first day of the week when Christ came and poured out the Holy Spirit. Later we find that where the churches were established in Troas and Corinth, the church continued to gather for its public worship around the Word and the sacraments on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7 and I Cor. 16:2). When Jesus said in Mark 2:28, “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath,” He meant that the weekly day of rest belonged to Him, the Lord. It is in light of that that we are to read Revelation 1:10, in which John says that he “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” John was saying that on the day of the week that belonged to the risen Lord, the first day of the week, he was “in the Spirit,” that is, worshiping God in spirit.
Added to this, and here is our fifth reason for keeping the Sabbath, is that, historically, the New Testament church has worshiped God on the first day of the week, and it has rejected the idea of Saturday as the Sabbath as cultic and heretical. The church’s practice throughout history, we know, is not determinative, but it is weighty. It is only in the last fifty years or so that the practice of keeping Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, a practice that lasted for two thousand years, has been rejected. There is in that rejection a certain spiritual arrogance that modern Christianity sets itself up above those that have preceded and rejects the leading of the church by the Spirit into ways of truth. In connection with this, we should note that the rejection of the biblical idea of the Sabbath has quickly led the church away from the Word of God in many other areas, including the Bible’s teaching on marriage, the Bible’s teaching on worship, the Bible’s teaching on authority, the Bible’s teaching on work and possessions, and so on.
We have here five reasons for keeping the Sabbath, for doing it on Sunday, and for dedicating the entire day as a day of worship. 1) God created it to be so. 2) This is included in the moral law. 3) This was the practice of both the Old and New Testament church. 4) The first day is the Lord’s Day, the day He arose and gathered publicly with His disciples. 5) This has been the practice of the church from the time of the apostles until recent times.
However, keeping the Sabbath Day should not be a chore and a duty for the believer. Rather, it should be a joy and a blessing. The word “Sabbath,” means “rest.” This is what God gives us to enjoy all our days but especially on and never apart from the Sabbath Day. The idea of rest we find throughout Scripture, too. God brought Israel from Egypt into Canaan, the land of rest. When all the Canaanites had been destroyed and conquered, we read in I Kings 5:4, then David had rest from his enemies. This rest was not only physical, but it was also a picture of the rest that is ours in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 4 tells us that once Joshua had given the Israelites rest in the land of Canaan, he spoke to them of another rest that was yet to come, which is the rest of the heavenly Canaan, which is heaven. This rest comes to us through Jesus Christ, who says to us in Matthew 11:28, 29, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
It is our souls that need rest. They need rest from the burden and toil of sin. Sin brings trouble. The guilt of sin weighs on the mind, and one cannot rest. The power of sin dominates in one’s life and there is no calm but only turmoil. The consequences of sin bring one into misery in his life. The One who provides rest is Jesus.
In connection with the provision of that rest, He gives to us the Sabbath Day, the day of rest, with all of its spiritual activities. He gives it to us as a day to reflect on our rest in Him, to enjoy that rest in peace that we have in Him, and to look ahead to that rest that will be ours in heaven.
He does this especially through the preaching of the gospel in which He speaks peace to our souls, and through the sacraments that He ordains for the strengthening of our faith and trust in Him. All the activities of the Lord’s Day should lead us into the enjoyment of that eternal rest and that spiritual rest.
That we rest on the Lord’s Day does not mean that we stop working, but it means that we engage ourselves in a spiritual labor in which we develop and maintain our spiritual existence. We work the other days for our physical existence. But now God gives us this day to focus on our spiritual well-being. So, through prayer and through hearing God’s Word and through the private study of Scripture and other good Christian literature, and also in our fellowship with other believers, we begin to enjoy the eternal rest that will be ours together in heaven, and we grow spiritually.
Now, thinking about the Sabbath Day, what a joy it is to focus on such eternal realities and blessings. It is with this perspective on Sunday that keeping the Sabbath should be a delight. Paul says in Romans 7:22, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” And John says this: “The commandments of God are not grievous or burdensome” (I John 5:3). If salvation and the joy of salvation and fellowship with God are ours through Sabbath-keeping, then there is nothing burdensome at all about this commandment. Then we see what Jesus means when He says that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. The Sabbath was made for the advantage of man. In the beginning, when God made the Sabbath, He had in mind our advantage, our salvation, our delight in the blessings of rest in Jesus Christ.
What wonderful blessings are ours through keeping the Sabbath! We have the blessing of knowing God, of experiencing nearness to Him; the blessing of knowing that we are His; the blessing of peace in our consciences; the hope of glory; the joy of the communion of the saints. There are blessings that come to our families as we sit together and read and discuss God’s Word and pray. There are blessings that we enjoy immediately, and there are blessings of everlasting value. Inasmuch as we miss the Sabbath, we miss also these blessings. Where one does not gather with fellow believers to hear God’s Word but instead uses the day in selfish ways, he will grow ignorant of God’s Word. That selfishness will begin to affect his life and relationships in other ways. Not only will he deteriorate spiritually, but this will affect his family and ultimately the church will be affected. Church attendance will wane. The practices of Christian living will become a burden. Soon one will walk away from the Lord and run with the world.
In the Sabbath Day, God is giving us something that the world with all its pleasures and delights can never give—a blessing that is of eternal value.
Think of the words of Isaiah: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Is. 58:13, 14a).
Let us pray.
Oh, God, preserve us. Preserve in us a love for and a delight in Thee. Keep us so that we keep the Sabbath. Keep our eyes on the eternal Sabbath. Fill us, Lord, with the joys and the blessings of the Sabbath and give us rest, rest eternal in Thy Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.