Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy

September 8, 2013 / No. 3688

Dear Radio Friends,
The fourth commandment of the law of God reads: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” There God, in this commandment, focuses upon our time and how we are to use our time. There God declares that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our time, the time of His children, how they spend it. In that commandment God says that it is His will as our Redeemer and Savior that “six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work.” We are to work, work hard, to the glory of God for six days. And one day out of seven, which is now the Sabbath of the first day, the resurrection day of Jesus Christ, in that day thou shalt do no manner of work. On that day we are called by our Redeemer and Savior to worship, to worship twice in the church of God and to devote the whole day to our spiritual life.
The fourth commandment says, “I am the Lord of your time. Your time, too, is redeemed by Me.” The psalmist confesses in Psalm 31:15, “My times are in thy hand.” Time is an instrument of God, to mold us for endless time. As children of God, we make the glorious confession: “I am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, both in body and soul.” Belonging to Jesus Christ as a Christian, both in body and soul, means that also our time, how we spend our time in body and soul, belongs to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. It is not my time. It is not that I decide what to do on Sunday. But it is Christ who is the Lord of my time. He is the Lord of everything that I do. Joyfully, six days I labor for His glory, and on the seventh, the Sabbath, how I spend my time is determined by my relationship to Him.
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is Lord of your time? How do you spend your Sunday? Does your church attendance show that you belong to Jesus Christ and that you use your time to glorify and obey Him? Or do you spend Sunday as your time? Jesus said, in Mark 2:28, “the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” Is He Lord of your Sabbath? Is your attendance at your church off and on? Is it once? Are you gone for long periods of time? Do your pleasures and fun and luxuries interfere with the hour of worship? Is your will, your pleasure, your feelings, lord of the Sabbath? Or is Jesus Christ the Lord of your Sabbath, to the glory of God and as a witness to the world around you?
Gratitude runs deep within our veins as redeemed of the Lord. We love the Lord Jesus. We belong to Him by the covenant of His grace. Our gratitude runs deep when on nice summer Sundays we diligently frequent the house of God to hear His Word.
The fourth commandment is God’s commandment to every one of us: “Keep the Sabbath Day holy.” It is a commandment to all the children of God: Rest in Me.
We have a catechism called the Heidelberg Catechism, a faithful exposition of the Word of God and a faithful exposition of the fourth commandment. In the thirty-eighth question of this Catechism the question is asked: “What does God require on the Sabbath Day?” It does not ask “What does God suggest?” or “What does God recommend?” but “What does God require?” And the answer is: “That all my life I cease from evil works and yield myself to God, and especially on the Sabbath Day, the day of rest, I diligently frequent the church of God to hear His Word, to call upon His name, and to contribute to the relief of the poor as becomes a Christian.” We do not say to the Lord, “Sunday is no big deal. I do as I please.” But in our heart, when we hear the fourth commandment, we say, “My times are in Thy hand. Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth” (Ps. 31).
The point to be remembered by us today is that the fourth commandment, as it is one of the ten commandments of the law of God, remains as the will of God our Savior for New Testament Christians. It remains the will of God for you and for me as much as any other of the ten commandments. Now, certainly, we would not say, as a Christian and redeemed in the blood of Christ, that an occasional violation of the ninth commandment is permissible. The ninth commandment says, “Thou shalt bear no false witness.” We would not say, “Well, occasionally, you know, a lie is OK.” Nor would we say that of the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” As redeemed Christians we would not say, “Well, it is understandable that the child of God is going to fall into fornication occasionally. After all, it is so prevalent. So, occasionally, if children of God give up their chastity or their vows of marriage, this is understandable.” We would not say that. We would say that the ninth and the seventh commandments are the abiding will of the Redeemer, Jesus, for the life of every one whom He has redeemed in His precious blood. Tell the truth—always. Live a pure sexual life—always.
So also, the fourth commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy) is the remaining and abiding will of our Redeemer Savior Jesus. The requirement of the fourth commandment is that on the day of rest, Sunday, I diligently frequent the church of God. And “diligently frequent the church of God” means twice. If you come once, that is not frequent. That is infrequent. We come twice to hear His Word, and to pray, and to call upon the name of the Lord, and to use the sacraments, and to contribute to the relief of the poor. All of this is behavior that becomes a Christian. This is not behavior that becomes, as some would say, a Puritan, or an Old Testament saint, and we know better now. Or a legalist, or a formalist—someone who is concerned only with form and does not have the heart of Christianity. No, to keep the Sabbath Day holy, to come diligently to church twice, is behavior that becomes a Christian, one who is redeemed in the blood of Jesus Christ. It becomes a saint of God. “For I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps. 42:4). This is consistent. This is in harmony with, this flows out of, the Christian life. This is not an imposition upon a Christian life. This is the Christian life.
The fourth commandment is an abiding commandment for twenty-first century Christians—twenty-first century Christians with cottages, with Skidoos, with recreational vehicles, with vacations. It is an abiding commandment, the will of the Redeemer, Jesus.
The first reason that it is an abiding commandment is to be found in the commandment itself, for we read that the fourth commandment is rooted in creation. In Exodus 20:11 we read: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth…and rested on the seventh day.” I bypass, for now, the plain condemnation of theistic evolution that is to be found there in the Word of God. And I bypass what it would mean for you and for me if we were to come to church in faithful obedience to Jesus on Sunday seeking rest, seeking rest for our souls in the unshaken, unbroken Word of God, the Word of truth, and the very first thing the minister would do would be to tear the first three or four pages out of the Bible. What would that do to you, and to your rest in Jesus, if the Bible in its entirety is not the Word of God? How could you find rest there, in that church?
The fourth commandment says that it is rooted in creation. It teaches that the creation was performed by God in six 24-hour days, and God rested on the seventh. Moses did not give the fourth commandment. The fourth commandment did not begin at Mount Sinai. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, made for man as man. Man was made with the need of rest in God. God made man, even before sin, to need the time when he could put down his hoe and rest. We need the time when we can get out of the truck, hang up the work belt, and enjoy God, waiting upon Him without distraction.
The second reason the fourth commandment is an abiding commandment is that the fourth commandment is rooted in redemption. It is especially God’s commandment for those whom He has redeemed from the bondage of sin. This is found in how the fourth commandment is given in Deuteronomy 5:15. The Ten Commandments are given twice (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5). In Deuteronomy 5, the fourth commandment is stated differently. At least the rationale for keeping it is stated differently. There we read that we must remember the Sabbath Day for this reason: “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” There God is speaking to the redeemed, the redeemed of the Lord, redeemed by a mighty display of the power of the Lord. The redeemed of the Lord must show forth their gratitude to the Lord for their redemption. All the days of my life I must yield myself to the Lord because I have been redeemed by His blood. But central to that, to doing that for six days, is that I will devote one day in seven to Him.
The fourth commandment abides and is necessary for the Christian life. The Christian life cannot endure without the observance of a day of rest. The fourth commandment brings, after all, the first table of the law to its close. Jesus said that there were two tables of the law: Love the Lord thy God; and love thy neighbor as thyself. The first four commandments are in that first table. And at the end of that first table is: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
So, look at its place in the ten commandments. It shows the way, how we are to stay on the path of keeping the first three commandments of the law of God. In the first commandment we are admonished to have God as our trust: Have no other God before Me, have no idol in your heart. In the second commandment we are admonished to worship God as He instructs in His Word. We are to have no graven images. In the third commandment, we are admonished to revere His holy name. We are not to take His name in vain. But how shall we do this? How shall we trust; how shall we worship; how shall we revere the Lord God in our lives, day-by-day? How will we do this? The fourth commandment comes and says, “Remember the Sabbath Day.” It is God’s institution of maintaining love for Him. Can you maintain love for your wife and children without spending time with them?
But there is more. The breaking of this commandment, the setting aside of the fourth commandment, and the refusal to hallow this day by setting aside our own pleasures and devoting ourselves to the Lord, is to sow in our life apostasy and falling away from the Lord.
In Hebrews 10:23-25, we have words of wonderful encouragement. In the context there, “Let us draw near to God…. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith….” And then that chapter, after that wonderful encouragement, ends with a chilling warning to those who would tread underfoot God, and who would count the blood of the covenant whereby they are sanctified an unholy thing. Right between the encouragement and the warning, you find this: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (v. 25). To neglect the worship services is the first step on the road to apostasy in your own personal life and in the life of your congregation.
The fourth commandment is utterly crucial, because on this day the child of God finds one thing that his soul needs. If we are to continue faithfully as those who tread the way to Zion (Ps. 84), as those whose hope is set in Christ, in all the glory and the promises of heavenly life; if we are to continue on that pathway, we require something: rest, rest for my soul. Sabbath means rest. The Sabbath, then, has a very appealing ring to it: the word “rest.” What does the word “rest” mean to you as a mother who is taken for granted, who is harried and busy from dawn till sunset? Rest. That is an appealing word.
The Sabbath is the rest of God. The Sabbath of the Lord thy God, the rest of the Lord thy God, of course, does not mean that God is idle, that God ceases from His work. When we search the Scriptures we discover that God’s rest is His enjoyment of Himself. It is His enjoyment in His work so glorious that He is the all-sufficient and wonderful God. Especially the Sabbath rest is His enjoyment of His perfect work in Jesus Christ—when He raised Him from the dead and set Him on high above all things. It is rest— for God and man. Apart from God, man cannot rest. He has no rest. Isaiah 57:20, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest.” But there is a rest for the people of God. That rest is in the completed work of Jesus Christ, perfected in heaven and tasted on Sunday.
Diligently frequent the church of God on the Lord’s Day to hear His Word. Attend the church where His Word is preached and honored twice on the Lord’s Day
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is…; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). There the Scriptures are speaking of an assembling, an assembling for worship—not simply a social gathering, but a time when the people of God are actually called by God. God calls us. Psalm 50:5: “Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” Let us go up to the Lord’s house. We are called to enter into His house. Do not forsake this call.
We say, “Well, it’s easy to become accustomed not to go to church. That happens slowly and gradually.” In Hebrews 10, the Hebrew Christians were beginning to forsake the assembling on the Lord’s Day. It was due in part to persecution. If you read the verses 32 and 33 of that chapter, you will find that they were enduring a great affliction and that they were being made a gazing stock of the world by reproaches. Sometimes that can come to us. If you diligently come to your church twice on the Lord’s Day because you thirst after the Word of God, and you bring your family, then, perhaps, you will hear words like this: “Why? Do you think you’re better than everybody else? Do you need to go twice? Why can’t we have the family party on Sunday? It’s always you who are making a problem with the family. If you miss once, it’s not going to hurt. You must think that you’re better,” they will sneer at you.
Have you endured that reproach, or have you succumbed to that reproach? Have you become accustomed to going once? Maybe your parents cannot get you out of bed? Maybe you prefer to watch TV, or you are doing your own pleasure on the Lord’s Day? We must answer to the Lord. In Luke 4:16 we read of Jesus: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was [as His custom was!], he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” That was His custom on the Lord’s Day. His custom was that He would go to church diligently, faithfully.
We must delight ourselves in this day. We must come to church with a sincere, heartfelt love for the risen Savior, in gratitude for all that He has done for us and in anticipation of all that He has laid up for us through His death and His resurrection. We must use the Sabbath Day to stock the cabinets of our heart with spiritual food, so that we can make it through the next six days. And then, after those six days, we return bruised and weary from the fight against sin, that we might again rest for awhile in our Savior. We are fortified on the Sabbath to fight the good fight of faith, that we might yield ourselves for the next six days unto the Lord. Keeping the Sabbath means that you are active in your faith, that you are living carefully for six days, not worldly for six days and then thinking that you can have a blessed Sabbath, that you can make up for it by going to church. But keeping the Sabbath means that you live out of Jesus Christ, consciously, all the days of your life. And then on the first day of the week you meet with your risen Savior and you learn what the Lord has done for you. The idea of staying home will become foreign to you. You will not look for your own pleasures upon this day. You will not say, “Aw, it’s too far to go.” But it will be your custom to gather with the people of God.
Hear the word of the Lord. Do not say, “This is too hard.” Do not say, “Oh, that preacher is way too strict.” But, if need be, let us repent. Let us not say that we can honor the Lord without honoring His day. Let us keep the holy day spiritually, joyfully, actively, out of faith. Keep Sunday. And as you hear the Word in church, let that Word whet your appetite and comfort your soul for the glory that is already ours, and that soon will be ours perfectly in heaven.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the Word. We pray that it may go forth and accomplish Thy purpose. In Jesus’ name, Amen.