Observe The Sabbath

Let us pray:

We pray, heavenly Father that by your Holy Spirit you will open our hearts and minds to your Word, and your Word to our hearts and minds. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now we’ve reached the fourth commandment on the sabbath day in our series on the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, but before we get down to studying the Ten Commandments, by way of introduction we need to remind ourselves of the context. In Deuteronomy 5 we are dealing with a time of vital importance for the people of Israel. Moses is summoning the people to remind them of that terrifying moment when (Deuteronomy 5.4-5):

The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain.

And the current time is nearly 40 years after God entered into that solemn covenant with the people of Israel at Horeb (or as it can be called Sinai). However, they are now soon to enter the Promised Land and Moses is worried. Why? In the previous chapter Deuteronomy 4 he spells it out in Deuteronomy 4.22-26 where he says:

…you shall go over and take possession of that good land. [But] Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. “When you father children and children's children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

So Moses is particularly worried by his nation drifting from the true faith. After 40 years, Moses needed to go back to the spiritual and moral basics of the Ten Commandments. Well, so much by way of context. And now I have three main headings. First, the Ten Commandments are unique; secondly, the fourth commandment is not optional and, thirdly, the right use of the lord’s day. So:

1. The Ten Commandments are unique

How do we know the Ten Commandments are so special, compared with many other Old Testament ritual laws that are no longer enforced? There are three indications:

One, is the symbolism. Somehow, Moses had the 10 Commandments, as the Bible puts it, written with the finger of God on two stone (not lamb or calf skins), but on more permanent stone - tablets (Exodus 31.18). Subsequently when Moses discovered Aaron his brother and his golden calf idol (Exodus 32.19), he smashed these. But they were replaced by two others which were subsequently deposited in the Ark of the Covenant. And the Ark itself was kept in the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the special Tent or Tabernacle, created in the Jews’ wilderness wanderings. This symbolism is the first pointer to these Commandments importance and uniqueness.

Two, these are universal commandments for everyone, not just Jews. Certainly that is true of the Sabbath commandment and the second table, Commandments (5 to 10 which are duties to one another). Paul speaks of a general moral consciousness or moral sense people have in Romans 2.15:

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

But also all have (or should have) a God-consciousness and so relating to the first table Commandments (1-4 which are duties to God). For Paul in Romans 1 speaks of a general human knowledge of God that people have or should have (Romans 1.19-20):

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

That the Commandments are universal is another pointer to their uniqueness.

Three, the text of these Commandments speaks of the goodness and grace of God. They are prefaced with these words (Deuteronomy 5.6):

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

The people of Israel are to realize that these laws are from a God who does not want to enslave people but to bring true freedom. These commandments are not repressive but liberating. So before telling us what to do, God reminds us of what He has done for us already out of his Goodness and Grace. With the Jews, that was freeing his people enslaved in Egypt. Now, since the coming of Jesus Christ to free us from the power of sin and death through his Cross and Resurrection, all (world-wide) can trust in God’s goodness and grace, and obey these Commandments as being for their common good. Such is utterly unique. That brings us to our second heading:

2. The fourth commandment is not optional

So let’s look at it carefully. It starts off in Deuteronomy 5.12:

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.

So when was that commandment issued? Not just 40 years ago at Sinai, for the Commandment didn’t begin then. For Exodus 20.8 reports:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

That Remember points to the Sabbath having existed prior to the Sinai Covenant, and to which the gathering of sufficient food for the Sabbath also points in Exodus 16.23. And this Exodus’ version of the 10 Commandments explicitly says (as a reason for the Commandment and as an example to follow) Exodus 20.11:

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.

And Genesis 2.2-3:

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

So the Sabbath is one of the two institutions that precede The Fall. Like marriage, it was from, as we say in the old marriage service, ‘the time of man’s innocency’. Sin had not entered the world. Therefore, rest on the Sabbath goes back to the creation of the world and is to be regarded as a permanent part of the constitution of things. So ignoring the Sabbath, like ignoring marriage between a man and a woman, you are soon in trouble, as evidenced in the French Revolution in 1792. Then, 10 day weeks were inaugurated to destroy the Christian Sabbath. It failed and in 1802 the French went back to 7 day weeks. And also the Soviet Revolution led to five and six day working weeks between 1929 and 1940 with random rest days assigned. That too failed. But if it is so essential for social happiness and human good, why is it among too many Christian people the Fourth Commandment is honoured more in the breach than in the observance? It is not because it is not clear. Look at Deuteronomy 5.13-15:

For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 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.

That is clear. Importantly it is clear that you must not only think about yourself and your rest and refreshment. You must also think about others who help you in your rest and refreshment. In those days it was so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you (Deuteronomy 5.14). No! The problem is not clarity. For some it is that they think Jesus abolished the Sabbath! Well, how did Jesus really relate to the law of the Sabbath? You have to realize that at the time of Jesus the Pharisees were unreasonably legalistic and strict.

They had over 1500 regulations as to what you do or not do on the Sabbath. And, as we saw in our New Testament reading (Matthew 12.1-14), Jesus would have none of some of that. He showed there how works of necessity or mercy must be done on the Sabbath day. Yes, he wanted to get rid of all these Pharisaical additions to the Sabbath law that virtually destroyed the day. But he clearly didn’t want to do away with the day itself as though it had fulfilled its purpose. If Jesus had intended that the Sabbath law should disappear along with other Jewish rituals such as then sacrifices he perfectly fulfilled on the Cross for us, it is unbelievable that at the same time he should claim, as we heard in Matthew 12. 8, to be Lord of the Sabbath just as he was about to delete the Sabbath law from the Ten Commandments! No! Jesus wanted to reform that Law to its original intention. For as he said (Mark 2.27):

the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath

Nor did the Apostles abolish the Sabbath. No! They wanted to celebrate it on Sunday, Day one of the week, not Saturday. And they wanted to celebrate not just the creation of the world but the new creation that the Resurrection of Jesus had brought about. Initially Apostles first met together on the Resurrection evening. But then Luke tells us of a famous incident in Troas, when (Acts 20.7):

…on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them.

Then we know that the Corinthians were meeting On the first day of every week (1 Corinthians 16.2). So Sunday was becoming a regular meeting day. By the time John wrote Revelation 1.10 it is called, The Lord’s Day, and people know what he is referring to. And in 321 AD Constantine decreed:

On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.

The emperor almost certainly was following the Christian tradition. So in the light of all that you have to understand Paul’s reference when there was a weird heresy in the church in Colosse (Colossians 2.16):

Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come.

Paul is clearly not saying do away with all food, drink, festivals, new moons or Sabbaths but do away with the wrong use of them. So, the Fourth Commandment is not optional. Finally:

3. The right use of the Lord’s Day

Bishop Ryle, in his paper, The Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day wrote the following:

[This] subject is one which is of immense importance. It is not too much to say that the prosperity or decay of English Christianity depends on the maintenance of the Christian Sabbath. Break down the fence which now surrounds the Sunday, and our Sunday schools will soon come to an end. Let in the flood of worldliness and pleasure-seeking on the Lord’s Day, without check or hindrance, and our congregations will soon dwindle away.

That was written obviously before he died in 1900. In the UK Constantine’s ruling had held sway more or less until then; and until the 1980s and the compromise Sunday Trading Act passed in 1994. That Act half-opened the flood gates. Christians are still free to worship, thank God, but it is essential for the Sabbath principle to work well when there is corporate rest. The culture needs to rest – to have time to think let alone worship. William Blackstone the great English jurist wrote this in the 18th century:

The keeping of one day in seven holy as a time of relaxation and refreshment, as well as for public worship, is of admirable service to a State, considered merely as a civil institution[Blackstone’s Commentaries, vol, iv., p.63].

So how do we respond, with secularization on the increase resulting in the folly and sin of destroying the last vestiges of the Sabbath? Briefly, we have, like the early Christians before Constantine, to obey the Fourth Commandment as we can by meeting together as an act of witness every Lord’s Day (as the Anglican homily requires of us), and to remember the truth and reality of the Resurrection of Jesus. And we meet as a Christian synagogue, for reading and exposition of the Bible, public prayer, the Lord’s Supper and acts of worship. But also the Christian Sabbath needs to be a time for rest from the activities of the week and refreshment. And following Jesus, time for acts of mercy for others (including family time) and acts of necessity – which in a secular society are more and more necessary. With those broad outlines you must not be legalistic but not treating the Commandment as optional.

And every Christian must be fully persuaded in their own mind but mindful of others. Then pray precisely how, in the light of Biblical principles and in the light of your own individual circumstances, you are to obey, with God’s help, the Fourth Commandment and Celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday. Let’s conclude by praying together a special prayer for Sunday (the words on the screens):

Lord Jesus Christ, by your resurrection from the dead you have hallowed the first day of the week as a day of worship for your people: may we so die to sin and rise to newness of life that we may be worthy to offer up our prayers and praises on this and every day, to the honour and glory of your name. Amen.
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