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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:Call the Sabbath a delight
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Old Book of Praise, 2004)

Ps. 92: 1, 3, 6

Ps. 97: 6

Ps. 85: 3, 4

Ps. 119: 28, 29

Ps. 84: 1, 5, 6


Scripture reading:       Ex. 31: 12 – 18; Hebr. 3: 7 – 4: 11.

Text:                          LD 38

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Call the Sabbath a Delight

(Old Book of Praise, 2004)

Ps. 92: 1, 3, 6

Ps. 97: 6

Ps. 85: 3, 4

Ps. 119: 28, 29

Ps. 84: 1, 5, 6


Scripture reading:       Ex. 31: 12 – 18; Hebr. 3: 7 – 4: 11.

Text:                          LD 38


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,


It is a great blessing to be gathered here as church of our Lord Jesus, especially on this day of rest.   The Lord blessed the Sabbath day with a special blessing, so that this day is blessed above the other days.   The Sabbath day is filled with blessings, so that we may rightly call this day a delight!


Yes, we receive the Lord’s blessings every day, and we delight ourselves in Him each day of the week, but with a double portion on this day!


And yet, the fourth commandment is under hard attack.   The world has claimed this day as fun-day, a day for worldly entertainment, for sports and recreation, or simply a day to make some more money, to open the shops, or to do your own thing.

This rejection of the Lord’s Day has also crept into many churches, and into many homes of church members who say that the day of rest is no longer for us; that it belongs to the bye gone time of the Old Testament!”


Or, as someone once said: “I obey all Nine of the Ten Commandments!”

And without explanation we know what he meant.

Is the forth commandment still part of God’s moral law in the New Testament? 

Does God still command us to rest on the day of rest, and to observe this day unto Him?  

Yes, must we still obey this commandment in the time of the New Testament?


We are not interested to hear whether it is desirable to rest on the Sabbath.   We are not interested to hear whether the benefit of such rest makes it useful for us.   That may be interesting points for discussion, but we are not here to listen to the opinion and advice of the minister, or to be amused by his interesting thoughts, or by the wisdom of man.


What does God say?

We are here to listen only to His Word.  

Thus we want to know whether the Lord Himself still commands us today to rest on the Sabbath day.   Is the day of rest a matter of opinion, or is it the law of God? 

May we bind the consciences of church members to observe the Sabbath day as a day of rest?


If it is only desirable and useful to rest on the Sabbath day, then we would be cursed if we change it into a law; but if it is indeed the law of God – cursed is he who breaks it.


The argument for the Sabbath rest stands or falls with the question of divine institution and obligation.   Is it a command from God, or not?   And is it still valid today, or not?  


Only when the answer to these questions is clear in our mind, will we benefit from the instruction of this commandment.  Only if it is law will there be divine reward and blessing in observing it.


I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

Call the Sabbath a delight


We will note…

  1. That God instituted a holy day of rest
  2. That we have to observe the holy day of rest
  3. The Sabbath day is blest

In the first place we note that…

God instituted a holy day of rest


The Hebrew word which we translate, Sabbath, simply means rest.   The Sabbath day is the day of rest.

The Sabbath day was instituted at creation.

“…on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.   Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made – Gen.

2: 2, 3.

The meaning of the Sabbath was therefore not determined by the Fall into sin, or by man’s need for salvation.   The Sabbath was part of a perfect creation without sin; a creation where no redemption from sin was needed.   The original meaning of the Sabbath was therefore not determined by a future salvation.   The Sabbath was not originally instituted as a shadow of future redemption.   Therefore, our redemption in Christ does not change the original meaning of the Sabbath, but restores it.   In Christ we receive back again the Sabbath rest which was once lost!  

If we want to understand the meaning of the Sabbath we should therefore start at its institution at creation, follow the line of redemption and restoration, and finally look at its full glory as revealed in the New Covenant.

Dear congregation, there in Paradise we see a perfect creation without sin.   In that perfect state the Sabbath had its full meaning and reality apart from sin and redemption.   God’s work of creation was complete, and so was His rest.  

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance.    This one consideration alone should already be enough reason to convince us that it is no shadow or ceremonial law that passed away with the ceremonial laws of Moses.

But there is still another consideration which confirms the lasting character of the Sabbath: the fact that God included this commandment in His eternal covenant law as summarised in the Ten Commandments.   The fourth commandment is part of God’s unchangeable moral law.  

The fourth commandment was not given as an appendix to God’s moral law, nor was it given as an application of the moral law; it was given as part of God’s everlasting rule for our lives.

There were indeed ordinances in Israel regulating the outward observance of the Sabbath, which have passed away.  We may call it the outward administration of the fourth commandment among the people of Israel.   Now, the outward administration is indeed different in the New Testament.   We will, for example, not stone someone to death who breaks the Sabbath day. 

But the fourth commandment itself was not given as a shadow that would again pass away, nor was it given as an outward administration of some other principle.   The fourth commandment was not given as a ceremonial law, or as a civil law.   It was engraved on the two tablets of stone which is a summary of God’s holy will for our lives, for all generation.  

God’s holy law, as summarised in the Ten Commandments, is the very revelation of God’s own holiness and righteousness, revealing God’s holy will for us and our lives.  

This law is everlasting, because God does not change.   His holiness and His righteousness, as revealed in the law, never changes.

So then, the fourth commandment is not in a different category from the other nine commandments.  

The fourth commandment does not introduce a new law, or a temporary law, but reinforces that which was from the very beginning.


Yes, the weekly Sabbath is not only part of creation; it is also part of God’s perfect and everlasting moral law. 


And yet another reason for observing the Sabbath was indeed added when we read in Deut. 5: 15:

“…remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Actually these words apply just as much to the other nine commandments.   In fact, the heading above the whole law is this:

“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage…”  (Deut.5: 6).


Therefore: “Obey My commandments!”

The observance of each of the Ten Commandments is accompanied by this motivation: that the Lord redeemed His people from slavery.  


But this does not replace the original reason for observing these commandments.   All the commandments have to be observed by us, first of all, because we are made in God’s image, and responsible to correspond to His image, and to thank and serve Him, our Creator.  


That we are saved from slavery to sin, in order that we may obey these commandments, is an additional reason for obeying them; but our salvation does not replace the original obligation to obey these laws.


The same is true with regard to the fourth commandment.   Israel’s redemption from Egypt does not replace the original reason for observing the Sabbath, as given in Ex. 20: 11:

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.   Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it”.

Without replacing that, Deuteronomy chapter 5, however, does emphasise an additional reason for keeping the Sabbath: Israel’s redemption from Egypt.

Now, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was indeed redemption (Ex. 15:13).   It served as a shadow of our final and glorious redemption through Jesus Christ. 

So then, Israel’s redemption from Egypt added an additional reason for observing the Sabbath day, and the same applies to our final redemption in Christ.


Each Sabbath in the Old Testament was a reminder to Israel of their redemption from Egypt.   In the same way each Sabbath in the New Testament reminds us of our salvation in Christ, which was accomplished by His death and resurrection.  

In the new covenant this additional reason for observing the Sabbath is now even more clearly revealed than in Deut. 5.

Our Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mt.28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24: 1; John 20:1).   And after His resurrection the first day of the week clearly became a memorial of the salvation accomplished. 

We have to note this carefully.  

It was Jesus Himself who, after His resurrection, gathered His church every time on the first day of the week.  


This did not happen accidently.  

The very first Sunday, the day of His resurrection, Jesus had an appointment with His disciples – an appointment to gather with them.   He made this appointment with them before His crucifixion, Mt. 26: 32, and then after His resurrection, early that morning, He reminded them through an angel of this appointment which He had with them – Mt. 28: 7 – 10.  

And then He again met with them the second Sunday – John 20: 19, 26 (inclusive method of counting as in the rest of the Gospel). 


Furthermore, we read that He poured out His Holy Spirit on a Sunday.   Pentecost means fiftieth, referring to the fiftieth day of the feast of first fruits.   The day of Pentecost was described in the Law of Moses as the day after the seventh Sabbath – Lev. 23: 16.   That is on the first day of the week.   Thus the day of Pentecost was a Sunday.   That Sunday Christ gathered His church and 3 000 souls were added.


Furthermore we also read in the New Testament that congregations in the time of the apostles met on Sundays – Acts 2, Acts 20: 7 and 1 Cor. 16: 2.  

In fact, there is no indication that Christ, after His resurrection gathered with His disciples on a Saturday, while much emphasis is laid on the His gathering with them each time on the first day of the week.


When we take these passages all together it becomes clear that the first day of the week became the day on which Christ gathered with His church, and also actively gathered them together on the first day of the week.

This is significant, for in the Old Testament the Sabbath day was a day of gathering.   In fact, all the Sabbaths of the Old Testament were days of holy convocation – Lev. 23: 2.   The Sabbath day was a day of holy gathering.   And every holy gathering was on a Sabbath.  

But now, we see that after His resurrection Christ Himself appoints the Sunday as the day of gathering.   It is not only the day of His resurrection, but also the day of Pentecost, and the day on which Christ gathered His church together.  


It is impossible to separate the day of rest from the day of gathering.

According to Scripture the day of rest is, by its very definition, a day of holy gathering.


The first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection, has became a memorial of Christ’s completed work of salvation, and therefore also the day on which the New Testament congregations gathered for worship.  

It was on the first day of the week that the rest of the seventh day was once more restored.  

It was foretold in the Law of Moses.  

There was nothing wrong with God’s planning and time schedule. 

The two most glorious and festive events in the New Testament – Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost – were both scheduled by God for the first day of the week.   And thus the first day of the week became a memorial of redemption accomplished. 


So then, each Sabbath Israel had to remember the day of their redemption from Egypt, and in the same way the completed redemption in Christ has to be remembered each Sabbath.   In this way the first day of the week has become the Christian Sabbath – the day of rest on which I diligently gather with Christ’s church, as we confess here in Lord’s Day 38.

Dear congregation, Deut. 5: 15, where Israel was commanded to remember especially on the Sabbath day their redemption from Egypt, applies in the new covenant to the memorial of completed redemption on the Lord’s Day; for we were raised with Christ.   By His resurrection we are a new creation.

The shift from the seventh day to the first day of the week, as a day of rest and gathering, does not indicate that the law is abolished.   No, it simply indicates the New Testament’s focus on new creation in Christ.   We expect the eternal Sabbath on a new earth which is the result of Christ’s completed work.   We no longer look backwards to a rest once lost, and to the lost Paradise of the old creation; but we look back to the rest restored in Christ, and we look forward to the eternal rest of His new creation.

This exposition of the facts is confirmed by Hebrews chapter 4.  The apostle makes clear in that passage that we enter God’s rest only through the redemption in Christ.   Through Christ we share in God’s rest of Gen. 2:2 (Hebr. 4:2 – 4).  At the same time the gospel is also called a promise of rest (Hebr. 4: 1).   Israel did not enjoy the rest of Paradise restored when they entered Canaan (Hebr. 4: 8).  That was not yet the real fulfilment of the gospel promise.   Nor do we experience the fullness of that glory yet.   The promise to enter that rest still stands.   We do enter that rest now by faith, but we will enter its fullness only when our salvation will find its final climax and completion on the day of Christ’s coming.  

That is the great Lord’s Day that we await.   On that day we will enter God’s rest forever.   Then the rest of Gen. 2: 2 will be finally restored in glory, with an additional reason to celebrate: God’s completed work of redemption!  

Yes, the weekly Sabbath has become a memorial, and a promise, and a foretaste of that eternal deliverance from slavery unto the rest of Paradise restored – a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells.

Each Sabbath is both a memorial looking back at the completed work of Christ, and a promise looking forward to the final consummation of His redemption.  

This salvation does not replace the original Sabbath rest, but restores it and adds to it a new dimension as we now enter this rest through Christ alone.

In the second place we note that…

We have to observe the holy day of rest


Do you still believe that the fourth commandment applies to you?  

And how do you apply it?


When God instituted the Sabbath day He sanctified it – Gen. 2: 3.  

What does that mean?  

There was no sin as yet, and therefore the word sanctify in Gen. 2: 3 does not refer to purification, or to redemption from sin.   There are two elements in the word sanctify that apply to the Sabbath day.   Sanctify means, first of all, to set apart.  


Now, some people will say that every day is a Sabbath to them, for they devote every day to the Lord and they find their rest every day in Christ.   This may seem very pious.   It seems pious because there is an element of truth in that statement – an element which we also confess in the second part of LD 38.   Yet, such a statement is a distortion of the truth if it is used to abolish the day of rest, for we are not to serve the Lord on the day of rest in the same way as on the other six days.   The rest on the Sabbath day is distinct from the rest which we find on the other days.  


The Sabbath day is different from other days, and it is different by divine appointment.   To deny the separateness of this day is to destroy its holiness.


To recognise the separateness of this day is essential to its observance.   If the day is not set apart, it simply cannot be observed.


Sometimes people abstain from certain practices on a Sunday merely because they still honour the traditions of their fathers, while they themselves are no longer convinced of the separateness of this day.    Their tradition is then no more than a shell without a kernel.   The foundation, as well as the justification, for their tradition has been removed.  


The result is also that as soon as they come under certain pressure, or temptation, to deviate from the tradition, nothing remains to restrain them; because: they no longer understand or believe the separateness of this day.  


Now, when you spend the Sabbath in a certain way merely out of tradition, then it is no true observance of the day.   When the principle of separateness is removed from the Sabbath, no true Sabbath observance is possible.


To say it in plain words: If the day is not kept holy, then the day is not observed.  


Why then shall we keep the day holy?   Not because the day is in itself holier than other days, but because it has been set apart by the Lord.   It is sanctified in the different way the day is spent.   Not merely out of tradition.  Also not because we find that it is useful or desirable, but because God Himself has set the day apart.  

He sanctified the day of rest.   It is sanctified by divine institution at creation.


But there is also another element in sanctification.   The day is not only set apart from other days, it is also devoted to the Lord.  It is the Sabbath of the LORD your God – Ex. 20: 10.   It is “a Sabbath of rest to the LORD” – Ex. 35: 2.

It is a day consecrated to worship the Lord.


As we mentioned before, the word Sabbath simply means rest.    Sabbath day means: day of rest.  When our confession speaks, here in LD 38, of “the day of rest”, it speaks of a Sabbath day.   It says we should attend the church services especially on the day of rest.  


But, is there still a day of rest in the New Testament?  

Do we still have a special “day of rest”?  

Our confession says: Yes!  

And it describes this day of rest as a day of active worship and communion with God – communion with God, and communion with the saints.  

And our confession presents this as a true exposition of the forth commandment!


What is our Reformed confession with regard to the fourth commandment?  

Not only that we look forward to an eternal Sabbath, but first of all that we observe a special day of rest, a day of rest which we spend differently than the other days – a day devoted to the worship of God.  

And when it says that we worship Him especially on the day of rest, the word “especially” is added to indicate that we do not worship God only on Sundays.  

Yet, this day of rest remains a special day of rest, a day that is set apart from the other days in order to be “the day of rest”.  


Dear congregation, this is our confession.  


If any minister would explain the fourth commandment as if there is no day of rest anymore, then he is deviating on this point from our confession and from Scripture itself. 

It is not a small deviation to delete “the day of rest” from the fourth commandment.


How then should we observe this day of rest?

It is sometimes said that in the New Testament we do not have to observe this day of rest as strictly as in the Old Testament.   Now, there is an element of truth in that statement, but there is also a good deal of error in such a statement. 

While we have to recognise fully that the outward administration of the law is different in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, this difference has nothing to do with the strictness of observance.


It is true that we do not stone to death with stones someone who works on Sunday, but do we not discipline him?   And will a hardening in this sin not lead to excommunication?

The same applies to all the other commandments.   There were civil laws in Israel which were the outward administration of the moral law.   That outward administration differs in the New Testament, but their underlying principle – the moral law – has not changed.


Does the change in outward administration mean that we do not have to obey the Ten Commandments as strictly as in the Old Testament?   Are we now more free to divorce than in the Old Testament?   Are we now more free to transgress God’s law?   Do we now observe the Ten Commandments less strictly than Israel?  

No, the opposite is true.  

After Pentecost our obedience became more, not less!


And there is no way in which we can say that the fourth commandment should not be observed as strictly as the other commandments.


In this regard people often quote Matthew chapter 12 where Christ approved of His disciples’ eating of grain in the field on a Sabbath, while the Pharisees accused them of breaking the Sabbath.   But Christ did not at all approve of breaking the Sabbath!   No, He defends His disciples from the false accusation of the Pharisees.   The accusation of Pharisees did not result from good insight in the law, but from twisting the law, and turning the Sabbath into an instrument of oppression and hypocrisy.   That is what Christ condemns and refutes.   He is not at all giving His approval to any breaking of the Sabbath.   He simply refuted the way in which the Pharisees distorted Sabbath observance and changed it into an unbearable burden.


Dear congregation, insistence upon Sabbath observance is not legalistic!

It is part of our new life of thankful obedience through Jesus Christ.  


The question is: Is the Sabbath a divine ordinance or not?   If it is, then careful observance is not legalistic; just as it is not legalistic to be faithful to your wife!  

It is not legalistic to honour your parents.  

It is not legalistic to restrain your tongue from slander.  

Why then should it be legalistic to observe the day of rest which God has sanctified?


Are we legalistic when we hate lawlessness?   

How distorted is our understanding of Christian ethics and of the demands of holiness if we associate diligent obedience with Pharisee-ism!   


Dear congregation, Christ has not abolished the fourth commandment.  

Nor did He change its moral standard. 

Why then should insistence on Sabbath observance be legalism and Pharisee-ism?

Such an accusation flows from misunderstanding true Christian liberty.  

Christian liberty is not against the law, but in full conformity with the law of God.   Any other liberty is not liberty, but slavery to sin.


In the third place we note that…

The Sabbath day is blest


“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.   Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it…” – Gen. 2: 2, 3.

What does it mean that God blessed the Sabbath day?  

It means that God made this day a special blessing for man.  


We receive the blessing of this day not automatically as soon as the day starts; we find the blessing of this day in communion with God. 


The day is set apart in order to be a blessing.   When we stop our daily labour the day is made free of other activities in order to worship and to delight ourselves in the Lord.

On this day we are freed from our ordinary labour in order that we may enjoy unhindered fellowship with the Lord, and unhindered meditation of His Word, and unhindered fellowship in communion with His church.   For although we worship Him every day, and although we meditate every day on His Word, and have every day fellowship with Him and every day exercise the communion of saints, we have to remember that the fourth commandment is also a command to labour six days of the week.  

Six days you shall labour.   That is a command.  

Yes, we serve and worship God also with our labour, and we serve Him with our labour no less than with our worship; we serve Him with our hands just as much as with our heart, but we are to serve Him in another way on the day of rest.  

It is a special day of worship; a day of holy convocation.


Now, as we said, this blessing does not come to us automatically as soon as the day starts.   The blessing is only received by observing the day.   No observance of this day, means no special blessing on this day.

To observe the day does not only mean to stop working; it means actively gathering together as the gathering of the Lord, to hear His Word and to respond in worship.   Therefore it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath day.   We read in Luke 4:16: “…And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read…”

This custom of Jesus was well founded in the Old Testament.   Attendance of the church service is the first and most important way of receiving the blessing of this day.

That is why the Catechism says that we diligently atteimnd the church services especially on this day of rest.  For, it is by hearing the gospel that we enter God’s rest and find our delight in Him.

But the day of rest is not observed when we only go to the church services on Sunday and then spend the rest of the day with our own things.   No, the whole day should be devoted to the Lord.  

Dear congregation, it is no burden; it is a rich blessing.


“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honourable, and shall honour Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking idle words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.   The mouth of the LORD has spoken” – Isaiah 58: 13, 14.

Call the Sabbath a delight.   Delight yourself in the Lord. 

That is the purpose of this day, that we may receive a special blessing from the Lord in holy communion with Him in a way that is not possible during the six days of labour.


Do you see why this day is called a blessing?

It is not meant to be burdensome or boring.   No, for those who delight themselves in the Lord, the day is almost too short, so that we eagerly look forward to the next day of rest and refreshment to come – not to do our own pleasure, not to spend it in our own way, but, as church of Christ, all together, to be strengthened and refreshed in communion with God.


Let us diligently observe this day and delight ourselves in the Lord.  


            “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps.118:24).


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sabbath is not only a memorial of creation completed and redemption accomplished; it is also a promise of eternal glory, a foretaste of the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God.   Through the gospel of our Lord Jesus this day reminds us also of the consummation of all things on the Day of the LORD, the day of His coming, when He will make all things new, and say:


            “It is done!   I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…” (Rev.21:6).

And we will find our rest and delight in Him, and in His completed work, forevermore.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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