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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Let us keep the Lord's Day holy
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 92:1-4 ("For the Sabbath Day")

Hymn 11:1,5,9

Psalm 119:50

Hymn 1

Hymn 83

Scripture readings:  Exodus 31:12-18, Acts 20:7-12

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

Each year we celebrate Easter Sunday.  Easter is the day we commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour.  We give special attention to this important event in the history of salvation.  However, every Sunday is really supposed to be a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  Every Lord’s Day we can rejoice that we have a Saviour who has been victorious over sin and death.  The first day of every week is supposed to be our resurrection festival.   

As you know, in the Old Testament, one day out of every seven was also set aside for God.  However, in the Old Testament era, it was the last day of the week, what we call Saturday.  When the Fourth Commandment speaks about the Sabbath, in its original context it’s referring to Saturday.  But at a certain point in history, the Sabbath day changed from Saturday to Sunday.  Sunday is now the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day. 

When did this change come about?  After the resurrection of Jesus!  The resurrection was such a momentous event that it literally changed the calendar for believers.  The Sabbath shifted from Saturday to Sunday and it was to celebrate the fact that Jesus had emerged from the tomb alive.  We see evidence of this change in what we read from Acts 20.  When people read this story, usually they focus on several things:  Paul’s extremely long sermon, the fact that a young man fell asleep and took a deadly fall, and then the miracle of his resuscitation.  But they often overlook when all this took place.  Verse 7 says that they were gathered together on the first day of the week.  They were worshipping on Sunday.  “Breaking bread” means that they were celebrating the Lord’s Supper together, but it’s also clear that they were listening to the preaching of God’s Word.  There’s other evidence in the New Testament as well to show that the Christian Sabbath is now Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection. 

There’s also evidence in Christian writings outside of the New Testament.  The Epistle of Barnabas is from somewhere between 70 and 135 AD.  Barnabas says, “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”  Another early Christian writings is the Didache, or the Teaching.  It comes from around the same time as the Epistle of Barnabas.  The Didache says, “On the day of the resurrection of the Lord, that is, the Lord’s Day, assemble yourselves together, without fail, giving thanks to God, and praising him for those mercies he has bestowed upon you through Christ.”  Those are just two examples.  The early church followed the practice of the apostles and began to keep the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath.

The Fourth Commandment is then obviously still relevant for us.  While it spoke originally of Saturday as the Sabbath, we can legitimately take it and apply it to Sunday.  For us as Christians today, God still says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  With the help of Lord’s Day 35 of the Catechism, we’ll look at what it means for us to keep the Lord’s Day holy. 

We’ll consider:

  1. Why
  2. How

To keep the Lord’s Day holy simply means that we keep it set apart.  It is not an ordinary day.  Sunday is to be a different day for Christians.  The opposite of keeping something holy is to profane it.  When you profane something, you treat it as if it’s ordinary, there’s nothing special about it.  The Fourth Commandment is clear that the Sabbath is to be kept holy, set apart. 

But one could ask:  why?  What makes this day so special?  You could simply say, “God declared it to be so.”  That’s true.  God did declare one day in seven to be holy.  However, it’s important for us to realize that this was not an arbitrary declaration.  God had reasons for making one day in seven special and he has revealed those reasons to us.   Let’s look at those reasons.

We should start by noting where the Sabbath comes from.  Sometimes people have the impression that there was no Sabbath before God gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Then it’s as if the Sabbath drops out of the sky and the people suddenly go, “Oh, we have to keep one day of every week holy.  This is new.  We’ve never heard of this before!”  But did you know that Scripture says that the people of God knew about the Sabbath before Sinai?  In Exodus 16, the people were grumbling about food.  God sent them the manna.  But he gave a very clear instruction for them only to gather the manna on the first six days of the week.  He commanded them not to gather manna on Saturday because, he said, “it is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD.”  That’s in Exodus 16:23.  Remember, the Ten Commandments don’t come until Exodus 20.  In Exodus 16, God’s people were already expected to keep the Sabbath. 

It’s quite possible that even Abraham knew about the Sabbath.  In Genesis 26, God comes to confirm the covenant of grace with Isaac.  In Genesis 26:5, God says that “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”  Do you get what that’s saying?  That’s telling us that the law of God existed before Moses.  There was a law and there were commandments already in the days of Abraham.  Was the Sabbath part of that?  It doesn’t directly say in Genesis 26.  But we can reasonably conclude that from something written earlier in Genesis.  In Genesis 2:3, “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.”  God set the seventh day apart right from the beginning, from creation.  We can reasonably expect that Abraham would have known that just as well as Moses.  So where does the Sabbath come from?  It comes from God right from creation.

That’s emphasized in the form of the Fourth Commandment that we find in Exodus 20.  The reason for this commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is what God did in creation.  He created everything that is in six days and then on the seventh day he rested.  He didn’t rest because he was tired – he is the Almighty God, he never gets tired.  No, he rested to set a pattern for humanity, for us.  One day out of every seven is to be a day of rest – and this is a gift from the Creator.  He says, “There is no need for you to work yourself to the bone seven days in and out.  As the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the universe, I give you this gift of rest.” 

In Exodus 31, the LORD said more about the Fourth Commandment.  He emphasized how it was vitally important not to profane this day, to treat it like any other day.  In fact, if anyone would profane the day, they were to face the death penalty.  That’s how seriously the LORD wanted his people to take this commandment.  That aspect of the Fourth Commandment was part of the national life of Israel and is no longer binding upon Christians.  We don’t put people to death for Sabbath-breaking in the New Testament era.  But yet the principle still holds:  take this seriously!  Why?  Again, God here points to his rest after creation.  He sets the pattern as a sign between himself and his people.  It pointed to the fact that God cared about his creatures, and specifically his people Israel with whom he’d covenanted.                    

So there’s creation as the first reason.  The Ten Commandments were given not just once, but twice.  The second time is found in Deuteronomy 5.  There are some differences between the two versions of the Ten Commandments.  One of them is found in the Fourth Commandment.  A different reason is attached to this commandment.  In Exodus 20, it’s creation.  But in Deuteronomy 5, it’s redemption.  Look with me at Deuteronomy 5:15 [read].  Creation is an important reason for keeping the Fourth Commandment, but redemption from slavery adds another dimension to this commandment.  It works like this:  you are free from slavery.  When you were in slavery, you had to work seven days per week.  There was no rest.  Pharaoh was a cruel master.  But now you are delivered – you’re free and going to the Promised Land.  You have a gracious God who gives you the gift of freedom and the gift of rest.  Take his gift and use it, remembering how merciful he’s been to you.

That ties into what happens in the New Testament with this commandment.  With Jesus Christ as our victorious risen Saviour, we have been set free from slavery.  God has given us this free gift of deliverance from cruel enemies.  We’re no longer under the yoke of sin, or Satan, or even our own sinful flesh.  Also because we have Jesus as our Saviour, nothing in the law can condemn us, including the Fourth Commandment.  He perfectly obeyed it for us and he paid for all the times we’ve broken it.  Our chains have been broken and we’re free!  God gives this gift and on the Lord’s Day we celebrate it.  Why do we keep the Lord’s Day holy?  Because we have every reason to want to celebrate God’s abounding grace towards us.  As believers, we see that the Sabbath is not only a command, but a gift.  We have every reason to thankfully accept this gift of one day in seven that is set apart by him and for him.  Why would you ever refuse this gift? 

The problem with so many people today is that they fail to see that the Law of God is designed for our good.  Yes, it’s a commandment and it imposes something on us.  It reveals God’s will for our lives.  But isn’t God good?  Wouldn’t his will then be something good for us?  It’s understandable if unbelievers would find the Fourth Commandment burdensome and unreasonable, objectionable.  They don’t want to submit to God in anything, including what they do with their time.  They don’t believe that God is good or that he has our interests at heart.  But Christians – how can Christians find this commandment burdensome and disagreeable?  God has something good in mind when he commands us to keep the Lord’s Day holy.  It’s to bless us and to help us grow closer to him.  Do you see that?  Do you see how we have a good God who loves us?  He created us at the beginning.  He redeemed us through Jesus.  He raised Jesus from the dead to give us victory.  He gives us a good and wise commandment to set aside one day and keep it holy.

Now, the other question we want to look at is how.  How do we keep the Lord’s Day holy?  There are two main ways:  worship and rest.  Both of these are mentioned in Lord’s Day 38. 

Our first focus on this special day is to be worship.  That directly follows from the fact that it is called the Lord’s Day.  It’s not a “me-day.”  It is a day for the Lord, dedicated to him and to his worship.  That means that on the Lord’s Day, we diligently attend the church of God.  It says “diligently.”  You could also say habitually, routinely, with devotion and dedication.  When you’re a Christian, your practice is to attend worship services on Sunday as often as you’re able to.  This is the teaching of Scripture in Hebrews 10:25.  There we’re warned not to neglect “meeting together as is the habit of some.”  Instead, we’re to meet in worship and encourage one another.  The author of Hebrews adds:  “and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Worship as often as you can, he’s saying.    

We recognize that there are exceptional situations where someone may not be able to come to worship.  If someone is a police officer, for example, their work may require them to miss church.  That’s what we call a work of necessity.  Criminals don’t respect the Lord’s Day and so we need police officers to be working seven days a week.  The same thing is true for nurses or doctors.  Sicknesses don’t respect the Lord’s Day and so we need people in the medical field to be working seven days a week.  There are a few other categories of workers that qualify as necessary too.  Naturally, we understand when someone is sick and can’t come to church or has a child that’s sick or something like that.  Loved ones, what we need to recognize is that all of these are exceptional situations.  For every Christian, our normal practice should be to attend church diligently on the Lord’s Day.

Now does “diligently” mean two worship services every Sunday?  Are we free to only attend one if we want?  No, “diligently” means worshipping as often as you’re called to worship and able to worship.  There are many good reasons why you should make twice your normal practice.  Let me just mention three here this afternoon.

First, when we make a choice to only attend once, this is self-destructive.  The preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments are means of grace in the lives of believers.  The Spirit works through these God-appointed means to bring about transformation and sanctification in our lives.  We’re also missing out on opportunities to encourage and be encouraged by our brothers and sisters before, during, and after the worship services.  Don’t we believe and confess that the sixth commandment includes that “I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself” (QA 105)?  So, why would we want to harm ourselves spiritually by staying away from the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments?  Such a choice is self-destructive. 

Not only are we hurting ourselves by attending only once, we also do harm to our families.  That is the second reason.  What is the message we’re sending to our children and grandchildren?  Perhaps we’re saying that we’ve arrived.  We’ve already heard it all; we already know it all.  We don’t need to be reminded of anything – we don’t get spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder, forgetting the gospel.  We don’t need the Holy Spirit to work on us through the preaching.  We don’t need to be strengthened through the sacraments.  We don’t need our brothers and sisters in the church to encourage us and they don’t need us to encourage them.  So, perhaps we’re teaching pride to our children and grandchildren.  We’re telling them that you can decide for yourself the way you want to worship God and you can forget everybody else.  You make up your mind for yourself when you want to go to church, regardless of what the consistory says, regardless of what the Bible says.  This type of thinking will ultimately not only destroy your children spiritually, it will also destroy the church.  Though our culture says otherwise, pride is never healthy for anybody.  Over and over again the Bible warns about the dangers of pride (e.g. 1 Peter 5:5). 

The third reason:  when we make a conscious habit of attending only once, we are doing damage to the church and its unity.  We confess that we are the body of Christ.  So, why is this particular part of the body going off and doing his or her own thing when the rest are assembled here for worship?  “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1 Cor. 12:21).  “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26).  And by extension we could say, “If one part is worshipping, every part should be worshipping with it.”  Since we are the body of Christ, we do things together and that includes gathering for corporate public worship in God’s presence.

So given those reasons, why would a Christian not want to be in church twice?  Why would a Christian not want to be where the Saviour is present to bless his people?  There may be something preventing you, but why would you not want to be there?  Why would you not want to keep the Lord’s Day holy with your worship, when this is not only for your benefit and blessing, but also pleasing to your Lord?  Listen carefully:  it’s not a matter of having to go to church twice – it really boils down to your desires.  Is your desire to be with the Lord and his people?  If it isn’t, you need to see this as the sin that it is and repent. 

The other aspect of keeping the Lord’s Day holy is rest.  It is “the day of rest” as the Catechism puts it.  It’s a day to put aside our normal routines and enjoy a different pace.  This rest is a gracious gift from God.  God gives his people the opportunity to stop their daily work and get some refreshment. 

Obviously this means we won’t work on Sundays if we can help it.  Like I mentioned earlier, there are exceptions to that.  Yet, if given the option, we need to follow God’s wisdom and obey his good will for our lives.  When I teach this in Catechism classes, I tell the young people that this is something you need to bring up when you’re in the job interview already, or maybe even before.  You need to tell your employer straight up that you don’t work Sundays.  Look, it’s not, “I can’t work Sundays.  My church won’t let me.”  Or:  “My religion won’t let me.”  Don’t say it like that.  Instead, you need to say, “I don’t work Sundays because I honour that day as the Lord’s Day.  That’s the day I go to church and rest from my daily work.”  But brothers and sisters, you need to be up front about that from the beginning and then stick to your guns.  If they say, “Well, you don’t go to church all day, do you?”  Then you reply, “No, I only go twice, but the entire day is the Lord’s Day and I try to honour it as such.”  If that’s a problem, then you probably won’t get hired.  Then you’re likely better off finding someplace else to work anyway.  You’re better off finding an employer who will respect your beliefs.

But the rest God has willed for us on this day is not only for us.  He also wants us to be thinking about the world around us.  The world around us is enslaved to its greed and endless pursuit of profit and pleasure.  The world knows little about rest.  How are we to interact with that world?  Should believers who know the freedom of Christ enable the slavery involved in a 24/7 economy?  Should we participate in that, since it’s going to happen anyway?  I’ve heard people argue that.  I’ve heard Christians who say, “The restaurant is going to be open anyway.  All those people are going to be working there anyway, so why shouldn’t I go and enjoy Sunday brunch?”  Then rationalizations are added like, “It gives my wife a break.  She doesn’t have to make a meal and then Sunday can be a day of rest for her too.”  There are two things to say in response to that:  first, Christians who take the Fourth Commandment seriously are going to prepare for the Lord’s Day, so it can be a day of rest as much as possible.   Second, sure, that restaurant is open anyway, but do you really believe that this is pleasing in God’s eyes?  How can you participate in a practice that is not pleasing in God’s eyes, encouraging the practice to continue by providing them with the business?  No, brothers and sisters, those arguments don’t hold water.  The Sabbath is a gift for man, a gift to provide rest.  When we participate in any kind of commerce on the Lord’s Day, we slap God in the face by undermining his gift of rest to the world.

Brothers and sisters, the Fourth Commandment is God’s good will for our lives.  This commandment is grounded in what God has done in creation and redemption.  It’s also giving us a foretaste of what God will do in the end.  In the end, he will give us eternal rest.  Because we have Christ as our Saviour, because he lived, died, and rose again for us, we have the hope of the eternal Sabbath.  Every Lord’s Day, as we rest and worship, we may look forward to the age to come.  In that age, we will rest from every sin.  We will worship consistently and eternally, joyfully and whole-heartedly.  Today, like every Lord’s Day, we celebrate the fact that with Christ’s resurrection the coming of that day is guaranteed.  AMEN.


Our good and wise God,

Thank you for the Fourth Commandment.  We see that it is a righteous Word, a Word designed to bless us.  We thank you for Jesus who perfectly kept this commandment in his life and who paid for our breaches of this commandment in his death.  Father, because we are your creatures and because we are your redeemed creatures, we love you and want to follow your perfect will.  We ask for the help of your Holy Spirit so that we may always keep your day holy.  Please give more grace so that we may worship you diligently and also rest from our daily work.  Help us also when we face pressure from the world to break this commandment.  Father, please give us boldness and courage to stand on your Word.  We want to honour you by being thankfully obedient to you.  And we also want to bless people around us and not enable them in their rebellion and self-destructive ways.  We pray for strength and wisdom from your Spirit to do that too.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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