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Author:Pastor Ted Van Raalte
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 Canadian Reformed Church - CanRC
Preached At:Redeemer Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:Call the Sabbath a Delight
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy 3:00 p. m.
Psalm 92:1,2.
Hymn 1B
Read: Isaiah 56:1-8; 58:13-14.
Psalm 92:6.
Text: Lord's Day 38 (4th comm.)
Psalm 84:1,5.
Psalm 84:3,4.
Hymn 40:1,4,5.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Ted Van Raalte, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ,

It is a good afternoon. May it be a delight for you! What is delight? Delight is happiness, gladness, joy, and good cheer. Delight is listening to a forest of birds waking up to the sun. Delight is paddling across a still lake as the mist rises. Delight is sunshine, warmth. Delight is many stars looking down upon you. Delight is the sweet conversation of close friends. But the best delight of all is God. The greatest delight anyone will ever know is the delight of a heart that longs for God. He alone can satisfy the longings of our hearts. All other delights will eventually pass away. All other delights have lasting power only inasmuch as they point us to this great delight, the Lord God of heaven and earth.

Last week Sunday we heard about the day of God's delight. As much as he loved all six days of creating the world, he delighted even more in the seventh, for he blessed it and made it holy. We concluded that if God had a sacred day in Paradise before there was any sin at all, how much more don't we need it today, in a world of sin! He commands it. The Lord Jesus kept it. Through his apostles, by his Holy Spirit, the Lord made Sunday to be the Lord's Day. Sunday is the day of resurrection and life, the day of Christ's delight and ours.

However, for some people this day is a drag. They keep it outwardly only because they have to. They do not know how the words "delight" and "Lord's Day" could have any connection. "Rest" - maybe - but not "delight." Sunday is a day of rules without any of the usual thrills and fun. Do you delight in your Sundays? If yes, praise the Lord! That is by his grace. Lord willing, your delight will grow this afternoon. If not, listen carefully. You may come to realize what the problem is.

You see, delight in the Lord's Day has a direct connection to delight in the Lord, period. Do you love walking with the Lord? If you do, then his day is delightful! That kind of delight can seem like it's a long way off. Other things in life can seem like a whole lot more fun. But don't give up! Use this day to grow in the knowledge of the only One who is worthy of all your delight and joy, the only One who does not disappoint those who pin all their longings on him. Today the Lord aims to delight you so much that you will want to walk with him every day. I proclaim the good news of the day of the Lord's delight and ours:

When we walk with the Lord, then his day is delightful!
1. What makes the Lord's Day delightful;
2. How the Lord's Day can become a burden;
3. The delight which the Lord's Day anticipates.

1. What Makes The LORD's Day Delightful:

The first thing that makes the Lord's Day delightful is what is remembered on that day. God is remembered. His works of creation and redemption are meditated upon and his people rejoice in who he is and what he has done for them.

We can rightly say that all the world should keep the Lord's Day, since God ordained it even before the fall into sin, and therefore it applied to the whole world. But then the Lord made special promises to Abraham. He later fulfilled them in part by rescuing Abraham's descendants from slavery in Egypt. He proved by this that they were his own people. And then for them he specially repeated his commandment that they should remember the Sabbath day.

The LORD God said to them, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." In other words, God's own people were specifically commanded to keep that day because of his saving work for them. He rescued them from the whips of Pharaoh. Every week they could celebrate that salvation.

What would make the Lord's Day delightful for them? The very fact that on that day they could stop doing the things of the other six days, and focus their attention on the fact that God had redeemed them. On that day they could sing songs of redemption. They could recite and memorize the Word of God by which these events were interpreted. They could bring sacrifices of sin and guilt, to receive the assurance of their forgiveness. They could offer burnt offerings of thankfulness to him, to symbolize their total dedication to him.

Plus every time they could just rest, it proved that they were not slaves anymore. No one was forcing them to pick up their tools and work. They belonged to the LORD their God and he gave them rest so that they could know him and be energized to walk with him. Truly, the Sabbath was given for the delight of the people of God in their redeeming Lord.

Isaiah the prophet spoke of the Sabbath in both of our readings. In the whole set-up of the Book of Isaiah the placement of these verses is strategic. Isaiah's prophecies have a certain progression about them. As he comes to the end of the book he sees the new heavens and the new earth. That is chapter 66. The well-known chapter 53 prophesies the coming of Christ as the one who would bear all our sins and take away all of our guilt. Chapter 54 continues to look ahead to the glories that would come to the church through the Christ. Israel would spread out to the left and to the right. This theme continues in chapter 55, that of a worldwide church of God, growing because of the word of the LORD that accomplishes the purpose God sets for it. Chapter 56 speaks of the coming salvation of different groups of people who were excluded from worship in the Old Testament temple, namely foreigners and eunuchs. In this context we find the promises of God's blessing on those who are faithful in their observance of the Sabbath.

Chapter 55 summoned all alike to the free banquet, whether Jew or Greek. 56:1-8 portrays these people, united and equal, all welcome in the house of prayer. These are chapters of delight, chapters from which all who are thirsty can come and drink and those without money can come, buy, and eat. Here our souls delight in the richest of fare, as we listen to the LORD.

Here Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Lord Jesus would come. Jesus' coming would open the door to all the nations to become a part of the church. They would be counted as the children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29) and they would be citizens with Israel, partners in the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:11-13). Isaiah looks ahead to Christ's time and he highlights Sabbath keeping.

First: "Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it." (v. 2). Blessed means happy. That man who keeps the Sabbath will be a happy man, delighting in his God. This was the way that God always intended the day. In the beginning he blessed the seventh day. When the good would come out of that day due to his blessing, then the people who benefited from it would be happy. Blessed is the man who keeps the Sabbath. Likewise today: Happy is the man who keeps the Lord's Day, the Sunday! Delighted!

Second: The LORD promises the eunuch who could not have any children, "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant - to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off." (vv. 4-5). Eunuchs who kept the Sabbath still could not enter the temple in the Old Testament because of the damage to their testicles. But through Isaiah the LORD promises that their names would be written in the Book of Life - an everlasting name that will not be cut off. Think of what a comfort this was to Daniel and his three friends who very likely were made eunuchs when taken to Babylon (Isa. 39:7; Dan. 1:3). They could read this and take courage to maintain the Sabbath even in a foreign land. So Daniel kept his regular custom of prayer even when it meant that he was thrown to the lions. The LORD had promised him everlasting life and so he was to delight in this wonderful God. Keeping the Sabbath was something that pleased the LORD, for he says, "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me." If the LORD delights in this, then those who walk with him will also delight in it.

Third: Even the foreigners who would bind themselves to the LORD to serve him and love him and worship him were promised the same place in his temple as the Israelites then enjoyed. But once again, they must keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and hold fast to the LORD's covenant.

Then God's house would be called a house of prayer for all nations. "The Sovereign LORD declares - he who gathers the exiles of Israel: 'I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.'" All nations would come in. The LORD says that to those who keep his Sabbath he would give "joy" in his house of prayer. When would their joy be? It would be on the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath would bring them great delight - that was the promise of the LORD.

What then makes the Lord's day delightful? Keeping his day makes it delightful. I am convinced that we will find much the same thing with all the commands of the Lord. They are not burdensome. Rather, says the Psalmist in 119, "I delight in your decrees," "Your statutes are my delight," "Your commands are my delight." (Ps. 119:16,24,143). Keeping his commands makes them delightful. Keeping his day makes it delightful. The concept seems too simple! But that is the truth. The LORD says that he will give joy to those who keep his Sabbath. And when Isaiah makes this promise of the LORD, he is looking ahead to the new covenant when foreigners will join Israel in great numbers. He is looking to our day, and he promises that in keeping the LORD's command for this day, God's people will find great joy. We would be delighted.

We noted that it is in chapters 56 and 58 that Isaiah singles out Sabbath keeping, and these are the very chapters that follow the prophecies of God's redeeming work through Christ. The proper response of a believer to this great work of salvation is joyfully to walk with his God.

This is precisely what makes the Lord's day a delight. When you are walking with the Lord every day, then it is the climax of your week to worship him. That is exactly how we get to start each and every week. Worshipping our God makes the day delightful.

We cannot delight in him unless we know him. We cannot know him unless we listen to him. We cannot listen to him unless we hear his Word. That is what we come here for, to hear him speak forgiveness to us, to hear him call us into communion with him, to unite together in prayer to him and praise of him. We come here to know him in order that we may delight in him, our God.

In the past years it seems that fear of legalism has led people to begin their explanation of keeping the Lord's Day in a negative way: "We don't mean that you just have to sit and read all day like the Puritans. Oh no! It is to be a day of joy!" But this answers the question out of fear. We should speak positively: To keep the Lord's Day is to hear his Word, study it, pray, praise him, and do good works for the poor. Not just in the worship service, but outside of it too. Families should spend time worshipping too. It is a day for reflection and prayer. The father might pray a longer prayer at mealtime or with the family later in the evening. All kinds of good reading and learning can be done. These are excellent ways to keep the day holy and sacred, and indeed, to delight in the Lord! These things can be done in such a way that everyone enjoys them. Of course children need some exercise - that is fine, if they need it to be more attentive for worship. But the positive thing of the day is coming nearer to our God, to delight in him.

2. How The Lord's Day Can Become A Burden:

If keeping the Lord's Day is what makes it delightful, then how can the Lord's Day become a burden? It becomes a burden when you are not keeping it in your heart. It becomes a burden because you are keeping it outwardly (somewhat, at least), but not inwardly. There is a clash between what you want to do and what you actually do. You do things but your heart is not in them. When your heart is somewhere else, eventually you will follow it, unless your heart is changed. For that reason, God with his Word always aims for our hearts first of all.

At the same time God with his Word regulates how we express our faith. He aims for our hearts, but he also guides our hands and feet. That is why we confess some very practical things, such as that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained. This requires practical support in terms of money, time, and possibly gifts in kind. These things belong to walking with the Lord. But if our heart is not in his worship, then these things seem like a great burden. Keeping the Lord's Day includes this support. The schools spoken of are first of all theological schools, so that men will be trained to preach the gospel. But also included are schools where we teach our children to read and write, to know the basic teachings of God's Word, and so on. For if we do not have these, how will our children be ready for theological training at a seminary? We need to support these things out of thankfulness to the Lord. These are among our first obligations. We may hesitate but ultimately the Spirit must rule over the flesh. We must trust in the LORD.

In Isaiah 58 we read, "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honourable . . . then you will find your joy in the LORD." The same principle is maintained in chapter 58 as in chapter 56. And do not dismiss these as merely old covenant burdensome rules. For one thing, the LORD never gave the Sabbath as a burden, but to be a delight. For another, these words of Isaiah are all about rebuilding Jerusalem. He looks forward to Christ as he speaks these words too. Throughout chapter 58 he emphasizes the matters of the heart - justice, righteousness, prayer, love for the poor - and he includes the Sabbath. It is a matter of the heart, a matter of one's delight in the LORD. It can become a burden only when our hearts are not in it like they should be.

In Isaiah 58:13 the things that would make the day a burden are, "doing as you please." We need to deny our sinful nature in order to express and experience delight in the Lord. We must do what pleases the Lord, and that is exactly what worship is all about. We seek to please the LORD and that is why we follow a certain order. That is why we observe the Word, the sacraments, the prayers, and the offerings. The Lord has prescribed these things for the church, as the proof texts of Lord's Day 38 will show.

It is also possible that the day could become a burden if we approach it like the Pharisees did. They turned it into a day of endless rules. the main point for us is to say that the day is special and then to make sure that means something in our hour to hour choices.

The Lord Jesus would not have uttered a word against the Pharisees if they had simply and quietly chosen to keep the day for themselves according to their own rules. What made him righteously angry was that they bound the rest of the people with extra rules not found in Scripture. This will indeed make the day a burden, because really that is just another way of not keeping the day. To keep the day we must delight in it.

To delight in it we must not work. We do not participate in the activities of the six other days. We also do not take up other pleasures like sports, we do not do all kinds of extensive travelling unless it is an emergency. These things don't make the day a delight in the Lord anymore. They do not make it the "Lord's Day" but they make it man's day. These things make it our day to do what makes our bodies feel good, what gives us longer holidays, or what gives us more time to work and make money - also by travelling on Sunday so we can be back at work on Monday. These things do not belong to keeping the Lord's Day and they also decrease our delight in his day. Our conscience reminds us that we are short-changing the Lord. Instead of delighting in him with a free and good conscience, we turn our focus to the things that belong to the six other days. This is not the Lord's expressed will. It is wrong.

In Mt. 12 Jesus taught us that works of necessity like eating and policing and fixing broken furnaces need to be done. He also taught that mercy should be shown, as when he healed the sick. So today we can use the Lord's Day to help the poor. Finally, the gospel needs to be preached, so it is good to go to Rockwood today and lead the chapel service.

Brothers and sisters, we are pilgrims who are on a journey. Pilgrims always travel to holy places. For us there is only one holy place to which we need to travel: to heaven, the dwelling place of God. But pilgrims usually have a long journey. They need to stop along the way for refreshing springs to drink from. They need refreshing fountains as they go through the Valley of Baca - which is this life of tears. Those refreshing fountains well up every Sunday to keep us on track, to make us delight in the Lord as we travel through the desert. We are on our way to the promised land, and that delight we taste every Sunday is meant to make us strain ahead to the future.

3. The Delight Which The Lord's Day Anticipates:

We must begin our eternal Sabbath in this life. What the LORD gave in the beginning as a day is to be kept until Christ returns. In light of Christ's momentous resurrection, we keep it on the first day of the week. But keep it we must, for it reminds us again and again that an eternal rest awaits us.

People delight in many things. But nothing satisfies our hearts fully except the LORD our God. Walking with him, delighting in him, and delighting in his day - those things can truly satisfy the human heart. May the satisfy us!

We are looking forward to the city without a temple and without a Sabbath day. It will not have one out of every seven, for there will be no night there. Days will not need to be recorded anymore, because they will never end anyways. Besides, the sun will never stop shining. We will behold God's face, in all its brilliance and that will be our light. That light will also be our delight.

The dwelling of the LORD for which we long is the heavenly dwelling. Until we get there, we receive the foretaste of dwelling with God when we unite for worship on Sundays. Let us delight to do this, for it will make our walk with him more and more of a delight. And when we walk with the LORD, then his day will be all the more of a delight. In this way the one will build on the other and both will continue to grow until Christ returns. The delight he will give us then will make all of this but a pale shadow. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Ted Van Raalte, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2003, Pastor Ted Van Raalte

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