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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Gift of the Lord's Day
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-02-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 107:1,12                                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – Exodus 31:12-18; Mark 2:23 - 3:6

Ps 92:1,2,6,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 38

Hy 3:1,2,5

Hy 41:1,2,3

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


Brothers and sisters, today is a gift from God. For today is the Lord’s day, when we can rest from our work and we can worship. And we should, for God had made this day holy—He has set it apart for a good and glorious purpose. Yet it’s a day that is often abused. Not just in our time, but over the centuries there’s been a lot of Lord’s day abuse. This special day has been twisted and neglected.

You might say that this abuse is of two different kinds. First, there’s the abuse that twists it into a joyless, strict and difficult day. Think of how some Jews treated the Sabbath in the Old Testament. They took seriously the command to hallow the day, but this meant that they multiplied the Sabbath requirements and restrictions.

That practice wasn’t unique to the scribes and Pharisees. Over the centuries, Christians too, have made many rules about what can—and especially what cannot—be done on Sunday. Then it becomes not a day for our refreshment in body and soul, but a day of stress over possible sins and infractions, a day of guilt for every enjoyment.

There’s a second type of Lord’s day abuse—the opposite kind. For just as some people regulate the day until there’s nothing left in it for believers, so others neglect it until there’s nothing left for God. No longer does the Sunday have a special and holy purpose. It’s just the last day of the treasured weekend, a day to fill with your activity of choice. The Lord’s day is a day like the other six: not for God, but for man.

Today let’s return again to the reasons that God in his wisdom and grace has given us this special day. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man,” and as the Scriptures also teach us, “The Sabbath is made for the praise and worship of the Lord.” I preach to you God’s Word from Lord’s Day 38 on this theme,

God has given us the Lord’s Day.

  1. it is for us
  2. it is for God

 

1) the Lord’s Day is for us: We begin with the passage from the gospel of Mark, where we read about two different incidents from the ministry of Jesus. You’ll notice that both these incidents relate to the fourth commandment.

In the first incident, Jesus and his disciples are walking somewhere on the Sabbath. As they make their way through a grain-field, they’re under surveillance. Earlier in chapter 2, people complained about Jesus’ disciples because they weren’t fasting like other devoted students of the law. Then the Pharisees complained that Jesus dared to forgive sins, and even to feast with sinners. Suspicious eyes and ears are being fixed on Jesus and his followers.

In fact, on this particular day the Pharisees might’ve had a hunch that Jesus and his disciples have already broken the Sabbath—that they had done so by walking too far! For this offense they had no definite proof. However, what they can clearly see is that the disciples have picked some heads of grain while they walked, grain they’ve separated in their hands and eaten.

Immediately Jesus and his disciples are ambushed by the Pharisees. They chastise the twelve for this crime, though the real target here is Jesus. They lay down this challenge, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (2:24). For the Pharisees, taking a bit of this farmer’s crop wasn’t the issue—in fact, that was allowed in God’s law. No, the issue was on what day the disciples had done this, reaching out the hand for a whole-grain snack. How could they? It was the day of rest, the Sabbath!

So was it really work to rub those heads? The problem was, God’s law didn’t say. The fourth commandment wasn’t specific enough on this point, and on so many other points. This sort of thing had troubled the rabbis, teachers of the law, for a long time: How could the people keep the commandments, if they didn’t know how exactly to apply them?

For example, the rabbis didn’t know what to do with God’s law when it said, “Do not carry a burden on the Sabbath day.” What’s a burden, they asked? How heavy is too heavy? And how far is too far to carry? All these things had to be defined! We need policies for this!

This is the reason that traditions developed around the law, and more layers of regulations were built on top of that. The rabbis spent hours arguing whether a person could lift an oil lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath, whether a woman could wear a piece of jewelry, even whether a man might lift his child on the Sabbath—was that work or not?

In order to define Sabbath work, the Pharisees made a list of some 39 categories of prohibited activities, compiling over 1500 rules and regulations. And according to these man-made standards, there was no question about it: the disciples had broken the fourth commandment! In those brief moments in the grain field, they’d become guilty of reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food—all on the Sabbath! So this was a good opportunity for the Pharisees to pounce, to reveal the disciples as law-breakers. At the same time they could try to ruin Jesus’ good reputation as a teacher.

But listen to the answer Jesus gives. Like so much of what He says, it sounds simple but it really is profound and contains a world of meaning: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

In the first part of that response, Jesus highlights one of two central reasons for the Sabbath day: “It was made for man.” That is to say, it’s a day intended for the good of God’s people. It’s a day that God has given for our spiritual refreshment, for our mental relaxation and our physical renewal. The Catechism is right to call it simply “the day of rest” (Q&A 103).

Rest—for God knows what our lives are like: We hear it from the LORD’s mouth every Sunday morning in the law: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work.” That’s the reality: there’s always so many things that can fill our week, from early Monday morning to late Saturday night. Six days we labour—and most of us could easily find enough to fill a seventh day too, and an eighth day, if there was one.

Now, God always intended that his people work on earth—it’s part of our God-given purpose while we live, that we should build and create and study and develop and manage. We live in a world where people think that the less work you do, the better off you are. In our society, work is only a means to an end: it’s how you can make money to spend on yourself. But God says that work is a holy and meaningful calling.

And that’s true for all honest labour, whether it’s in the church, or it’s in the office or it’s in the kitchen or it’s out on the road. Work isn’t a secular corner of our life, but it’s very much a spiritual calling, a way to glorify God our Lord day by day.

Our work can certainly be satisfying. It’s a blessed opportunity if you’re able to use your gifts, provide for your family, and help others—serving God by your whole-hearted labours. But after the fall into sin, all our work has become much harder. As God said to Adam when he left the security and comfort of the garden: “Through painful toil you will eat of the ground all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Gen 3:17-19).

And you certainly don’t have to be a farmer working in the fields to experience how difficult labour can be. You know it if you’re a carpenter or a school teacher. You know it if you’re an engineer or a home-maker or a student in high school—whatever our position in life, our work can be full of challenges. It can make us sore and stressed. Our daily labours can wear us out and frustrate us, and at times our constant activity can seem pointless—what’s it all for?

God is a loving Father who knows that our weekly work can be tiresome, and this is why He gives a day that is set aside for our refreshment. Listen to what God says in Exodus 23, “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey, the slave born in your household and the foreigner may rest and may be refreshed” (v 12). In his care for us, today the Lord wants our bodies to rest and our minds to be restored.

The Sabbath was made in order to give something that we as humans desperately need. Today you don’t need to work. You don’t need to think about business or homework. Today you can put aside all the stress of the weekly schedule.

A break from routine is refreshing—it’s why we love holidays! But there’s so much other refreshment that we get in this day too. For example, think about the blessing of Christian fellowship. After a busy week of being immersed in our own business and engaged with our own activities, it’s refreshing to come to church and to be with other saints. Today we can worship together and talk together.

Today we can also help one another when we give “Christian offerings for the poor” (Q&A 103). From Monday to Saturday it’s hard not to become tightly focused on our own life and own concerns. But even being self-centred becomes wearisome to us. On the Lord’s Day we can rest from all that, and show by our financial gifts and by our hospitality and communion that we’re not isolated and detached, but we’re connected. On the Lord’s day we get an encouraging reminder that we’re not doing life alone.

The Lord’s Day is a gift for another reason, because today we may “hear the Word of God” (Q&A 103). Now, if anything is meant to be refreshing, if anything is reviving and enlivening, it’s the Word of God! This is day specially devoted to the opening of the Scriptures. When we come to church and meet with him, God gives a precious reminder of all the treasures that we have in the gospel.

And that’s something we need every week. Even if we’ve read the Bible numerous times and we’ve heard countless sermons, our minds are weak and our memories are short. Good scriptural teaching and divine truth become crowded out by our daily plans for work, drowned by our weekly worries about the kids, our memories of dark things and disappointments with life. Isn’t it true that what we hear on Sunday is sometimes forgotten already by Monday afternoon? So we need to go back next Sunday, and we need to hear the gospel again and again. Today’s a gift because it’s a day to take extra time for reading and hearing again God’s Word of grace.

The Lord’s day is for us—it’s for our blessing and benefit—it always has been. So you can understand Jesus’ frustration in Mark 2. What the disciples had done wasn’t worth arguing about. All those extra Sabbath rules, all that regulation and enforcement, all the worrying about what could and couldn’t be done—this only burdened God’s people. It diverted them from the true meaning and purpose of the day. What was the point of the Sabbath, if you were too hungry or too anxious to enjoy the activities of worship and rest? The Sabbath was made for us!

A person might sound really pious by insisting that we don’t go to church for “what we get out of it.” It’s not about us, it’s about God! And it’s certainly true that we’re here to praise and glorify the Lord. Yet it’s also a day for us—even worship is for us. God wants us to be here because He knows we need it. We need the teaching of the Word. We need to be lifted up by the songs. We need to be exhorted by the law. We need the encouragement of being with fellow believers.

Our Sunday worship delights God, and it delights us. After another tiring week, today God gives us new energy and new purpose. After another week filled with sin, today God greets us with grace and peace. After a week where we might’ve felt pushed around and trampled, today God gives us the assurance of being with him and belonging to Christ.

           

2) the Lord’s Day is for God: The Lord’s Day is full of blessing for us, but there’s another even greater purpose for this day. It’s not only for lazy naps and good food, but what does God call us to do for him?

The fourth commandment calls us to rest, as we’ve seen. But it also commands us to remember. It’s a day of commemoration, and in the fourth commandment God tells us why. Because, it says in Exodus 20:11, “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” This holy day sets before us the glory of our God and Creator, “for by the word of the LORD the heavens were made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6).

Our God is the Lord of all power and majesty and might and wisdom. From the very beginning of time—even before the law was given on Mount Sinai—God wanted his people to reserve a day for celebrating the strength and dominion that He displayed in creation. The Lord’s Day is for remembering how great is our God as the Maker and Sustainer of all. It’s so fitting then, that every worship service begins with this confession, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 124:8). Before this holy God we stand amazed and we worship.

You probably know that God gave a “second version” of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. And here the fourth commandment is slightly different. There God calls us to remember the Sabbath not only in celebration of his creating, but in celebration of his redeeming.

Deuteronomy 5 says that the Sabbath is for remembering that “we were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the LORD our God brought us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore,” the commandment continues, “the LORD our God has commanded us to observe the Sabbath day” (v 15). God wanted his people never to forget this, that He was their deliverer! The Sabbath is a day for glorifying God as gracious Saviour, thanking the one who redeems his people in love.

That’s why it was so appropriate for Jesus to heal people on the Sabbath. He did this repeatedly in his ministry, and also in the second Sabbath incident that we read about in Mark 3. Right in the middle of the synagogue service, Jesus healed a man who had a shriveled hand. By that one act of mercy, He saved that man from what had been a life of pain and discomfort. The Pharisees complained about this too, but Jesus again rebuked them by pointing to the true meaning of the Sabbath: it’s about doing good and saving life.

This Sabbath healing made the Pharisees even angrier. Mark tells us that they “went out and began to plot… how they might kill Jesus” (3:6). They were plotting his death, but this was actually the reason that Jesus came to earth. He didn’t come to heal the sick. He didn’t come to take away bodily weakness. But Jesus came to die for those who were dead! He came to give his life for hopeless sinners, and to save us from Satan’s captivity.

The plotting that was started by the Pharisees in Mark 3 ended with Jesus on the cross and in the grave. Now, for the disciples, that first Sabbath after Jesus died was surely the darkest day. How could they ever again rejoice in the Lord? But it wasn’t the end. For on the very next day, the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the grave.

And that resurrection was a new beginning. On that Sunday morning Christ completed a new creation. On that Sunday morning He accomplished a new redemption, one that was far greater than the exodus from Egypt. By his resurrection He sanctified a new day for celebrating of God’s power and glory.

So when we wake up on the first day of the week, and we call today “the Lord’s day,” we get a built-in reminder: What’s this new day all about? Who’s this day really for? It’s the Lord’s day. It’s day for focusing on the Lord, marveling at the greatness He has revealed in creation and in redemption. It’s a day for recalling how Christ came and offered himself as the final and perfect sacrifice for all our sin.

Today we listen to the preaching of the gospel, and then we answer God’s goodness with our adoration and worship. We fix eyes and hearts on him, remembering and reflecting and rejoicing in what God has done for us. Cutting out all the worldly noise, laying to rest all the regular tasks, stopping with all the other pursuits, today we can take the time that God has given and fill it with praise for him.

We need to be here for us, and we need to be here for God. He doesn’t depend on our praise, but He wants it—He wants to be exalted and loved. God is worthy! He wants worship to be the most important thing we do all week. He wants his salvation to be the gift that we celebrate more than any other gift. A heart that loves the Lord will rejoice at the idea of spending a day with him, celebrating his goodness. Like the Old Testament saints cried out, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD’” (Ps 122:1).  

So when God gave the day of rest to his people in the Old Testament, He placed it right at the centre of their lives. The Sabbath wasn’t just another day of the week, it was a holy and everlasting sign. As God declares in Exodus 31:13, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”

We’re more used to speaking of circumcision as a sign, or Passover as a sign, but the Sabbath was a sign too. It was an outward marker and reminder of something real and powerful and eternal. When Israel faithfully kept the Sabbath, it was a sign and emblem that they were God’s holy people, chosen and delivered.

Today too, the Lord’s Day can be a sign to us, a reminder and testimony for our faith. It’s only one day out of seven, but it has a deep meaning about who we are and why we’re alive. We could work seven days a week—but we don’t. We could stay home on Sundays—but we don’t. Instead, we get a powerful confirmation every Sunday again that we are God’s. The Lord’s day is a sign-post that marks the direction of our life.

For Sunday is a day for worshipping God, and it reminds us that every day we must worship. It’s a day to rest from evil, and it encourages us every day to rest from evil. It’s a day to prepare for eternity, like every day we must be getting ourselves ready. On Sundays God showers us with grace and gives us his blessing, and He tells us that He’ll do the same for us all week long.

Brothers and sisters, the worship services for today are nearing their end. After this, there’s still a few hours left in this day of the Lord. Receive these hours of rest and reflection as gifts from God and enjoy them. And then go ahead into this week, doing your work in strength, doing all things with confidence in the Lord, full of joy, and full of faith. Like today has been, may the rest of this new week for you be filled with God’s near and loving presence, and may it be filled with thankful praise!  Amen




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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