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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 121:1,2                                                                                   

Hy 1

Reading – Isaiah 58

Hy 34:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 38

Ps 40:1,4

Ps 95:1,2,3

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

Beloved in Christ, let’s think for a moment about where our units of time come from, things like days and months and years. A twenty-four day is based on the time that it takes for the earth to rotate once on its axis. A month is measured basically according to the different phases of the moon. Our 365-day year comes from the time that the earth revolves once, all the way around the sun. So you see that the units of days, months, and years are derived from the created world around us.

Have you ever thought about where the seven-day week comes from? It can seem arbitrary, for a seven-day week is not connected to any pattern we see in the world around us. And that’s because a week is what it is because God made it that way. This is something God instituted, when He accomplished his work in six days and then ceased on the seventh, when He ordained six days for work and He hallowed the seventh.

With our watches and diaries we keep careful track of the hours and days and months, and we also celebrate how many years we have lived. But the calendar that God gives us in Scripture is the seven-day calendar, where each week features a day of worship and rest.

God has made this day holy, and the fourth commandment calls us to remember this day in gratitude to the LORD who has redeemed us in his grace. Indeed, a heart that loves the Lord will rejoice that we can begin each week with a day that is dedicated to him. I preach God Word to you as it’s summarized in Lord’s Day 38,

            Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.

                        1) the day as God’s gift

                        2) the day as our delight


1) the day as God’s gift: To learn God’s will about the Sabbath day, we know that we need to open Exodus or Deuteronomy and listen to the Ten Commandments. But for a fuller view, we should go back even further in Scripture, all the way to the first chapters of Genesis. For there is a Sabbath rhythm that is in place from the very beginning of the world.

In so many ways, those first chapters of Genesis set important patterns for the rest of world history and for our conduct as human beings. Theologians sometimes call these the ‘creation ordinances.’ For instance, here God invests mankind with the high nobility of being formed in his own image. Here in these chapters God gives mankind the mandate to work, to produce, to rule, and to multiply. Here God institutes the lifelong covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

And here God lays down the pattern of a seven-day week, with one day set apart for him. We read in Genesis 2:2-3, “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.”

Now, we’re so used to calling the Sabbath “the day of rest” that sometimes we picture God as taking a day off once his great works of creation were completed. He had been busy for six days, designing and forming and speaking, so on the seventh day He takes a rest and catches his breath. But our God, of course, needs no breather, requires no time out or annual leave. The LORD’s strength is unfailing, and He never slumbers or sleeps.

Listen to what Jesus says in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too, am working.” He is always at work! Jesus says these words in response to the charge that He has profaned the Sabbath by healing a paralyzed man. But Jesus didn’t break the fourth commandment. Jesus will work on the Sabbath, and God his Father will work on the Sabbath, because there is always work to be done. There is the whole world to uphold and his covenant people to protect.

So when the fourth commandment speaks of God “resting” on the seventh day, it is better to think of God as stopping or ceasing. That’s another way that the Hebrew word for ‘rest’ can be translated. God puts aside the work of creation now that it is done, having called into being heaven and earth and everything that fills them.

He stops, and He sanctifies the seventh day. “Sanctifies” speaks of being set apart for a distinct purpose. Compare it to when we block out a day in our diary for a special occasion. Maybe it’s your twentieth wedding anniversary, or you’ve got a big job interview, and you don’t want anything else to interfere. You draw a circle around the day so that you can dedicate it entirely to that one important purpose. You ‘sanctify’ the day. God does that with the Sabbath day, or the Lord’s day: He draws a circle around it, and says that it is reserved for him. Every Sabbath day from the beginning of time is sanctified or hallowed by God.

There’s a few important truths to appreciate here. It shows, first of all, that God is sovereign over time. All our moments and days and weeks and years belong to God, and they are ordered by him. He directs our days.

And that means, secondly, that we are answerable to God for how we use our time. Time, like every other blessing from the LORD—like money, or children, or ability, or strength—is given for us to steward wisely. Whenever we receive a gift from the Lord, we need to ask, “How would the LORD my God want me to use this?”

Now apply that question to the Sabbath. The day is a gift to us from the Lord. How does He want us to spend the day? With what activities should we be busy? And here we see the goodness of the LORD in caring for us, his people. For at the same time as we obediently make the choice to rest from work, and attend church and worship him, God is busy blessing us. God drew a circle around this day so that nothing would interfere with it, so that nothing would prevent it from being a gift for us.

This is what Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of Mark, when He says, “The Sabbath was made for man.” That is to say, it’s a day that is intended for the good of God’s people. God has given it for our spiritual restoration and refreshment, for our mental relaxation and our physical renewal. The Catechism is right to call it simply “the day of rest” (Q&A 103).

For God knows what our lives are like—we work! We hear it from the LORD’s mouth every Sunday in the commandments: “Six days you shall labour.” Whenever we enjoy holidays, and as they draw to a close, there’s often a feeling of regret or maybe even dread. All too soon it’s time to return to work. Just like that, it’s time to start another year at school! “Back to reality,” we say with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

And it is the reality. In a normal week, there are many things that fill our diaries and dayplanners, from early Monday to late Saturday night. Six days we labour—and most of us could easily find enough labour to fill a seventh day too, and an eighth day too, if there was one.

Instead of being discontent with our work, we remind ourselves that God always intended his people to be busy on earth. It belongs to our God-given and God-glorifying purpose while we live, that it is good to build and create and study and develop and manage. And that’s true for all honest labour, whether it’s in the office or the kitchen or the classroom. Working is a powerful way to honour God our Lord, when we do our work in his strength and for his praise.

That’s not to say our work is easy. As God said to Adam after the fall into sin: “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). Work can bring on a lot of stress and frustration and fatigue.

God is a loving Father who knows this full well, so He sanctifies a day for our refreshment. God says in Exodus 23, “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that [you]…may be refreshed” (v 12).

After working and studying and worrying for another week, we feel weak. So today the Lord gives opportunity for our bodies to rest, for our minds to enjoy an oasis of peace. Today you don’t need to work, or think about business, or stress over what is still undone. But be still, and rest in God. Take a break from all that is unnecessary, and embrace the things that truly give life: fellowship with God, the riches of his Word, the gospel of his Son. Then the day which is God’s gift will also become our delight.


2) the day as our delight: If the Sabbath is God’s gift, then how should we receive it? Once again, the fourth commandment instructs us, for it uses a word that is loaded with meaning. It says, “Remember the Sabbath day.”

In the Scriptures, ‘remembering’ is much more than a mental activity, a quick recollection of data. It’s more than remembering to put the garbage cans out on Tuesday morning. No, Biblical remembering is acknowledging an essential truth—letting it fill your mind, and then shape your life. It’s something you come to own, to believe and apply.

Remember the Sabbath day: fix it in your mind and heart as important—important for you, and important for God. For like so many of his gifts, it is one that we can take for granted. When we take things for granted, we act like we’re entitled to it, or we use it selfishly, or we fail to praise God through it.

This is what the Israelites did in the days of Isaiah: they were misusing the Sabbath—‘misremembering’ it. Not that they had started to profane the day by working in the fields and going to the marketplace, but for them the Sabbath had become an empty tradition. It was all about the outward activity of religious tradition.

Every Sabbath they were fasting and afflicting themselves in the hopes that God would bless them, “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and you take no notice?’” (v 3). For the Israelites the Sabbath was no longer about giving glory to God or helping the needy or resting their souls. Instead, they were focused on earning points with God by keeping the rules. In essence, the people were using the day for their own gain. God calls it “doing your pleasure on my holy day” (v 13).

We probably know something about the outward observance of the Sabbath, too. We have certain expectations for the Sunday, like being in church, dressing neatly, avoiding certain activities and choosing others. These things can have their place, but are they sometimes about outward conformity, earning the approval of others—or at least avoiding their criticism? In our hearts, do we always keep the focus on God and worshiping him?

And we might take the Lord’s day for granted in another way too. One author asked the pointed question: “Is Sunday my day of climax or my day of collapse?” How we answer that question is determined by what we do the rest of the week. We said that work is important, but do we pour out our life for it, so that by Sunday we can barely stay awake? Have we collapsed on Sunday, with nothing left for God?

Or is the weekend—going out on Friday night and Saturday—is that the highpoint of everything I do? If we are misspending our weekend, then Sunday will be nothing but a day of recovery. Not climax, but collapse. Not worship, but weariness.

So Isaiah exhorts God’s people to view the day rightly: “If you turn your foot from the Sabbath…” (v 13). This means something like: ‘Stop trampling all over my day.’ The Sabbath is God’s gift for you, but don’t turn it into a day of being self-centered. Underline verse 13 again, where the prophet speaks of turning from “doing your pleasure on my holy day.”

The Lord’s day is a gift, not to take for granted, not to devote to ourselves. But it’s a gift in which we must truly delight in the presence of God. That’s the high point of Isaiah 58, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight…”

Delight in the day—delight in it rightly! And that’s by remembering what God says it’s for. It’s for rest, but it’s also for worship. He calls us unto his presence and He says that He will draw near to us through his Scriptures and by his Spirit. The Catechism says that on this day we may attend the church of God “to hear God’s Word” (Q&A 103). What a joy that can be!

After another busy week, another trying and stressful or disappointing week, we so urgently need to be refreshed by God’s Word. We need to listen to his gracious promises again, and to hear his warnings against sin, and learn from his wisdom for life. Through the preaching we need to have our hearts lifted up again to Christ our Saviour, who is seated at God’s right hand, and who loves us more than any creature here on earth.

Listen to how Isaiah describes the nearness of God when his people honour the Sabbath: “The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (v 11). How is God going to do these amazing things? Through the ministry of his Word and Spirit, through the message of Christ. On the Lord’s day, God draws near to guide us, to satisfy and strengthen us, to renew us like a well-watered garden.

There is more. On Sunday we delight not only in the preaching of the gospel, but we cherish the use of the sacraments. In baptism and holy supper, God presents to our eyes, to our mouth, to our skin, the very realness of his grace in Christ Jesus. We delight to taste and see that the Lord is good!

And on this day we get “to call publicly on the LORD” (Q&A 103). Think for a moment of the profound privilege that is ours in prayer, being allowed to approach the glory of God in heaven above. He lets us call on him together as congregation. Together we can present our needs and thanksgivings and confessions to God the Father, and He delights to hear and answer.

Praying together on Sunday also demonstrates the beautiful truth that we’re connected to each other. We’re not a random collection of persons who happen to show up here at the same time every Sunday. No, we’re a body—the body of Christ. That’s something else to delight in, our fellowship with one another, as we meet together, pray together, share food and drink and conversation.

The Lord’s day is also a time for “[giving] Christian offerings for the poor” (Q&A 103). Cheerfully presenting our gifts should always remind us where our gifts came from in the first place—from our generous God in heaven.

These are Sunday activities that we know bring honour to God. But more generally, what can we do to “remember” the day as He commands? In preparing this sermon, I came across four helpful guidelines for keeping the Sabbath day. We should keep it holy, keep it happily, keep it honestly, and keep it humbly.

Keep this day holy. Know that God has circled this day on your calendar, blocked it out every week for a special purpose. It’s his gift, and his command, that we let nothing intrude on what we’re busy with today. So keep it holy, unique among the other six days, devoted to God and his Word and his worship. For these are the things that will truly refresh you.

Is that how it is for us? Is Sunday the day that we love to go to church, or is it the day that we try to squeeze church in? Do we delight in what we’re allowed to today, or do we become bored and begrudging about it all? We just said that church attendance can become an empty habit, that hypocrites can be among the most faithful ones darkening the pews. Even so, the way we view church attendance is a critical aspect of our life of faith.

Consider too, how the example of poor attendance affects our children. Our children will never conclude that church is important if, week after week, it is clear that Dad and Mom treat it as their second or third priority. Keep the day holy.

And keep this day happily. You’re happy today, and not just because you don’t have to go to work or vacuum the house. You’re happy today because today you can celebrate God’s amazing gift of redemption. In Christ Jesus, you have entered your rest—you can rest from your evil deeds, you can rest from the anxiety of guilt and judgment, and you can look forward to the rest of the eternal Sabbath (Q&A 103). Sunday’s a day to delight in the gospel!

Keep this day honestly. There are always going to be differences of opinion about how to observe the Lord’s day. The Old Testament people agonized over the question, and so do we sometimes: What does it mean to work, and what does it mean to rest? What’s allowed, and what’s not? But before God, we need to keep the day with a clear conscience. Be honest if your Lord’s day activity will refresh you for God’s service. On this day, are you genuinely seeking to submit your will to God?

And keep the day humbly. Christian humility is all about recognizing who we are in the sight of God. He is God and LORD, and we are but redeemed sinners through Christ, called to worship him with our entire lives. Let that truth guide and shape and crown your day, as you humbly walk with God.

For when we have a God-centered Lord’s day, we’ll also begin to have a more God-centered week, and a more God-centered life. See how Isaiah makes that link. Verse 13 again: “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight,” then—in verse 14: “Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD.”

That is the true heart of this day, that we can delight in God our Saviour. We put aside our flawed and sinful labours, and we trust in Christ alone for salvation. We cease our vain pursuit of approval, or status, or wealth, and we rest in Christ alone as our true peace. We hear his life-giving gospel, and we respond with worship. Delighting in the Sabbath, delighting in God, we start a new week. And we are sustained by his strength and filled with his grace!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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