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

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 63:1,2

Psalm 143:4,5,6

Psalm 92:1-4

Hymn 1

Psalm 92:5-7

Scripture reading: Hebrews 4:1-13

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 38

* 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 Christ Jesus,

The French philosopher Voltaire once remarked, “If you get rid of the Christian Sabbath, you will get rid of Christianity.”  That was attempted by the French Revolution.  During the Revolution back in the late 1700s, France eliminated the Christian week of seven days, a week that begins with a day of rest and worship.  In its place they invented a new calendar that included a week of ten days – nine working days followed by a tenth day of rest.  The new calendar didn’t last long.  By 1805, it had been completely abandoned.  Nevertheless, the French recognized that the Fourth Commandment has a central place in the Christian faith.  If you can take that away from Christians, you can greatly undermine Christianity.

Why is this commandment so important and so central?  Because God in his wisdom has given us a day on which to rest.  We’re given rest from our normal daily labours so we can devote our energy and attention to God in worship.  We’re given rest from what we do during the rest of the week so we can come to church and be fed by Christ through his Word, so we can be strengthened by him through the sacraments.  The Fourth Commandment gives us rest so we can gather together, encourage one another and enjoy one another’s fellowship.  Without the gift of the Fourth Commandment, we could quickly develop a bad case of spiritual anemia, lacking the essential spiritual nutrients we need to grow as God’s children.  That’s why this commandment is so tightly connected with the health and maintenance of the Christian faith. 

This commandment is about a day of rest and worship.  One day out of every seven is set apart by God so we’d rest from our work and worship him.  The basic meaning of the commandment isn’t complicated:  God wants you to rest and worship on the Sabbath.  It’s the interpretation and application where we often find ourselves debating and discussing.  And yet, if we keep the big picture in mind of what this commandment is about, we’ll usually find ourselves in broad agreement with one another, even if we might differ on some of the details.

The commandment says we’re to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  One of the questions that comes up straightaway is how we moved from the Jewish Sabbath on a Saturday to the Christian Sabbath on a Sunday.  The kids here might know that Jewish people in the Old Testament and still today have their day of rest and worship on Saturday.  If you drive by a synagogue on a Saturday, you might see the Jews gathering together.  That was just like before and during the days of Christ on earth.  When Jesus worshipped at the synagogue or the temple, he did that on Saturday.  So now why do we worship on Sunday instead? 

The answer is found in the New Testament.  We still find one day in every seven being set aside as a day of rest and worship.  We also find that there’s a day called “the Lord’s Day.”  John mentions that day in Revelation 1:10.  In Acts 20:7, we see the church at Troas gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread and hear the preaching of Paul.  And in 1 Corinthians 16:1, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about taking collections on the first day of the week when they were gathered together.  What’s so special about the first day of the week?  It’s the Lord’s Day, the day when Jesus rose from the dead.  In the Old Testament, they finished their week with rest and worship.  In the New Testament, because of what Christ has done, we can begin our week with rest and worship.  The principle of one day in seven remains, but because of Christ the day has shifted from Saturday to Sunday.  Sunday is the Christian Sabbath.  So now today when we hear the commandment to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” we understand that to mean, “Remember the Lord’s Day to keep it holy.”  

Now in the rest of the sermon this afternoon we want to learn about how this commandment is:

  1. Rooted in creation
  2. Linked to redemption
  3. Anticipating renewal

The Fourth Commandment didn’t drop out of the sky on Mount Sinai.  It wasn’t like the people of Israel were gathered before the mountain and had never heard of the Sabbath before.  The Fourth Commandment simply put in writing in the Ten Commandments what had already been in place since the time of creation.  We might be tempted to think that in general the people of Israel had no law until Moses.  But consider what God said about Abraham in Genesis 26:5.  The LORD referred to Abraham as a man who kept his commandments, his statutes, and his laws.  Abraham followed the law of God, and we can reasonably conclude that this included the commandment to rest and worship on the Sabbath.

There are two indicators in the Fourth Commandment itself that tell us that it wasn’t a new commandment.  The first is in the word “Remember.”  The commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy…”  That indicates the Sabbath day isn’t something new to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.  That’s confirmed by what we read in Exodus 16.  That chapter finds Israel in the wilderness before they arrive at Sinai.  When the LORD provides manna for the people, they’re commanded not to gather any on the Sabbath.  That too indicates that the essence of the Fourth Commandment was known already before it was codified in the Ten Commandments.

The other indicator has to do with the reference to creation.  There are two versions of the Ten Commandments.  One is found in Deuteronomy 5 and the other is in Exodus 20.  In Exodus 20, God refers to creation as the roots of the Fourth Commandment.  “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”  Of course, that refers back to the beginning of Genesis 2.  And note that the Fourth Commandment repeats what we find there.  God blesses the seventh day and makes it holy.  The Fourth Commandment is rooted in creation. 

Why did God rest after creating everything?  Kids, what do you think?  Do you think God was tired after all that work on those six days of creation?  You would be tired after doing all of that.  God created everything and everything is a lot of stuff.  Imagine if you had to do all that.  But God isn’t like us.  We say that God is almighty.  God doesn’t get tired.  God doesn’t need a rest.  But we do.  That’s why God gave the gift of the Sabbath.  He gave it for us.  Jesus said it in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man…”  God gave the Fourth Commandment because he cares about us.  In his care, he wants us to have one day in which to rest and worship him.  He’s had that care right from the very beginning.           

That’s important.  It’s important because there are people who say that the Fourth Commandment is irrelevant for us today.  They say Christians don’t have to keep this commandment because it was just a Jewish law, and now Christ has come, so we don’t have to keep it.  Or others might turn the Fourth Commandment into the Fourth Suggestion.  As if God is saying, “Here’s something good that you might want to try…you can take it or leave it.”  No, when we see that the Fourth Commandment is rooted in creation, we recognize that this law has always been in force for all people and still is, and also for us as Christians.  In theology, we call it a creation ordinance.  Another example of a creation ordinance is marriage.  God instituted marriage in creation.  No human can come along and overturn it or try to redefine it.  And God also instituted the Sabbath in creation.  No human has the right to come along and set it aside.   

Now while this commandment is rooted in creation, it takes on deeper significance with the work of God’s redemption in history.   We can see that immediately if we look at the version of the Fourth Commandment found in Deuteronomy 5.  While Exodus 20 motivates God’s people to keep the Sabbath holy because of creation, Deuteronomy 5 appeals to God’s redemption:  “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that 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 observe the Sabbath day.”  When Moses gives the law a second time (that’s what Deuteronomy literally means, “Second Law”), then he points the people of Israel back to their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  God set them free from their working as slaves.  They’re now to rest on the Sabbath and give rest to their servants and even their animals.  God gave deliverance and rest, and now the people of Israel are to rest and give rest too.  The Sabbath is about rest and freedom. 

In that way it pointed ahead to Christ and the redemption we have in him.  Through Christ we have rest from trying to earn God’s favour.  Through Christ we have freedom from the slavery of sin.  In him, we’ve been liberated from the chains of death and destruction.  The Fourth Commandment is linked to our redemption in Christ because it foreshadows his work.  But also because he fulfilled it for us perfectly.  

Of ourselves, we’re all Sabbath-breakers to some degree or another.  If we look at the explanation of this commandment in our Catechism, we might be able to put a check mark beside the first part of what God requires in this commandment.  It’s not difficult to make regular voluntary contributions so the ministry of the gospel continues.  By the way, when our Catechism speaks about “the schools” here, it’s referring to seminary education.  It’s not hard to support that, nor is it really all that hard to diligently attend the church of God to hear the Word preached, use the sacraments, pray, and give our offerings.  These things are relatively easy and they’re within your reach.  That’s because these are the external forms of obedience to this commandment.   That doesn’t mean they’re less important.  That doesn’t mean you should neglect them.  But it’s the second part of what God requires in this commandment that really opens our eyes to our inadequacy:  we’re to rest from all our evil works all the days of our lives.  Now that’s where the real challenge is.  God requires that of us.  He requires that of all people.  If you fail in resting in this perfect and always consistent way from your evil works, you’ll be punished eternally in hell.  That might make us despair.  But only if we’re not resting and trusting in Christ and his work on our behalf.  He perfectly kept the Fourth Commandment and he did that for us.  When we trust in him, then his righteousness is ours.  God credits all the law-keeping of our Saviour to our accounts.  We’re then perfect Sabbath-keepers in the eyes of God, we’re perfect in Jesus Christ.  All because of God’s grace. 

We can praise God that we have the perfect righteousness of Christ so that we’re accounted as law-keepers before divine justice.   We can also be thankful for the forgiveness of all our Sabbath-breaking that we have in Christ’s suffering and crucifixion.  On the cross, he’s freed us from the curse our sins deserve.  Through God’s grace in Christ, all our sins have been paid for and that includes all the times we have been active in our evil works and all the times we haven’t set apart the Lord’s Day for rest and worship.  Brothers and sisters, in Jesus you have forgiveness.  The gospel announces that to you this afternoon, and you’re called to again embrace that news in faith. 

The Fourth Commandment is linked to our redemption through Christ and his work on earth in our place, both his active obedience and passive (or suffering) obedience.  Because of that we have even more motivation and incentive to want to keep this commandment.  We want to grow in our obedience to all of God’s law because of what Christ has done for us.  God expects that of us as his redeemed children, but it’s also our heartfelt desire to please him and follow his commandments, including this one. 

As we do that, there’s still more ties to our redemption.  Our redemption includes not only the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins.  Our redemption also involves our sanctification, our growing in faith and holiness as God’s children.  God has given means of grace to help us in that.  Where do we find those means of grace?  In God’s church, and especially on the Lord’s Day.  The Sabbath will be a day for us to learn how to live as redeemed and freed people as we worship God together.  We’re called to attend church diligently so we can sit under the administration of the Word and sacraments.  These are ways that God will continue working in us through his Holy Spirit.  The Sabbath is a day for rest and worship for Christians who have been delivered from the slavery of sin.  It’s a day on which we’re freed from our regular daily obligations so we can serve the LORD and receive the nourishment we need from him and his Word. 

All of that being true, we need to ask ourselves:  why would I ever want to do anything that would stand in the way of that for myself or my family?  Why would I ever want to stand in the way of my neighbour enjoying the rest found in God’s gift of the Fourth Commandment?  For instance, by participating in a 24/7 economy that never stops.  If I trust God's goodness in the Fourth Commandment, why would I go into a shop or restaurant on a Sunday?  We're not talking about those exceptional circumstances where someone is sick in the family and needs medicine or something like that.  We're talking about just a regular Sunday where you're at home.  But these days there’s also a 24/7 economy going on over the Internet.  If we recognize the value of the Fourth Commandment, if we see God’s wisdom in that, why would we take part in online buying and selling on the Lord’s Day?  If unbelievers like Voltaire recognized that undermining the Sabbath would destroy the Christian faith, why would you as a Christian do anything to undermine it?  That would be senseless.  The character of the day is all about Christian values and principles such as freedom, grace, rest, and worship.  Keeping that in mind will go a long way in applying the Fourth Commandment to concrete situations.

Now finally our Catechism speaks about the eternal Sabbath at the end of answer 103.  The Fourth Commandment has a forward looking element to it.  Through this commandment, we’re also anticipating the renewal that arrives with the age to come.

According to Hebrews 4, we have a promise of entering God’s rest.  This promise continues to stand.  Even though the people of Israel were disobedient, verse 9 says that “there remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  What does that rest involve?  It involves rest from our evil deeds, the kind of rest that the people of Israel were unable to obtain.  In the age to come, when we dwell with God into eternity, we’ll be busy.  There’ll be things to do in the new heavens and new earth.  We’ll be praising God and living for him the way we were designed to.  If we see the age to come as a restoration of paradise in Genesis 1 and 2, then we’ll be working too, labouring in the new creation.  Work of itself isn’t a bad thing.  But Hebrews 4 tells us that we’ll also be resting.  We’ll be resting from sin.  We’ll be finished with it. 

And the way to move towards that rest in this life is through faith and its fruits.  We’re called to look to Christ and trust in his merits alone for our salvation.  Through Christ we have the promise of rest.  Our faith in him then bears fruit in lives that want to make that rest already a reality now.  The author of Hebrews calls us to “make every effort to enter that rest.”  Do that now, already in this life.  He says that anyone who has entered God’s rest through Christ will also rest.  What that means is that faith bears fruit.  Having been granted liberty and rest in Christ, we in turn will also aim to hate sin and stop sinning in our lives.  That’ll be our aim, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, it will increasingly become our reality.  Then the full future renewal begins to make its appearance in our lives already now.

Loved ones, do you see how the Fourth Commandment connects to the past?  It connects at creation, at the Exodus, and at Christ’s work in his life and death.  Because all these past events are so important, the Fourth Commandment also connects to our present.  Because of creation, the Fourth Commandment still holds.  Because of Christ, the Fourth Commandment has been kept for us and all our infractions dealt with.  Because of Christ then and our love for our Saviour, we have a sound motivation to keep the Sabbath holy today.  Then the Fourth Commandment also connects to our future.  Because of Christ and his work in us today, we have the promise of a future rest in the new heavens and new earth.  The Fourth Commandment truly is a gift of God that speaks to us not merely of his requirement for all humanity, but also of his gracious plan for our good, for our redemption and renewal.  AMEN. 


O wise and good God in heaven,

Thank you for your perfect and good law.  This afternoon we especially thank you for the gift of the Fourth Commandment.  In this law we see your wisdom.  We see your kindness towards humanity, your creation.  Father, we thank you for Christ who has perfectly kept this law for us.  We’re glad and grateful that his sacrifice on the cross also covers all the times we’ve broken this law.  Please continue working in us with your Spirit so that we love your law and want to keep it.  Help us to want to please you, also with remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Father, we want to value the ministry of the gospel and the means of grace.  And we want to rest from all our evil works.  Please give grace and strength to do these things, to do them from your glory.  We pray for the coming of Christ and the renewal of all things.  Father, we look forward to the age to come and the eternal rest promised us in the gospel.  Please bring it quickly.

* 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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