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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:What to do on the Lord's Day
Text:LD 38 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-07-31
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 34:1,4                                                                                           

Ps 92:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Matthew 6:1-18

Ps 66:1,2,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 38

Ps 122:1,2,3

Hy 78:1,2,3,5

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


Beloved in Christ, today is the Lord’s day. The first day of the week was when our Lord rose from the grave. From the very earliest times of the New Testament church, believers met together for worship not on the last day of the week (as Israel had always done), but on the first. It became a day to celebrate God’s gift of redemption in Christ!

Sometimes we call today the “Sunday,” or maybe “the Sabbath,” but the “Lord’s day” really is the best name for it. For whenever we call today “the Lord’s day,” we’re getting a good reminder—it’s a prompt that we should pay attention to. Who is this day really for? What is this day all about? Is it the last day of a restful weekend? Is today merely a chance for big lunches and long naps? Or does the Lord’s day have a higher purpose?

The fourth commandment teaches that it’s a day to reorient our lives toward the Lord and his greatness. That’s the real heart of our faith, after all. And that’s the heart of the Lord’s day: getting back to how our God is so majestic, celebrating that his gift of salvation is so secure, and resolving again to worship him with all that we are.

So the next question is: What are good things to do on a day like this? If it’s the Lord’s day, how can we make sure we devote it entirely to him? To answer that, we look to the Catechism, and to a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. In the time of Christ, there were three important works of the religious life: there was almsgiving, there was praying, and there was fasting. Jesus gives a lesson about these activities, things to be done on the Lord’s day, and to be done throughout the week. I preach God’s Word to you under this theme,

Jesus teaches us good activities for the Lord’s day:

  1. true giving
  2. true praying
  3. true fasting

 

1) true giving: When you read the Old Testament—whether it’s the law, the prophets, or the wisdom writings—you notice that God is always concerned for the poor. In his compassion He never forgets the needy, and He doesn’t want his people to, either. So He commanded the Israelites to present their tithes at the tabernacle. And part of those gifts went toward the support of widows and orphans, and for other poor folks in the community.

Among the Jews, giving alms (or we’d say ‘charitable donations’) was one of the pillars of a righteous life. If you were going to be a faithful church member, this is just what you did. There was a saying among the Jewish rabbis that went like this, “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers all sacrifices.”

There were lots of opportunities to do this. You could give money at the temple, and put your offering into the large chests that were standing in the temple courts. Or if you couldn’t make it to Jerusalem, you could give money at the local synagogue. For the Jews, giving to the poor was a way of life.

And so it should be! After all, it is commanded in God’s law. In Jesus’s words in Matthew 6, you can hear his assumption that everyone will offer money to help others. He says, “So when you do a charitable deed…” (v 2). It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.” A thankful child of God will be generous.

The same teaching is behind the practice in our worship services today. On the Lord’s day, we are commanded to “diligently attend the church of God…[and] to give Christian offerings for the poor” (Q&A 103). It’s one of our good activities, every worship service again. The deacons stand up, the bags get passed around, money is dropped in, and then the worship service continues.

Yet when we do this, Jesus wants us to give it a thought. It’s a very worthwhile practice, but is giving to the needy—or giving to some other cause—it is really something that we think about? It seems that we might not pay much attention to that time for giving our money.

How can you tell? Sometimes we’ve forgotten to take any money with us, and we have to pass the bag again. Or the offering is time to give the liturgy sheet or bulletin a quick read. Still others turn to the person beside them for a quiet conversation. We sometimes treat the offering like the intermission at a sports game or concert. It’s a bit of a lull before we get going again with “real worship,” like singing or praying.

Yet then we’ve underrated this activity and its importance. What are we really doing when we drop our money in the bag? Or what are we doing with our bank transfers during the week, putting some money into the deacons’ account? For us, are these things still an act of worship to God? Have we thought about what it means?

In Christ’s sermon, He addresses something that seems a bit different from our lack of attention to the offering. Yet when it comes down to it, I think the problem is basically the same. For He speaks of giving money in an outward way. He says, “So when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men” (v 2).

The key word here is “hypocrite.” In the Greek language, a hypocrite is literally “an actor,” someone like Tom Hanks who plays a role. An actor can represent someone else very well, down the smallest mannerism and tone of voice. And yet you know the actor isn’t really that person. That’s what a hypocrite is like: a person who looks righteous outwardly, who does ‘Christian kinds of things’ for show, but not sincerely.

When some people give money, Jesus says, they’re just like actors. Because actors back then would try to attract an audience for their performance by blowing trumpets: people would hear the sound and come running, eager to see a bit of theatre. Likewise when some people gave alms, they’d “sound the trumpets.” They’d hold the offering so everyone could see the flash of gold or silver. They’d make sure the coins gave off a nice jingling sound as they tossed them into the box. Some synagogues even had inscriptions with the names of the big local givers. They wanted it to be known just how generous they were.

Is that something we can relate to? Do we make a show out of our giving on the Lord’s day? I’ve seen little children sometimes hold their coin up high just before they drop it into the bag! We can probably overlook that. Because more seriously, Christ is talking about empty worship. He’s talking about our giving to God when it’s done without thinking, or it’s done for the praise of other people, or done for our own satisfaction.

For example, maybe you’ve drawn up a mental list of your good deeds: “I’ve been on this committee. We’ve given lots of help to these needy people. I’ve served for a long time in the church and at the school. We’ve always donated well in excess of 10%.” Kind of a nice feeling to think about all the good things I’ve done. But if we celebrate our own giving like this, then who are we really giving for?

Christ says that true worship of God isn’t doing things to inflate your ego or doing “acts of righteousness” to relieve a sense of guilt. For all our acts of worship—even this afternoon’s offering—these things put us directly before the heavenly throne. Whatever we do here, whether we do it thoughtlessly or we do it intentionally, God notices. Whatever our motive, God knows: “Your Father…sees in secret” (v 4).

And this is about much more than dropping a bill in the bag or setting up a bank transfer. The word Christ uses describes giving alms, but it’s also contributing all kinds of help for people who are in all kinds of need: being a giving person! Which is what the Bible always tells us: love for one’s neighbor is the one of the truest measures of our religion. It’s what separates real faith from imitation faith.

Our calling is to give more often than simply those times when it’s expected. What are we like in our giving outside of the Lord’s day? What do we do, once the collection bags have been put away? When people can’t see what we do, and they won’t ever find out, it’s then that the real worth of our worship becomes clear. “Your Father…sees in secret.”

Give through the deacons today—sure! And through your online banking—definitely! But give to the Lord in other ways too. Even if we help people anonymously, God sees it and promises to bless it. Because ultimately, all our gifts and donations are for God. We’re offering our gifts and laying them at his feet.

When we give from the heart, we say, “The Lord has been good to me, so generous and kind. This money that I give is something God has first granted to me in his grace. This blessing that I have is another proof that God is faithful. He abounds in generosity, and as his child, I want to be generous too.” Giving in such a spirit brings joy to the Lord.

 

2) true praying: The Catechism mentions another key element of worship when it explains the fourth commandment, and that is prayer. We attend the church of God “to call publicly upon the LORD” (Q&A 103). In a way, that’s no surprise, because prayer is so essential to a good relationship with God. Prayer is like breathing, someone once said—it is that vital to our spiritual life! When you stop praying, you stop living in the Lord.

In the time of Christ too, prayer was highly valued. Back then, let’s keep in mind, most prayers were said out loud. Even personal prayers would be spoken audibly—it was unusual to be found in silent prayer.

These prayers had a careful structure and set times. The Jews had a daily prayer made up of three short passages of Scripture. This prayer was supposed to be recited twice a day by everyone: every morning and every evening. The rabbis said that it first had to be recited sometime before 9 AM, ideally as early in the day as possible. It then had to be prayed a second time that day, sometime before 9 PM. And if the last possible moment for saying the prayer had come, if it was 8:59 (and a half), the rule was: a person had to stop and say it. No matter where a person was, at home, walking in the street, working in the fields—it was time to pray.

We might think this is a bit formal, too rigid for our liking. Yet don’t we do the same thing? In our worship services there are definitely set times for prayer: near the beginning, and again near the end. In other public gatherings too, there are set times. You read that in the minutes of church and school meetings: “The meeting was opened in the customary Christian manner.” Prayer is a custom: it’s what we expect. We also have set times for prayer in our personal lives: at mealtimes and at bedtime. Feels wrong to eat without praying!

What do we think about these traditional times of prayer? In the first place, let’s admit that prayer is something we can easily neglect. If you’re not paying attention, you can go a whole day without praying to God—even longer. That is why it’s good to maintain those set times for prayer, at a very minimum. They help us not to postpone prayer because we’re too tired, or to skip it because we’re in a rush. We know we ought to pray!

And it’s so true that an important part of our life before God is the habits that we form. There are things we do every day that set the tone of our life. These are patterns that get laid down to either help or hinder our walk with Christ. So do we have good habits? Do you have good routines and structures for daily worship, for daily drawing near to God?

But Christ is right, of course. There is the danger that prayer is done without heart. In church, for example, the minister signals the beginning of congregational prayer, “Let’s draw near to the Lord…” We all close our eyes. And suddenly our mind becomes a highlight reel of yesterday’s activities, or a planning session for the coming week, or it gets busy with a hundred other unrelated things. Likewise, at mealtimes or meetings, it’s very easy to pray without thinking. It’s easy to rattle something off.

This becomes close to outward religion. Christ warns against it: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” (v 5). Remembering those set times, some made sure they were in a crowded place when it was just about 8:59 and they had to offer their daily prayer! This too, was “acting,” performing for an audience. “Look at old Ebimelech,” passersby would say, “Praying to God, right in the marketplace. How devoted he is, how pious!”

If that’s what these prayers had become, Christ wanted nothing to do with them. Instead, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place” (v 6). When you pray, get away from the noise. Get away from the people living in your house. Get away from the busyness of your day—find a quiet place, and pray. Do this, so that your prayer to God can be something real: real words from a real heart.

Jesus’s lesson is not that we should never pray in a public place. We could well pray in a restaurant or an airplane or the bus: God hears it, and God can even use it as a testimony. But the lesson is: whenever you pray, remember what you’re doing! You’re entering the presence of the holy God. You’re kneeling before his throne of grace. This calls us to find that quiet place in our thoughts, and there to pray.

That also applies to our prayers on the Lord’s day. Even as the minister is praying on behalf of the congregation, his words should be the words of all those in the pews. It’s a prayer that is being echoed in all our hearts and sent up to God.

Now, I think that the minister has the easier task here. It is hard to participate in congregational prayer if we’re not the ones who are actually saying the words. But it’s something that we should do with attention: to pray along with the minister. For what we pray for on the Lord’s day should also be prayed for by us as families and individuals during the week.

From Monday to Saturday, remember to keep praying for the sick. Remember to keep praying for those who are going through hard times in their families. Pray for the elders and deacons. Pray for the members whom you don’t see much at church anymore. Pray for our government. Pray for missionaries and the many Christians who are doing good work in this world. Pray for those who suffer for the cause of Christ. Bring them before the throne of God.

When we pray on the Lord’s day, or any other day, Christ gives another warning: “Do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words” (v 7). Jesus knew the typical practice. A rabbi once said, “Whoever is long in prayer is heard by God.” So they would heap up the words, repeat certain phrases, make endless requests.

Our prayers are sometimes like that, on the Lord’s day too, when we’re praying as congregation. Our prayers are long lists of everything that we think we need. “Please give this… Grant us that… Help us with this… Guide me in that….”

The good news is that God doesn’t need our vain repetition. Nor does He need us to always focus on ourselves. Why not? Because we’re not heathens, Christ says! Pagans, or heathens—those who don’t know the true God—are nervous whenever they pray. They keep babbling on, not sure that they’ll ever get what they need. But because of Christ, our relationship with the LORD is loving and intimate. Says Jesus, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him” (v 8). What a comfort! In prayer, you can approach a God who deeply cares for you.

Whatever you say in prayer, remember that you’re talking to your Father in heaven. So keep it in a spirit of worship, whether praying in your car, or at your breakfast table, or in church on the Lord’s day. Let us keep our prayers focused on God’s glory, and founded on trust: God knows what you need, even before you ask him!

 

3) true fasting: In Israel, the third activity of every righteous life was fasting. There was one fast everyone had to do, on the Day of Atonement, when they didn’t take any food or drink. But in the Old Testament there are quite a few other occasions when God’s people fasted. They would fast as part of their grieving for the dead, or to humble themselves when repenting.

By Christ’s time, fasts had become a regular thing. And certainly there were some who did it to try earn God’s favour. But others fasted so they could better focus on their communion with God, in prayer and through the study of his Word. Physical care was put to one side, so that a person could draw near to God.

Yet here too, was the temptation of being an “actor,” making a scene. It wasn’t hard to make clear to everyone that you were in the middle of a fast: your hair was uncombed, your clothes were disheveled, you had a grumpy look on your face.

Even so, notice that Christ does not condemn fasting. It should be interesting for us that He even assumes that his followers will fast, just like He assumes that we will give to the poor! “When you fast…” But Christ tells his audience to cover it up: “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place” (vv 17-18). Christ says that fasting is between you and God. It’s about being humbled before God and seeking God truly.

Today we don’t talk much about fasting. You might fast before a medical procedure, or as part of a diet program. But Christ speaks about the kind of fast that is meant to put our focus onto the LORD. For several hours, or for a whole day, you might abstain from solid food. At first you start to get really hungry, but that passes, and you have better clarity of mind for praying or for studying Scripture. There’s none of the sleepiness you get from eating a big meal, none of the distraction of wondering when it’s snack time. You can focus—and focus on God.

I’ve read good suggestions about other kinds of fasts too. For instance, fasting from things like your electronic device, or any kind of digital entertainment. Put it away for an entire day so that you can diligently (and without distraction) seek God’s face.

The point is, we need to make room for the Spirit to do his work. Notice how the Catechism says we need to “let the Lord work in [us] through his Holy Spirit” (Q&A 103). That’s a fascinating way to put it. The Holy Spirit is almighty, of course, and can work irresistibly in any heart. But the Catechism still speaks of ‘letting him work,’ making the space in your life so that He can change you.

That’s relevant for every day, for the Lord’s day too. As you prepare for each Lord’s day, try to be rid of the week’s many distractions. Don’t work, and try not think about work or about school. Try to lay aside the activity of every other day so that you’re ready to hear God’s Word. I know that it sounds crazy, but on the Lord’s day, put away your phone. Break off for the day your connection with the crazy world that never stops moving and never stops talking. Today, do things that will clear your mind and heart for something much better: to receive for the glorious gospel of Christ.

Today we should realize again our need to fast from the toxic things that are constantly seeping into our hearts and our lives. The Catechism calls this “resting from [our] evil works” (Q&A 103). We want to put evil works behind us, separate ourselves from every useless thing, so that on the Lord’s day we can simply draw near to God, to worship him, and to listen with open ears to the message of his love in Christ.

When we come to church needing rest, God promises his refreshment. When we come to church with hungry hearts, God will fill us to the brim by giving us himself. For it’s the Lord’s day, a day to taste and see that He is good! So come and be satisfied in Christ!  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 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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