One of the most difficult laws to understand is the one about the Sabbath. God says to "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy." But what does He mean, "keep it holy?" Does that law even apply to us today since we meet on Sunday rather than Saturday? In this message Stephen answers those questions for us.
“SUNDAY . . HOLY DAY OR HOLIDAY”
I pulled a book out of my study not too long ago, in fact, this week, entitled, The Workaholic. I would have read it earlier but I didn’t have time! But I pulled it out and it’s very interesting because there are some universal characteristics for the workaholic. And it was fascinating to discover these characteristics. One is, an unending or an unchanging schedule. They are tied to the same thing day in and day out without ever any change or any break or any stop. The second is, a conversation that is riddled with personal accomplishments. You pull an individual like that over to the side and in five minutes their going to tell you what they’re doing at the job and what they’ve accomplished because, in their mind, it’s produce, produce, produce. It’s interesting that this individual will experience an inability, thirdly, to say, “No.” In other words, they’re always going to say, “Yes,” whether it’s an employer or a pastor, whoever that may be. If I’m asked by my employer to stay over or take a trip or do that or this, why, say “No?” I can’t think of that. And so the third is, they have an inability to say, “No.” The fourth is more a result, perhaps, than anything else. That is, cardiac and circulatory problems. That doesn’t mean if you are here this morning and you have had cardiac difficulty that you aren’t taking time off but, it is a characteristic that those who never stop have that somehow, some way occur. We’re, I think, a little bit more tied in to a universal law than we might like to admit. We’re a lot like my Ford pick-up truck that has 104,000 miles on it. Do you feel like that this morning? I know that if I ever hope to reach 150,000 miles with that thing that I have to put it on a regular maintenance schedule. I have to change the oil, not every 10,000 miles but every 2,000 miles. I need to rotate the tires. I need to make sure there are clean spark plugs; clean the carburetor periodically. All of these things I’ve mentioned, I need to do yesterday. But if I ever hope to keep that thing running, I’ve got to do those things, I’ve got to put it on a maintenance schedule. We are so much like that. In fact, God has designed a maintenance schedule for us. And whether we want to follow it or not, it is clearly in scripture. It is the principle of rest. And I want you to turn to Exodus, chapter 20, and let’s look at it together.
Exodus, chapter 20. We’re covering the Ten Commandments, as we go through the book of Exodus. We are now on the fourth. Exodus, chapter 20, verse 8. If you have notes, it may be helpful in following along. Verse 8 says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner” - that is, the visitor - “who stays with you.” Now that is so hard. That doesn’t leave any loophole, that He almost anticipates from us, and argument. And before we can let out a peep, He comes along in the next verse and says, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and” - HE - “rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” In other words, God, who took a break, who stopped, if HE did, so much more should we, as finite creatures. Now, did God take a break because He was tired? No. Did He take a break because He had reached the exhaustion point and He looked back at all He had done and said, “I really need to get the battery recharged?” Absolutely not. He’s sovereign. He is omnipotent. He has infinite power. He’s never tired. Do you know why He did it? To establish an example for people like you and me who get the feeling WE are omnipotent and we can go without the break.
Now, whenever I preach on a passage like this, I have to answer a question. Even though most of you here would have no problem with this, part of my responsibility is refuting doctrinal error. And there is a body of people out there that need refuting. It is the people who still believe we are under Old Testament law and worship on the sabbath. The sabbath, or “Shabbath,” really means “rest,” or “cessation.” Why is it that you and I didn’t worship yesterday and we are worshiping today? Let me give you three reasons. I suggest you jot these down. You never know when someone will knock at your door. And, by writing, that helps simply remember just a little bit better than simply hearing.
Reasons why, first of all, the sabbath was a covenant sign between Israel and Yahweh. Turn to Ezekiel, that’s on the right hand side of Psalms. Ezekiel, chapter 20, turn there please, if you would. Ezekiel, chapter 20, verse 12, spells it out that this is a covenant sign between Israel and their God. Chapter 20, let’s start with verse 10. God is speaking, “So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them” - this is now the Ten Commandments He’s talking about and everything else in the Pentateuch - “And I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live.” Now note this, “And also I gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” Now that passage of scripture means that this command is unique to the Israelite nation. This command specifically deals with the Jewish nation. This is a covenant sign, just as circumcision was. They were commanded by God to reveal their separateness, to reveal the fact that they belong to Him by taking this day out and resting and worshiping. So, it was a covenant sign. And we, obviously, as a New Testament church, are not under the covenant signs of the Jewish nation. In fact, Colossians, chapter 2, tells us that the cross was the substance of the shadow. The shadow were the sabbaths, and the new moons, and the festivals. But now, with the cross, we have been given reality. And we’ll discover, in a moment, why and what that reality is.
The second thing that I want you to notice, the covenant sign was set aside because of the rebellion of Israel. Now keep heading right two books to the book of Hosea, chapter 2. Unstick those pages and let’s look at chapter 2, verse 8. He’s again recounting the history of Israel through scripture. “For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” - chapter 2, verse 9 - “Therefore, I will take back my grain at harvest time and my new wine in its season. I will also take away My wool and My flax given to cover her nakedness.” - look at verse 11 - “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons,” - AND - “her sabbaths”. So, because of Israel’s rebellion, because they rejected, ultimately we know that rejection took place when Jesus Christ offered the kingdom and they said, “No,” to Him. At that point, at that rebellious moment, God took away that covenant sign, the “Shabbath,” the “rest,” or the “cessation,” because they were now no longer a distinct nation under this new dispensation called grace.
Now, something new is on the horizon. What is that? Now God will deal with men, both Gentile and Jew, on a similar standing. And something else is created. Something happened in the New Testament. We can observe it, it’s called the Sunday worship, or the Lord’s day. Now there are several reasons why we are worshiping today. There were two significant events. The first was the resurrection. We learn from every gospel writer that the resurrection took place on the Lord’s day; that is, the first day of the week. That’s where we hear the first day of the week. Actually, it was the apostle John, in the book of Revelation, chapter 1, who called it the Lord’s day. He said, “I was in the Spirit” - when I was receiving this vision - “on the Lord’s day”. That’s where we get the title and it is very biblical. This is the Lord’s day, this Sunday.
Not only the resurrection, something else interesting happened on the first day of the week, and that was Pentecost, the day after the preparation. So Jesus Christ rose from the grave on the first day of the week and every gospel writer considers that significant enough to include it. And then Jesus Christ creates this new body, when? On Sunday, the first day of the week.
Now that’s good and well, but there is something else and this is the practice of the New Testament church. We learn, as we go through the book of Acts, that the New Testament church took aside that particular day and began to worship. When you get to Acts, chapter 20, verse 7, you discover that they are worshiping the Lord, specifically, on the first day. In fact, they are taking the elements, they used to take it every day, now they are reserving that element, or the Lord’s table, for Sunday. That’s a very important example to follow as we observe the New Testament church. So why do we worship today? Because of the resurrection and we celebrate that. Because of Pentecost and we celebrate what Jesus Christ has formed. And, in this local manifestation, it happens to be Colonial Baptist Church. And we follow the example of the New Testament believers by observing this particular day. Are we under law? Are we condemned to hell because we don’t worship on the sabbath? No. The sabbath was given to the Israelite nation, set aside because of their rebellion. But let me mention this, if we have trouble worshiping one day out of seven, we’d better get ready because we know, from the prophets, that in the millennial kingdom, when Jesus Christ reigns on earth, guess what He re-establishes? The “Shabbath,” the sabbath, that is Saturday. We won’t worship on Sunday anymore. We’ll go back because now He’ll deal in that Israelite genre where we will once again join the nation in worshiping and resting on the seventh day, the sabbath.
Now, back to Exodus, chapter 20. Jesus Christ, through revelation, believing that these are the words of Christ, as scripture tells us, says, not only to rest, He says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it” - what? - “holy.” “Holy” means, “set apart for sacred use.” It’s interesting that historians have given us a lot of insight in the early church. We learn, from studying them, that after Jesus Christ ascended that they began worshiping, as I mentioned in Acts, chapter 20, they relegated that to Sunday. We know that that first service, or those services, held on those first Sundays, were Sunday evenings. They had, what was called, the agape feast around the dinner table. And everyone would bring food and they would meet on Sunday evening to eat together and to worship. But, as the church began to develop, historians reveal, and I’m talking about people who were living in that day and have writings still existing today, they had so many slaves coming to Jesus Christ that they began a Sunday morning worship so that the slaves could meet with the body before they went to work. Not any longer than 70 years after Jesus Christ was ascended into heaven, Ignatius lived and he gives us a Sunday morning service. It’s interesting that they had prayers. They had scripture reading, like we had this morning. They had singing that would be developed within the congregation. People would stand periodically and share a testimony or maybe a passage of scripture. And then they always had communion, every Sunday. And what was fascinating is, Ignatius mentioned that, if you were absent from the body, that after the service, the deacon took the communion elements to your home and gave them to you there because, evidently, you were sick. And so they made house calls back then. Would you deacons like to do that? Boy, we’d have a time wouldn’t we? Come into your home, giving you communion, the neighbors looking out the window, “What in the world in going on?” But that’s exactly how they did it.
Now, let me give you two ingredients of a biblical Sunday, if we believe that this day is to be set apart for sacredness. This is not a holiday, this is, literally, a holy day, this is where we recognize the living Christ. We need at least two, even though the form has changed from Exodus, chapter 20, the principles remain. Those two are these, we’ve already mentioned them but, let me specify. Number one, rest. Write it down because you’re stubborn enough not to rest. I can remember growing up in a home where we weren’t allowed to play outside on Sunday. I know that really sounds strange to you. Actually I’m wondering how my mother ever survived with four kids in the house all afternoon. Man, I’d shuttle them out the door. Maybe that’s why we had to take naps on Sunday afternoon. And that is, by the way, one thing that has stuck with me! I don’t know about you. For heavens sake, don’t call me at 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I’ll give you bad advice on purpose! I’m asleep, wait until 3:00. But there was something instilled in us that gave us the distinction that this day is different. It is set apart for rest.
We all need, I believe, three changes and God has designed this day to provide those three. First of all, we all need that physical change and that’s where rest takes it’s place. We need a physical change. We need to pull ourselves out of that jungle, if possible. I realize some jobs keep that individual there, perhaps a policeman or somebody related to the medical field, and I know that cannot be helped, people who work with the utilities, but, if you can, on that day, pull yourself out of the jungle and REST, turn off the television, REST. Wait until after football before you do that, I don’t want to tell you to do something that I’m not going to do, so let’s wait a couple of months! I’ve got to be honest with you people. I’m not doing this for a whole month.
We also need an emotional change. That’s important. We need to hear a different set of vocabulary than what we get during the week. We need to hear different music. We need a different emotional experience. And this is the purpose of meeting together and taking this day out.
And along that same line, friends, we need a spiritual change. It’s interesting, in the Old Testament, that this law was relegated, not just to humans and animals, you were to take the yoke off the oxen. This is also related to agriculture. Isn’t it interesting that they had a sabbath or a “Shabbath” for the land. One year out of seven, they were not allowed to plow or plant, they were to leave the land alone. And, on the sixth year, God would give them so many crops that they would have it left over to survive on the seventh year. They disobeyed, obviously, and God sent them into captivity for stealing the “Shabbath.” But, it’s interesting, the land was to lay dormant so that it could keep it’s productivity. Do you get the implication? We are to take a day out of seven so that we can remain productive, we get so spiritually drained throughout the week. And if we keep up that kind of practice, we will run out of spiritual fuel. So He set aside this day for a spiritual change.
We not only need a spiritual change and a physical change and an emotional change, those are part of rest, but we also need, secondly, worship. Not only is this day set aside for rest, it’s also set aside for worship. And let me give you four things that this day will provide in it’s worship. Number one, our worship services are designed to strengthen you. Acts, chapter 4, verse 31, is fascinating. It talks about the apostles, who with great boldness and courage, went out to share the news that Jesus Christ was alive. And that came immediately after praying and studying with the body. It says, almost consequentially, that they got up from their knees and their study and they went out and proclaimed - “with boldness” - that He is alive. That is the intention. It is to equip you for the purpose of ministry. It is to strengthen you and me, as we rub shoulders and worship our God, to go out and go back into that jungle and take His name with us and share it. It strengthens.
Secondly, it cleanses. It ought to. And I want to give you a suggestion that you prepare for cleansing. If we go back in history far enough, we’ll discover that the Puritans had, what they called, “the vigil.” I wouldn’t really want to come from a Puritan family, very stern and austere. And yet, they had the principle called “the vigil,” where on Saturday night, they would begin preparing for worship on Sunday. The vigil was a literal reference to the warming of the oven, so that on Sunday, when they put the bread in, it would bake. And they would prepare their hearts through vigil. They would pray. They would meditate. They would just start slowing the gears down. I think that is a tremendous principle that we have lost. We get up, frazzled, because Saturday nights are so often so hectic and so busy that we are ill prepared. And I believe that we bring into this worship service hearts that we’ve cultivated throughout the entire week. And I believe that the preparation is important, even on Saturday night. Of course, in the gospels, they called it “the preparation.” The evening before the “Shabbath,” they would start slowing it down, meditating, saying prayers. So we come into this room to do what? To sit here? To sing a little bit? We come to be strengthened. We also come to be cleansed. We come to allow God to change our hearts, to refocus our attention.
There’s a third and that is, this refocuses. It refocuses, it strengthens, it cleanses. And I think the refocusing is so crucial in a society where you live and work that tells you to produce, to produce, to produce. You are significant in terms of what you produce. You are significant in terms of what you accomplish. And what happens, you come here and you find out what? A totally different story. You are significant because of who you are in Christ Jesus, PERIOD. Apart from the promotion, apart from the wealth, apart from the scramble for the top, we are refocused into the things that are really significant. That is who we are in Christ Jesus. We’ve got to have that.
Then, fourthly, it not only strengthens and cleanses and refocuses but, it encourages. Hebrews, chapter 10, is a classic passage of scripture that preachers love to quote, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”. Amen? Well, let’s try that again. (laughter) Do you know what I believe is sad about that? They have forgotten the rest of the passage. Why? So that you can come together and - “provoke” - one another - “unto love and to good works”. It doesn’t mean a thing for people to come in here and fill up a chair. That’s insignificant. But, if we come together to provoke, to encourage, to motivate unto love and good works, then we are accomplishing something. G. Campbell Morgan was a great expositor, one of my favorite authors. I have a number of his books. He was pastoring a church and he went to visit a man who had stopped coming to church. And he sat in the man’s parlor, there in front of the crackling fire, and the man was telling G. Campbell Morgan, “It’s not important for me to be there. I can worship God anywhere. I don’t need the encouragement of the saints.” G. Campbell Morgan sat there quietly and then he leaned forward and he took a poker and he stuck it into the coals there at the bottom and he pulled one of them out and pulled it aside. Without saying a word, they both watched that coal as it grew cold. Morgan never said a word but the man turned to him and he said, “Now I understand.” Because the pile had stayed hot, glowing. You know something, men and women? I need you. And you need each other. And together we, collectively, form a pile of hot coals that encourage and motivate unto love and good works.
Somebody wrote once, and I’ve never forgotten it, this, “The stops of a good man, as well as the steps of a good man, are ordered by the Lord.” What we’ve done this morning is talk about the stop. Ladies and gentlemen, for our evangelical world to get the attention of God or for God to get our attention, it’s as if God will have to; A. make an appointment, B. take a number, or C. forget it. But I am convinced that He will not run to catch up. He waits. And I believe that there is a principle that exists even today. It is the law of rest. It is the law of worship. The question is, will I establish that law that demands so little and yet, provides so much in my life? Let’s pray.