Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)

The Command to Enter into the Lord’s Rest (Part 4)

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Do you gather to worship the Lord with a heart at rest, enjoying all the blessings that come to us in Christ? The Sabbath command no longer applies to us as new covenant believers, on this side of the cross of Christ, as a legal prescription. Nevertheless, it still teaches us because it is a pointer to fundamental principles of life and reality. Last week we learned that the most important thing we can learn from the Sabbath command is that we need God’s rest, and we know that that rest is only found by believing in Christ.

But is that all we can learn from the Sabbath command? I believe there is much more we can learn. And this is why: the law God gave to the Israelites through Moses was one concrete application of his eternal moral law. God’s eternal moral law is really just an expression of his own character and nature. We today live under a different covenant with a different law – the law of Christ, but it too is an expression of the eternal moral law of God. Thus both the law of Moses and the law of Christ are applications of the eternal moral law of God. They are for different times in the outworking of God’s plan, and so they have different specific commandments, but they both reflect the same moral standards. I believe these moral standards are built into the way God created the universe; his handiwork declares his glory. Because of that, I believe the Sabbath command is like a sign-post, pointing to fundamental, created reality that God has built into the universe and which we ought to follow.

So the Sabbath can point us toward God’s rest, which is ultimately found only in Christ. But as we live this life on earth, the Sabbath command can also point us toward how we should live out that rest. Let me remind you of some of the lessons Israel would have learned from the Sabbath command.

1. We are creatures, not the Creator. This implies that we ought to emulate God. Furthermore, it teaches that we are not in control, God is. We must trust God for provision, not our own efforts. This is the opposite of pride and worry; it is submission and trust.

2. There is a regularity to this created world, and we should operate according to it. This would include our worship. Our worship must take place in time and space. In other words, we must set aside time devoted to God. This breaks us free from the tyranny of time and toilsome labor.

3. Nevertheless, labor is good.

4. Still, we need rest. We are not merely machines for production and consumption. What is more, we should not treat other people, and even animals, that way. [The 4th command challenges our economic assumptions and aspirations.]

5. What glorifies God is good for us!

I believe that the Sabbath command can function for us as Christians to point us to the very same truths. Creation itself speaks to these truths. The NT supports these truths. We ought to learn and live by these truths. Let me now apply one of them to our lives.

You need to set aside regular time to seek God.

The NT does teach us that all of life is holy to the Lord, but that does not at all change the fact that we need special times set aside for our worship. We all know that if we don’t make time for something, it doesn’t happen. I have a “to-do” list of things that need work around my house. My wife works to make sure that I designate time to work on these things, because if I don’t, they don’t get done! That’s why, for instance, I encourage you to set aside a specific, regular time each day for private religious exercises.

But since God has made us part of a body of believers, the same thing applies to our corporate worship. We need a specific, regular time in which we meet to engage with God through prayer, song, and hearing his Word. It is good for us to meet at all kinds of times, but in particular, I believe that we should specifically maintain our Sunday meetings. This appears to have been the pattern of the NT believers. The believers in Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). Paul explicitly commanded the believers in Corinth to lay aside their offerings on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1-2). Then when we get to the book of Revelation, we find John saying he was in the Spirit on “the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10). Because John is telling us where and when this happened to him, and because he does not seem to be speaking metaphorically, it seems most likely that he is talking about the first day of the week. I believe this is particularly appropriate in the book of Revelation, because it seems to be an “allusion to the decisive victory won by the Lord of lords on the first day of the week” (Laansma). And that points us to the reason that the early Christians would have chosen the first day of the week to begin with – Jesus Christ rose from the dead on that day. That was the day that he was acclaimed as Lord of all (Rom 1:4). The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all specifically state that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. What is even more interesting is that the only other places in the entire NT that the phrase “the first day of the week” is found is in connection with the believers meeting in Troas (Acts 20:7) and the believers meeting in Corinth (1 Cor 16:2). In other words, I am suggesting that when the early believers used the phrase “the first day of the week,” it had a specific connotation for them. That was the day that Jesus conquered sin and death. That’s why John called it “the Lord’s day.” That is why they regularly met on that day to worship Jesus Christ as Lord.

Now, this is not to say that Sunday is intrinsically more holy than any other day or that God gave us specific commands about how to observe the Lord’s day. It is not, and he did not. But it is particularly appropriate for us to worship him as his body on that day. Do you think it appropriate that our nation celebrates July 4th? Why? Then how much more is it appropriate that we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week – the Lord’s day.

I also believe it is appropriate that we do it together as a body, for Ephesians says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27). Isaiah prophesied that “he shall see his offspring….He shall see and be satisfied” (53:10-11). Now think about this: when we gather together each Sunday before the Lord, we are saying, “Here we are Lord. We are your body. We are your bride. See us and be satisfied. Take pleasure in the fruit of your agony. You have washed us with your blood. We love you and bow before you as our Lord.” As we gather, I can see in my mind’s eye the Son at the right hand of the Father turning to the Father to say, “It was worth it all. Thank you, Father, for sending me to endure the cross and for raising me from the dead. Thank you, Spirit, for applying my finished work of redemption to these people and for uniting them in one body.” And the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wrapped in Trinitarian love, gaze in delight on the bride of Christ.

And now I ask you – do you not want to be a part of that? Why would you go to a football game or an amusement park on Sunday when you could be participating in an awesome display of the love and power of God? Why would you go shopping when you could have it as the “market day of the soul”? Why would you intentionally turn this day into a day of toilsome labor when you could be bathing your soul in the rest that Christ provides? What else could be more important to your spiritual well being and that of your family? You need to set aside time to seek God.

I would encourage you today to make time for God in several practical ways. First, make church attendance a non-negotiable in your life and in your family. Go to church and sit together every week, 52 weeks a year, year after year after year. That is one of the most, if not the most, spiritually important things you can ever do for your family. I would say it is even more necessary than a personal devotional time every day. For most of church history most Christians did not have their own Bibles to read and study. How did they survive spiritually? They went to church. I realize that there are some things that are absolutely necessary that will come up that require some people to miss church on occasion, but as a rule, there are very, very few things that are more important than being in church. Make it non-negotiable.

Second, work to have a Lord’s Day on Sunday. Don’t let it become cluttered with everything else you didn’t have time to do over the week. Now, again, this is not a biblical command, but I believe it is very wise. In western societies we have a privilege that not many people have had in history, which is having Sundays off. We are in the process of squandering that privilege by using Sundays for all kinds of things other than spiritual exercises. It has become just another day to work, another day to shop, another day to do whatever we want without a thought for God. Churches are even going along with the trend. More and more churches are holding Saturday evening meetings so that people can do other things on Sundays. But you don’t have to go along with the flow. Let’s show the world a better way. Make the Lord’s Day an absolutely special day. Start preparing for it on Saturday evening by getting clothes ready. Get to bed at a decent time. Sing the songs for worship with your family. Teach your children that this is Jesus’ special day, and we show our love and faith by going to church. Let them see (and this is crucial) that you really enjoy going to church. Start a fun family tradition that you do after the evening service. Read spiritually beneficial stories together like Pilgrim’s Progress. Whatever you do, make the Lord’s Day special.

There is so much more that could be said. I do believe, for instance, that reasonable blue laws are beneficial for all in society and that they are within the sphere of legitimate jurisdiction for government to enact and enforce. But right now I simply want to exhort you with this: if you have felt your spiritual temperature dropping – set aside time for God. If you have felt frazzled in what the world calls the rat race of life – set aside time for God. Make this a non-negotiable for you and your household. Cry out to God, “I don’t need food, I don’t need sleep, I don’t need money – I need you. I need your smile. I need your presence and pleasure. I’m going to show that by setting aside time to seek you, especially with your people.” Present your bodies as living sacrifices by setting aside time for God. Rest in him. And bring pleasure to Christ as he sees the fruits of his sacrifice coming to pass in the world.

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