Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
" IN THE SABBATH GODíS PEOPLE RECEIVE A FORETASTE OF PARADISE RESTORED ."
103. Q. What does God require in the fourth commandment?
A. First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained and that, especially on the day of rest, I diligently attend the church of God to hear God's Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the LORD, and to give Christian offerings for the poor. Second, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, let the LORD work in me through His Holy Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal sabbath.
 Deut. 6:4-9; 20-25; I Cor. 9:13, 14; II Tim. 2:2; 3:13-17; Tit. 1:5.  Deut. 12:5-12; Ps. 40:9, 10; 68:26; Acts 2:42-47; Heb. 10:23-25.  Rom. 10:14-17; I Cor. 14:26-33; I Tim. 4:13.  I Cor. 11:23, 24.  Col. 3:16; I Tim. 2:1.  Ps. 50:14; I Cor. 16:2; II Cor. 8 and 9.  Is. 66:23; Heb. 4:9-11.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
In her confessions the church repeats after God what she has heard God say in His Word. Concerning the fourth commandment the church confesses that God first of all requires "that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained." The "ministry of the gospel": thatís a reference to the preaching, be it in the churches of the land, be it on the mission field. And "the schools": thatís a reference to the Theological College, to the training institution for the ministry of the gospel. That stands to reason too; if the Lord wants that the ministry of the gospel be maintained, then there must today be training facilities so that there can be preachers tomorrow. And of course, the point is not only that a College exists but also that we see to it that there be students who attend this College.
That "the ministry of the gospel Ö be maintained" means also, says the church in Lordís Day 38, that each of us "diligently attend the church of God to hear Godís Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian offerings for the poor." Again, thatís so understandable: if God requires that the gospel be proclaimed, then thereís need not just for preachers but also for an audience. More, the gospel has to be proclaimed for a reason, and that reason requires that the congregation come faithfully together. "Diligently," says the Catechism, and that means Sunday by Sunday, every time the gospel is proclaimed. So thereís no place for oncing.
The question now is this: on what grounds can the church say that this is required in the fourth commandment? "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," says that commandment. Why does the church make out of that that "the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained, and that, especially on the day of rest, I diligently attend the church of God"? What is the connection between this commandment and the obligation confessed in our Lordís Day?
That question, brothers and sisters, is important because the Sunday is increasingly becoming a point of discussion. Itís not only so amongst the Dutch sister churches, but also in our own midst. Think only of the fact that 15 odd years ago it was frowned upon to spend a Sunday away from church. Today itís quite normal. Thatís a development that requires evaluation.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
IN THE SABBATH GODíS PEOPLE RECEIVE A FORETASTE OF PARADISE RESTORED.
1. The message of the Sabbath.
The people of Israel were camped at the foot of Mt Sinai. From the top of the mountain came that voice from God Almighty: "I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." That voice continued with the consequence of that opening statement: "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holyÖ." "Remember," says God. What, specifically, was Israel to "remember" about the Sabbath day?
To get to the point, consider Anzac Day. The last time you remembered Anzac Day, what did you do? We realize: to remember Anzac Day is to draw to mind the things that happened at Gallipoli back in 1917 (and the various wars since then). To remember Anzac Day is to remember a specific day and a specific event.
Now the Lord tells Israel to "remember the Sabbath Day." What is this Sabbath Day they were to remember? No, they were not remember next weekís Sabbath, just as we on Anzac Day do not remember next yearís Anzac Day. Israel was instead to remember a specific Sabbath day of the past. Which one?
The answer canít be so difficult because God had mentioned the Sabbath to Israel only once before. Thatís in the passage we read from Ex 16. That passage had described how the people after their escape from Egypt hungered in the desert, and so God promised to "rain bread from heaven for you" (Ex 16:4). But this manna would not fall every day. Six days it would fall so that the people might collect it each morning, but on the sixth day (Friday) the people were to collect a double portion because Ėsaid God- "tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord" (vs 23). God repeats the instruction in vs 29: "the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days." The people understood, and "rested on the seventh day" (vs 30).
God made a point of driving home to His people what His ordinance about the Sabbath was. We do not know on what day of the week the manna began to fall. Whenever it was, Moses told the people in vs 19 that they were not to leave any of it till morning Ė for they were to trust that God would supply tomorrowís bread tomorrow. Some, though, kept some manna aside for tomorrow, "and it bred worms and stank" (vs 20). But see: on the Sabbath that didnít happen! God impressed it on Israel: this day is different, this day is special. Hereís a day when you donít have to work, more, hereís a day when you are not to work.
At Mt Sinai the Lord commanded His people to "remember the Sabbath day." That is: every week anew they were to remember that day of Exodus 16, how the Lord gave them double food the day before and preserved the gathered manna so that it was fresh on the Sabbath Ė that the people in turn might be able to rest. While the people were at Mt Sinai the manna kept falling each day, but not on the Sabbath, and so the people were confronted each Sabbath anew with the wonderful gift of not having to work on that day.
Now: why did God give Israel this Sabbath day in Ex 16? And why did God include the Sabbath among the commandments He gave His people at Mt Sinai? The answer lies in the Introduction to the Ten Commandments. For here God introduced Himself as "your God." That is: God established a bond between Israel and Himself. He had taken Israel out of Egypt, and this was now His people and He their God. So: He would supply their needs, day by day. And giving double on the Friday so that His people didnít have to labor on the Sabbath certainly spelled that out. But thereís more. Since Israel was now Godís people, they ought to image God, copy God. As He Himself had worked six days in creating the world, and then rested on the seventh (Gen 2:2f), so Godís people should do the same. Fourth commandment: "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God" (notice that covenantal language!), and God even explains why: "for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day." Godís pattern should be their pattern.
Yet there is more to it still, congregation. In Paradise Godís people had all they needed; they could freely eat from every tree of the garden. But with the fall into sin that free access to an abundance was denied the human face. "Cursed is the ground for your sake," said God to Adam and Eve as He sent them out of the garden. "In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life" (Gen 3:17). And so it was: for fallen man to survive there was need to labor, to toil, to sweat, and not just two days out of seven, or five or six, but seven days. Life after the fall into sin was a drudge, a toil. Israel in Egypt had experienced it. They were slaves, in a culture that knew no days of rest; so the people of Israel toiled in Egypt, day after day after day. They experienced first hand the curse God had promised after the fall into sin; "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life" (Gen 3:17).
But at Mt Sinai God the Lord reminded Israel that He had taken them out of Egypt, out of their bondage; they were free. But that deliverance from Pharaoh was in turn a symbol of their deliverance from bondage to sin and Satan, and so also from the curse of the fall into sin. Specifically that point is driven home in the fourth commandment, with Godís command to "remember the Sabbath day." Over against the toil of Gen 3 God gives daily bread, more, gives time out from that toil! For the Israelites at Mt Sinai, who had such vivid memories of their seven-day toil in Egypt, that one day off in seven was a glorious symbol of the wealth of the gospel of redemption; they were Godís people, and therefore the curse of the fall into sin was undone! How wonderfully rich then was Godís gift of the Sabbath! It spoke of redemption, it spoke of the end of the curse, it spoke of a return to Paradise!
Now God in His fourth commandment to His people-by-covenant tells His people to "remember the Sabbath day." The point is clear: the people were to keep the gospel of redemption in mind! Never should they forget that for them the curse of Gen 3 was undone, undone because they were Godís people by covenant. Toil on the Sabbath? Labor on the Sabbath? Work on the Sabbath? No, said God, No! You may rest, may enjoy the same rest from your labors that I enjoyed after I created the world. For Paradise is in principle restored!
This wealth of the Sabbath, brothers and sisters, God impressed upon His people in further instruction He gave at Mt Sinai. Every week the Sabbath day returned, and with it the opportunity to remember specifically what the Sabbath was all about Ė Godís redemption in Jesus Christ. But, God added, every seven years the people and the land had to enjoy a Sabbath year. That is, for a whole year the people did not have to toil or sweat to get the crop in or get the harvest off the land, for the Lord their God would supply their needs Ė just as in Paradise. Of course, in that Sabbath year there were things that had to be done, just as Adam had things to do in Paradise in tending and keeping the garden. But for the Israelite the pressure was off, he had time out, a whole year of it, and so could enjoy the redemption God gave in Jesus Christ, the undoing of the bitter effects of the fall into sin.
So too the Year of Jubilee. Ever 7th Sabbath year, so every 50th year, was the Year of Jubilee. Debts were forgiven, property freely returned to the original owner, slaves got their freedom back; everyone in Israel went back to their inheritance without owing anyone a penny! Hereís again that curse of Gen 3 undone! Itís the principle of the Sabbath; Israel is Godís people, and therefore in essence Paradise is restored. Every seventh day, every seventh year, every seventh Sabbath year the people were to taste this gospel in such glorious terms! How wonderfully encouraging for the people.
That very wealth of the Sabbath, brothers and sisters, also gives the reason why the Lord God was so angered by Israelís misuse of the Sabbath. Already in Ex 16 God expressed some frustration at Israelís stubbornness in keeping the Sabbath (vs 28f). Some time later one of the people of Israel was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (Num 15:32ff). Godís penalty on the offence was capital; "the man must surely be put to death," God decreed. And so it happened. For here was a man who through his actions made clear that he did not appreciate the wealth of the gospel of redemption, of Paradise restored; hence his willingness to toil and labor on the Sabbath.
For the same reason the prophets spoke up loudly against Israelís neglect of the Sabbath. In fact, their refusal to rest on the Sabbath and treat the day as Godís holy day was one of the reasons for the exile (cf Jer 17:19ff; Ezekiel 22:6ff). More, the duration of the exile Ė70 years- was determined by the number of Sabbath years Israel neglected to celebrate; for 490 years the land never received the rest God ordained, 70 Sabbath years were skipped, and therefore the people had to spend 70 years in exile (Lev 26:43; 2 Chron 36:21). All of that points up how much value the Lord put on the Sabbath. In their lives as Godís people-by-covenant, keeping that Sabbath meant so much (cf Ex 31:12ff).
We come to our second point:
2. The celebration of the Sabbath.
Given this glorious message of the Sabbath, what was Israel to do on the Sabbath day? Was it a day to loaf? Was it a holiday, what we would call a free Saturday?
No, brothers and sisters, it most certainly was not that. The day was given for a specific purpose, and so had a specific message built into it. The people were to "remember" the Sabbath, to remember that message week after week, and that remembering required specific conduct. To help you remember Anzac Day, its origin and its meaning, you go to the Dawn Service, or to the Anzac Day Parade. To help the Israelites remember the Sabbath, its message, God instructed the people on what they had to do Sabbath by Sabbath. Lev 23: "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation" (vs 3). A "convocation" is a getting together, a gathering. In other words, on the Sabbath the people of Israel were not to stay in bed, nor were they to stay at home; they were instead to get together. Yet they were not to get together for a soccer game; it was to be a "holy convocation". It was a Sabbath to the Lord, and so they were to gather around the Lord, around the tabernacle. And that tabernacle, of course, preached the gospel. Sacrifices were offered to the Lord day by day, but on the Sabbath twice as many as usual (Num 28:9f). Because of the fall into sin every Israelite ought to die on account of his sins; life should be toil and labor and anguish until one died Ė and then faced the judgment of God, eternal death. But God decreed that Another would die instead of the sinner, and that gospel was spelled out by an animal dying instead of you Ė for sin was transferred from you to the animal. That tabernacle: here was gospel, glorious gospel that confronted each Israelite Sabbath by Sabbath. In other words: the tabernacle spelled out how Paradise was regained!
How encouraging the Sabbath was then, precisely in its celebration! Tomorrow the people had to return to the cares and struggles of this life, the toil and the weeds, but by bringing His people to the tabernacle Sabbath by Sabbath the Lord gave such encouragement. Life a drudge, a vain toil, no purpose? Far from it; the very things the people had to do on the Sabbath confronted them with the message of redemption God prepared in Jesus Christ.
Just how pervasive that redemption was is pointed up too in Godís list of who had to rest. It wasnít just you, but also your son and your daughter. Nor just family members, but also your manservant and your maidservant, your hired hands, employees Ė whether Israelite or foreigner. They too should taste something of the gospel of redemption, something of the undoing of the curse of the fall into sin. That they should taste it is no surprise; did God not ordain that Abram, and so Israel with him, was to be a blessing to all nations? (Gen 12). Further, also your ox and your donkey were to rest, enjoy a Sabbath. Why so? Because, brothers and sisters, all creation groans with travail on account of manís fall into sin! And all creation benefits from the atonement God would work in Jesus Christ! Not for nothing does the Revelation to John tell us of trees that will bear fruit once per month. You see, even the animals of Israel were granted the privilege to celebrate the undoing of the fall into sin, were given the privilege on the Sabbath to taste Godís grace in Jesus Christ.
So our Lord Jesus Christ Himself celebrated the Sabbath. What He did? On the Sabbath He rested from His daily work. More, writes Luke, "as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day", that place in His day where the people of Israel gathered together to hear Godís Word (Luke 4:16). And what did He do in the synagogue? Time and again He taught (Mk 1:21; Lu 4:17). He spoke of that which was central to the Sabbath, of how God had ransomed a people for Himself and made them His own, how God in Christ had undone the curse of the beginning and was restoring Paradise for His own. Thatís also the reason why Jesus did not hesitate to heal on the Sabbath. For with that healing the message of the Sabbath, the gospel of Paradise-restored, was set out to the people!
I know: the Pharisees objected, said that Jesus was working on the Sabbath, misusing the Sabbath. But those Pharisees missed the point of the Sabbath, for Godís purpose with the Sabbath was to drive home to His people the gospel of redemption, and on the Sabbath that redemption should be proclaimed, should be celebrated, should stir sinners to rejoice in God their Savior and so receive new perspective for the work of the coming week. So said the Lord: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk 2:27).
I come to our third point:
3. The continuation of the Sabbath.
All this wealth now that God has built into the fourth commandment He gave Israel: is it of significance for the New Testament church? It has been argued that there is no command in the New Testament that repeats the thrust of the fourth commandment given at Mt Sinai. Then itís added that thatís remarkable because all the other nine commandments are repeated in some form in the New Testament, and therefore obviously still in force for us today. And given that the fourth is not mentioned, itís somehow not in forceÖ.
But the argument, brothers and sisters, goes the wrong way; it assumes that somehow the fourth commandment is somehow a burden, and weíd be easier off if we didnít have to keep it. But thatís not so! The child of God who delights in the gospel of redemption, who longs for the undoing of the curse of Gen 3 about toil and labor, who canít wait for Paradise to be restored and believes that Christ has accomplished Paradise restored (in essence), doesnít need the fourth commandment to be repeated in specific terms! The child of God who treasures Christís work knows that the wealth of the Old Testament Sabbath is richer today, and so the day is a foregone conclusion! The New Testament child of God knows that this is richer dispensation than the Old, for Christ has triumphed over sin and Satan. We are closer to Paradise than were the brethren of the Old Testament. Does a Sabbath celebration then require a specific command?? Itís the other way around; if God did not want us to keep the Sabbath anymore, weíd expect a command to that effect!
No, beloved, it is no surprise that the fourth commandment is not specifically repeated in the New Testament. More, itís no surprise to find so many traces of the Sabbath commandment in the behavior of the saints of the New Testament. I read in Acts 11:26 that the church in Antioch regularly assembled together, and Saul with them. That regular assembling is an echo of the Old Testament Sabbath command. I read in Acts 20:7 that "on the first day of the week" "the disciples came together to break bread." (Between brackets: that shift from the seventh day to the first day is the churchís response to Jesusí resurrection on the first day of the week and His appearance to His disciples exactly one week later, again on the first day of the week Ė Jn 20:19, 26. But let me not go into detail on his point; it will take me away from my point.) That gathering together of Acts 20 is the practice legislated in the fourth commandment: remember the Sabbath day of Ex 16, how you donít have to toil according to the curse of Gen 3, how for Jesusí sake you get to rest instead according to the pattern of God Himself at creation Ė and so come together to encourage one another in the service of this God through the preaching of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 5 mentions that same practice of coming together, when the apostle tells the church of Corinth to drive out the sinner from their midst (vs 4). 1 Corinthians 16 mentions the habit of the Christians again; Paul tells them to set something aside for the poor on this first day of the week. Hebrews 10 mentions the concept again when the readers are instructed not to neglect assembling together (vs 25). And so I can go on, mentioning more echoes in the New Testament of the Old Testament command about the Sabbath.
It is all of this material together, congregation, that makes the church say in Lordís Day 38 that God requires of us Ėyou and me- "first, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained." That gospel of Jesus Christ, that message of the Sabbath, the proclamation of Jesusí triumph over sin and Satan and so restored us to Paradise, must be preached, and it is your duty and mine to see to it that the preaching can go on, that ministers are maintained, that future ministers are trained. Equally, thatís why Ėthe Lordís Day continues- I must "diligently attend the church of God to hear Godís Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian offerings for the poor." That gospel of Christís triumph, that message of the Sabbath, is not only to go out; it is also to go in, into my ears and into my heart, so that I Ėchild of God that I am- have renewed perspective and hope for the new week. Life looks so much like a drudgery, a toil, a struggle, and the temptation is certainly there to look at the new week and its challenges with weariness in your bones. But Sunday by Sunday the Lord God, congregation, would set His word of life before us and so make us see again the work of Christ on the cross, the redemption He obtained from the toil of labor, so that in turn life looks good again. Because thatís the glorious message the Lord Himself would set before us Sunday by Sunday, Iím diligently to attend church, and not sporadically. More, because thatís the glorious message God prepared for us in Christ, Iím today too to abstain from work on the Lordís Day. The gospel of redemption is to be bigger than the demands of work; more, the privileges of Paradise restored are to characterize the way I view my work. Never may I see myself enslaved to work, never may I see myself dependent on my work to earn my crust; my God supplies, itís the promise of Ex 16 (cf Mt 6: 25ff). Thatís the wealth Iím to "remember" on the Sabbath day. So you see that the churchís confession in Lordís Day 38 about Godís requirement in the fourth commandment is built on and assumes all Godís revelation in the Old Testament about the Sabbath. Its message applies today as much as it did then, and so its celebration applies today also. Hereís a day to rejoice in God and His redemption, and nothing I do on the Sunday may take my focus away from that glorious gospel!
And then, encouraged as I am through the preaching and the communion of saints, I can tackle the challenges of the new week also. How? As I return to my work on Monday Ėbe it in the factory or at school, in the kitchen or in the office- "I rest from my evil works, let the Lord work in me through His Holy Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath." The wealth of that Sunday echoes throughout all my life! Amen.