************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 103 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 28, 2011
Q & A 103
"The Fourth Commandment"
I Remember the Sabbath Day
A What does the fourth commandment say? Does it say, "Remember the Sabbath hour by keeping it holy"? Does it say, "Remember the Sabbath morning by keeping it holy?" Does it say, "Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy when you feel like it?"
You know what it says: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Ex 20:8). Not just one hour of the day. Not just Sunday mornings. Not just Sunday evening. But the whole day. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Ex 20:8).
The elders have asked the pastors of this church to preach on Sunday attendance. So, let me start off with the obvious. Sunday is meant to be a holy day. Every Sunday. We don't take vacations from God. We don't take time-outs from God. And, let me remind you, all of the day, and not just some of the day, is meant to be holy. Which is why we have two services every single Sunday: so all of God's people can start and end this holy day with God.
B Let me remind you of why we want to keep the Sabbath day holy. Not because the minister says so. Not because our parents make us go. Not because of family expectations. Not because we want to be an elder or a deacon. Not because we want to keep up appearances with our fellow believers.
We keep the Sabbath day holy – every Sabbath and all of the Sabbath – because God has saved us. Remember how God starts off the Ten Commandments? He says, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Ex 20:1). God basically says, "I am the God Who has saved you." "I am the God Who has rescued you from your bondage to sin and evil." And, it is only after God says this introduction that He gives His Ten Commandments. In other words, God is speaking to saved people. God is speaking to those who are born-again by the blood and Spirit of Christ. God is speaking to those who have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.
In the Ten Commandments, God is telling saved people how to show gratitude and thanks for His great and wondrous salvation in Christ.
A failure to keep the Sabbath day holy – every Sabbath and all of the Sabbath – does not mean there is something wrong with God's salvation. Rather, it means there is something lacking in our obedience and our thankfulness and our gratitude.
Are you truly thankful for salvation? Are you truly thankful for the cross and grave of Christ? Are you truly thankful for Good Friday's crucifixion and Easter Sunday's resurrection? Are you truly thankful for being born-again? If you are, then remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy – every Sabbath and all of the Sabbath.
C Eight of the commandments stress the negative: "You shall not ..." The fifth commandment stresses only the positive: "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex 20:12). The fourth commandment is the only one to stress both a positive and a negative. Positively, we are told to "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." Negatively, we are told "not [to] do any work."
"Remember the Sabbath day." What exactly are we to remember? We are to remember to be God's image bearers. We are to remember to be like God. We are to remember that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. We are to remember that on the Sabbath day God rested from all the work of creating that He had done (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:12-15). So, like God, the Sabbath is to be for us a holy day.
As you may realize, there are two versions of the Ten Commandments: one in Exodus 20 and the other in Deuteronomy 5. The Deuteronomy 5 version tells God's people to remember something else.
(Deut 5:15) 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."Remember that you were slaves." "Remember your bondage." "Remember that I set you free."
"Remember." Isn't this a strange way to word a command? Why is it worded this way? "Remember" because we often forget. "Remember" because we need reminding of what is truly important. "Remember" because we so easily get distracted and pulled aside and led astray.
II Sabbath Work
A It is very clear what the fourth commandment meant for Israel: the people were not supposed to do any work on the seventh day:
(Ex 20:9-10) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
It is much more difficult to say what this commandment means for the people of God in the New Testament. Christians are very divided on this question. What is fiercely condemned by one person as an outright transgression of the fourth commandment is easily done by another person. There are the strict ones who never travel on Sunday except to go to church. There are others who travel on Sundays, eat meals in restaurants, and go to the beach.
B The easiest solution to the problem of what we may or may not do on the Sabbath is to follow what the Seventh Day Adventists have done. They have returned to the law of the Old Testament. The fourth commandment, they say, is to be taken literally. So, they have set aside the seventh day as their day of rest. And, they forbid any and all work on this day.
However, consider what this approach does. It means we must obey all the laws of the Old Testament – even the ones about sacrifices, feast days, and the eating of pork. This nullifies the Christian confession that Christ has fulfilled the law. This means a return to the legalism of the Pharisees. All of life, then, becomes a series of do's and don'ts. This is always the easiest thing to do. That way you never have any problem deciding what is right. You just pick up your law book and look up the rules that apply.
All of you, I am sure, are acquainted with the way the Pharisees tied up the Sabbath with their hopelessly complicated system of human traditions. They actually had a list of 1521 do's and don'ts for the Sabbath. The Jews were not allowed to rescue a drowning man on the Sabbath. They could not light a candle but they could hire a Gentile to do this for them. They were allowed to take only a certain number of steps. A farmer could not pluck a head of grain. A woman who gave birth on the Sabbath was reckoned as a sinner.
C Jesus fought against any and every form of legalism. He set us free from the legalistic fulfilment of the law.
In Mark 2 & 3 we read of two incidents concerning Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Sabbath (TURN THERE WITH ME):
(Mk 2:23-28) One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. (24) The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" (25) He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? (26) In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." (27) Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (28) So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
[The point is that if David can eat the show bread when he is hungry, then Jesus and His disciples can eat some heads of grain on the Sabbath when they are hungry.]
(Mk 3:1-6) Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. (2) Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
[Jesus could have avoided the problem easily. There were six other days in which Jesus could have done this work of healing. But, Jesus chose to do this on the Sabbath in order to make a point.]
(3) Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."
[Everyone must see and hear what Jesus is about to do.]
(4) Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"
[This question was not hard to answer.]
But they remained silent. (5) He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (6) Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
[Remember what Jesus said another time:
(Mt 12:11) "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" As Jesus concludes, "it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Mt 12:12).]
On the one hand, we want to avoid the legalism of the Pharisees. On the other hand, we also want to "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."
III Sunday Worship
A The Catechism asks, "What is God's will for you in the fourth commandment?" The answer: "That the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I regularly attend the assembly of God's people ..."
Let's start with that word "regularly." The fourth commandment means I "regularly" attend the assembly of God's people. This gets us back to what I said earlier: every Sabbath and all of the Sabbath. Our worship must be regular. If your car started nine times out of ten, would you say it is regular? If your doctor gives you the correct diagnoses eight times out of ten, would you say he regularly is correct? If United Airlines gets you to your destination five times out of ten, would you say it regularly delivers passengers to their destination? If your computer starts three times out of every ten attempts, would you say it regularly works? Of course not! Regular means all the time. In the case of worship, regular means every Sunday and all of Sunday.
B The fourth commandment calls on you and me to regularly attend the assembly of God's people. Notice why: "to learn what God's Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor." What is missing in this list? Notice, it says nothing about a seeker mentality. It says nothing about praise and worship. It says nothing about social interaction. The focus is God and not me and my feelings and my fulfilment and what my kids may or may not like.
Sunday's focus is God and His worship. Sunday's focus is my relationship with God. Sunday's focus is growing closer to God.
C Did you notice the Catechism's description of Sunday? It calls Sunday "the festive day of rest." "The festive day of rest." Festive means Sunday is a day to celebrate. It is not meant to be a boring day. It is not to be a go-through-the-motions day. It is a day of joy, happiness, and celebration. It is a day in which we celebrate God's wonderful deeds of salvation. It is a day to celebrate the greatness and wonder of God's creation. It is a day to celebrate God's goodness, God's loving care, and God's faithfulness. Sunday is a day of rest and gladness.
The author of Psalm 84 certainly takes this approach to the Sabbath. He could hardly wait for Sunday to come:
(Ps 84:2) My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.And, he would rather be in church than anywhere else:
(Ps 84:10) Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.He would rather be celebrating in worship than visiting friends or family, going to the beach, being on vacation, taking a long walk or bike ride, or having an afternoon nap.
I would like to challenge all of our members to have the same attitude as the psalmist. I would like to challenge all our members to view Sunday – every Sunday and all of Sunday – as a festive day of rest and worship.
Let me say something to the children and young people. A friend asks you to go away with them – to the coast, to the mountains, bowling, fishing, a concert – but it means you miss church. What do you say to your friend?
Let me give you possible answers. "My parents won't let me." "The minister says you should be in church on Sunday." "The youth elder looks at me funny when I skip church." WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE ANSWERS? They may be true, but what is wrong with these answers?
None of these answers look at Sunday as a festive day of rest. None of these answers reflect the attitude of the psalmist. If someone invites you to something that means you miss church the only good answer is: "I can't because I want to go to church!" "I can't because I want to go to church!" That is the attitude of the psalmist. That is the attitude all of us are encouraged to have – every Sabbath and all of the Sabbath.
D The Catechism says the fourth commandment also means that the gospel ministry be maintained. Why? Because it is those in the ministry who lead Sunday worship. However, those in the gospel ministry cannot lead Sunday worship unless they have been properly trained and educated. So, the Catechism also mentions education for the gospel ministry.
Do you see what it comes down to: the fourth commandment means we also have pastors and seminaries – for the sake of worship!
IV Everyday and Sunday
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Ex 20:8). According to the Catechism, this commandment says something about every day and not just Sunday: "that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through His Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath."
Do you realize what this means? It means I cannot get away with being a Sunday-only Christian. I am sure you realize God has no use for Sunday-only Christians. I must serve the Lord not just on Sunday but every single day.
In Israel, there were those who came to the Temple on the Sabbath to offer sacrifices, give gifts, and pray prayers. However, during the week they robbed from the poor, bribed judges, and made a mockery of justice. Do you remember what God said to these Sunday-only Christians?
(Amos 5:21-23) "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. (22) Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. (23) Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps."
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Ex 20:8). My prayer is that we all will do this: every Sabbath and all of the Sabbath. My prayer is that every Sunday and all of every Sunday is a festive day of rest as we rejoice in God and His works.
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