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Sabbath Principle - 2. The gift of the Sabbath

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Sunday, June 8, 2008 – “Honor our Graduates” Sunday & Welcome Home to our Military Men

The gift of the Sabbath

Isaiah 58:1-14

14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”     Isaiah 58:14 NIV

We continue in our sermon series on the topic of the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” I believe there has never been a time in our country’s history when we needed more a renewal of commitment to obey the fourth commandment.

I recognize that to preach on Sabbath observance runs the risk of creating some discomfort. It’s possible that some have a Biblical opinion that Sabbath observance went out with the Old Testament laws when Christ fulfilled the Law, thus making observance of the Sabbath obsolete. It’s also possible that some are quite satisfied with their present lifestyle by treating the Lord’s Day as just another day and would prefer that I’d leave a sleeping dog lie. Based on conversations that I’ve participated in this past week, it appears that most of you are sincerely interested in what the Sabbath principle is all about and want to hear more before making a response.

I do feel a bit like Josiah, the king of Judah. After serving as king for 18 years the high priest Hilkiah made an amazing discovery. He found a copy of the Law in the temple. (2 Kings 22:8-19) Now, isn’t that incredible? It didn’t even sound like they were looking for it. It’s simply amazing. It was like a brand new discovery for these people, like they didn’t even knew it existed.

But, Josiah had a soft and tender heart towards the Lord and when he heard of the discovery, gave his full attention to it and realized how far his nation was from obeying God’s Law. So he did the hard thing. He did the courageous thing. He led his people to humble themselves and then to diligently obey God’s instructions.

You may wonder in what sense to I relate to Josiah. Well, it is this: As a nation and as Christians, the observance of the Christian Sabbath has been so completely obliterated in our culture that bring up the subject is like making a new discovery, like, “Where did that come from?”

My hope is that our response will be like Josiah’s, that upon hearing the truth of God’s word we respond in repentance and obedience. For the story of Josiah is about a man who’s actions were greatly influenced by Scripture, God’s Word.

As we look at our text from Isaiah 58, we will see that this humble, repentant response of Josiah is exactly what God was looking for as He directs His prophet Isaiah to call His people to repentance and obedience.

A growing number of leaders around this country are recognizing the absolute necessity for the Christian church to experience a Spirit-led re-formation. In fact, some of us believe that the moral slide taking place in our nation has more to do with a weak church than it does with an immoral, godless generation.

I am personally convinced that a proper observance of the Sabbath may well be a key to genuine spiritual awakening and revival, as well as being a deciding factor in salvaging family relationships and making the gospel known to a whole lot more people who take notice of our revived lifestyle.

You see, how we keep or how we dishonor the Lord's Day will have a profound effect on every other area of our lives. But, given how far away we have moved from the Sabbath Commandment, it will take a willingness to have radical surgery done on our hearts and on our schedules if we choose to obey this fourth commandment.

Isaiah 58 addresses two spiritual disciplines: fasting and keeping the Sabbath. As we look at our text, I am asking what these two disciplines or observances have in common. Or, why is Isaiah addressing these issues together, back to back?

Isaiah 58:1-14 (NIV)

1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to My people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.

God is telling Isaiah to speak to His people and to do it loudly and clearly. What is he to tell them? He is to tell them how they have sinned, or how they have rebelled.

2 For day after day they seek Me out; they seem eager to know My ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask Me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

They had perfected their outward appearance, but it was just a charade. It only looked like they were doing the right thing. Instead, they had forsaken the commands of God. Yet, notice, they turn in a reimbursement request for all their expenses related to putting on their charade. Certainly, God should be obligated to them since it cost them so much. So they argue with God.

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?’

And God is plenty willing to reply to their complaint.

3. . . “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.

4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

There’s mocking in God’s voice. Surely these people knew better. Surely they were not surprised by God’s rebuke. People who lack integrity must at least feel the dissonance CLANGING within them. For a divided heart is not a heart at rest. A hypocrite is not a happy person.

So God reminds them what kind of fast does please Him.

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

You see, God is not disconnected from the oppressed and the poor. In fact, He is so connected to them that when we set the oppressed free and provide for the poor, we are doing it unto Him. And God loves to reward those who sacrifice in this manner.

Here is how He rewards His humble, repentant, and obedient servants:

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isn’t that an incredible promise from God?

Folks, if we start with this promise, if we arrange our lives around God’s desires for us, would it not be worth it to humble ourselves, to repent of our self-centeredness and to walk in obedience to His commands? Would it not be worth it? There is no way that living to please ourselves will bring us even a fraction of the rewards that God is offering us here.

He will make our righteousness be like a light for other people. He will attach His glory to our path. He will respond to our cry for help. He will guide us and satisfy us and strengthen us. He will cause life and encouragement to pour out on others wherever we go. He will make it possible for us to assist in rebuilding lives and communities to again be an honor to Him. What an incredible promise! And God extends this promise to a rebellious people and says, “This is yours if you humble yourselves, repent and follow the desires of My heart.”

And immediately Isaiah introduces a new subject while continuing to expand on God’s promises.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

It’s as though God were on a role. He was painting a picture of the life of His faithful followers. It all started with a serious rebuke of a selfish, rude, inconsiderate and oppressive people. He was calling them to repent and He wanted them to see what life could be like. He was giving them good reason to turn their backs on their rebellious ways. So, without skipping a beat, He launches into additional benefits for those who honor His commandment to call the Sabbath a delight.

Now, one thing we know about God is that He sees the whole picture. We might compartmentalize our lives, but God doesn’t, nor does He want us to. He wants our lives integrated around Him. That is the essence of integrity: The state of being complete and united, functioning as one unit.

This is precisely what these people were not doing. They were attempting to make God their servant by doing outward acts that looked good while at the same time holding on to their self pleasing ways. Did they really think they were outsmarting God? Had they talked themselves into really believing that if they did some religious things He would turn a blind eye to their wicked hearts?

You see, the common ground in Isaiah’s conversation about fasting and the Sabbath is the kind of people God was trying to develop. Those who would approach fasting with a proper attitude and purpose would also be eager to honor the Sabbath day as the Lord’s day. A people who weren’t doing fasting with a proper attitude would also not honor the Sabbath.

So, it doesn’t surprise us that a rebuke of improper fasting would also lead to a challenge to approach Sabbath keeping with the same humble, repentant and obedient attitude.

What kind of people must we be to gain the most from living life as God intends? If we are going to have a meaningful discussion about obeying the fourth commandment, it must be in the context of truly desiring to honor the Lord in every aspect of our lives. If that is not the foundation on which we discuss the details of Sabbath keeping, then we will be guilty of playing charades, just washing the outside of the cup and letting the inside remain moldy and dirty. We must see ourselves as servants of our Lord.

So, again, I come back to our servant prayer from the beginning of the year.

“Father, I want Your Son to set the agenda for my life and the schedule for each of my days. I will submit all my plans to Him and if He says “yes,” I will go for it with everything I have. If He says, “no,” I will listen and let Him reshape my plans. I am Your servant.”

You see, this is the disposition that God wants us to have with Him. From such a vantage point we are more likely to see the goodness of God within His commands for us. His commands are not burdensome but empowering. They do not make slaves of us, but rather they set us free to fulfill the purposes for which we were created.

So, from our lesson from last week, what is it we are building on with our text for this week?

From Exodus 16 where we find the first mention of the word Sabbath, we see that the Sabbath as (1) a gift from God and it was to be (2) a day of rest. This gift, therefore, distinguished Israel from other nations, and particularly from Egypt, out of which God had just freed them from slavery. So, in this first mention of the Sabbath there is an obvious link to the redemptive character of God that is attached to this gift, for it was a rest that came with their redemption from Egypt.

Four chapters later when God gives Moses the Ten Commandment, we see that God appeals to His own observance of a Sabbath rest from creation to convince us that we too, should keep the Sabbath day set apart from the other six days.

Exodus 20:8–11

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

So, the Sabbath day is (1) a gift from God.

(2) It is a gift of rest after each six days of labor.

(3) It is a memorial to God’s act of redemption from slavery/sin.

(4) It is also a memorial to God’s act of creation when He rested on the seventh day.

We also learned from Exodus 16 that in order to benefit most from the Sabbath day we need to treat the day before the Sabbath as Preparation day. [(5) needs a day of preparation.] You recall that God required Israel to gather twice as much manna on the sixth day so they would not have to gather any on the seventh. It is this concept that will make a huge difference in the successful observance of the Sabbath.

Now, from our text for today, what more can we add to our understanding of the meaning, purpose and application of the gift of the Sabbath?

We’ve already mentioned that the Sabbath day (6) is intended for a humble, repentant and obedient people. Included in that kind of people is their (7) intentional act of saying “no” to their own pleasures and business on that day.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day,

The word “please” can also be business or affairs. So, admittedly, there is a negative side to the Sabbath. We need to say “no” to business as usual and to seeking out our own pleasure on that day.

Isaiah does not leave us in the negative long, however.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

God is calling for us to (8) create a new culture on His day. It is a culture that is God-centered and glad-hearted. Think of it: calling the Sabbath a delight. That is both prescriptive and descriptive. Because we call it a delight, we prepare to make it that. That is part of our work on Saturday, to prepare to make The Lord’s Day a delight.

Just think of the many Psalms that tell us how much we have to delight in and to enjoy. Like Psalm 36:5-9 (NIV)

5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, Your justice like the great deep. O Lord, You preserve both man and beast.

7 How priceless is Your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of Your house; You give them drink from Your river of delights.

9 For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.

Psalm 37:3-4 (NIV)

3 Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 43:3-4 (NIV)

3 Send forth Your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to the place where You dwell.

4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise You with the harp, O God, my God.

Psalm 119:16 (NIV)

16 I delight in Your decrees; I will not neglect Your word.

Psalm 119:24 (NIV)

24 Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.

In their commentary on Isaiah, Ray Ortlund, Jr. and Ken Hughes say this: “God calls us to create a culture of God-centered, glad-hearted, regular worship, redefining pleasure itself.”[1]

O, I like that, “redefining pleasure itself.” If I say we’re going to have fun next Sunday, we all have our own set of expectations of what fun is. And, I can assure you that what I have in mind as fun won’t be fun for some of you. But, if we allow God to help us redefine pleasure as He intended for us to know pleasure, then it will be more likely that when we gather for worship and fellowship, we will experience a common pleasure.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

God promises us that if we approach the Sabbath in humility, repentance and obedience, calling His day a delight, honoring it as a day set apart from all the other days of the week, saying “no” to our own pleasures and business, being careful with our words, then we will find our joy in the Lord.

What a promise! The Sabbath is a delight and in it we find our joy in the Lord. So, if we celebrate the Lord’s day as God intends then it should be a day when we get a serious taste of heaven.

Furthermore, Isaiah writes:

. . . , and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

This further highlights the difference between the fast spoken of in the previous verses. The Sabbath is not intended to be a fast day, but (9) a feast day. Had God wanted it to be a fast day He would have simply withheld manna from the Sabbath day with no special instructions for the sixth day. But, He did not withhold manna for that day, only that it needed to be collected on the day prior.

Which gives us yet another clue about the significance of the Sabbath. It is God’s way of (10) developing our skills of time management. Just think of your first objections to the idea of taking the day off from work and your own pleasures. Did you find yourself asking, well how would I get the lawn mowed, the groceries purchased, the laundry done, etcetera, etcetera if I didn’t do that on Sunday? I suspect not all of us welcome the idea of taking every Sunday off from those things.

Ortlund and Hughes say this:

The Sabbath is meant to structure our weekly schedules around glorifying and enjoying God together. The Sabbath is God’s appointed release for us from our self-worshiping addiction to work and productivity and efficiency and organization and busyness. The Sabbath is God’s way of saying, “No, your highest values will not be professional and commercial. They will only end up destroying you and others through you. Your highest values will be worship and freedom and delight, enriching you and all around you.”

For most American Christians today, the Sabbath is the holiday we’re least likely to observe. We think we’re freeing ourselves from a religious imposition, but in fact we’re enslaving ourselves to destructive workaholism, unintentional but real exploitation of our employees, the obliteration of unstructured family intimacy, and, above all, a lost sense of the sacred.8 If we kept the Sabbath—it’s inconvenient, but the important things in life usually are—if we kept the Sabbath, one day in seven, fifty-two weeks a year, we’d automatically add seven and a half weeks of vacation to our year. And not just seven and a half weeks of goofing off. Seven and a half weeks of focusing on God.

God has made a weekly appointment with us. Do we love Him enough to keep it?

Sunday is not an extra Saturday. It’s not the end of the weekend. It’s not the day to get caught up for Monday. It’s the Lord’s Day, when we set lesser things aside and replenish ourselves and others with all the fullness of God. [2]

The Devil's New Playground: The Shopping Mall

by Richard Morin, Pew Research Center, September 14, 2006

Who knew Satan worked at the local mall?

While bars, cheap hotels and similar places of low repute may remain America's favorite spots to sin, two economists say that giving people an extra day to shop at the mall also contributes significantly to wicked behavior -- especially among people who are the most religious.

Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Daniel M. Hungerman of Notre Dame discovered the malevolent Mall Effect by studying what happened when states and counties repeal so-called blue laws. Those statutes prohibited the sale on Sunday of certain non-essential items such as clothing, appliances, furniture and jewelry typically sold in shopping malls, as well as liquor and cigarettes.

Gruber and Hungerman found that when states eliminated blue laws, church attendance declined while drinking and drug use increased significantly among young adults. Even more striking, the biggest change in bad behaviors was concentrated among those who frequently attended religious services, they report in a working paper titled "The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?" published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

At one time all but eight states had blue laws. Today 13 still have statewide Sunday selling bans on some products or leave it up to local jurisdictions to decide, with mall owners among those leading the fight to get these statutes off the books.

These researchers examined what happened in the 16 states that repealed blue laws from the mid-1950s through the 1990s. They used three different national data sets to compare church attendance and substance abuse in the years before and after the states changed their statutes.

They found church attendance declined after blue laws were repealed, with the biggest drop occurring among those who went to church at least once a week. Before repeal, on average about 37 percent of people in a state attend religious services at least weekly, Hungerman said. "After the laws are repealed it falls to 32 percent." -- a drop "not driven by declines in religiosity prior to the law change."

Instead of going to church, many of the faithful were apparently going astray. Marijuana use increased: Before the blue laws were repealed, about 9 percent of weekly church-goers smoked pot compared with 18 percent of those who didn't regularly attend services. After the laws were repealed, "the gap completely closed," Hungerman said.

Cocaine use increased by nearly 4 percentage-points and heavy drinking also rose by about 5.5 percentage points among church-goers compared with those who never went to services, with frequent attenders even more likely to go on benders.

Hmmm. Interesting, but why would the elimination of blue laws suddenly provoke such an outburst of sinning among the religious? After all, six other days of the week were already available to shop (or drink) until you drop. And buying cocaine or marijuana is illegal on any day of the week.

"That's the million-dollar question," Hungerman said. He suspects that keeping business open on Sunday means that some religious young people have to work or choose to go shopping, which apparently increases their exposure to sinners or otherwise weakens their resistance to the dark side.

"Instead of being in church you're working or shopping in the mall surrounded by 'party animals,'" he speculated.


[1]Ortlund, R. C., Jr, & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Isaiah : God saves sinners. Preaching the Word (391). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

8 Cf. Judith Shulevitz, “Bring Back the Sabbath,” The New York Times, March 2, 2003; Nan Chase, “Ancient Wisdom,” Hemispheres, July 1997, pp. 118, 119.

[2]Ortlund, R. C., Jr, & Hughes, R. K.

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