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Sabbath Principle - 4. Doing good on the Sabbath

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Doing good on the Sabbath

Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11

12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”      Matthew 12:12 NIV

This is now the fourth Sunday that we have dedicated to the study of the Sabbath principle and our attention is now turning more and more to how to apply the Fourth Commandment to our weekly schedule. What could it look like if we put into practice this very distinctive command found within the Ten Commandments?

That is where we’re headed. But first, let’s review what we have discovered so far.

The Sabbath is intended by God to be welcomed as a gift from God to rest, to worship, to remember, to rejoice and to fellowship with God’s people, all to our Lord’s honor, because it is His day and He is Lord of the day.

Some of us have experienced the joy of having our employer tell us, “I want you to take the day off. We’ll cover for you and your responsibilities. You, go and relax and enjoy the day.” Such news is welcomed with delight by most people.

A couple summers ago, the elders essentially said that to me when they required that Joyce and I take an extended vacation. It was the first time in our lives when we went to one location, one motel, for 10 consecutive days and just rested, relaxed, read, and soaked in the surrounding beauty. It was very renewing and enjoyable, just what the doctor would order.

Those times of refreshing are important for all of us. And, in the wisdom of God, He has literally commanded that we build our weekly schedule around a day of rest, of worship and remembrance, of rejoicing and fellowship for the purpose of our being refreshed and renewed in our relationship with Him and in our physical bodies. This gift of Sabbath rest is testimony to the abiding love God has for us. Just as He knows that we need to get a night’s rest, so He knows we need a Sabbath rest.

Certainly we can spiritualize this command to simply say that Jesus is our Sabbath rest. For He truly is. His grace and mercy frees us from bondage to sin and that gives us deep, lasting rest to our souls. But this command is also meant to find application in our daily lives so that the routine of our lives testify to the graciousness of our Lord who builds into our lives a rhythm of work and rest, of labor and worship and of toil and fellowship.

Now for some of you this will be redundant, but I believe it is worth repeating since repetition is the mother of learning. This is what we have discovered so far about the Sabbath.

(1) The Sabbath is a gift from God. It was not an invention of men. It was initiated and prescribed by God.

(2) The Sabbath is a day of rest after each six days of labor. This gift distinguished Israel from other nations. It is a testimony that God is an advocate for all who were weary and heavy laden.

(3) The Sabbath is a memorial to God’s act of redemption from slavery and sin. When Moses restated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, he said that the rationale for the Sabbath was to be a day to 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.

So the Sabbath is a memorial to God’s act of redemption.

(4) The Sabbath is also a memorial to God’s act of creation when He rested on the seventh day. When Moses first stated the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, he said there that the rationale for the Sabbath had its basis in God’s rest from His act of creation. 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.

(5) We also learned from Exodus 16 that the Sabbath needs a day of preparation. Successful observance of the Sabbath requires planning and preparation. If we are going to gain the most benefit from the Lord’s Day rest, we need to think it through before we enter it. Plan it out.

(6) The Sabbath is intended for a humble, repentant and obedient people. Christ is Lord and we are His servants.

(7) The Sabbath is an intentional act of saying “no” to our own pleasures and business on that day to make way for the priority of rest, worship, fellowship and ministry.

(8) The Sabbath is to create a new culture on the Lord’s Day. It is a culture that is God-centered and glad-hearted. God instructs us to call the Sabbath a delight.

(9) The Sabbath is a feast day, not a fast day.

(10) The Sabbath is God’s way of developing our skills of time management around His priorities.

The first text we look at this morning will surely reinforce these points. So, let’s turn to Luke’s gospel, chapter 6, beginning with verse 6. Recall that the immediately preceding story was that of Jesus leisurely walking through a field on the Sabbath while His disciples were picking heads of grain to eat as a snack. And the Pharisees jumped all over Jesus for violating their rules of Sabbath rest. Jesus corrects them by saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Surely, if anyone knows how to honor the day it would be the creator of the day and satisfying one’s hunger is not a violation of Sabbath rest.

Now, in the same context, Jesus again provokes the Pharisees who have created rules and regulations concerning the Sabbath, rules that are immensely burdensome and function as joy killers.

Luke 6:6-11 (NIV)

6 On another Sabbath He went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.

7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath police were at it again. They had their radars set to excessive sensitivity, far exceeding the spirit of the law. It’s is likely that they knew that one of the regular worshipers at this synagogue was this man with a shriveled hand. And, as Jesus was in the area, they anticipated that it just may happen that Jesus would enter the synagogue as was His custom and while He was teaching in the synagogue that day would take the opportunity to heal the man.

So, they positioned themselves to watch and were ready to pounce all over Jesus again if He dared to even consider healing the man.

8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.

You see, Jesus had been a student of these Pharisees. They were predictable. He could tell what they were thinking.

9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

Notice how Jesus changed the question. The Pharisees had established that only emergency health concerns could be tended to or healed on the Sabbath. A shriveled hand was obviously not an emergency situation. But, Jesus changed the question. Rather than argue the degrees of health concerns, He frames the issue in the context of good and evil. And, in doing so He was saying that the Sabbath should be a day of doing good and saving life, especially in contrast to doing evil or destroying life.

Such a statement fits with the restorative nature of rest. There is healing in rest. There is renewal in rest. It is when our muscles are resting from labor that they are strengthened and repaired. And Jesus, as Lord of Sabbath rest, says clearly, that when believers are gathered in worship on the Lord’s Day, doing good and saving life is a most appropriate activity.

10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.

11 But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

The amazing story within this story is the obedience and faith of this man. Jesus asked this man to do what he had no strength or ability to do on his own. But, because Jesus commanded him, a confidence was instilled within him and a permission was given to him so he did what he could not do and stretched out his withered hand. And in the moment of obedience, the Holy Spirit caused an inflow of healing power that enabled the man to obey his Lord’s command.

So, while the Pharisees were all in a huff about their burdensome regulations being disregarded by the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus was inspiring faith within the hearts of people who were humble in heart and burdened with the cares of this world. Jesus was bringing rest to their bodies and to their souls.

This story reinforces that:

A. Sabbath rest is a gift.

It’s a gift that benefits of our bodies, our minds and our spirits. It’s a gift for which we should be exceedingly grateful and a gift which we most certainly should be putting into use.

This outline comes primarily from a message on the Sabbath principle by Pastor Alistair Begg. (Truth for Life, April 7, 2008)

First, this gift of rest is experienced in

1. Purposeful remembering, in the privilege of recollection.

We are to remember why the Sabbath was given to us in the first place: To celebrate the wonders of creation and the freedom of redemption. As God rescued His children Israel out of bondage to Egypt, He gave them the gift of the Sabbath to be a continual remembrance of their redemption.

Similarly, as God has redeemed us through His Son and shown that powerfully in His resurrection on the first day of the week, we take the Sabbath rest principle and apply it to the first day, and call it the Lord’s Day, as a weekly reminder of our redemption in Christ.

The early Christians saw the significance of this as they quickly made the transition from worship on Saturday to worship on Sunday. Thus, God gave all Christians two memorials to be observed as they gathered together:

The Lord’s Supper is a memorial to Christ’s death.

The Lord’s Day is a memorial to His resurrection.

Secondly, the Sabbath rest is gift that is experienced in:

2. The privilege of physical rest combined with consecration.

Consecration means that it has a spiritual focus. Thus, this physical rest is not the rest of idleness nor the rest of self-indulgence. Rather, it is relaxation combined with a pursuit of God.

Thus, this raises the question of what kinds of works are therefore allowed by the Fourth Commandment? Jesus has answered this question in His responses to the Pharisees.

Works of necessity? Yes

Works of piety? Yes

Works of mercy? Yes

Works of personal preference? No

You see, works of personal preference do not testify to the faith that Jesus wants to inspire within us. He has specifically asked us not to work. We are to rest from work. Obedience to this command, therefore, requires faith on our part. Just like the faith it takes to tithe, it takes faith to honor the Lord’s Day and cease from labor, labor that isn’t a work of necessity, or of piety or of mercy.

We must not miss that the primary thrust of the gift is rest. So, how are we resting on the Lord’s day? That’s a question we need to answer.

Thirdly, Sabbath rest is gift that is experienced in:

3. The privilege of worship.

This is the purpose for which we gather each Lord’s Day, to draw near to God while in the company of others who love God. We come to be encouraged by the worship being expressed by others. We come to be spurred on to love and good deeds in the context of worship. Early believers were coming together on the first day of the week to break bread and to worship.

Our goal is to discover what an amazing gift God has given us to have a day of rest that is unique from all the other days of the week where we can be blessed in remembering God’s goodness, His mercy and His grace. On the same day of remembering we are to be relaxing and worshiping.

Fourthly, Sabbath rest is gift that is experienced in:

4. The privilege of hoping, of looking forward to that finality of rest which we look forward to in heaven. Thus, the Lord’s Day should be a foretaste of heaven. It should whet our appetite for the joys of heaven.

It is Jesus who said, “All who are weary and heavy laden, come to Me and find rest for your souls.”

Not only is the Sabbath a gift, but the . . .

B. Sabbath requires it to be a priority, not a mechanical duty

As a priority we recognize that this is God’s day and everything else flows from that. Thus, we don’t approach it like we have certain obligations that must be fulfilled, like putting in a minimum amount of time to meet some requirement. Such an attitude has us saying, “Hurry up so I can get this obligation over with and so I can get on with what I really love and enjoy.” That is not how we will enjoy the Sabbath God has given us.

Further, as a priority in our lives, it’s not dependent on waiting for a “feel good mood. “If the spirit moves me, then I will honor the day. If I don’t have anything better to do, then I’ll make it to worship.” Again, that is not how we will enjoy and profit from the Lord’s Day.

When the Lord ’s Day is a priority, in our hearts we are saying, “This is God’s day. This is a unique opportunity for me to spend extended time with God. To delight in Him. To grow in my love for Him. To hear Him speak and for me to tell Him how I feel about Him. The day has a focus on our most important relationship, our relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

When this is our perspective, then other preoccupations, other appetites and obligations and considerations quickly become secondary to this over arching priority to strengthen our bonds with our Lord.

So, have we heard enough? Are we ready to ask the Lord to help us restructure our week so that the Lord has absolute priority over His day?

Be assured, when we apply these principles that we have talked about, that there will be a great deal of variety in what our day looks like. Yours may not look like mine. The common ingredient will be the desire that Jesus Christ will be given supreme reign and rule over the day. If He is truly leading us in shaping the day, we will be calling it a delight.

So, I want to ask us to seriously consider surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over this day. That we will apply the principles of rest, of worship, of remembrance and rejoicing and fellowship with God’s people to this day. That we will make use of the day or days before Sunday to prepare to make Sundays truly a day of holy rest.

God has given us a gift. Will we refuse to open it? Will we dishonor the Giver by disregarding His gift? Or will we explore the gift and discover more of God’s grace in the process?

Now that we know that it is a gift for our good and for God’s glory, how can we not embrace it and take full advantage of it?

God has given us the Sabbath principle, the Fourth Commandment, for our good, for our benefit, so that our relationship with Him would grow strong and increase in joy, so that our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ would flourish and spur us on to love and good deeds.

Whatever our Lord’s Days are going to look like, if we are obedient to the Sabbath principle, the primary character of this day must be that it testifies to the truth that Jesus is Lord even of the Sabbath. The day belongs to Him and He has established it for our benefit. Thus, if we allow Him to truly lead us in how we construct the day, what we put into the day, we can be assured that it will bring rest to our souls, refreshment to our bodies, increased love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and a deeper worship of our Lord.

If you are interested in participating in an experiment in applying what we are learning about the Sabbath principle to a given upcoming Sunday, would you write next to your name on the registration form the word Sabbath or sign the sheet on the back table?

To the end that God is praised and we are renewed in the joy of the Lord, Amen.

I want to briefly address the important text of Romans 14. It is probably the most frequent text used to argue that the Fourth Commandment no longer exists within the Ten Commandments. This text is cited as evidence that we have no obligation to obey the Sabbath principle. Therefore, it is important that I address this text.

The primary question that must be answered by those who would use Romans 14 to disregard the Fourth Commandment is this:

Is Paul really speaking of the Fourth Commandment in Romans 14? Or is he actually speaking of ceremonial observances? Or possibly, personal preferences not having anything to do with the Fourth Commandment or even the Ten Commandments, for that matter?

You see, if you think Paul is indeed addressing the Fourth Commandment in Romans 14, I believe it becomes your obligation to demonstrate how you arrive at that conclusion and also to give serious consideration to the implications of that conclusion?

So, let’s jump into the text. What clues, if any, would suggest that Romans 14:1-23 is saying anything about the Ten Commandments in general or the Fourth Commandment in particular?

Romans 14:1-4 (NIV)

1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

1. From v.1, does Paul consider the Fourth Commandment a “disputable matter”?

R.H. Mounce says, “We must be careful not to generalize on the principle expressed in this teaching. Paul was not saying that sin is a matter of personal opinion. He was not teaching that as long as we think something is okay it is okay for us. Scripture clearly teaches that certain things are wrong. There are, however, other matters about which there may be legitimate differences of opinion. They are secondary issues about which Christians may be of differing persuasions. In such cases “strong” believers are to be willing, as an expression of Christian love, to allow the sensitivities of the “weak” to condition how they live.”

Black writes, “It is better to tolerate another’s prejudice than to advocate one’s beliefs at the expense of a breach of agape” (Romans, 196).

(Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (256). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

So, would we understand that it is the weak believer who is advocating that we should observe the Lord’s Day as a special day? Does that even make sense? I don’t think so.

5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

2. From v. 5, what day is Paul speaking of? Is it the Sabbath Day or special, ceremonial days? Could it be dealing with the transition from the Saturday Sabbath to the Sunday Lord’s Day and those who continue holding on to the traditions of Saturday while also observing Sunday as the Lord’s Day?

Allistair Begg says, “If we were to allow that Romans 14:5, the “day” there is the Sabbath Day, then what Paul would be saying is this: that the Fourth Commandment has no abiding obligation. That the first day of the week has no prescribed religious significance. And, that actually observing the Lord’s Day is a sign of a weak Christian because he hasn’t understood that all the days are the same.” (Allistair Begg, April 4, 2008 radio broadcast Truth for Life.)

3. From vv.1-6 and the interplay of Paul talking about food and special days, does that not speak of ceremonial observances rather than the moral law of the Ten Commandments?

Notice how in this passage eating of certain foods is interchangeable with observing special days. The Ten Commandments don’t say anything about eating foods. Only the ceremonial laws do that, not the moral law found in the Ten Commandments.

14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

4. From vv.1-18, though Paul includes observance of special days in his conversation, incidentally, only in verses 5 & 6, he gives greater emphasis to clean and unclean foods. Is there anything in the Ten Commandments that speaks about food, clean or unclean? If not, does that not suggest that Paul’s conversation here is about ceremonial observances and not the moral law of the Ten Commandments?

I conclude that in Romans 14 Paul is not addressing the Fourth Commandment at all and thus cannot be used to argue for the disregard of the Fourth Commandment.

Back to Luke 6 when Jesus asserted that He was Lord of the Sabbath, I quote Pastor Alistair Begg when he says, “Jesus was not asserting His lordship over the Sabbath merely to prepare men for His abolishing the commandment in just a matter of a short time for it would be a strange and uncharacteristic action on the part of Jesus and it would in no sense be in keeping with or in accord with anything else He ever did.

“Christ affirmed the place of the Lord’s Day. He affirmed its abiding application. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He was guarding it against the distortion of the Pharisees and seeking to make sure that no one deprives men of that which is given for his good. Indeed, when Jesus says, ‘I am Lord over the Sabbath,’ He is affirming the fact He desires that men and women enter into all the benefits that the Lord’s Day brings.” (Alistair Begg, Truth for Life radio broadcast, March 27, 2008)

Paul in Romans and Galatians and Colossians was guarding the gospel from false teachers just as Jesus was doing so in the Gospels.

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