Making Right Use of the Lord’s Gift of Rest
As noted last week for today’s prayer and worship help we are going to look at one of the modern criticisms given towards what our forefathers in the ARP understood about the Christian Sabbath. The primary issue is that there are those who teach that there is no, or only a conceptual continuing application of the Fourth Commandment in the life of the believer. The particular concern on the docket this morning is the question of whether or not some of the things we traditionally were told not to do on the Lord’s Day, in keeping with the moral law of God, are actually true to the word, or are they just legalistic Phariseeism run amok?
However, rather than spending time going through a litany of “am I allowed to do x on the Sabbath?” questions we instead will be talking through what a normal Sunday would (does) look like for a Sabbath-keeping Christian. The purpose of speaking through this in a positive way is so that instead of only having a negative association with the Sabbath we might see as believers the goodness of God’s commandments and the reasons why He would have us maintain their purpose in the new covenant church.
To do this let’s go back to the Bible and take a look at a set of verses that will help reason our way towards a workable liturgy of life on Sunday. Getting started we are going to head to the book of Exodus and bring forward Exodus 16:4-5, 22-26:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” . . . And so it was, on the sixth day that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”
One of the reasons why I chose to start with this portion of God’s word is that a critique of how us ARP folks traditionally understood the Fourth Commandment is centered around the idea that the Sabbath is a Mosaic institution. In other words that it was not an ordinance of the Lord until the covenant was made with God’s people in Moses and therefore is a part of the ceremonial law, which is no longer applicable to the redeemed. Yet, notice something about what the Mediator is saying to the people. They are fully aware of what a Sabbath is and what you are supposed to do/not do on that day. As the Israelites gathered twice as much on Friday (their sixth day) they fully comprehended because the next day being the Sabbath, which was holy to the Lord their God that they were to prepare for that time so that their Lord’s Day was not taken up with things that might get in the way of God’s purposes.
The principle here taught is important as we start to walk through what a normal Christian Sabbath looks like. We hear the same echo of truth in the Fourth Commandment itself. Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy. In those words we are told that even before the day begins we are to be considering the Lord’s work, and our own work on it. Why do we remember the Sabbath Day? Because for those of us on this side of the Fall (and the Cross) it is a time of remembering the promises of Matthew 11:28-30. Just as Jehovah rested on the seventh day as a sign of the completion of His labors in creation so to does the Church rest on the first day of the week (and we discussed this change last time) as an act of thanksgiving for the finished work of Christ at Calvary and His resurrection from the dead wherein we receive our spiritual rest from our attempts at laboring towards salvation.
As we think about this we are to be keen to consider that the keeping of the Sabbath Day actually begins on Saturday. Putting all things in order the day before means more time to be ready to worship, but not only that it means the ability to get to the house of God early. If we can get what we need done the night before for our earthly boss so that we need not be rushing through things to arrive at an 8am meeting how much more so should we be laying clothes out, prepping meals, and generally spiritually getting ready to commune with our Heavenly Father at 10am for Sabbath School (9:30am for men’s prayer meeting, and 9:20am for Mugs and Muffins) on Sunday? It’s one of those things that probably steps on toes, but sometimes we need to be challenged.
That’s a part of the reason why our Lord in the Fourth Commandment has us hear Him say, “. . . six days you shall labor”. If our lives are in proper order in those six days we’ll find we have plenty of time to get things done so that our Sabbath days are truly days of rest, not themselves a prep day for Monday.
This time of preparation on Saturday evening (and really Monday through Saturday evening) means our minds and hearts are given space to worship the Lord all the day on the Sabbath. We enjoy the praising of God’s name in 11am service, glory in the Christian fellowship we are often denied on other days, and get to finish out His day with even more worship at 5:30pm. As a wise songwriter once said, “I’m in a hurry to get things done oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun, all I really gotta do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.” Well, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we know what we gotta do, and what we get to do. Something we will find as we reorient our Sabbath away from worldly matters to holy matters is that life will slow down, it will have far more meaning as our identity moves from this life to the next. So much of what we spend our time with is at best just passing time. One of the things we will find when we make right use of the Lord’s Day is that we will be spending so much time spiritual feasting and resting in the works of mercy and grace we won’t have time for those things which can take us away from God’s blessed worship.
Consider again that passage of Matthew 11 which was noted above. What does it mean to rest on the Sabbath day and what are missing because we don’t rest on the special day of the Lord?
A question worth considering.
Enough for today.
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church