2009-09-20 (am) LD 38 Deuteronomy 4:4-9; 20-25 Sunday and Every Day
One day, while on a visit, I was asked, “Why don’t we hold people accountable to the fourth commandment anymore?” I answered, “Well, truthfully, we don’t hold anyone to any commandment anymore.”
The fourth commandment presents a bit of a conundrum for us living in the new covenant of Jesus Christ. We don’t honour the Sabbath at all, at least not the true Sabbath. The true Sabbath begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday.
We honour the Lord’s Day, that is, Sunday, because it is the first day of the week, the day God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and the day Jesus sent his Holy Spirit on all people.
And yet, many people struggle with knowing just how to honour God in keeping the spirit of the fourth commandment. Some people insist on doing certain things, others don’t do anything special at all, apart from going to church. Some churches emphasise two worship services, some emphasise only one, some condemn going shopping or eating out on Sundays, other churches have no problems with that whatsoever.
So, how are we to honour the Sabbath day?
Thankfully, the Heidelberg Catechism helps us. The answer comes in two parts. First, the gospel ministry and second, resting from evil.
This morning, we’re going to look at the second part first and the first part second.
What does it mean that every day is a Sabbath, where we rest from evil? What is the emphasis here? Some people suggest that because every day is supposed to be lived in honour of God, it matters not what we do specifically on Sunday. Others suggest that what we do on Sunday is of greatest importance, but we must honour God every other day as well. Others still suggest that, because we’re in Christ, and we have all his benefits, that it doesn’t really matter what we do.
Hebrews 4:9-11 teaches us that because Christ has ascended to heaven, he has entered the true Sabbath rest, the promised rest that no one ever attained. With the exception of Jesus, no one has ever truly honoured the Sabbath, and no one will until Jesus returns.
However, because we are united with Christ, we are already in that Sabbath rest, but we’re not yet perfectly in it. The emphasis in Hebrews 4 is not resting from simple daily activities, work, or play, or such things as these, but rather, resting from evil, lest we cause others to fall into sin and destruction.
Because of what Christ has accomplished, we are able to turn away from sin! We are able to cease doing it; we are able to rest from doing sin. Try it out, when you face temptation, and you can resist sinning, you can turn away from it!
So, the emphasis on Sabbath keeping for us is consciously turning away from sin so that we don’t cause anyone else to sin. This is why people have been determined not to shop or go out to restaurants on Sundays, because doing so creates a need for people to be working, and that prevents them from having an opportunity to worship God with his people.
But that’s not the only thing the author of Hebrews had in mind. God wants us to live such good, godly, God glorifying lives that others will see our good works and will praise God. This means doing your best work in school all the time, even for the teachers you don’t like-the ones who aren’t fair, who give you poor grades if you talk about your faith. Do excellent work, return evil with good!
This means being honest and fair in business. Don’t elevate a good deal over being honest. Don’t forget that we reflect Christ every minute of every day. When we sin, people do notice. When I was in Bowmanville, I heard of Christian business men complaining about having horrible experiences with Christian customers, as well as the other way around, Christian business owner ripping off Christian customers and non Christian customers.
Another thing that gets me is how quickly we can stop forgiving others. When I consider God’s grace in forgiving a wretch like me, I’m amazed that I can even entertain the thought of being less gracious to others! But I am guilty of doing that! All of us are likely to hold grudges, to hang onto past offences. And yet, we must embrace God’s grace by extending that grace to others, to receive forgiveness from God we must also forgive others, as we forgive, God will forgive us. Not doing these things means we will not experience the eternal Sabbath rest right now.
So the question before us is how do we experience the Sabbath rest? How do we go about it? How do we honour the Sabbath as people of the new covenant in Christ?
The answer is spelled out in the first half of the catechism answer—the gospel ministry.
This is the gospel in a nutshell. Jesus Christ reconciled sinful humanity to God the Father through his perfect atoning sacrifice. He, being in very nature God, humbled himself, was born of a woman, took on human flesh. He lived a perfect life, willingly bore the full weight of sin, became sin, endured the cross and all its shame. God was pleased with Christ’s sacrifice. God the Father accepted his atonement for sin and he raised him from the dead on the third day. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and he still sits at God’s right hand. Everyone who believes in Jesus, Jesus promises to forgive them their sins, he is able to forgive because he already paid for them. Jesus also takes his righteousness and he imputes it to those who confess their faith in him!
So what this means then is that the gospel ministry is the vehicle by which we experience the grace of God, the eternal Sabbath rest. The gospel ministry is the power of being able to be good husbands, good wives, good children, good workers, good employers, good students, everything. The gospel ministry is all about life transformation! The old is gone, the new has come!
But unfortunately, we still live in the not yet. We’re not yet perfect. We’re moving forward, yes, by God’s grace. We still need encouragement. And we get it through the gospel ministry in the following ways: teaching and obedience and regular worship attendance.
So let’s look at these two parts, since they give us practical application.
First: teaching and obedience. This is essentially the private or more individual aspect of the gospel ministry. Our passage teaches us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We meditate on God’s word. That is, we learn it. This is not just a book of random literature. It is God’s message for us. It is the rule book of life; it is the manual of human life. God gave it to us to teach us how to enjoy life to the fullest; it is for our protection. It helps us have a loving, lasting, amazing relationship with our creator.
The teaching of Deuteronomy 4 is not that we’d literally take God’s word and attach it to our foreheads, doorposts, wrists and so on. Rather we must focus our minds on God’s Word in such a way that it naturally governs our thinking, so much so that it would be like having God’s Word attached to our foreheads. That it would govern our doing, as though we’d attached it to our wrists. That it would so govern our households, that everyone who lives there and anyone who visits would see it on display as if it were on our doorposts. That it would be the focus of our mealtimes, that it would be the focus at the beginning and end of our days.
God commands us to pass on these teachings to our children. What happens in our homes is of greatest importance. Parents have the most influence on children. We cannot depend on the church or Christian school, these things are helpful, absolutely, but what happens at home is most important.
The picture of home life in Deuteronomy is families spending time with each other listening to God’s Word. Parents teach their children about God. Parents share their experiences with their children. Children read the Bible, sing songs, talking to each other and developing their relationship with God.
Deuteronomy 4 explains that God is the centre of the universe. Therefore, God must be the centre of our lives. We must organise our lives around God, rather than trying to fit God into our lives.
The reason we do this is because God has saved us not from bondage and slavery in Egypt, but from bondage and slavery to a far greater foe, Satan and sin! That’s what we teach our children! You are free! Free in Christ to live your life to its full potential! You can grow close to God! He is your saviour and friend!
And we choose to do this because of the Holy Spirit at work in us, and because the more time you spend in God’s Word, the more you come to understand who God is, and what he’s done for you. In fact, you come away with a much better, much healthier understanding of your own self!
The teaching and obedience we do at home is reinforced and strengthened through regular church attendance. If I were to ask you, do you know everything there is to know about God, you’d all answer, “No.” And yet, isn’t it surprising that we don’t make every effort to learn more about God? I’m talking about Bible Studies and the second service.
I have and I have had more opportunities than most of you to spend time learning about God. I’ve completed 8 years of post secondary education, earning a Batchelor of Arts in Religion and Theology as well as a Master of Divinity, and I still don’t seize every opportunity to learn more about God. It is a struggle. It is a struggle against my weaker, ungodly sinful human nature. I’ve died to it, but like determined bloodhound, it keeps snapping at my heels, and too often, I succumb to its temptations to be lazy.
I know the pressures that most of you face. There are a plethora of options available to you. There are all manner of worthwhile activities that you can do as individuals and as families.
Let’s all take inventory. Let’s look at our lives to see if we are trying to fit God into our busy schedules, or better yet, if we’re trying to organise our schedules around God. Ask yourself about your motivations for not attending the second service. Are your reasons for not coming selfish or Godly? Just ask yourself that question, and if, in all honesty, they are selfish reasons, then take steps to change. It’s not about the style of service; it is about our heart, our attitudes toward God.
We come to church for the following reasons—to learn what God’s Word teaches. That’s my main job. All those years of education are to help me explain God’s Word more clearly. If I fail at it, it is my responsibility and I am sorry. I’m trying to work harder and do better at it.
We come to participate in the sacraments. Baptism is for everyone, not just the child or the adult for in it we are assured that we have had our sins washed away. Lord’s Supper nourishes us and strengthens us in the faith, which is why it is so important to become a member, in order to participate fully in the privileges of fellowship.
In church, we bring our prayers publicly before God, we are witnesses. When God answers our prayers, we can say, yes, we prayed about that, look how faithful our Father is!
We also have opportunity to bless others with our financial gifts. Our greatest treasure is Jesus Christ. He has given us every spiritual blessing in heaven. The Father forgives us. We have freely received, therefore we freely give. I do not have time to list all the ways that this congregation gives. We heard it a few weeks ago from the director of the West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre. We see it in faithfully meeting the budget. We hear about it in the generosity shown in our neighbourhoods, and in our church family. In many ways, we’re like the churches of Macedonia who gave abundant gifts.
In everything, let us honour God. Let us embrace the eternal Sabbath by spending time in His Word, with His people, in His company. Let us encourage one another to grow in the faith. Help me to teach and preach in such a way that together we are all encouraged and held accountable. Amen.