Welcome to the Cornerstone Baptist church podcast. My name is Justin Wheeler, I am the preaching pastor for Cornerstone and today we are in week 38 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism. Today, I will be talking to you about question 103. Only one question this week but it is a significant one so let’s get started.
This week our question deals with the fourth commandment and the fourth commandment is all about the Sabbath.
Deut 5:12 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Now, there is much for us to consider as we think on this particular command. We need to understand where it comes from, how it applied to OT Israel, what Jesus taught us about it and how it changes, if at all, for Christians today. Thankfully, the Heidelberg helps us tremendously so lets go ahead and look at Question 103 and its answer.
Lord’s Day Focus...
Question 103: What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?
Answer: First, 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 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. Second, 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.
I really appreciate this answer because it avoids some of the more common debates surrounding the role of the sabbath in the Christian life. It may be the case that you have avoided that debate, but I’m guessing that most of you have engaged it at some level. Over the years, I’ve found that many people have very strong opinions about the sabbath, and I’ve found that others tend to be a bit confused about it.
I don’t expect that I will solve all the problems related to it on this podcast, but I do hope to give some background and tell you why I think the Heidelberg gets it right. So, let’s start with some history.
The Sabbath principle shows up in Genesis 2,
2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
At the very start of everything, God decided to include this principle of rest into creation. One day out of seven is set aside for the purpose of rest and I think it is important to point out that God didn’t do this because He was too exhausted to go back to work. I call this the Sabbath principle because rest wasn’t something that God needed to do; He chose to include it for a different reason.
Fast forward to the time when Israel was a nation of God’s people and we discover that the Sabbath was a very important part of their identity. Even before they made it into the Promised Land, God established the Sabbath principle as a way to teach His people to trust in Yahweh to take care of them and provide for them.
Now, at this point the command to rest on Saturday was part of the covenant agreement that God made with Israel. This wasn’t a command that extended to all the other nations on earth. It was part of their covenant identity and through this law God proved His trustworthiness, which seems to be one of the key points to this whole Sabbath idea.
God wanted His people to rest and enjoy His provision for them as well as to gather together in an assembly of worship (Lev 23:3). On this special day, the work stopped but the bread did not. On this day the labor ceased but the worship continued. On this special day Israel was seen to be the most blessed people on earth and Yahweh was shown to be the most glorious God. He cared for them while they rested and praised Him for it.
However, as time went on, God kept His promise, but Israel did not. They began to chase after other gods. They began to treat worship as an empty ritual that placed God into their debt. They abandoned loyalty to Yahweh and brought upon themselves the curse of exile. But, God wasn’t done with His covenant people.
He drew them back into the land. He reestablished their national sovereignty and when the people looked back at the failures from their past, they vowed to do better. What started out as good intentions, to be more faithful to God, became a source of even greater corruption. The leaders of the people began to double-down on their law keeping, assuming that in some way their obedience was the key to their relationship to God.
Then little-by-little their focus shifted from obedience to God as a result of His gracious provision, to obedience to God as the source of His gracious provision. This might seem subtle, but it made all the difference. Traditions and customs began to take the place of love-fueled loyalty to Yahweh and the command to rest went from being a sign of God’s blessing to a man-centered way to put God into our debt.
Then Jesus came along and he obeyed the Sabbath command, but rejected the man-made traditions. He taught the true heart of the law, which wasn’t about blind obedience but mercy and truth. Jesus taught that the sabbath was about freedom (Luke 13:10-17), it was about healing (Luke 14:1-6), and it was about doing good to others (Mark 3:1-6).
Then Jesus died on the cross. He was buried and rose again on the third day. He gave His life as an offering for our sin and by His gospel we are forgiven, healed, and brought back into relationship with God; not on the basis of our works but on the basis of His loving sacrifice.
Now, what? What has the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus done to the Sabbath command?
Col 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Imagine that you are standing in the middle of the desert in the heat of the day and you have to shield your eyes from the intensity of the sun. Even with your hand up to shield your eyes you find it difficult to focus on anything. You can only get small momentary glimpses of your surroundings as you blink due to the intensity of the sun.
But finally you spot an image on the ground nearby. It is indistinct but it is clearly a shadow. You begin to move toward it and the closer you get the more distinct the outline becomes. You can’t dare look up at the at the solid object casting the shadow because the sun is simply too powerful, but as you move close and blink your eyes the object begins to take shape in your mind.
Then finally the object steps into the sun’s path and shields the intensity from your eyes. You look up and your eyes begin to adjust and what you see standing before you is a man.
This is what life has been like for the Jews. Their entire religious existence has been occupied by getting glimpses of the shadow but now Jesus Christ has come, and He is the one who has been casting that shadow all along.
In other words, Jesus is the point and the fulfillment of all the Old Covenant law and our standing with God is not determined by our adherence to that law but by our faith in Christ. Don’t put your hope in the shadow to save you, put your hope in the man Himself. Let your heart and mind rest secure in the fact that Jesus alone saves you and reconciles you to God.
By my understanding, Jesus has fulfilled the ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant Law and the strict rules of the Sabbath have been abolished. It has been abolished because it was fulfilled and is fulfilled in Christ. The Sabbath principle that reaches back to the dawn of creation was teaching us that the day was coming when we could rest from our work and trust in God to provide for all of our needs.
The Sabbath principle was about the coming day when we would gather to worship and praise the One who gave us rest by providing for all of our needs. Now that Jesus has come and provided for our greatest need we can rest from our works and join together in worship of the One who has given us true rest.
So, the Sabbath has been fulfilled and strict Sabbath observance has been eliminated. Oh yes, we should still rest but not because our rest earns us anything with God. Our rest is a gift that shows we are blessed and by resting from our labor we are able to actively remember the grace of God and worship Him for it.
Let’s go back and look at the answer to question 103…
First, 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 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.
God’s will for us in our gospel understanding of the fourth commandment is that we should set aside at least one day of the week for gospel ministry, for Christian education, for assembling together with God’s people, to worship Christ our Savior, Lord and King. Heidelberg calls this a festive day of rest but the early church simply called it the Lord’s Day.
Second, 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.
The second way that we observe the fourth commandment on account of Christ is that we recognize every day that we are resting from our works and resting in the finished work of Christ on the cross. We have entered into the promised Sabbath rest for all of God’s people which will one day soon be fully realized and will never end.
So, should we still observe the Sabbath? Yes, but in a very different way than we might think.
Thank you for joining me today to learn about the Sabbath. Next week, we will continue to study these 10 commandments by looking at the fifth commandment, which focuses on honoring parents. I hope you will join me for that discussion as we look at Lord’s Day 39 and question 104.
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Thanks for listening.