Winds of Change: Taking Sundays Seriously

Author: The BFC Gadfly
September 11, 2019

Intro: One of the great regulators of a well lived life is an established schedule.  The older I get the more I need regular patterns in my work week.  Since I now have come to the point of being able to hide my own Easter eggs, I keep my life more and more on track by establishing healthy patterns of activity in my daily life.  God likes that idea.  He likes it a lot, as we’ll see tonight! 


Proposition: Since God is our Creator and Deliverer, we should “set aside regular times for worship, prayer and the study of God’s ways.”[1] 


(v.8) God’s Command – God commanded His people to set aside one day a week for the refreshment of their bodies and souls.  This day was to be “Holy.”  Holiness means, “set apart for God’s use alone.”  What is meant by this?  “Sabbath” in Hebrew means, “to sit down or to stand still.”  The idea is to come to rest so as to give undivided attention to God.  Sabbath as understood by the Jews was, “a day of quiet worship as well as refreshment for man.”[2]  Notice the very first word of this verse: “Remember.”  Implied is the idea that this verse is NOT ORIGINATING A NEW COMMANDMENT BUT IS REMINDING GOD’S PEOPLE TO PRACTICE AN ALREADY EXISTING ONE.  The concept of Sabbath goes all the way back to the Creation.  (cf. Genesis 2:2-3)  Notice that the practice of Sabbath was already in effect before God gave the Ten Commandments to His people. (cf. Exodus 16:22-30)  Sabbath is A CREATION ORDINANCE, just as marriage is.  This means that Sabbath is meant FOR EVERYONE FOR ALL TIME.  Notice how these first four commandments build one upon the other: God alone is to be worshipped by His people; a right understanding of God is to be preserved by His people; God’s revelation of Himself is to be taken seriously by His people.  Now, as the crowning jewel of the first table of the law, God reminded His people to “set aside regular times to worship, prayer and the study of God’s ways,” as the Book of Common Prayer expresses it.  Through this regular practice the people of Israel in the past and the people of God today are to preserve our freedom of worship.


[DOCTRINAL POINT] God reminded His people to keep the Sabbath and to guard their freedom to worship Him.


[ILLUSTRATION] Remember “Blue Laws”?  There was a time in our country when civil law specified that certain things simply couldn’t be done on a Sunday.  In Virginia where I lived, liquor stores were not permitted to operate on Sundays, for example.  Many years ago now, that custom changed.  As I recall, no one seriously objected and the change passed with little fanfare.  Whether you agree that “Blue Laws” were a good idea or not, the notable thing here is that social opinion changed and what was once commonly considered appropriate for everyone, slipped into history without a whimper.  Why did this happen?  Perhaps because the idea of keeping the Sabbath, even among Christians, came to be thought of as an old fashioned thing of the past.  Government goes along with whatever the prevailing winds in the culture affirm.  


[APPLICATION] We do not guard our freedom of worship by relying on a government of man, but by exercising our duty to worship faithfully week by week.  If everyone who claimed to be a Christian obeyed God’s command to set aside one day a week for worship, prayer and the study of God’s ways, our freedom to worship would forever remain secure, for God Himself would be its guardian.  Perhaps our culture has lost its respect for a day of worship because many believers have lost the importance of the day as well.


(vv.9-10) How to Obey God’s Command – The way God’s people are to celebrate the Sabbath is by confining our creative labor to six days, and ceasing from that labor on the seventh.  Christians from earliest days have honored this practice by setting aside the first day of the week as “The Lord’s Day.”  This coming change was signaled in the Old Testament book of Leviticus years before our Lord’s resurrection on the first day of the week.  Leviticus 23:7; 15; 35-36 all referred to special times of sacrifice and worship on “the first day,” and each time in relation to “the very same feasts that point forward to the very same events that Christians now celebrate on Sunday!”[3]  Keeping the Sabbath was of highest importance for Israel and is for modern day Christians as well.  By keeping a regular day of worship we declare:

  • Our covenant relationship with God – That we are the people of God.
  • Our submission to God’s authority – That God rules in our lives.
  • Our trust in God’s provision – That we gladly sacrifice one day of labor, knowing that God will meet our needs from the riches of His own resources.
  • Our enjoyment of God’s person – That we value time spent with God and His people as among our highest goods.

THE SABBATH IS GIVEN AS A BENEFIT TO MAN.  The commandment specified that no work was to be done by anyone in Israel on the Sabbath.  Not the Husband (and the wife is included in this), nor children, nor servants (employees), not even livestock, or non-resident immigrants.  “No work” did NOT mean God’s work couldn’t be done on the Sabbath as Jesus explained when challenged about His disciples’ failure to keep the Sabbath. (cf. Luke 6:1-5)  “Nothing more than secular or servile work was intended by this prohibition.  Jesus by precept and example gave liberty for works of love, piety and necessity.”[4]  So, what is the meaning of the prohibition?  John Calvin gives us the best explanation: “God’s object at forbidding them to work had to go beyond the mere cessation of labor.  God, by analogy signaled that they could not be approved by Him through their labors, but only by ceasing from their works.”  In other words, what is pictured here is THAT IN ORDER TO BE APPROVED BY GOD WE MUST CEASE FROM OUR LABORS AND TRUST COMPLETELY IN GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, HIS SON.


[DOCTRINAL POINT] Having one day a week for God reminds us and all those around us that we belong to God.


[ILLUSTRATION] Many of us wear wedding rings.  Why do we do that?  Maybe because it’s customary.  Or maybe because our spouse expects it!  But the best reason for wearing a wedding ring is because you are proud to proclaim to the world that you are irrevocably committed to your spouse.  You can do that with words.  You can do that by dressing alike when you’re in public with your spouse.  You can put a bumper sticker on your car proclaiming, “Happily Married!”  There are other ways, but wearing a wedding ring is the bare minimum witness to the fact that you are happily married.    


[APPLICATION] Having regular times for worship, prayer and study of God’s ways is the bare minimum of witness to our relationship to Christ.  By keeping regular times of worship we proclaim to ourselves and others that we truly believe God exists; God saves; God is God; that we are “happily married” to Him in the Body of Christ, the Church.    


(v.11) Why Does This Matter? – In verse 11 God explained why Sabbath is so important in His eyes.  SABBATH IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT REFLECTS GOD’S ACTIVITY AND CHARACTER.  God labored six days in the creation.  God “rested” on the seventh day.  “God was not tired in Genesis 2:2-3…. God’s work was completed, and, therefore, there was no need to continue…. He only stopped His creative activity…. [to have] a time to enjoy by reflecting” on His Creation.[5]  In like manner, we are called to stop our activity for a while to reflect on our Creator’s priority.  The Ten Commandments are also listed in Deuteronomy chapter 5.  It is instructive to compare Exodus 20:11 to Deuteronomy 5:15 where a second reason is given for the importance of the Sabbath.  Exodus 20:11 invites us to reflect on God our Creator.  Deuteronomy 5:15 reminds us that our Creator is also our Deliverer.  SO, THE SABBATH DAY IS AN INVITATION TO REMEMBER GOD’S UNCHANGING WORKS AND CHARACTER AS CREATOR AND DELIVERER. 


[DOCTRINAL POINT] Keeping one day a week to honor God never ceases because God’s actions and character never change. 


[ILLUSTRATION] Gwen and I have been married for 45 years, and even though we’ve had plenty of time to get to know each other over those years, I still crave times when we can just get away by ourselves.  We love our kids; we love our grandkids.  We love all of you!  We love our relatives and friends.  But there are times when we just want to get away and enjoy each other.  God is like that with each one of us!  Is it too much to say that He craves one day a week in fellowship and refreshment with His Bride, the Church?  Is it too much to think that He values each individual believer’s seeking His face regularly for worship?  Prayer?  Learning? 


[APPLICATION] The command to set aside one day a week for worship, prayer and study of God’s ways is still in full force though we now live under the terms of the New Covenant.  Since all Ten Commandments now serve as a rule of life for believers; since the fourth commandment is based upon a Creation Ordinance; and since this commandment is based on God’s actions and character which never changes, we ought not to think that keeping regular times of worship and refreshment have somehow gone out of date.  Old Testament times or New, God still desires one day a week of personal fellowship and refreshment with each of His children.  Christ still craves at least one day a week all to Himself with His Bride.  That’s what love does!         


Conclusion: Let’s pray. 

[1] Book of Common Prayer

[2] Zodhiates

[3] Expositor’s Bible Commentary

[4] James M. Gray

[5] Zodhiates