Keep the Sabbath, Part One
Throughout history there have been well-meaning, earnest Christians who have, perhaps without knowing it, functionally believed that the Ten Commandments are really only the Nine Commandments. Somewhere along the way, some have decided that the fourth commandment is not like the rest of the commandments but rather is a relic that belongs in the past. In truth, though, the command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy has abiding significance for us all, even today.
Why has this simple command fallen on such hard times? Some have claimed that its regulations and penalties were tied to the old covenant, so it must no longer be relevant. Yet we don’t treat the other commandments this way. Others have said that the way Jesus spoke of being “lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8) diminished the commandment’s significance and force. But what Jesus sought to overturn was not the Sabbath itself but the external rules of the Pharisees.
I suspect that what keeps most Christians from thinking of the fourth commandment as we ought to is simply that we don’t like its implications. We don’t like the way it intrudes into our lives, our leisure, and whatever else takes precedence in our hearts. And so we act as though this command is in a different category from the other nine.
If we want to grasp the significance of the Sabbath and respond to it in a God-honoring way, we must embrace, as a conviction, the truth that God has set aside the Sabbath day as distinct from the rest. This was the case in the week of creation, with God resting on the seventh day and declaring it sanctified. The church, in the age of the new covenant, then changed the day from the seventh of the week to the first to mark the resurrection of Christ. In both cases, we see that the distinction of the day is woven into God’s work of creation and redemption.
With that conviction in place, we can see that the day is not simply a day set apart from other days, but it is a day set apart to the Lord. If we don’t see it this way, we will be tempted to view our spiritual exercises on the Lord’s Day as something to “get over with” in order to “get on with” our week. If this is our mentality, we stand condemned by the fourth commandment.
The Sabbath ought to be treasured for what it is: a gift of a day on which we enjoy, uninterrupted by leisure commitments or (if at all possible) by employment, the privilege of God’s presence, the study of God’s word, and the fellowship of God’s people. Seen like that, this command becomes an invitation: not only something we should do but something we will love to do. If this is not how you have been viewing God’s Sabbath, then ask yourself: What’s preventing you from honoring the Lord’s Day? Take stock of your habits and receive the gift of the Sabbath. From next Sunday, be sure that your priority is not to make the Lord’s Day convenient but to keep it holy.
1Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.1 3For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
8For if Joshua had given them rest, God2 would not have spoken of another day later on. 9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
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