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Understanding the Sabbath

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
May 22, 2023 4:00 am

Understanding the Sabbath

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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May 22, 2023 4:00 am

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He didn't just want to clean up the people's attitudes as they gave their sacrifices, He obliterated the sacrificial system cause He brought an end to Judaism. With all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it, including the Sabbath. Welcome to Grace To You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. When you hear the fourth commandment, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Have you wondered how that command applies today? After all, the Sabbath is the seventh day, and churches historically worship on Sunday, the first day.

So what's the story? To find out what the Sabbath is and why what day you attend church still matters, stay here as John MacArthur begins a study titled The Sabbath and Why We Worship on Sunday. Now, John, before you start this study, let me simply ask why this topic? I mean, how much confusion can there really be about the Sabbath and Sunday worship? Well, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the Sabbath and Sunday worship. I would say the confusion has perpetuated itself into long-standing traditions that have gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years. But the Bible is not unclear on this. You know, this is like so many other things people seem unclear about. When the Bible is crystal clear about it, I want to spend a little time on this.

And this is a bit unusual, perhaps, for us to do this because it's a very narrow subject, but I think it has really rich implications. So starting today, we're going to be looking at the Sabbath and why we worship on Sunday. The Sabbath and why we worship on Sunday. And by the way, the church, the true church, has been worshiping on Sunday since the day of the resurrection when the disciples were gathered in the upper room that night and our Lord appeared to them and taught them from the Old Testament the significance of his death and resurrection. Ever since then, the church has been worshiping on Sunday.

There are reasons for that. The study is going to look at the Old Covenant worship and the New Covenant. The fourth commandment, remember the Sabbath day, does it or does it not apply? What is the significance on Sunday?

Should churches be adding Saturday evening services as a convenience to their members? Very practical truth. And I'm sure we're going to answer the questions that are in your mind. So stay with us for the Sabbath and why we worship on Sunday. Yes, and John, this really is practical stuff. Many Christians miss the profound teaching that Jesus and the New Testament authors give us on this subject, truth that energizes worship and helps believers experience lasting spiritual rest.

So, friend, let's get to the lesson. Here's John with his look at the Sabbath and why we worship on Sunday. How are we to understand the place that the Sabbath plays, if any, in the life of the people of God? Turn in your Bible for a moment to Exodus chapter 20. This is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. And near the middle of the Ten Commandments is the fourth commandment.

We begin to read about it in verse 8. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall not do any work.

You are your son or your daughter, your male or your female servants or your cattle or your sojourner or stranger who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

There is no question about the other nine commandments being permanent and binding. We are to have no other gods. We are never to make an idol. We are to worship only the true and living God. We are never to take the name of the Lord in vain. We are not to dishonor our father or mother, but rather give them honor. We are not to murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet. Those are all moral mandates, moral commands with the exception of verses 8 through 11, the fourth command regarding the Sabbath.

And the question that is often posed is a simple one, if all the other commands are permanent, is not this one permanent as well? There are people who believe it is. We might call them strict Sabbatarians. They fall generally into two categories. One would be Seventh Day Adventists.

I think we're familiar with them. I think it's legitimate to consider Seventh Day Adventism as a cult because they believe that the writings of Ellen G. White are inspired by God and can be put alongside the Bible. But they identify themselves as faithful to the fourth command. There are also Seventh Day Baptists, a smaller group that interpret the commandment as permanently binding as well.

Not quite so strict, you could also identify what you would call Christian Sabbatarians. They have decided that as Christians we must keep the Sabbath but it's not any longer the seventh day, it's the first day. So they shift the command in Exodus from Saturday to Sunday. This is a classic view among Reformed theologians.

This was the view of many, if not most of the Puritans. In fact, if you go back to the 1689 Baptist confession, you will find a Christian Sabbatarian article in that confession that Christians are to treat Sunday as a new Sabbath and they are to follow generally the prescriptions and limitations that were placed upon the old Sabbath. And the question before us is, are they correct?

Is it correct that we should be observing Saturday, the old Sabbath, or perhaps Sunday as a kind of new replacement Sabbath as a holy day set apart from all other days? Well to answer that, we need to go back to Genesis chapter 2, so let's do that...Genesis chapter 2. The chapter opens with the indication that creation is over. And we read these words, then the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts, everything that occupies them. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. You will notice in verse 3 the word sanctified. That word is essentially the word holy.

And this is the first time holy is used in the Bible. The root means to separate, or perhaps better, to turn that into a vertical concept to elevate. It is a separation that elevates, or exalts.

So here, for the first time, we come across the idea of something being separated by being elevated. That is, God designates this seventh day as an exalted day, a day lifted above all other days. And God makes it holy and declares it to be so for three reasons. The three reasons are basically connected to the three verbs that make up the text. First of all, it is a day that is unique because the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts.

That's the first verb. The whole work of creation was finished. This work of creation was done in six, essentially twenty-four hour days by God. And since that close of the sixth day, there has never been any further creation, with the exception of those divine miracles that we have read about occasionally in the Old Testament and the flurry of miracles through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ in which He creates wholeness and wellness within the midst of His now fallen creation. Apart from that, creation ceased on the sixth day.

It didn't go on for thousands of years, didn't go on for millions or billions of years after six days. It was finished. It was completed. And so this is a special day because it signals that God's entire creation is finished. Secondly is the verb rested when it says in verse 2 that by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done and He rested. And then in verse 3 again, He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This is a unique day because the creation being completed, God stops and rests. It does not imply weariness. The Lord does not grow weary, Isaiah 40, 28. The psalmist says He doesn't slumber or sleep. He rested only in the sense that He ceased from work, not that He had to replenish His energy. But what it tells us when He rested is really that He was satisfied and that takes you back to verse 31 of chapter 1, God saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good.

It was a perfect work and it was the rest of utter satisfaction. And by the way, there would be no more creation and for a little while there was no more work for God to do. God didn't go to work again until the third chapter of Genesis, not very long, when Adam and Eve fell and God had to go to work. And what was the first thing that God did? Chapter 3 verse 21, the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

And then He drove them out of the garden. God did no work between the end of creation and the fall of man. And with the fall of man, God's work began again. And God had to preserve, as Hebrews 1 says, He had to uphold by His power His creation because it was now subject to decay.

And so He went to work to preserve the universe that He has made, the creation that He has made and He also went to work to fulfill all aspects necessary in the redemption of that creation. Now you do not hear in those three verses anything about people resting. There's nothing here about man resting, nothing here about Adam resting. Because he was without sin and a perfect man in every sense, there was no depletion of his energies when he was doing whatever the simple tending of the garden called for. There's no need to have a day of rest for man, what would he rest from?

He's living in a paradise with no labor and no sweat and no expended and lost energy. There's no Sabbath law given here for Adam, none at all. Nothing is said about this day being a day of worship. It doesn't say anything about that.

It doesn't prescribe anything for anyone. It is isolated completely to God. He completed His creation, satisfied with it, He ceased which is constituting rest. On the third verb, verse 3, He blessed the seventh day. He designed that that seventh day would be a special memorial to His creation and its original perfection.

This is so important for you to understand. This is a day to be elevated above all other days as a memorial to remember the glory of God's perfection in creation. Every seventh day from here on out would be a reminder that God in six days created the universe in perfection. You ever ask yourself why we operate calendars all over the world in sevens? It seems an odd number, does it not? There certainly is no rational reason for coming up with seven and designating weeks and months and years to be in sets of sevens.

It's actually kind of an awkward way to do things, it might be simpler to do them in tens. And yet it is universally adopted across the world and it is unique and it is designed to be unique because every seventh day is a reminder of the power and the glory of God expressed in the magnificence of six-day creation. To reject God as Creator, to reject God as Creator in six days is to un-bless the seventh day. To say that somehow God used thousands of years, millions of years, billions of years is to de-sanctify the seventh day. There's a reason why we live in seven-day units and man has always done so and it is because every seventh day provides for us a reminder that God is the Creator who created in six days the entire universe.

In Revelation chapter 14 there is the testimony of the gospel...well I won't read it to you...the angels flying through heaven and the testimony of the gospel is to acknowledge God as the Creator. It is the everlasting good news that God is the Creator. Every seventh day that passes should stand as a testimony to the Creator. Every Saturday America, the western world with its Christian influences, worked toward a five-day work week. Part of that was the underlying sense that Saturday was a day to enjoy the creation. Saturday is a perpetual witness to God as Creator.

Sunday, on the other hand, is a perpetual witness to God as Redeemer. So when you go back to Genesis chapter 2, there's no mention of Sabbath being a law, no mention of Sabbath being a day of worship. The next time you even run into the Word is in Exodus 16. Hundreds of years have passed, the patriarchs have come and gone, none of them worshiped, as far as we know, on the Sabbath.

That was not designated for them, it was not prescribed for them, it was not mandated for them, not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and the rest of the people of God. The first time the Sabbath is mentioned in some significant way is in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus when God feeds the people manna from heaven as they wander in the wilderness and the manna comes every day except the Sabbath day and the day before they get enough for that day so that they don't have to work on that day. And that gives them a little preview of what's coming because in the twentieth chapter you have the Ten Commandments and in the Ten Commandments which I just read to you, prescriptions are given that do set down laws for the Sabbath day. This is the first time any such laws have been given by God. This is very important so that we understand that the Sabbath was not instituted for man in Genesis.

It was instituted officially in Exodus in the Law of Moses. Further understanding of that comes from Exodus chapter 31, you might want to look at it for a minute. The Lord speaks to Moses in verse 12 and He says to him, as for you, speak to the sons of Israel saying, you shall surely observe My Sabbath for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people for six days work may be done. But on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord, whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever.

Why? For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased and was refreshed, or rested. Here we find that Sabbath is a is a sign. That is to say it points to something else. It is a symbol, if you will. It is placed in the middle, or near the middle of the Ten Commandments because it is a symbol connected to the Mosaic Covenant.

Let me see if I can help you with that. When God made a covenant with Noah, He promised Noah that he would never destroy the world again and God identified a sign. What was the sign of the Noahic Covenant?

Rainbow. When God made a covenant with Abraham, He made that covenant with Abraham and He designated a sign. And the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, participation among the Covenant people Israel, was the sign of circumcision. And here you have in the Mosaic Covenant another sign. And the sign this time is the Sabbath.

It was only a sign. Observing it with a duplicitous heart gained nothing. In fact, Isaiah 1 13 says, bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me, new moon and Sabbath.

The prophet Hosea pronounces a similar judgment on their hypocritical Sabbaths, I will put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths. It didn't mean anything to observe it outwardly without a heart of love and devotion to God. But what was the symbol for? What was the sign for? Why this sign?

I think you'll understand this when I explain it. The Sabbath was a reminder of creation. The Sabbath was to remind the people of Israel that they had forfeited paradise, that man had forfeited paradise. The Law said to them, obey this Law and you will be blessed.

God said that repeatedly. Obey this Law and you will be blessed to show them that righteous behavior would restore a taste of Eden's paradise. Righteous behavior would also point to a future, a future Kingdom when paradise would be regained. So the Sabbath, every Sabbath that went by when they rested, they were reminded of a perfect creation, a paradise of God dominated by righteousness which had been forfeited by sin and could only be regained again by righteousness. God then institutes the seventh day system, not for everybody in the world, in fact specifically it says, for Israel.

Verse 17, a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever. Every seventh day was a reminder that they were living in a fallen world. Every seventh day was a reminder that they had lost paradise and the only way to regain a taste of paradise was obedience to God, righteousness. And they therefore were to consider the importance of obeying the Ten Commandments. They were to consider the importance on that seventh day of examining their own life and looking at how they were measuring up against the Law of God, recognizing sin was the objective and bringing them to repentance. So the first seventh day identified God as Creator, but the institution of the Sabbath in the Mosaic economy identified God as the Lawgiver.

The first view was to produce gratitude for the wonder of creation. The second, to produce repentance for the forfeiture of all that is right. And so the Sabbath took on a new meaning.

Yes, it still is a reminder that God created, but it's a reminder that the creation of God which was originally perfect is now marred and we are marred and the realm of His creation is stained by sin and we are stained by sin and the creation, as Paul puts it, is groaning and we are groaning as well. The sign in the middle of the Abrahamic Covenant of circumcision was a way to say you need to be clean, you need to be cleansed. And the sign here, the Sabbath in the middle of the Ten Commandments essentially said the same thing, you need to recognize that you have forfeited paradise and the only way to regain it is to be righteous. Obviously they couldn't keep the Law, but they were to be driven in penitence to plead with God to be merciful to them as sinners.

So we understand that this was unique for the people of Israel. When Jesus came, He didn't just want to eliminate the bad priests and keep the good priests, He eliminated the priesthood. He didn't just want to clean up the people's attitudes as they gave their sacrifices, He obliterated the sacrificial system because He brought an end to Judaism. With all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it, including the Sabbath...including the Sabbath.

The Sabbath observance went away with all the rest that belonged to Judaism. It's John MacArthur exploring the Old Testament roots of the Sabbath here on Grace To You. His current study is called The Sabbath and Why We Worship on Sunday. Now keep in mind this series is available to download free of charge from It's filled with great truth that you can review at your own pace or you can listen to this with a small group. Again, The Sabbath and Why We Worship on Sunday is free at our website.

Download the series today. Our web address is If you know someone who would benefit from this study in a two CD album, you can purchase that by calling 800-55-GRACE. But you can also download The Sabbath and Why We Worship on Sunday free right now. Just go to and there you will find every message from John's 54 years of pulpit ministry, sermons covering every verse in the New Testament and many parts of the Old. And as you listen to these radio broadcasts and download the free resources at our website, thank you for remembering that we depend on people like you. Your financial support helps give people free access to accurate Bible teaching, which is not always widely available. So if you benefited from John MacArthur's teaching and you want to help believers like you benefit as you have, you can mail a tax-deductible donation to Grace To You, Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. Or call us at 800-55-GRACE or go to our website Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for tuning in today and be back tomorrow as John continues to lay out how you can honor the Lord with your weekly worship. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-22 06:02:38 / 2023-05-22 06:11:30 / 9

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