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Holy Day or Holiday? (Part 1 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
August 20, 2022 4:00 am

Holy Day or Holiday? (Part 1 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 20, 2022 4:00 am

The fourth of the Ten Commandments calls us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. But contemporary culture struggles to fit busy schedules into such a framework. Is God’s ancient law still relevant today? Find out on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the one that calls us to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

But here in the 21st century, does that still make sense? Is God's ancient law still relevant in the middle of this busy culture? On this edition of Truth for Life weekend, Alistair Begg explores the clear and specific instruction God has given us to set apart one day each week from all the rest.

I invite you to take your Bibles, and we'll turn to Exodus. And there in Exodus chapter 20, we read in verse 8 and following the words of the fourth commandment. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter nor your manservant or maidservant nor your animals nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath Day and made it holy. Shall we bow in a moment of prayer?

Our gracious God and Father, this commandment, perhaps more than any other, is militated against both outside the church and inside the church. And if we're going to come to terms with it, if we're going to bow beneath the weight of its instruction, we're going to need the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to convince us of the truth of the Word of God. And so we ask for that today. Nothing more than that, and nothing less than that, so that we may be renewed in our inner being regarding the truth of Holy Scripture. And we pray in Jesus' name, asking this.

Amen. Now, there are two things that mitigate against any good understanding of this commandment, and they are these. On the one hand, an almost complete lack of conviction about any notion of the abiding significance of the fourth commandment. And we'll address that in a moment. And on the other hand, almost total confusion concerning the nature not only of all the Ten Commandments but peculiarly of this one day.

Now, we can highlight this in a number of ways. Let me do so by quoting from the Civil War. I think it's the Civil War, isn't it, Stonewall Jackson? General Jackson is a legend in American history. Any of you who have read of Jackson will know that he was a man of extreme principle and character. At the very heart of this was his conviction of faith in Jesus Christ. And his extreme, rigorous character attached itself also to the observance of the Sabbath. And writing in his biography, his widow says, "...certainly he was not less scrupulous in obeying the divine command to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy than he was in any other rule of his life. Since the Creator had set apart this day for his own and commanded it to be kept holy, he believed that it was wrong for him to desecrate it by worldly pleasure, idleness, or secular employment as to break any other commandment of the decalogue. Sunday was his busiest day of the week, as he always attended church twice a day and taught in two Sabbath schools.

He refrained as much as possible from all worldly conversation. And in his family, if secular topics were introduced, he would say with a kindly smile, We will talk about that tomorrow. He never traveled on Sunday, never took his mail from the post office, nor permitted a letter of his own to travel on that day, always before posting it, calculating the time it required to reach his destination. One so strict in his own Sabbath observance naturally believed that it was wrong for the government to carry the mail on Sunday. Any organization which exacted secular labor of its employees on the Lord's Day was, in his opinion, a violator of God's law. And so his life was marked by a rigorous obedience to the law of God.

Now, loved ones, here's the question. Is this quote from Jackson an anachronism? In other words, if Jackson was right, where does that leave us? Because if we're right, most of us, he was wrong. But one thing is for sure, we're not both right. So we need to go to our Bibles then and determine who approximates to the instruction of God's Word closely. Is it us in our libertine rejection of the Lord's Day? Or is it Jackson in his rigorous obedience of it?

That kind of sets the context. You're gonna have to think with me. I might as well… I feel the alien nature of this commandment so strongly that it couldn't be graphically portrayed any more than if I were to come up here wearing the funniest suit you ever saw, and you could say, Oh, I understand why he's saying that, because he's the fellow that wears that funny suit.

He has a lot of quirks to him. But, loved ones, we've got to get to grips with what the Bible states. So there are three points that we're going to address. Number one, we're going to consider the principle as it's stated. Secondly, we're going to look at the practice as it is observed. And then we're going to finally come—and that will be this evening—to the practice applied. Okay, so, sorry, the principle stated, the pattern observed, and the practice applied.

Okay? The principle stated is summarized clearly in this first sentence of Exodus 20. All of the rest of it is an application or an amplification of this straightforward command, namely, remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Now, there's nothing particularly difficult about that. That is very clear. What it actually means demands our attention, but the clarity with which it is stated is obvious, as with the others. You shall do this, you shall not do that.

It is clear even a child can understand it. God is concerned about the sanctity of one day in seven. So it is absolutely vital that we come to understand that there is no convincing reason to believe, as some have taught and continue to teach, that the fourth commandment is in a different category from the other nine.

If you've been around church life long enough, you may well have imbibed the notion that we have nine commandments and then we have one that is kind of maybe in and maybe out. Interestingly enough, the maybe out factor has a direct correlation with the prevailing impact of the surrounding culture. There was no maybe out in the mind of Stonewall Jackson. There was no maybe out in the minds of our forefathers in this country. There was no maybe out in the minds of the average Bible-believing, God-fearing church congregation even fifty, forty, thirty years ago from today.

And one of the things I always do when I travel this country and I'm with older pastors, I always ask them, Tell me about the Lord's Day when you were a young man. And they describe a day that is very, very different from today. Now there's a reason for that, loved ones, and we need to find out what it is.

And we need to determine whether it's actually progress or regression. Well, you see, there are people who say that the fourth commandment has things that attach to it—regulations, mosaic factors that are such—that we don't do those things anymore, and therefore, because we don't do those things anymore, we no longer need to be governed by this commandment. But, loved ones, this is just silly talk.

For example, we recognize that. There are mosaic attachments to all of the commandments, not least of all to the fourth. Now, in the fourth commandment, you weren't allowed to light fires on the Sabbath day.

That was a peculiar ceremonial attachment to it. If you broke the fourth commandment, the punishment was stoning. So people say, Hey, we don't—we light fires, and we don't stone people, and therefore, we don't get into this fourth commandment stuff, therefore, we don't have a fourth commandment.

No! Because if you think it out, there were ceremonial attachments to all the other commandments. Take the fifth commandment.

Honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the land. Is that an abiding command? Is that regularly accepted within the church?

Yes. Everybody upholds that one. But the fact of the matter is that if a young man cursed his father or his mother, the punishment was stoning. The seventh commandment. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Do we give credence to that? Do we uphold that?

Yes, we do. And what happened to an adulterer or an adulteress? They were stoned. Now, we no longer stone people, because those are the ceremonial accretions that were part and parcel of the Old Testament context. But the fact that we no longer entertain that which surrounded the command in no way negates the command. It doesn't for adultery. It doesn't for honoring your father and mother. So the question is, loved ones, why in the world should it for the fourth commandment? And I put it to you that the reason that it does for the fourth commandment is because we don't like the implications of the fourth commandment. It cuts across our lives, it cuts across what we've become used to, it cuts across our desires for acquisitiveness, it cuts across our commitment to leisure, it cuts across the God that we've made of family living, and frankly, we are glad to set it apart as a different kind of command. Now, the question that you must answer for yourself is, is there any abiding biblical validity for making that kind of distinction?

Now, we're gonna go on and follow this through, and you must think along with me. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. In other words, sanctify the day. The phrase here means two things. It means, first of all, remember the Sabbath day by setting it apart. That's what it means to keep it holy. It means to set it apart.

Well, in what way is the day set apart? Well, weren't there seven days in the week that God made? Yes. Did he just call one holy? Yes. Was there to be one that had a peculiar, holy, sanctified dimension to it?

Yes. So in what way was it set apart? Well, it was set apart from all the other days. It was a different day from every other day that God had created. And he sanctioned this by his own example, as we will see. Now, the immediate reaction to that on the part of Psalm is to say, but you don't understand, or maybe not so forcibly, but to say, well, what about the fact that every day is the Lord's day?

Well, there's a sense in which that's true. We ought to serve the Lord every day, and we ought to serve the Lord every moment of every day. And the way in which we do our work ought to be a service to the Lord. And there is a realistic sense in which, whether we're brushing up a factory floor, or whether we're giving an injection, or writing on a school blackboard, or having somebody sign an insurance proposal form, or whatever else it is, that we recognize that God is in charge and overrules in all of those moments of every day. But the fact is, loved ones, that even when we acknowledge that, it in no way sets aside the distinctive element of this fourth commandment, isolating this one day in seven and possessing it with a distinction which God has ordained. So in other words, once we acknowledge that God is in charge of every day, it doesn't set apart the fact that God said, Remember this particular day in a peculiar way and make it a different day.

Now, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that. That's what it's saying. That's not an interpretation. That's simply what it's saying. The implications of it we can go on to discuss, but that's what it's saying.

I think you'll agree. John Murray, the late John Murray professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, says, To obliterate the difference between one day and the other six… To obliterate the difference may appear pious, but it is piosity, not piety. It is not piety to be wiser than God.

It is impiety of the darkest hue. The Sabbath day is different from every other day, and to obliterate this distinction in thought or practice is to destroy what is the essence of the institution. Now, there is a wealth contained in that statement.

Let me summarize it for you. The recognition of the distinction of the day is indispensable to its observance. So that unless you and I be convinced that God has distinguished this day for all of time, and that because he has distinguished it in this way, we must live within the framework of what he has laid down, then any attempts at keeping the Sabbath day will simply be as a result either of legalistic externalism or as a result of a kind of time-honored tradition or as a result of the reinforcement of what has become customary for us.

Okay? Now, I grew up as a child in Scotland in exactly that position, and all children must. For if we ask a child whether they like the idea of a different day on the Lord's day, the answer is no, I do not, frankly. So we wouldn't ask them. We would tell them.

This is the framework. And any child, unredeemed, unregenerate, is going to buck the system, say, I don't like this, and I don't like this day, and I don't want to do this, and I don't want to worship, and I certainly don't want to do it twice, and I'm not going in a choir, and I don't like the Sunday school, and I'm sick and tired of the whole operation. That's fine, honey. I heard you.

I've been there. Now let's go. Let's just continue, just as we said we were doing.

We're on our way. Okay? Now, unless the day dawns, when God by his Spirit redeems that child, and in the heart of that child what to that point has been simply the observance of custom, and it now becomes the conviction of their tiny life, then from that day everything changes. Because once they have become convinced, once they have ownership of the principle in their own lives, then they no longer do things simply as a result of constraint, but they do them as a result of an internal conviction. Now, as true as that is of children, it is true of us all. And that is why many of us continue to buck the idea of the Lord's day.

Because it is a conviction about its distinction which creates relevance to its observance. And since we have never come to a conviction about its distinction, any time anyone suggests to us that this is what may comprise the Lord's day, our answer is, Who do they think they are to tell me what I'm gonna do with my time? It's not your time. And it's not my time.

Every breath I breathe is a gift from God. And he is in charge of my time. And he who created time and parceled it in the way that he intended intends that the utilization of time shall bear testimony to the distinction of his creative handiwork and shall bear testimony to the fact that we are his covenant children. You see, the same thing is true of any commandment. If you take the commandment, for example, in relationship to adultery, if you and I are only going to keep the commandment regarding adultery on the basis of its pragmatic usefulness, but not as a result of its rightness, not as a result of divine authority, not as a result of an internal conviction, then we are left to the winds of circumstance to blow upon us. Then we're in a situation and somebody says, Why not? And since the commandment is simply a kind of practical accretion for us and is not an internal conviction for us, then the smell of the perfume or the heat of the evening or the drive of the passion may be enough to take us right into total sin, because we'd never internalize the command.

And so as soon as the circumstances went against us, we were swept into chaos. That is exactly, I put it to you, what is happening with the Lord's Day in the continental United States and in the Western world at large. We have vast numbers of people who have never become convinced of the distinction of the day.

They have no internal conviction about the day, about its abiding relevance. And so when somebody says, Why don't we do this? Why don't we go there? Why don't we do whatever it is?

The answer is, Yeah, why not? Because after all, the only lingering notion that we have of any abiding relevance of the command is that it has something to do with not lighting fires and not riding your bicycle or not doing a bunch of stuff that we have picked up from somewhere along the line. But we don't have any notion of it in our hearts. So if I can express it as clearly as possible, observance of the Lord's Sabbath quickly becomes obsolete if it does not spring from the sense of sanctity generated and nourished by the fact that God set apart this day for our good. So it's not irksome. It's not a punishment.

It's a phenomenal, liberating privilege. But until we understand the distinction and apply it, we will internalize any expressions of it as either anachronisms or quirks of human personality. How else could chariots of fire sweep the academy awards and sweep a nation of nonchurch goers and church goers, and by and large to almost a hundred percent degree completely pass people by in terms of the implication of what the whole movie was about, at least in Little's side of things? Remember him with the royalty and the head of the Olympic committee in that scene where they bring him in and sit him down? Now, come on, Little, for the sake of your king and for your country, you put aside these silly ideas of yours about the Sabbath and about the Lord's Day.

Remember his reply? I would never set aside my king or my country save that there was a higher power, a higher authority, the one who sets up kings and the one who brings down kings, and I will not run. And there isn't a person in the movie theater who didn't find something inside of them saying, Man, do I love that kind of conviction.

What was it? It was a conviction about the distinction of the day. And once he settled that, then everything flowed from it. But until you settle that, nothing will flow from it except legalism and the constraints of custom and tradition.

There are no maybes about it. The Sabbath is to be set apart from the other six days of the week. This is Truth for Life Weekend. Alistair Begg will have more for us on this topic next weekend. By the way, did you know you can download and share today's message or any messages from Alistair's entire teaching library for free? Visit and use these search features in the top blue bar to find a sermon or a topic or an entire series you'd like to hear.

You can also download and share using the free Truth for Life mobile app. If you are one of our regular Truth for Life listeners, you know it's our pattern to teach directly from the Bible. This is because God reveals himself to us through his Word, and studying Scripture gives us the only window into knowing him better.

Today, the book we'd like to recommend to you is written for that purpose. It's titled God Is. It's a devotional guide to the attributes of God. Chapter by chapter, this book unpacks who God is, what God tells us about himself in the Bible. Each chapter explores a different characteristic of God. For example, one of the attributes the book examines is God's patience. Another is that he is infinite, and another is that he's unchanging. So what does all of this mean for our everyday lives? That's what you'll learn as you read the book God Is. Find out more about the book God Is when you visit our website at I'm Bob Lapeen, thanks for listening. God has set apart one day a week from all the rest. Next weekend we'll find out why that day matters, and what it means for our weekends. Be sure to join us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-08 00:03:52 / 2023-03-08 00:12:23 / 9

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