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Holy Day or Holiday? (Part 4 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
September 10, 2022 4:00 am

Holy Day or Holiday? (Part 4 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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September 10, 2022 4:00 am

Jesus was clear when He said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. How should His statement shape the way we spend our weekends? On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg describes how Christians should keep the Sabbath.


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When, as parents, we establish rules for our children, it's meant for their wellbeing.

Not as a form of punishment. On Truth for Life weekend, Alistair Begg reminds us that God's plan for a Sabbath rest has a similar purpose. Instead of thinking of it as a restriction, we should see it ultimately as something for our benefit.

We're back today in Exodus chapter 20, looking at verses 8 through 11. So what, then, possible abiding significance is there in this Sabbath principle? Well, let's apply it, first of all, to society and to unbelievers in general. First of all, because we're presumably not going to say that it's wrong or futile or irrelevant to confront unbelievers with the law of God. Also, since because by the law comes the awareness of sin, we must recognize that then sin can be made understandable in the minds of our unconverted friends when they see that this command remains in Scripture.

Also, a sustained emphasis upon the necessity of Sabbath observance is a restraining influence, which prevents other kinds of multiple transgressions. The other reason that we would want to hold up the abiding principle of the Sabbath for our unbelieving friends is because the observances which the Sabbath enjoins upon us are means of grace and they're channels of salvation. Simply, what we're saying is that if we can urge our neighbors and our friends, even from an external perspective, to cultivate these observances, then they will come within the sound of the Word of God, right? And we know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

So by calling them into Christ's way, they may come to know Christ. Fifthly, the outward observance of the Sabbath promotes public order. And it makes for the preservation of some of our most cherished rights and liberties. Unrestrained violations of the economy of God's plan from all of creation destroys peace. Now, what about the application not simply to society in general but to the church and particularly to believers?

Well, let's say this. Our observance of this fourth commandment is relevant not in isolation but is relevant in the context of the whole plan and purpose of God. Most of us know, if we have lived around any kind of Sabbatarianism at all, that observance of the Sabbath principle can so quickly become an instrument of self-righteousness. It can so easily become marked by legalism and by externalism. And it was that legalism and externalism which the Pharisees had championed and which Jesus addressed there in our reading in Matthew chapter 12.

You may want to turn to it just once again as I mention it. These Pharisees were experts at keeping the outside of the cup clean, remember Jesus said, when the inside they allowed to be dirty. They were, he said, like whited sepulchers.

On the outside they were fairly impressive, but in the inside they were full of dead men's bones. They had made the commands of God, rather than them being the paths of joy and of liberty, they had made them burdensome, they had added to them, and they had destroyed the enjoyment potential in them for so many who sought to be obedient. And so Jesus is making it clear here in this section in Matthew 12 that there are certain works which Jesus defended as happening on the Lord's Day.

And this is a quite interesting context. For example, he says that in verses 3 and 4, there are works of necessity which are countenanced on the Sabbath. They're saying, You shouldn't be eating this corn and eating them. And he says, Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. He says, You think my disciples are breaking the law because they're rubbing corn between their hands and eating it because they're hungry? He says, Don't you remember the story in the Old Testament where David was eating the communion bread? In verse 5. Or, Haven't you read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?

What does that mean? Well, it is the explanation as to what is happening when, in the role of pastor and teacher and pastors, we serve the people of God in the context of worship here. People say, Well then, aren't you breaking the Sabbath yourselves? Aren't you breaking the Sabbath that you're upholding?

No. Not in the ultimate sense, insofar as works of piety, such as that which was carried on by the priests, are were countenanced in the temple. And in verse 11, he points out that works of mercy are also defended within the framework of the Lord's Day. What he was addressing and rebutting and defending his disciples against was censoriousness, or, if you like, the kind of sophistry which these Pharisees were using, taking their rabbinical teaching and their traditions and perverting the Sabbath institution. And by doing so, they had transformed it into an instrument of oppression and into an instrument of hypocrisy.

So they were hypocrites, and they had made it something that it wasn't. And so Jesus says, in works of mercy, in works of necessity, and in works of piety, we still maintain the principle which God has established from all creation. So we need to understand that the Sabbath commandment must never be isolated from God's law in its entirety, nor from the gospel in regenerating and in redeeming grace. At the same time, we need to realize that the relevance of the Sabbath is tied up with the fact that it is a positive requirement.

It is a positive requirement. Most of our reactions to the notion of the Sabbath are because we believe it to be negative. Now, there is no question that many have spoken of the Sabbath simply in those terms, and there is a danger of negativism in the weariness of a kind of soulless inactivity. But as we tried to say this morning to understand, the rest of the Sabbath isn't idleness. The rest of the Sabbath is not simply rest from that which marks the other days, but it is rest to and rest in our worship and our contemplation and our prayer and our fellowship. When God's people understand this, then they will not see the services of the Lord's Day as intrusions upon their day of rest, but they will go home and close their door and thank God that since the purpose of the Sabbath is for worship and for edification and for fellowship and for rest and for contemplation, they will thank God that they have been made part of a church family that has given itself to make sure that the people of God will be able to spend their Sabbaths with the greatest prophet. For one day, when we get to heaven, and we enjoy in all of eternity the worship and the love and the praise and the adoration, we may just recall an evening communion service, when somehow our hearts were lifted up within us, somehow or another a veil was pulled back as we sang, I cannot tell why he whom angels worship should set his love upon the sons of men, or why, as shepherd, he should seek the wanderers to bring them back.

I know not how nor when. And it is often in the singing of those hymns of praise, it is often in those moments of holy contemplation, that we get just a glimpse of what heaven might be—but no participation, no worship, no glimpse. Now, let me give to you just a couple of quotes as we move towards a conclusion. Let me give you a little flavor of how traditionally people have taught their children and one another the nature of the fourth commandment. This is the Westminster Confession of Faith. Speaking as to the nature of the Sabbath, it reads as follows, This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe and wholly rest all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy. The shorter Scottish Catechism question, How is the Sabbath to be kept holy or to be sanctified? Answer, The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship except so much as is to be taken up in works of necessity and of mercy. The fourth commandment forbideth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning of the day by idleness, or doing that which in itself is sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works about our worldly employments or our recreations. Unnecessary thoughts, words, works about our worldly employments or our recreations. Do you know how quickly, after the benediction, we manifest what's really on our hearts?

It doesn't take five minutes. Because out of the abundance of our hearts, our mouths speak. And when, when the worship is over and the praise has ended and the music has ceased to play, then we return how quickly? To the considerations that God has intended we would leave beside on this of all days. It's simply an act of obedience.

It's simply an act of the will. It's simply a positive perspective on the wonder of the provision that God has made in this fourth commandment. Perhaps the greatest danger of all, says one minister, is the conversation before and after our worship.

Some talk of politics and of business, some of family circumstances, some of their cars or houses, some of the weather, and some of their neighbor. Such conversation is sure to bring a blight upon the soul. If we want to profit from public worship, let Christ be our one glorious theme before and after it. Let us talk about him, even if we do not have much to say. Boy, would that close down many of our conversations, much of what we falsely refer to as fellowship.

We so quickly return to the vain janglings that have preoccupied us, even on the day that God gave to us, to be free of such preoccupations. Well, you say to me, Alistair, is this not a lofty standard? Yes.

Is it an unattainable standard? I don't know. Is it possible for us really to enjoy the Lord's Day? See, people think I was weird. I used to tell them I always go in the bathroom before I come to preach. I did it for years when the call came to this church to come to America. The man who came to find me found me in the bathroom. The reason I was in the bathroom was not because I needed to make use of the facilities, but because it was the only place that I could be free from people talking about their cars and their caravans and the golf and the soccer and every other thing—not because I'm very pious, but because I find in my heart a great desire to talk about cars and caravans and golf and soccer. So it was an act of the will on my part to shut myself away, that I might come, as it were, to the task at hand from the framework of that kind of positive perspective. You know, loved ones, if you would endeavor to do that on the Lord's Day, our worship would be exponentially transformed.

I guarantee it. If you were to determine that in your preparation for the worship of the Lord's Day you would do as much as is in your strength to set aside every worldly concern, every recreational desire, every element of that which means so much on other days simply because of the positive potential of what is about to be enjoyed, then I can guarantee you that things would be radically different. If we were to make our way post-worship into the company of one another, to speak about the greatness of God and the truth of his Word and the wonder of his dealings with us and the fortis and glimpse of heaven, then we should begin to understand some of these one-another passages in the New Testament about edifying one another and encouraging one another and speaking the truth to one another and building one another up.

How in the world is that supposed to take place? We can't do it on any other day. We're not even together on any other day. And so if on the one day that we have the opportunity to be together, we treat it as we would every other day, then it diminishes the potential of being together, and it is because we do that we determine that there's really no validity to it.

But you see, there is. This is what it will take if we're going to profit from the Lord's Day. And with this I conclude.

I'm going to tell you four things. First, if we would really profit from the Lord's Day, there must be a deep and unshakable conviction of the divine warrant for the keeping of the Lord's Day established in our minds. That's where we began, and that's where we conclude. Until you as an individual come to that, all that I have said today, although we have studied today, will appear either to be cultural, to be customary, or even to be legalistic. But once we come to an unshakable internal conviction as to the divine warrant of the fourth commandment, then the door opens for profit on the Lord's Day. Richard Dabney, writing in an earlier century, said, All men who really fear God will begin to sanctify his day. And once that conviction is established, little more remains to be done.

Little more needs to be said. Little more needs to be expressed in terms of talking about the ifs and the buts and the maybes and the dos and the don'ts and the lists of things that are published by churches saying, This is this and this and this and this. We don't need to do that if once the conviction has been internalized in lives of those who love Jesus. So that's number one—a deep, unshakable conviction of the divine warrant of the fourth commandment. Secondly, we must have a deep impression of the tremendous importance of the day for ourselves. We've got to come to the conviction that this is supremely important. This is important like no other day is important.

This is an opportunity like no other opportunity exists. Think about it. If it was given in creation before the fall, if in paradise perfect men and women were to celebrate the Lord's Day, if it was necessary for them to observe the Sabbath without sin in the pristine nature of God's creative order, they're in their sinless state to have a Sabbath for the development of their spiritual nature as sinless people. How much more necessary for us to have this day for the development of our spiritual nature? Thirdly, if we are to benefit from it, it must be observed as a complete day of rest. There is no valid reason in Scripture for professing Christians to work on the Lord's Day except in cases of piety, necessity, and mercy. The only thing that legitimizes it at this point in history is the prevailing influence of our secular culture. Fourthly and finally, the Sabbath must be a day of spiritual improvement.

That's what it's about. The improvement that comes in public worship, the improvement that comes in families having time—not around the television, not around the local sporting event—for those things will come and go and will be of irrelevance in heaven, but time around the Lord Jesus, his Word, and his purposes. The spiritual improvement that comes from religious reading. Many of us have never read the Bible through, ever. Do you know that you could read it through if you just determined to read? If you never read any other day in the week, if you determined to read five or six chapters at three points on the Lord's Day, you would read through the Bible in a whole year, if you never read it Monday through Saturday. And what of all those books that we wanted to read?

When are you reading them? And what of secret prayer? And what of holy meditation? And what of anticipating the fact that one day the silver cord will break, and in an instant we will be in the presence of Christ? Isaiah chapter 58. If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath, and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord. There's a direct correlation between joyful Christianity and the spending of the Lord's Day. And I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.

The mouth of the Lord has spoken. Loved ones, I commend to your careful consideration the issues that we've addressed today. What a wonderful privilege that he has set apart one day in seven. When untrammeled by the rest, we may give him our totally devoted attention. The weekly Sabbath should be a source of joy and spiritual growth for us as we spend time worshiping and sitting under the instruction of God's Word.

You're listening to Truth for Life weekend with Alistair Begg, and the conclusion of a message titled Holy Day or Holiday. Learning about the importance of the Sabbath makes it increasingly clear just how critical it is for us to understand and apply God's Word in our lives every single day of the week. That's why our mission here at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible with clarity and relevance every single day. We do this counting on the promise of God's Word that he will use the teaching of his Word to convert unbelievers, to make them into committed followers of Jesus, and to more firmly establish those who already believe. Our prayer is that pastors would be encouraged to teach only from Scripture, and that local churches would become loving communities that remain faithful to Jesus to the very end. Now along with Alistair's messages, we choose books to recommend to you.

We choose them with great care and with our mission in mind. You may have heard me mention our current title Little Pilgrim's Big Journey Part 2. This is a children's story adapted from the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress Part 2. It tracks the journey of Christiana and her brothers on their way to the Celestial City. This is the last weekend we'll be telling you about the book Little Pilgrim's Big Journey Part 2. When we offered part one of this book in February, it was very popular. We ran out of copies very quickly, so visit our website today to find out more. That's at

I'm Bob Lapine. What did Jesus mean when he said the Sabbath was meant for man, not man for the Sabbath? And why did this make the Pharisees so angry? Join us again next weekend as we'll explore the answers. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-26 20:02:42 / 2023-02-26 20:10:42 / 8

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