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The Delight of the Sabbath (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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October 8, 2022 4:00 am

The Delight of the Sabbath (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 8, 2022 4:00 am

Do you consider it your duty to keep the Sabbath holy, or do you regard it as a gift from God? The way you answer this question will impact the way you prepare for the day and how you begin each week. Hear more on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Do you consider it your responsibility, your duty to keep the Sabbath holy, or do you regard the Lord's Day as a gift from God?

How you answer that question will determine how you prepare for the day and the way you begin each week. On Truth for Life weekend, Alistair Begg is considering how Christians should approach the fourth commandment. Can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to the sixth chapter of the gospel of Luke, because we are essentially continuing our studies in Luke's gospel. And as you will recall, last Sunday morning we found ourselves in the opening eleven verses confronted by these two Sabbath-day incidents in which Jesus both declared and demonstrated that he was none other than the Lord of the Sabbath, that he who had been present in creation, when, along with the Father and the Spirit, the triune God had rested from the work of creation, now in his incarnation he declares himself to be the very Lord of the Sabbath.

And in those incidents, we noted not that Jesus was canceling the use of the Sabbath by this declaration, but rather that he was correcting the abuse of the Sabbath, which was represented in the perspective of the Pharisees. Now, as a result of delving into that passage, we opened up the larger and wider question—namely, how does the Christian comply with the fourth commandment? And having raised it, we need now to tackle it. This, incidentally, is a matter of perennial interest and perennial concern. And it has, in many cases, been a matter of bitter wrangling. A Dutch theologian of an earlier era by the name of A. van Selms reckoned that, on average, in the Netherlands alone, there were ten thousand families consistently affected by serious quarreling concerning what was and what was not permissible on a Sunday.

And so, by his calculations, that made for half a million quarrels a year. And there is no doubt that that often accompanies the consideration of this issue. And certainly, our study of last Lord's Day morning has raised a tremendous amount of discussion. I trust that it has produced as yet no quarreling. In fact, I'm fairly certain that it has produced very little quarreling on the part of the vast majority, for this simple reason. It never crossed your mind that this question should be the basis of strife or disagreement.

And the reason is that we have never, ever seriously considered the matter. But rather, to this point in our Christian lives, we have been living with the assumption that somehow or another the question of the Sabbath principle of the Lord's Day has everything to do with then—and then is a long way back—and has little or nothing to do with now in terms of our immediate experience. Consequently, you have never thought of approaching Sunday as a different day. You have never given consideration to the possibility that this day is a gift from God to be experienced as a delight and a joy, a day that shapes and frames your life, creates purpose and structure, order and cohesion. It is not unusual to hear people—not least of all Christian people— announcing the fact that they feel virtually overwhelmed by their calendars, their programs, and their responsibilities, and they just, by their testimony, can't seem to find a way to alleviate the burden. Well, I'm going to suggest to you that here in the Word of God, in the very rhythm of life, in the cycle of God's plan for time, in the issue of the Lord's Day, there is one key and crucial antidote to this prevailing sense of chaos. And I hope that as we study it together, it will become apparent to us all that the Lord is more interested in enjoyment of his blessings through obedience than he is in our self-imposed deprivations.

He is more interested in us being able to enter joyfully into the blessings which come through obedience than he is concerned for us to impose upon ourselves arbitrary forms of deprivation. In short, can I ask you, have you ever considered the possibility that the Christian complies with the fourth commandment by entering into the delight which emerges from the design of God in the gift of the Sabbath principle in the Lord's Day? Now, as I say, you don't have to go far to discover that there has been a very different perspective on this in previous times.

I constantly am asking Christians of an older vintage as I move around the country to tell me about Sundays in their youth or in their childhood. And I am discovering that almost without exception, the description that they give of that time in the 1940s or 30s or 50s is markedly different than the expressions and experience of the Lord's Day, which are a contemporary part of Christendom now. And of course, it raises the question as to why that was and why this is. In the late nineteenth century, a southern theologian here in the States, a man by the name of Dabney, expressed in quite graphic terms what he saw as the implications of failing to take seriously the fact that God does not intend for us to be like the energizer bunny—in other words, to get wound up and then just to continue going without any break at all, just constantly going, going, going, going, going.

God never planned that it should be that way. And when men and women engage their lives in that cycle, then there are inevitable implications. Now, it's almost humorous, the way in which Dabney describes it, but perhaps he isn't as far from the mark as his somewhat archaic language may tend us to believe. This is what he says, if you try and work seven days straight, or if you try and please yourself seven days straight, or if you try a combination of working like a crazy person and pleasing yourself like a daft person all the time and lay aside the notion of the priority of the Lord's Day, then, he says, attempting to do so brings upon the body lassitude. Which, of course, as you know, is what? Fatigue.

All right? This is a Southern theologian in America. This is not a British guy. This is your word, lassitude. I had to look it up. Don't feel bad.

I looked it up this morning, about eight o'clock. It brings upon the body fatigue, nervous excitability, disease, premature old age, and often sudden death. And on the mind, morbid excitement, impatience, rashness, blindness of judgment, and not seldom lunacy. And what he's saying is this. If you ignore what God has laid down as a fundamental aspect of humanity and as a gift to his creation and as a privilege to his redeemed, then you may actually go nuts. That's a contemporary explanation. And you don't have to look very far around to find people living on the edge of craziness. Driving hither and yon, fulfilling obligation, one, two, three, four, five, assuming that this has to be this way, I must engage in this, I must do that, I must go there, and hardly anybody seems to take a moment to stop and say, Why in the world do I do all this?

And just because everybody else in my neighborhood does all this, does this mandate me to do it? Or is there any distinction in the Christian life when it comes to the issue of Jesus being the Lord of time? For in essentially saying that he is Lord of the Sabbath, he is indicating that he is Lord over time.

He just designates one particular period of time. Now, clearly from that quote, this was not a matter of marginal interest for Mr. Dabney, but one of crucial importance. And we dare not dismiss this issue as being a matter of personal preference. Some of you are already sitting there saying, Well, you know, this is simply a matter of personal preference. I really don't need to be concerned or alarmed or really pay very much attention to whatever he's about to say, because he's just going to simply share his preferences with us, and that doesn't matter at all. This is not a matter of personal preference in the first instance.

What is it? Well, it is many things, and I must be selective, not exhaustive, and so I'm going to say that this issue is this. Number one, it is a doctrinal issue. Number two, it is a biblical issue. Number three, it is a personal issue.

And number four, it is a practical issue. First of all, then, it is a doctrinal issue. What do we mean by that? We mean simply this, that our system of belief will be apparent in the way in which we handle this matter. Now, I don't want to delay on this, but let me observe for you that all of us, that all of us possess a system of belief, either wittingly or unwittingly. Some of us may be familiar with the phraseology, systematic theology, and so that we understand that the Bible holds together by a certain framework of understanding. We must always be very careful, lest we impose our system upon the Bible rather than making our system subservient to the clear instruction of the Bible. But nevertheless, all of us, either in the front of our minds or somewhere in our minds, possess a system of believing about things which will become apparent when certain issues are raised.

And some issues, more than others, reveal where we're coming from. And you can see the fact that it does when, in raising this matter of the Lord's Day and of the place of the law of God, you find that vast chunks of contemporary Christendom say, I haven't got a clue what you're talking about. I didn't think that we had anything to do with this at all.

I thought that was all old stuff. I didn't think we did with that. I think, you know, that was the way God did it in the Old Testament. He's doing a new way at the present time, and he has another way, and we're operating on a completely different scheme. Many of you, that's exactly what you believe, and that's why when the issue of the Lord's Day comes up, you say, Well, this is not for us. This was a different time. You know, this was over here, or it's going to be over there, but it isn't right here.

Now, you're going to have to think that out. In contrast, a nondispensational theology affirms the abiding place of the law. In other words, a nondispensational theology does not take the law of God and move it to another time, either past or future. Rather, it affirms the fact that the Ten Commandments enshrine the eternal law of God, and that the principles that they contain are of permanent validity.

That's why we would come and say, Now we have to wrestle with this. Such individuals also recognize that alongside the moral law of God, there was a large body of additional law which was added to it, which is no longer binding upon the Christian. So, for example, when we read Deuteronomy 6, what is the message? The message is, Bring your children up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord.

What was the cultural, mosaic attachment to it at the time? It was that you should tie these pieces of the law around your wrists and around your foreheads. Why do we not tie them around our wrists and our foreheads now? Because we're not supposed to. Because we don't need to. Because Christ has come. Now, this is a matter of some urgency, because the fact is that people use this as a very argument to justify setting aside the fourth commandment.

And let me just illustrate it for you, or you won't have a clue what I'm on about. Turn for a moment to Exodus 35. Exodus 35, verses 3 and 5. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day. And then, into the following section of materials for the tabernacle. But are we then forbidden from lighting fires today?

The answer is no. Exodus 21, 17. Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. Do we kill children for this today?

Are we supposed to? No. Well, then, does the absence of the punishment make the abiding significance of the command any less? In other words, because the application of the punishment is no longer applicable, is the command vetoed?

No. The command remains. What is gone is the death penalty for cursing your dad. You go to the question—I won't turn you to it now—but you go to the seventh commandment, the question of adultery. What is the punishment for adultery? It is death. Are people put to death for adultery today?

No. Does, then, the absence of the penalty remove the seventh command from the decalogue? In other words, are we no longer left to uphold the issue of fidelity in marriage?

Clearly not. So the people argue, they say, Well, you see, when you go to the fourth commandment, if you didn't obey the fourth commandment, you could be put to death for that. But since you don't get put to death for that anymore, and they used to have things about you couldn't light fires before, and since you can light fires now and you don't get put to death before, therefore the fourth commandment is no longer applicable.

That's a kind of torturous line of reasoning, and it doesn't work. By that same line of reasoning, none of the commandments would have any abiding significance. So because the penalty has been removed in light of the mercy and grace of God in the sacrifice of his Son, the abiding significance of the command is not. This is a doctrinal issue, and I can tell by your eyes blazing over that I've said more about that than I should. Secondly, it is a biblical issue. It is a biblical issue. In other words, it is a matter of biblical interpretation.

Again, I can't delay on this, but let me give you a taste for what I mean. Turn to Galatians chapter 4, if you would. Galatians chapter 4, and verse 9, he says, you know, you used to be slaves to those who by nature are not gods, but now that you know God or are rather known by God, he says, now that you've been redeemed, justified, how is it that you're turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Now, notice that phrase is very important. Paul speaks very scathingly about what these Galatians were doing.

What are these weak and miserable principles? He says, you want to be enslaved by them all over again. Then he iterates them. Verse 10, you're observing special days and months and seasons and years. And then in verse 11, we have him kind of shaking his head in disgust.

He says, you know, I fear that somehow I've wasted my efforts on you. I came here and I proclaimed to you the grace of God. He says, I told you that you could not gain acceptance with God by climbing up this ladder, but rather that the law of God confronted you with your need of a Savior and that if you trusted in Christ, you would discover that he justifies the ungodly. Why, then, are you going back to these weak and miserable principles?

What were they doing? They were seeking by means of observing special days and months and seasons and years to build their hope of acceptance with God. And Paul says this is a superstitious futility, and it must not be. Now, the reason I turn you to this is because this is one of the phrases and passages that people use for saying, you see, the fourth commandment and the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, they're not around anymore. After all, look at what Paul says in Galatians 4.

Now, you're sensible people, and you must judge. Do you want to conclude, on the strength of what you have learned so far of the Bible and what you understand, do you want to conclude that Paul is referring to the moral law of God as weak and miserable principles? You can't. Not if you know the book of Romans.

You can't. And yet so many do. Colossians chapter 2, same kind of approach, verses 16 and 17. Since Paul says, don't let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration, or a Sabbath day, people say, there you go. We're not supposed to be concerned about this matter of the Sabbath day. Now, the Colossian heresy was simply this—that false teachers were suggesting that faith in Christ was not enough to provide fullness of knowledge and wisdom and power and salvation. And so these false teachers came around and said, you know, you cannot know God in the fullest sense by simply trusting in Christ alone.

You need to make sure that you are observing these dietary laws, that you are observing the religious festivals, that you're watching these new moon celebrations, that you're attending to all of these various special Sabbath days that have been instituted. And Paul is saying, don't let anybody come to you and give you that garbage. He says, you know your Bible's well enough.

You know that that isn't the case. But I ask you again to think seriously. Do you think that what he's saying here in Colossians 2 is that the Sabbath day is the fourth commandment which is being vetoed from the Decalogue? Or, and lastly, in Romans chapter 14, where it comes to a classic head, Romans 14 5, one man considers one day more sacred than another. Another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God, and he who abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God, and so on. Now, you'll notice at the beginning of the chapter that this has to do with the issue of disputable matters. Because in verse 2 he says, one man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man whose faith is weak eats only vegetables.

Okay? So the guy who is weak is the guy who says, You can't do this. The chap who is strong says, You can do it if you want. We tend to think of it the other way around. We tend to cast the strong man as the man who says, You can't do this, and the weak man as the man who says, I can do what I like.

It's the other way around. Look at verse 3. The man who eats everything must not be guilty of contempt, must not look down on him who does not. And the man who does not eat everything must not be guilty of condemnation of the man who does, for God has accepted him.

Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master, that is, to the Lord, he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Now, it's then in that context that he goes on to the matter of the day.

It's the same question. Do you think, then, that the day to which he refers is the fourth commandment? Do you think that he is referring now to what has been this day of resurrection, this amazing discovery of the fullness of the Spirit, this that has been sanctified by the arrival of Christ and has taken on such a perspective for these early believers? Do you think that what Paul is doing here is saying, Don't let anybody stand up as your pastor and tell you that the Christian has to comply with the fourth commandment? Do you think that's what he's saying?

Of course, if you conclude yes, then you can just plainly disregard all that I've said so far and all that I'm about to say by way of conclusion. God has designed the Sabbath to be liberating, not legalistic. It's a gift of rest to be enjoyed. We're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life Weekend. The month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and at Truth for Life we receive hundreds of letters from pastors who write to us to tell us how Alistair's teaching has encouraged them in their own ministries. So if you are a pastor, if you'd like to learn more from Alistair about leading a congregation, check out the free four-module online study titled The Basics of Pastoral Ministry. This is an online course you can work through at your own pace. Each module comes with a downloadable study guide so you can apply the concepts personally to your ministry.

All four modules and the corresponding online study guides are accessible for free when you visit Search for The Basics of Pastoral Ministry. And pastors are not the only ones we appreciate. Upholding many pastors is often an essential partner, the pastor's wife, and today we want to recommend a book written just for her. It's called Partners in the Gospel, 50 Meditations for Pastors and Elders' Wives. The author of the book is a pastor's wife. She understands the many blessings and burdens that accompany this unique role. She wrote this book to encourage women who serve alongside their husbands, whether their ministry is still fresh or it feels like old news by now. Visit to find out more about the book Partners in the Gospel.

I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for joining us this weekend. Next weekend we'll conclude today's message. We'll learn how to take the Sabbath seriously without becoming either legalistic or self-righteous. And let me take just a minute to wish all of our Canadian listeners a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving as you gather with friends and family to celebrate on Monday. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-24 18:08:52 / 2022-12-24 18:17:49 / 9

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