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Friday, February 1, 2013

Rest: Looking into the 4th Commandment for the New Covenant People of God.

Over the years I have watched numerous men come to our Presbytery for ordination and transfer. Many of them have taken serious exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, especially on the Sabbath. Hopefully these exceptions will be fully addressed at some point, and in that hope I am submitting this study on the topic of the Sabbath. In this short piece, I will deal with the question of whether or not that 4th Commandment is for the New Covenant people of God, settling on the affirmative. Then, based on this Biblical conclusion I will show, in a more general way, how the Sabbath is to be experienced by God’s people.

Is the 4th Commandment for the New Covenant People of God?
This is a heavily debated point in the circles that care enough to debate it. The problem comes about, normally, from a lack of awareness between what is Provisional and what is Permanent in Scripture. As an example, many people read the Bible with the notion that the Temple was meant to be permanent, and therefore construct their Bible-reading and vision of the future that includes a rebuilt Temple. But Jesus clearly points out a provisional aspect of the Temple while maintaining a permanent. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and several places in Luke and John, Jesus declares that the Temple, as it was known and experienced, was provisional. But there is a permanent aspect of the Temple, “Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” ( . . . ) But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2.19-21). Then Paul goes a step further to describe the ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον (the one new man), the new-made humanity united to Christ, in Temple terms, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2.19-22).

In a similar way, the New Testament appears to assume that the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets (Luke 24.44-45) still apply to the New Testament people of God, except where specifically modified or changed by Christ or the Apostles. For example, whenever the Apostles quote the Old Testament they never explain or defend their use of it, but assume that it is the authoritative and God-breathed Word of God that is able to make one wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3.15-17). This is seen in Ephesians 6.1-3 where Paul says that the 5th Commandment and its promise still apply to the New Covenant people. Notice, he even affirms that the land promise is not Old Covenant people specific, but in principle flows to the New Covenant people of God.

With this in mind, then it is no surprise that the letter of Paul to the Galatians, which is wrapped tight around the problem of the Judaizing of the Church, never mentions the Sabbath as part of that problematic drift. And every time Paul, James or any of the other authoritative writers mention the ongoing benefit of “the law of liberty” (James 1.25), they never exclude the Sabbath from that ongoing applicability.

But the more significant fact comes out of Mark 2.23-27. There, our Lord Jesus is correcting the abusive misapplication of the 4th Commandment. As he wraps up his point he affirms, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The unspoken assumption is that the Sabbath is beneficial to humanity, and was made for our benefit. And then the explicit is that the Sabbath will have ongoing application: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” There is no hint of its abolishment, but instead a re-affirmation of the Sabbath, with Jesus placing himself at it’s the core and focal point. In other words, Jesus is claiming himself to be the LORD for which the Sabbath is to be kept. Placing the 4th Commandment and our Lord’s words together help to bring this out; “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20.10a), and the “Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2.28).

Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn’t say “I am the lord of the Sabbath” but uses the eschatological title from Psalm 8 and Daniel 7.13-14, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” The allusion appears to be that the Son of Man, under whom all creation now sits (see Hebrew 2.7-10 and how it draws from Psalm 8), and who came to the Ancient of Days to receive a kingdom, is (present, active indicative) lord of the Sabbath. Thus, the Sabbath is an ongoing part of His reign, with all of the eschatological “already and not yet” tension in place.

How is it to be Experienced? 
1. For God: The 4th Command, as a day of worship, is to be kept holy. It is a day separated from the normal work day activities, with the aim of “to the LORD.” There is a relationship between relishing the Lord’s Day and the Lord of the Day. This comes out clearly in Isaiah 58.13-14; “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

2. For Man: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2.26). In what ways is the Sabbath for man?

a. It is a sign of the Covenant between God & His people:

“And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed’”” (Exodus 31.12-17; see also Ezekiel 20.20).

This lengthy passage shows that the Sabbath is a sign of God’s people being set apart, sanctified; “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2.9). It is a sign of our privileged position of being allowed to enter into the rest and refreshment of the LORD.

“Keeping it holy is one of the best means of promoting holy living. The Sabbath was made for man, & it is of vital importance to man” (Oswald T. Allis, God Spake By Moses, 77).

“Someone who wants to keep control of his own affairs would experience the interruption of business on the Sabbath day as a hindrance. Observing the Sabbath day requires faith. Where faith is destroyed, the Sabbath is destroyed along with it. One who violates the Sabbath violates the covenant” (J. Douma, “The Ten Commandments”, 117).

b. It is for our benefit:

[1] Restoration and Re-creation: In Mark 3.1-6 Jesus restores a man’s shriveled arm on the Sabbath to make the point that the Sabbath is about “good” and “life”. Especially since the coming of Christ and his redemptive work, the in-breaking of the eschatological Day of the Lord, the day takes on the flavor of restoration and re-creation.

[2] Rest and Refreshment: “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31.17), and “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed” (23.12). God is self-described as being the God who rested and was refreshed on the Sabbath. And his people are intended to enter into and enjoy that rest and refreshment, and then spread its consequences socially, so that even those who serve us may benefit from rest and refreshment.

[3] Finally, it is all about our Redemption {being liberated by the grace of God}:

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5.12-15).

Forty years after the initial giving of the 4th Commandment, the LORD rehearses it and places it squarely on Gospel liberation and redemption. The Lord’s Day is Emancipation and Liberation Day! The day of rejoicing in the Gospel of the Lord, who he is and all that he has done for us!

These three benefit-groups point us forward to the return of the Lord when the final, unfailing Sabbath rest will be given in the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. Thus the connection with Hebrews 4! There we read how the past and present tense of entering the Sabbath is looking future. Another way to put it is that the eschatological Day of the Lord breaks into each Lord’s Day and draws us forward with greater and greater hope and excited joy!

With that in mind, it helps us to see the major provisional aspect of the permanent Sabbath. With Christ’s resurrection, the Sabbath is rightly moved to the 1st day of the week. “Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath? From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 59). That fits in nicely with the way Luke penned Acts 20.7 and Luke 24.1; τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων.

In concluding this short paper, I will ask a question, quoting a possible answer; and then leave the reader with an encouragement. Why do many Christian people find the 4th Commandment such a burden? The answer likely relates to Christians and the whole moral law. In the words of J. Douma, “The entire law is the law of liberty. But the law is not experienced that way by people with a slave mentality, people who look out for their own well-being, but not for the honor of God and the advantage of their neighbor” (Op. cit.,116).

I encourage the reader to take Douma’s statement in prayer before God and ask him if this is the case. To ask God to search oneself and try oneself, and see if this may be what lies beneath the surface. If so, then there is rejuvenating hope. Our God is truly merciful and full of loving kindness and promises to forgive and change us because of Christ Jesus.

Finally, enjoy the day God has set aside for your benefit that you may grow in health and holiness, life and Christ’s liberty. Cast off the bondage of work; the enslavements of entertainment; and focus on the God who has taken you out of the dominion of darkness and transferred you into the kingdom of the Son of His love!
Here is a link to Gairney Bridge that has a nice piece on the Sabbath from a little different approach.

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