At Southern Seminary Chapel, Dr. Al Mohler continued in his series on the ten commandments with a treatment of the fourth commandment–remember the Sabbath. His scripture text was Exodus 20:8-11. You can listen to te audio of the message here.
Dr. Russell Moore introduced Dr. Mohler this morning by pointing out an interesting tension in today’s chapel message. There are few things Dr. Mohler is not qualified to speak about. Those include things like water aerobics and Nascar. But one thing Mohler is not qualified to talk about is rest because of his tireless work habits. However, he is qualified to talk about the Sabbath rest we have in Christ.
The fourth commandment is found in Exodus 20:8-11. When you are young, there are clear do’s and don’ts, but as you grow, that moral clarity fades. There comes a day when we realize that there is a reason for these moral rules…a theology behind the morality
I remember my first moral dilemma with the Sabbath. I was washing my car on the lord’s day and was forced by mom to stop because I shouldn’t be doing that on the Lord’s Day. She was concerned that I would be sinning by violating the fourth commandment, but the real risk was breaking the second commandment because of way I loved the car.
How are we to understand fourth commandment? We must understand it based on detailed theology and not just personal experience. For many, Sunday is the day in which there can be no fun. This betrays our misguided concern for the Sabbath. Early Christians yearned for the Sabbath, but many of us dread it.
The Purpose of the Sabbath for Israel
The Sabbath played a central role as a public indication of Israel’s relationship to God. God makes a special claim upon this day among his covenant people. Within Exodus 20:8-11, there is a reference to Genesis 2:1-3 which reveals the pattern of the Sabbath established in the created order.
Who does the fourth command apply to? Some believe it is a universal command. Since it is part of the created order in Genesis 2, then it is expected of all. But I am not convinced. Many of God’s laws are observed by cultures who have no knowledge of Him. But there is no recognition of a Sabbath day among all peoples and many do not even observe a seven day week. So, the fourth commandment is not a law written on human hearts like the other commands.
In Exodus 20:8, God tells Israel to ‘remember’ the Sabbath, which indicates some understanding by them of a Sabbath pattern. The command of the Sabbath was provided to Israel only in the time of the Exodus. The Sabbath for Israel points back to creation, but it also points forward towards something greater.
The worldview of the Ten Commandments honors labor. But the fourth commandment points to the fact that labor is a temporary reality. Even livestock were to observe the Sabbath, so God provided no loopholes. Human labor is dignified, but it is put in its place by the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is tied to the safety and security of Israel. This is seen in Nehemiah 13:15ff. As Israel is violating the Sabbath, Nehemiah recognizes the judgment God will bring on the people because of their violation. Nehemiah was serious about Israel keeping the Sabbath because he knew the security of the nation was related to the keeping of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath in the New Testament
The gospels make it clear that the Sabbath is still a major institution in the Judaism of Jesus’ time. It had become not just a day of rest but also a day of congregating in the synagogue.
In contrast to this view of the Sabbath, Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath in Matthew 12. He claims to fulfill the Sabbath as Lord of the Sabbath. He does not just keep the Sabbath command, He fulfills it. As Lord of the Sabbath, He declares that you will not interpret the Sabbath for me, but I will interpret it for all.Jesus also points out that the Sabbath is made for man.
Israel was missing the point of the Sabbath to the point that debated whether to help those in need on the Sabbath. But Jesus demonstrates that He is Lord of the Sabbath by healing a man’s withered hand. He demonstrates that He is the Lord of the Sabbath before He speaks as Lord of the Sabbath. In the realm of Sabbath understanding, the context of the first century was one of confusion and corruption In the midst of that, the Lord of the Sabbath brings clarity.
What did the early church do with the Sabbath? There is no indication that they kept the Sabbath, but they adhered to the Lord’s day. Their calendar was redefined since Jesus was raised on the first day of week. The church now began to gather together on Sundays. It is important to remember that there was no weekend in imperial Rome. The weekend is a relatively recent, western development.
The New Testament also indicates that the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ. The promised Sabbath rest found in Hebrews 4:9-10 is our salvation accomplished in Christ. Now, the most important issue is that we rest in Christ rather than trying to rest in our works. In Christ, we have total rest. The author of Hebrews is concerned with unbelief because it is what keeps people from entering the Sabbath rest of Christ.
What is relationship between the church and the fourth commandment? There are four possibilities:
First, seventh day Sabbatarianism—still observing the Sabbath like Israel did on the seventh day of the week (Saturday). This view often results in legalism. It contradicts the practice of the New Testament church which met on the first day of the week. It is consistent in its logic, but it is consistently wrong. Colossians 2:16-23 and Romans 14 seem to contradict this view.
Second, Lord’s day Sabbatarianism—observing a Sabbath but transferring the day of recognition from seventh day of the week (Saturday) to first day of the week (Sunday). This practice is supported by some in the historical church who treated the Lord’s day as a Christian Sabbath. It is rooted in good logic, but there are no New Testament references that explicitly indicate this approach.
In fact, the central purpose of the Lord’s day is not the same as the Sabbath. TheSabbath is focused on rest, but the Lord’s day is focused on worship. The Sabbath points back to creation, but the Lord’s day points forward to final salvation.
Third, Lord’s day observance—Gathering as a body of believers on the Lord’s day for its observance. This is the view of the reformers, and it is the view that most evangelicals hold to today. The central issue for the church is the command to gather as a body to observe Lord’s day. This view focuses on the positive content of the Lord’s day, not the negative. We are to make it a priority of our lives to be with God’s people.
The Lord’s day is a Christian institution but not a Christian Sabbath. This approach follows the example of the apostles. However, it provides little clarity on do’s and don’ts. Instead, it places a priority on gathering together for the purpose of worship.
Fourth, Lord’s day non-observance—Choosing not to set apart any day of the week for intentional, corporate worship of the Lord. This is not an option, but it is growing in popularity in evangelicalism. People are marginalizing the Lord’s day to be nothing more than spending an hour at a worship service. But being the people of God at church should consume the whole day of the Lord’s day.
Our conviction should not be rooted in a concern about Sabbath breaking but Lord’s day keeping. Israel’s keeping of the Sabbath is less important than our observing of the Lord’s day. The Lord’s day should be set apart for worship so we should not do anything that distracts of worship. Let us long for the Lord’s day each week.