August 10, 2015

Sermon on the Law of God (with some thoughts on the Sabbath)

I've written at several points, through the years, on the Law of God (and particularly as it is embodied in the Ten Commandments).  Yesterday I gathered many of those thoughts together and summarized them in a single sermon.  Listen in here.

One thought that may be helpful to repeat in written format relates to the connection between the abiding relevance of the Sabbath to the modern debate over the biblical teaching on marriage.

The Sabbath command is the one in ten that many Christians balk at most quickly … perhaps mainly because we are Americans, and we idolize activity.  But there are also a few people who don’t believe the 4th commandment is still binding on us because, they say, it is a part of the Old Testament ceremonial or civil law (neither of which are incumbent upon us, any longer, as a way of life).

Well, it’s true that there were civil accouterments attached to the Sabbath commandment … such as the penalty of stoning for those who broke it.  And we are no longer bound by those civil penalties.  But you would be hard pressed, as Alistair Begg has pointed out, to count the Sabbath principle as a civil or ceremonial law … placed as it is, right in the middle of 9 other obviously moral commandments!  Commandment 3 is obviously a moral law.  And so is commandment 5.  And we don't write them off as being merely civil or ceremonial requirements which died away with the close of the Old Covenant.  So why do we assume that we should do so with the commandment that comes right between the two?

Furthermore, we should note that the Israelites, in Exodus 16, were expected to know about and keep the Sabbath even before God gave them the 10 commandments in ch.20; even before Moses gave them the Old Covenant, in other words, with all its ceremonies and civil institutions!

The Sabbath principle predates the OT ceremonial and civil laws!

And not just by four chapters in the book of Exodus!  But we find in Genesis 2 that God sanctified one day in seven as what we call a creation ordinance!  The Sabbath was given, in other words, not at the inauguration of the Jewish nation, but at the inauguration of the entire human race.  It was given to mankind in general, not simply to the Old Covenant Jews.  Go back and read the account for yourself in Genesis 2:1-3.

The Sabbath, like marriage, was instituted in the Garden of Eden … not in the Law of Moses!

And that’s where this becomes an interesting case study  … in these days where Christians are keen to defend the biblical definition of marriage!  We don’t say that marriage was only for the Jews, because there is a command in the Mosaic law about adultery!  Nor do we say that marriage is only for Christians, because it’s addressed in the New Testament epistles!  No!  We say that there is one definition of marriage for the entire human race, because God declared it to be so in the garden!

And I submit to you that, to use any other reasoning on the principle of the Sabbath - which God also instituted in the garden - comes across, to me, like theological picking and choosing!

You cannot say that one man, one woman marriage is for all mankind (and not just for Jews and Christians), unless you are also willing to say that the Sabbath is also a creation ordinance … intended for the blessing, and the obedience, of all mankind!

And so what is the principle in Exodus 20:8-11?  All mankind is to take one day in seven - the Lord’s Day - and refrain, not only from working himself, but also from making other people work for him.  And not only this, but Isaiah 58 says that we should also refrain from distracting recreations so that we can give ourselves, on the Lord’s Day, to the things of God!

Now, there are some exceptions to this which Jesus makes clear … namely that works of necessity (like caring for your animals) and works of mercy (like healing the sick) are lawful on the Lord’s Day.  But by and large, the idea is that we don’t work, and that we don’t ask others to do unnecessary work for us ... cashiers, waitresses, ticket-takers, athletes, and so on.  And we don’t dilly-dally the day away on recreations that take us away from God.  But rather we use the day to rest both body and soul, and to delight in the Lord!

And I hope that you will take these things just as seriously, as you take the other nine commandments, and as you take the necessary Christian stand for the biblical definition of marriage!

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