Did Paul Teach that Strong Christians Don't Have to Worry About Going to Church on Sunday?
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Sunday, Sept. 20 / 27, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1307/1309
Pastor Don Horban

1) THE FOUNDATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SABBATH WAS THE SETTING FORTH OF A VISIBLE WITNESS THAT THERE WAS ONE TRUE GOD WHO WAS THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS - Exodus 20:8-11 - “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, [10] 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, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. [11] For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 31:12-13 - “And the Lord said to Moses, [13] ‘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.’”

This is where the whole subject starts. God creates in six days and rests on the seventh. He doesn’t rest in order to worship, of course, for the obvious reason that God has no one to worship. So our rest isn’t exactly like His. But, just as God said to Moses, the creation of the world by the one true God receives permanent witness through the rhythm and completion of six days plus one, the Sabbath.

If you want proof of this consider the fact that we still have weeks. That shouldn’t be rushed over without thought. We have days because that’s how long it takes the earth to revolve once on its axis. We have months because that’s how long it takes the moon to orbit the earth in all its phases. We have years because it takes a year for the earth to complete its orbit around the sun. But why do we have weeks? There is nothing specific in the realm of astronomy that coincides with weeks. The Encyclopedia Britanica cites the creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis as the only valid reason for the presence of weeks in our keeping of time. We think in terms of weeks because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day.

The Sabbath was never given just to give a chance to chill and rest so we could return to our mad pursuit of self in the new week. It was given to change the way we think altogether. If there is anything the Bible makes clear about the Old Testament Sabbath it is this. For obvious reasons, there are verses we quote far less often, but which make crystal clear the Sabbath was never given for our own sheer leisure or pleasure. The prophet Isaiah thunders against Sabbath abuse: 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; [14] 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." The Sabbath was given, not primarily to recharge, but to sanctify.

2) AFTER ESTABLISHING THE PROPORTIONS OF ONE DAY IN SEVEN TO KNOW OUR CREATOR GOD AND BECOME SANCTIFIED AND TRANSFORMED BY HIM, THE CENTRAL THEME OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SABBATH IS FURTHER SHARPENED - Deuteronomy 5:12-15 - “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. [13] Six days you shall labor and do all your work, [14] 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. [15] 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.”

We’ve already considered the no work instructions. But why were they given? What were they to do while they didn’t work? They were to cease work so they could give their full attention to something else. They were to study and ponder and celebrate God’s delivering work on their behalf. This is the reason given for the break from their regular routine. Learning and knowing God takes time. You can’t do it in just a few minutes each day. And you can’t do it adequately while you’re immersed in other activities. It takes undistracted concentration over time. You can’t do it properly in an hour, or two hours. God sets aside one day in every seven.

3) ALL THAT THE OLD TESTAMENT SABBATH MODEL BEGAN FINDS ITS COMPLETION IN CHRIST JESUS, THE LORD OF THE SABBATH - Matthew 12:1-8 - “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. [2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." [3] He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? [6] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. [7] And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. [8] For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."

Jesus battled with the religious leaders over the Sabbath more than any other single issue. He healed on the Sabbath. He and his disciples picked corn to eat lunch on the Sabbath. He did good on the Sabbath. In all these issues they accused Him of breaking the Mosaic law. And here’s the important point. He was. Never once did Jesus deny He was breaking the Old Testament Sabbath laws. None of that is the real issue. The real issue is pressed home by Jesus in the blazing words of verse 8 - “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath!” That’s the new issue. That’s what these Jewish leaders didn’t get. Jesus takes the Sabbath and in bold, sweeping, divine, and absolutely majestic words says, “I own the Sabbath. The Sabbath is mine. It has my stamp all over it. I make its rules and I decree its terms!” The Sabbath is forever Christ-centered, not Moses-centered, and not Israel-centered, and not temple-centered. No one understands the Sabbath properly until he understands it finds its completion and focus in Jesus Christ. He, and He alone can say, “I am LORD of the Sabbath!”

Very quickly, there’s another very important passage in John’s gospel: John 5:8-17 - “Jesus said to him (the lame man by the pool of Bethesda), "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." [9] And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. [10] So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." [11] But he answered them, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk.' " [12] They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" [13] Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.[14] Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." [15] The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. [16] And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. [17] But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’”

Again we see the conflict over the Sabbath issue. The key phrase to note is the one that seems to make little sense - “But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working’”(17). What does Jesus mean? I think He means the Father didn’t just sit idle after the six days of creation. He rested from the initial creation on the seventh day. But creation has gone amuck. God got up from His Sabbath rest and began a new work. Not the work of creation but the work of redemption. And Jesus says His works of healing, restoration, and forgiveness are the expression of God’s work right now.

This work of redemption - this making of a new creation - found its victory in Christ’s death and Resurrection. There was a rest - a Sabbath - at the end of the first creation. And there was also a rest at the completion of redemption - the second work of our Creator God: Hebrews 10:12 - “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God....”

Every time this parking lot fills up on the Lord’s Day we give testimony to the delivering work of God in Christ Jesus. When we walk from our car into this sanctuary, while others are sleeping or shopping or fishing or golfing or visiting, we proclaim the reality of Christ’s uniqueness in a world full of religions. Church, this is His day because He did the work and sat down - just as our Creator sat down at the completion of the work of creation.

4) EACH LORD’S DAY REMINDS US OF THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD TO KEEP ALL OF HIS PROMISES TO HIS REDEEMED CHILDREN - Hebrews 4:9-11 - “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, [10] for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. [11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

The new creation is fully purchased, but not fully delivered. This fascinating text says we rest and we strive at the same time. But the Lord’s Day, the fulfilled Sabbath, is full of promise. Just as the Old Testament Sabbath looked with anticipation to the fulfillment of the New, so the Resurrection of our Lord anticipates the final consummation of Christ’s Lord’s Day victory.

Every Sunday you come into church you walk through a world of tsunamis, earthquakes, AIDS, starvation, disease, abortion, and immorality. We long for the day when we fail Jesus no more. We long for that ultimate, permanent, complete, eternal Sabbath. And every Lord’s Day we walk in the fulfillment of a promise God made through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We walk in the fulfillment of a million butchered lambs and rams. We walk in the fulfillment of temples filled with smoke and incense but unchanged hearts, longing for the coming of a Redeemer. And each Sunday service, no matter how dull or ordinary, whispers into the listening ear, “See. I keep all my promises. My plan isn’t done yet. But the day you’re celebrating testifies to the completion of the purchase of it all.”

So, what about our opening question and text? Do just weak Christians think the Lord’s Day is special? Does the Apostle John call Sunday the Lord’s Day because He was weak in faith? Is that what Paul was teaching in Romans 14? I doubt it very much. The whole context of Romans 14 deals with the foods, diets, and days and seasons (plural) in which the ceremonial regulations of the Jewish system functioned and the system of idol worship and sacred days and feast from which many Gentile converts came.