The following post is a guest article by Ken Smith. Ken is a retired minister in the RPCNA and is the pastor the Lord used in the life of Rosaria Butterfield as explained in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Ken publishes a monthly email letter called Man-to-Man to encourage other pastors where this article first appeared. Used by permission.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy….” Exodus 20:8-11
There’s a pattern for life in the Ten Commandments, and Jesus demonstrated it in His own approach to it. What is really amazing is that God Himself rested on the seventh day of Creation! Do you remember that? And what did He do? The text says, “…He rested from all His work which He had made.” (Gen. 2:2)
The Sabbath has been a very prickly topic in many church circles. (The worldly don’t even bring it to mind.) And I suppose that the challenge to this commandment comes in the first word, remember. At least when we were rearing our three sons, that’s where we put the emphasis. The fact that God the Creator modeled it, though He was not tired, should be enough; but He commanded us to remember it!
Let me tuck in here in passing that back when people memorized the catechism, the Ten Commandments were there! And I believe God made it plain to His people that His word to them was serious. They abandon it at their peril – eternally. And the fourth commandment took its place along with the other nine. That is about the most elementary response that can be made. Just know it.
However, I’m inclined to pause over the fact that God rested. I think the text in Genesis would suggest He took this time to reflect on His week’s work. The text says “He rested.” And this commandment introduces the whole subject of labor or work, the assignment man was given when God put Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). The fact that God “blessed” the man and his wife with this assignment or purpose does away with the idea of autonomous man out to seek his fortune as old time myths use to portray him.
Let’s slow things down now for a minute and consider the place of reflection. I have written before about the old time “porch” that used to dominate the front of houses. The implication was taking time to sit, rest, reflect, ruminate, and visit. It was a lifestyle; and while many were not thinking necessarily of “keeping the Sabbath,” that aspect of life quality was not neglected. It seemed to reflect some aspect of “creation,” the doctrine of God’s reality. On the seventh day He rested.
So what I’m leading up to is the fact that mankind needs this “sabbath” or rest day to reflect just as our Creator did. And doesn’t that lead us then to gather with His people to worship Him together? This is the lifestyle of the people of God in history. And such is the purpose of the preaching of the word: to keep us reflect-ing on who we are, Who He is, where we are, and why we are here. All of life is characterized by meaning. And it helps us remember why we go to work.
And I suppose we could add here why the Lord brings His people – His church – into hardship and suffering. Crass discussion says it’s to separate the sheep from the goats. It is true that God is jealous of His worship and work. And it seems quite plausible that He put things together as He did so we would remember. And He tests us.
Man, of course, is not as he was created. Mankind sinned against the Lord and this brought about His curse and punishment. So what about the sabbath since the fall? Before we look at that, be aware that the institution of the sabbath was given at creation! This is not a “post fall” ordinance. The giving of the law came at Sinai, centuries later; and that’s why the command begins with “remember.”
The reality of the sabbath is as real as Monday, Tuesday, etc. Six day for work and one day for rest. That is in the makeup of reality. (The Russians and French tried separately to replace the week with a different structure, but both efforts failed.)
And we today in western culture are facing the question of how to live in a culture that is trying to abandon not only the sabbath, but the whole revelation of the Bible in creation, fall, re-creation in Christ, and culmination of history in glory. O, yes, make no mistake about it: keeping the Christian sabbath is part of the package. And you are aware that this 4th commandment flies openly in the face of the doctrine of evolution. You can’t call yourself a creationist and then live on Sunday (we don’t like sabbath because we have to explain it to others) like an evolutionist. Your approach to the Christian sabbath really reflects you!
To be correct, I should say it reflects us. We preachers, like nurses and doctors, work on the Lord’s day. The catechism deals with that using the term “works of necessity and mercy.” Our biggest challenge, however, is to remember – like God did/does. Western culture runs the danger of forgetting. Don’t get caught in it.