ENTERING INTO GOD'S REST
David Green had to be happy with the success of his company. After all, they were taking in $100 million a year in Sunday sales alone. Their "sales-per-hour" were the highest on Sunday. The founder, owner and Chief Executive Officer of the company found himself thinking of his earlier days when he would be getting ready to go to church and would be wondering if the store was opened alright. Did everybody show up for work the way they were supposed to? Did all the sale signs get put up on the correct items? Will the staff stay alert for any pilferage?
He knew that every store manager across the chain was now doing the same thing. Good Christian people going to church and yet not able to really focus on worship because they were concerned that their store was alright. And then his thoughts went to his regular workers. Here he was striving to operate a Christian business using sound Biblical principles and yet knew that some of his employees were having to give up going to church so the store could be open for business.
And so David Green of Hobby Lobby took an unprecedented step and closed the stores in Nebraska as a kind of experiment. Yes, sales to took a dip. And then God spoke up to David Green (who also serves on the Board of Directors for Indiana Wesleyan University): "Oh… so if you're blessed you're going to be obedient? But if the numbers don't work out for you, then maybe not?"
David called his advertising director and told him to publicly announce that all of the Hobby Lobby stores would closed on Sundays. "It's a done deal."
What he didn't know was that the bankers became nervous because Hobby Lobby (like a lot of successful businesses) owed the banks money.
But then a very curious thing happened: sales volumes rebounded and kept climbing.
You can imagine the response from employees. They were no longer to come in Sunday mornings and work the store. Now they only come in two Sundays evenings a year to restock during the Christmas holidays.
David Green says this: "I just continue to believe that if God is able to make 90% of a tithing person's salary go further than 100%, He is able to make six days better than seven."
[More Than a Hobby by Larry Green pp. 133-137]
What are we supposed to do with this day- Today- as a part of our Christian lives?
There has been much disagreement throughout the centuries and especially in these days concerning Sunday and how we are to live out the Sabbath in our lives.
Even within this Church there has been disagreement. I was clued in when I met the Local Board in my interview when they asked me my view. And then after the evening service that day a good sister inquired of me once again.
And now, Today- this Lord's Day, we come up upon the fourth commandment with abated breath. Many of you are anxious to hear what I've got to say. Well, here goes. Agree with me, disagree with- that's alright. However, after much prayer and exhaustive research I have come to some conclusions that I believe will cause all of us to think and ponder this great command from God.
God takes very seriously the issue of the Sabbath day. He wanted to make sure that his newly saved people who have been "carried on eagles' wings" from the land of slavery would understand that they are a different people- God's very own treasured possession.
There are some important
- Theological implications about the Sabbath.
…that are too important for us to ignore.
Strict about sticks. Not only were they to make God their only God; not only were they to make no idols; and nor were they to take the Lord's name in vain but He called on them to set aside on day a week to rest from all of their labors. So serious was this day to our Lord that a man was gathering sticks on the Sabbath that he was stoned to death outside of the camp.
Can you imagine coming home from church on the Sabbath and you discover that your fire is almost out and your teenager forgot to stock extra wood yesterday? So you go out a grab a couple of logs not thinking anything of it and- WHAMMO!- the Sabbath police have slammed you against their car, frisking you for weapons and hauling you before Moses. Before you know it you are trotted outside of the camp and stoned to death.
In Exodus 16 God graciously provides the people with manna. Each day there was a fresh supply. However, they discovered if they tried to hoard it they found it full of maggots the next morning. But on the sixth day there would be a double supply so that they did not need to gather on the Sabbath. Yet, there were some who went out to gather on the Sabbath and found none. They weren't stoned but they learned a lesson.
Exodus 35:3- "Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day."
Harsh God? Mean God? Crazy God? Seems that way except the man knew the agreement before he stepped outside on the Sabbath to gather some sticks. All of the congregation knew as well God's desire of them to be fully obedient to Him.
God wants his treasured possession to understand that they are no longer in Egypt. He further wants them to realize that they are to take seriously what he desires to do with them as a nation. And they need to know that there are consequences for deliberately rejecting God's ways.
Other Old Testament writers speak about the failure of God's people to "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."
Isaiah 58:13-14- 13 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (NIV 2010)
Another passage for us to consider comes from the book of Nehemiah about…
Restoring the Sabbath. The book of Nehemiah highlights the need for the people of Israel to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember, the nation of Israel and Judah had displeased God so much that finally after several centuries of constant disobedience they are swarmed by enemy nations and carried off in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity. People like Daniel and the three Hebrew boys are made slaves to another nation. But after 70 some years God brings the people back to their homeland. Under the leadership of the governor, Nehemiah, they rebuild their beloved city, Jerusalem, set walls around her and rebuild the temple.
Nehemiah takes a trip back to Babylon. However, when he returns, Nehemiah discovers that they are treating the Sabbath just like any other ordinary work day. Salesman are coming and going on the Sabbath like they would any other day. He puts a stop to it. He bars the gates to the city and does not allow them in. He even threatens them with death if they hang around trying to tempt the people into sin. (Nehemiah 13)
When we come to the New Testament there is a paradigm shift that takes place. Nearly all reputable scholars recognize this. It begins with Jesus.
Jesus- Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus decides to heal a man on the Sabbath. (John 12) The Pharisees were abhorred by this action. After all, hundreds of years of tradition had established 39 different classifications of what they called "fathers of work." This included how far a person was allowed to walk on the Sabbath, what they could do and what constituted work. And even then they realized that they could not cover all circumstances so they came up with a list of 1521 derivatives. (Finding Your Maximum Happiness by Dr. Wilbur J. Williams p. 62)
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath he was working. He then pointed out that God, even after creation, never stopped working because he is sustaining the world.
Jesus also authorizes his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath so they could eat. (Mark 2) Once again he shows the Pharisees the fallacies in their traditions about keeping the day holy.
And then Jesus makes a startling claim: he says, "I am the Lord of the Sabbath."
Yikes! Jesus is saying that he owns the Sabbath. What does he mean by this?
Jesus is our rest. Remember when he said, "Come to me all of you are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest"?
The Tragedy of Ananias & Sapphira. One more correlation I want to make comes from Acts 5. God's people are fresh off of the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit is given to believers. Thousands have been saved, have become followers of Jesus Christ and are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. In establishing the Church of God a whole new way of living came into existence. A person is to cease from all of his or her labors for salvation and now clings only to the cross of Jesus Christ.
The early church was collecting funds to take care of the poor and those in need. Various members were selling property and things they owned and presenting the money to the Apostles. Ananias and Sapphira sell a piece of property but decide to keep part of it for themselves and pretend to give the full amount. What happens must have stunned this new Christian community!
First Ananias enters and lays the funds before the Apostle Peter. He is confronted for lying to God and immediately drops dead. He is carried out by the young men at the door. A little while later his wife, Sapphira, is summoned. She agrees to the lie and Peter says to her: "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?" She immediately drops dead as well. "And great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things." (Acts 5:1-11)
The Quietness of the New Testament. Throughout the New Testament there is an unusual silence about the importance of Sabbath keeping.
First of all, there was a shift from Saturday to Sunday. And this tradition has carried on in most of Christianity to today. We gather together and worship as a celebration of Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week and our new life in Jesus Christ. Time and again this was referred to as "the Lord's Day."
Secondly, there is no reaffirmation of the fourth commandment as there is of the other commands. In fact, in Acts 15 the Christian leaders in Jerusalem send a letter to the new Christians in Antioch and speak nothing of keeping the Sabbath holy as a part of their salvation requirements. Listen to the last part of their letter: "28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things." (NIV 2010)
Aside from the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, there are no others that truly keep the Sabbath day as dictated in the Ten Commandments. This must not be ignored.
A third observation is that the Sabbath has been fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ.
According to Hebrews 4:9-11 we see these words:
9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
In previous verses of Hebrews there is a discussion about those who failed to put their trust in God for complete deliverance from Egypt and Pharaoh's army. Furthermore, they did not enter into the Promised Land because God barred them from doing so and they died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. John MacArthur aptly points out that God's "rest" is that which is given by God that includes his peace, confidence of salvation, reliance on his strength and assurance of a future heavenly home. (MacArthur Study Bible)
John Wesley writes in his Explanatory Notes: "It is then only when [God's Rest] is mixed with faith, that it exerts its saving power…
For we only [who] have believed enter into the rest."
What happens when you become a Christian is that by faith in the finished work of Christ you come to him believing that he died for your sins and in this moment of forgiveness you enter into the Sabbath rest of Christ setting aside all of your works for salvation.
What got the man gathering sticks killed is not so much that he did work on the Sabbath but that he disbelieved God and did not trust that God would provide. This serves us an illustration that those who reject Jesus Christ's work on the cross for salvation will eventually die in the wilderness like other unbelievers. This spiritual death is an eternal death of separation from God in an eternity in hell.
A new age has dawned by the work of Jesus Christ. Instead of adherence to the Sabbath day and keeping it holy, everyone who claims Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior must keep his life holy every day of the week. Every day becomes the Lord's Day.
This is why Paul says in Romans 14:5-8-
5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord;
and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. (NKJV)
I kind of like Eugene Peterson's interpretation: 5Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. 6-9What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; (Message Bible)
The Wesleyan Church. So what do we say as Wesleyans? What is required of us as a denomination in order to maintain ourselves as members? There are two references:
The Wesleyan Discipline 265:1- To reverence the name of God and to honor the Lord's Day by divine worship and spiritual edification, participating in those activities which contribute to the moral and spiritual purposes of this day. Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:3, 7-11; Deut. 5:11-15; Isa. 58:13-14; Mark 2:27; Acts 20:7; Heb. 4:9.
The Wesleyan Discipline 410.7- The Lord's Day. God prescribed that one day a week be set aside for the spiritual, mental and physical well being of humankind (Genesis 2:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:12-14). The Wesleyan Church encourages its members to observe the Lord's Day in an appropriate manner (Romans 14:4-6)
All of this leads to these…
- PRACTICAL GUIDELINES FOR CHRISTIANS.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are to have faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross so that we might have the forgiveness of sins and enter into a relationship with God. This new life that we now have calls on us to live a life of love through obedience to the commands of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament speaks fervently about maintaining the Sabbath day- the seventh day of the week- apart from all other days. God's emphasis about the Sabbath leaves no wiggle room for the person who is desiring to be in a right relationship with God.
The New Testament speaks differently about the Sabbath and we see that there is a paradigm shift that takes place. No longer is the focus on the day itself but upon the spiritual rest that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ and a life of following after him and his example.
In your pursuit of God and living a godly life as a Christ follower, do not approach this 4th commandment or any other command with the attitude that says, "Let me see what I am allowed to do" or "how bad can I be and still be okay."
How do we honor the 4th Commandment from the Old Testament times in these last days of the New Testament times?
First, Be a Committed Follower of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.
- Jesus is your resting place from sin.
- By the Holy Spirit's power walk and live as Jesus did.
Second, Celebrate the Lord's Day Wholeheartedly.
- Make your Church the center of your life. You are a part of a holy nation now. You are
- The Christian life is not an ON/OFF switch. You can't live the Christ life in here if you "ain't livin' it" out there.
- Embrace Sunday with a renewed passion. Clear out the clutter of the Lord's Day so that you can spend it attending Church, breaking bread with other believers and ministering to those in need.
- Make the Lord's Day different. Treat it as a special day for your family and God. Too many golf courses are cluttered; too many stores and too many restaurants are trying to feed the human soul with things and food that cannot save. Martin Luther was right: Sunday is a day for the preaching and teaching of God's Word. This is what feeds the human soul, not the things of the world.
- Be a Witness of Christ. I think the old timers are on to something when they strive to avoid unnecessary commerce on Sunday. There is something to the Biblical thought patterns of companies like "Hobby Lobby," "Russ' Restaurants" and "Chick-Fil-A" who do not operate on Sunday. I have to agree to the comment: "How can I tell a restaurant waitress that I had a good time at church- boy, I wish you could have been there."
Third, Commune with God Every day.
- Every day should be the Lord's Day. Again, this life doesn't come with an ON/OFF switch. Let God's mercies be new to you every morning. Breath in the freshness of His Spirit so that you can be all God calls you to be in Christ each and every day.
- Get serious about your life in Christ.
- Renew your devotional life. Become a part of the Sunday School and/or Bible Study.
Fourth, Fellowship as a Community of Believers.
Hebrews 10:24-25- 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV 2010)
- Do not forsake participating in Church. Come to church, engage yourself with other believers and prepare yourself for the return of Christ.
- Encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ. None of us really know what others are going through in the last week. Some of you come in with heavy burdens. This is an opportunity for us to support each other and even cheer up our discouraged family members.
- Invite various members over for dinner after Church. Get to know each other by having dinner together. I wonder if this is a lost art in our hustle and bustle of life. We've become too busy to get to know each other. And I put myself right at the heart of this issue.
- Do not lay a stumbling block in front of your brother or sister. Okay, so God gives you the freedom to do certain things. Great. I beg of those who believe that God allows them to do certain things on Sunday to do so quietly. And for those who have convictions against doing certain things to do so with reverence for God without jealously of the freedoms another brother and sister are allowed. Leave these things in God's hands who will judge all of us in the end.
Conclusion: Be the witness to the world that Jesus Christ saves.
Jesus is our Lord and Savior. His blood has cleansed us from sin and makes us whole again. He is the Lord of the Sabbath- our resting place in this life and the life to come- and makes our way to God complete. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
We have a world out there that desperately needs to hear this message. The Israelites were to be that missionary nation to the world and failed. We who are followers of Jesus Christ are that nation now. 1 Peter 2:9-10-
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.