The Lord’s Day: A Pleasure for Pilgrims

Are you a Christian whose heart is set on pilgrim ways, i.e. you look forward to the new heavens and new earth? If so, then you will enjoy a foretaste of the new creation on the Lord’s Day with God’s people tomorrow in public worship and be blessed as you hear Christ preached and look forward to the glories of the age to come (unless you have works of necessity or mercy to attend to or are providentially hindered, e.g. sickness, weather).

But even if you don’t feel like it, don’t conclude then that  you necessarily aren’t a Christian. This is part of the struggle against sin that we all face. Should you stay home then? NO! You should still go to church out of obedience to God’s call to worship and trusting His promise that you will be blessed as you hear Christ preached from God’s Word and partake of the sacraments. Go because you need the means of grace like you need to eat every day. If you avoid food, depending on how much you avoid it,  you will either be malnourished or starve yourself to death. The same is true with regard to the means of grace and especially the public means of grace (the Word preached and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Pray now that God would give you an appetite for worship and that you will be well fed by His Word and Spirit tomorrow.

Here are some pilgrim verses to meditate on as you prepare for the Lord’s Day:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. . .For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:5, 10).

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. . . For [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. . .they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. . .By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. . .For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 10:23-25; 11:10, 16, 24-26; 13:14).

“To those who are elect exiles. . .May grace and peace be multiplied to you. . .Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:1-4).

AMEN! Come, Lord Jesus! Until then we will look to you by faith, rejoice in you on the Lord’s Day, and walk by your Spirit as pilgrims in this world for the glory of God the Father.

The Tragedy of Choosing Heaven over Hell but not Heaven over Earth

I recently preached on Genesis 13 where Abram faces a test that is just the opposite of the test he faced in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12 he faced a test of adversity, namely famine. There we see Abram struggling to walk by faith. After just receiving God’s amazing promises to him in Gen. 12:1-9, He fails to trust God’s promises and to call upon the name of the Lord when famine comes his way. It’s as if he has already forgotten those promises and immediately goes into survival mode in order to fix things himself. He walks by sight in Gen. 12 and gets himself into an even worse situation when the Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife. But regardless of his faithlessness, God is faithful to his servant Arbam and the promises that he made to him. He brings him out of Egypt with his wife and family and incredible wealth. But then when he returns to the promised land he faces another test, a test of prosperity. Now he has too much stuff. The land where Abram and Lot are dwelling cannot support the both of them and so Abram gives Lot a generous offer to have a share in the promised land. But Lot looks up and sees that the Jordan Valley, which is either outside the promised land or just on the border, looks better than the promised land. And so, instead of choosing the promised land and trusting God’s promises, Lot now walks by sight and head’s towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram remains in the land of Canaan trusting God’s promises by faith. Commenting on Lot’s choice in this episode, R. Kent Hughes writes:

“Lot was the kind of man who would certainly choose Heaven over Hell if given the choice, but not Heaven over earth. Material prosperity was the bottom line. He was the example of believers who choose professions for their children or encourage marriages that will elevate the family’s prosperity and power–with no thought of what it will do to their soul and the souls of their children. Lot’s descendants testify to this as they became enemies of God’s people.” (Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, 201)

It is indeed a tragic thing to see God’s covenant people in the church today making choices like Lot’s based merely on what they see rather than walking by faith and trusting God’s Word. Besides what R. Kent Hughes mentions, I think of those who move their family for a great job opportunity with no regard for whether or not there is a faithful church in that area for their family to worship at. Or I think of the person who takes a great job opportunity locally with no regard for whether or not it will allow them to attend to the public means of grace on Sunday. I also think of parents who allow their children to miss the means of grace on the Lord’s Day in order to play in a sports tournament. They’d rather be prosperous in this world than walk by faith and place their hope in the glories of the age to come. Instead of trusting God’s Word which tells us that we need to be at church every week to worship Him and to receive his grace for the trials of this life, they choose to place their trust in money, job security, and social status.

O that God’s people would learn the lesson of Lot! Lot went from dwelling near Sodom (Gen. 13) to dwelling in Sodom (Gen. 14) to sitting in the gate of Sodom, most likely a reference to his status as some kind of a noble (Gen. 19), to giving his daughters to the men of Sodom in marriage (Gen. 19). Sodom was a place where the people were “wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). But Lot saw (like Eve saw) that it looked pleasant to the eyes and was a prosperous place. And so, he took the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And the consequences for his family were tragic.

In what ways is God challenging you to walk by faith instead of by sight? The truth is that we all need to learn the lesson of Lot over and over again because we all still fight against our old sin nature even though we are saints in Christ through faith. Do you not know that, not only the sufferings of this present age, but also the prosperity of this age is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed when Christ returns? (cf. Rom. 8:18). As John Newton once put it, “Savior, if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Thy Name. Fading is the worldlings’ pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” Amen!

(If you’d like to hear my sermon on Genesis 13, “The Life of Faith After Failure,” that inspired this post you can listen to it here under “morning sermons.”)

 

Deleted Sermon Scenes: On “The Lord’s Day”

(click to view issue on-line)

 

One of the hardest things in writing a sermon is deciding on what to leave in and what to leave out. And often there is so much more that could be said: so many quotes that could be used, so many Scripture texts that weren’t mentioned, so many more applications and illustrations.

It’s almost like a movie. Viewers watch a movie that is 1 to 2 hours long but there are so many deleted scenes that didn’t make the cut. Because of this there are special features on DVD sets with deleted scenes, an extended version of the movie, an alternate ending, bloopers, etc. A lot of hard work goes into those deleted scenes and it’s nice to be able to show them in some way. I feel this way about some of the things I discover in my study and preparation of a sermon, I wish I could have used these other 5 quotes or applications but I only had 30-40 min (my goal for sermon length). Because of this I thought I would start posting some of the quotes and other applications/illustrations that I discovered in the study while preparing for a sermon that didn’t make the cut. And so, here are some of my “deleted scenes” from this past Sunday’s sermon on the 4th commandment and “The Blessing of the Lord’s Day” (BTW, I won’t always post this many quotes, but these are just too good. I bolded my favorite parts if you just want to skim them):

Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship (his chapter on this topic is still may favorite thing that has been written on this topic):

“‘I wish I had more time to dig deeply into Scripture and solid Christian teaching, but my life is just too crazy.’ How many times have we heard that? Said that? And yet, deep down we know that we always have time for what we really want to do in life–because we make time. . .The goal of this chapter is to show how God has made time for us and therefore expects us to make time for him. While many readers probably think this statement refers to a daily routine of private devotions, it doesn’t. Though heartily in favor of such habits, I actually have in mind the Lord’s Day, or the Christian Sabbath. For generations of faithful believers, Sunday was not about football or shopping but about God and feeding at his luxuriant table. But somehow, we got caught up in the buzz, and we wonder if we can ever get out. That’s why we keep trying the latest spiritual diet plan–a new quiet time program, a new prayer, maybe even a spiritual director or a week in a monastery. But who suggests a recovery of the Sabbath? Irony of ironies, amid all the stress of ‘try this fad or feel guilty,’ a commitment to the institution that God has actually commanded risks being called legalistic.” (p. 189).

Therefore, right from the beginning, all of history was moving toward the consummation–the state of living beyond the possibility of sin and death and sharing God’s Sabbath rest with him forever. We see this fleshed out throughout redemptive history, right up to the end, where in Revelation–because of Christ’s fulfillment of the probation–all those who are in him are given the right to finally eat of that Tree of Life (Rev. 2:7; 22:1-5, 14). It will not be a return to Eden–the beginning of the play–but an entrance with Jesus into a state more blessed than the first (innocence), which has yet to be played out on the stage of history (consummation). . .In its character, therefore, the Sabbath is not cessation from activity but cessation from a particular kind of activity–namely, the six-day labor that is intrinsically good but has suffered the curse after the fall. God did not rest because he was tired; rather, it was the rest of completion, the rest of a king who has taken his throne. Representing the consummation, this sabbatical pattern was the way not only of hoping for the new creation but of experiencing it and participating in its peace.” (p. 195).

The resurrection, sufficient to move the Sabbath to Sunday, reverses the curse placed on creation because of man and represents the birthday of the new creation. Furthermore, it represents the privilege that we as creatures, not just as Christians, were meant to possess” (p, 195).

“The Sabbath is the weekly link to both past creation and future consummation. Thus, it keeps us anchored to the order that God established before the fall as creatures who share his image as well as stretch our necks forward, longing for our full entrance into the Sabbath day that the Second Adam already enjoys with God. The Sabbath keeps us navigationally fixed to these two points–what is built into creation (Alpha) and what is still awaiting us in the future in the new creation (Omega). It gives us the tempo of belonging to the One by whom we exist and for whom our existence is directed” (p. 196).

“Unlike the temple worship, the Sabbath was not a sacrament of the church but an ordinance of creation (like marriage, vocation, and the state) and was not abrogated in the New Testament but strengthened and confirmed. The reinstitution of the Sabbath after the fall was actually very good news: It meant that God still held out hope of entering his rest” (p. 196).

“The Pharisees had misinterpreted the Sabbath, since God had never prohibited works of necessity and mercy. The disciples were not working the fields but receiving God’s provision to sustain their life–the very thing that the Sabbath itself signified. Any approach that turns the Sabbath into a slavish observance misses its point” (p. 197).

“If God’s ‘rest’ is a royal enthronement rather than a cessation of activity, the same is true for us. As kings under God, we take our place with Christ in heavenly places, setting our minds on things above where our true inheritance lies” (p. 198).

“What the Romans called Sunday was in fact the birthday of the new world. Each Lord’s Day is a ‘little Easter‘” (p. 199).

“Who would want to miss this day or crowd out the in-rushing of God’s eternal rest by surrendering it to the twisted, plot-less, pointless, and powerless forces of consumerism, greed, ambition, and self-assertion? Do we not believe that God provides for us?” (p. 200).

“B.B. Warfield captured this transformation of the Sabbath by its fulfillment when he wrote, ‘Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with him on the resurrection morn'” (p. 201).

“This day was given to us not because we are strong but because we are weak” (p. 204).

“‘But every day is the Lord’s Day’ often leads to the unintentional consequence that no day is the Lord’s Day” (p. 204).

So, the Sabbath should not be treated as a blank space in the week but as the one space that is filled and overflowing with the richest gifts of divine activity” (p. 205).

D.G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship:

“Why has a practice that enjoyed universal acceptance among American Protestants from roughly 1776 until 1960 virtually disappeared in the last half of the twentieth century?” (p. 63).

Believers are sanctified through a lifetime of Sabbath observance.  In  other words, the Sabbath is designed to work slowly, quietly, seemingly imperceptively in reorienting believers’ appetites heavenward. It is not a quick fix nor is it necessarily a spiritual high.  It is an “outward and ordinary” ordinance (WSC 88), part of the steady and healthy diet of the means of grace.  . .North American Protestants, we have noted, are generally not in sync with this rhythm.  Attracted to the inward and extraordinary, they commonly suffer from spiritual bulimia, binging at big events, then purging, by absenting themselves from God’s prescribed diet.” (p. 65).

[In response to the objection, “But every day belongs to the Lord” therefore there is not one day that is to be set apart, Hart says]: “The flaw of this argument is easily detected if we apply the same logic to our tithing to the Lord.  We ought to view the Sabbath and our use of time in the same way that we regard the tithe and the stewardship of our money.  To set apart a portion of our income for the work of the church is not to acknowledge that ten-percent of our possessions belong to God.  Rather, it expresses our conviction that all that we possess is the Lord’s.  Still, God’s comprehensive lordship over our possessions does not remove the obligation to give to him a portion specifically for the work of his church.  In a similar way, even though all of our days are to be used in service to God, we are still commanded to set apart one day in seven for special worship and service.  While we live all of life in God’s presence and within his eyesight, only in worship on the Lord’s Day do we enter into the holy of holies.” (p. 67)

“God has given us a holy meal (the Lord’s Supper), holy water (baptism), holy words (preaching), and a holy vocation (the minister of the Word).  He has also given us holy time: one day for worship and rest. Contrary to popular claims, Reformed Christians do believe in a liturgical calendar.  But it is weekly, not seasonal.” (p. 73).

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 2 , [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1998], 120. {Luke 13:10-17} (HT: Erik Kowalker):

Let us never forget that our feelings about Sundays are sure tests of the state of our souls. The person who can find no pleasure in giving God one day in the week, is manifestly unfit for heaven. Heaven itself is nothing but an eternal Sabbath. If we cannot enjoy a few hours in God’s service once a week in this world, it is plain that we could not enjoy an eternity in His service in the world to come. Happy are those who walk in the steps of her of whom we read today! They shall find Christ and a blessing while they live, and Christ and glory when they die.

Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Holy: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (HT: Rev. Andrea Ferrari via Facebook)

“One of the ugliest things about our culture is that we usually assess a person’s worth on the basis of his or her productivity and accomplishment. Once we have ceased working we might as well [cease producing and accomplishing]. The practice of Sabbath keeping [gives us] the delight of quitting this endless round of trying to produce….”

“One of the reasons that the Sabbath is so freeing is that when we cease working, we dispense with the need to create our own future [not] striving to be God.”

Jason J. Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and Not Yet:

This is precisely what the Sabbath does [for God’s covenant people]: it enables them to live out their convictions in the context of fellow believers, providing the social support for their ‘otherworldly,’ or heavenly, citizenship. Put another way, a counter-cultural identity and the practice of the Sabbath become mutually reinforcing‘” (p. 59; quoting from: John R. Muether, The Sabbath: Plausibility for Presbyterian Pilgrims)

Brenton Ferry (on the shift from Saturday to Sunday), The Age of Jubilee: A Redemptive Historical Case for the Christian Sabbath:

“The previous arguments (whether satisfying or not) set the stage for my present argument from the Year of Jubilee. Simply stated, the Year of Jubilee fell on the first year after a cycle of seven sabbatical years. Every seventh day, Israel rested for a Sabbath day (Ex. 20:8-10). Similarly, every seventh year, Israel rested for a Sabbath year (Lev. 25:4). But after seven Sabbath years, the climax of the sabbatical calendar was reached on the following Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:11-12). In other words, the Sabbath of all Sabbaths was the year after the seventh Sabbath year.

This Jubilee pattern was portrayed in miniature annually in the Feast of Pentecost (which means “fifty”). On the day after the seventh Sabbath from the wave offering, the Israelites observed another Sabbath day (Lev. 23:15-21). Therefore, inherent in the annual Sabbath cycle was the anticipation of the climactic Sabbath after the Sabbath.

Furthermore, Ezekiel prophesied that the end of the Babylonian captivity would fall on the Year of Jubilee (Ezek. 46:16-17). Freedom from the Babylonian captivity was a shadow of the redemption of the New Testament era.

We live on the inaugural side of the real Jubilee Sabbath, into which our Savior has entered. The Sabbath of Sabbaths has already begun. The eschatological eighth day has arrived. Therefore, we rest on “the eighth day.” This structure is built into the Old Testament Sabbath calendar, providing God’s people with an inherent anticipation of a better Sabbath, the ultimate Sabbath.