How Do We Remember the Sabbath?

What is God’s will for us in the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”? I love the way the Heidelberg Catechism answers this question by pointing us to a once-a-week “festive day of rest” when we assemble for worship and an everyday rest when we find rest for our souls in the finished work of Christ.

Here’s what it says:

Heidelberg Catechism Question 103

Q. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?
A. First,
that the gospel ministry be maintained,
and that, especially on the festive day of rest,
I regularly attend the assembly of God’s people
to learn what God’s Word teaches,
to participate in the sacraments,
to pray to God publicly,
and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

that every day of my life
I rest from my evil ways,
let the Lord work in me through his Spirit,
and so begin already in this life
the eternal Sabbath.

As I mentioned in Sunday’s sermon, there are several ways Christians understand how the fourth commandment applies to us today. The Heidelberg Catechism points us in the direction of remembering the Sabbath in three ways.

First, we have a special day of the week, a “festive day of rest,” when we assemble together for worship. We do this on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, since that is the day Christ rose from the dead. We build our week around this festive day when we delight in our great God and find renewal for our souls through celebrating his saving work in Christ. Preaching and singing and sacraments and giving and prayer and fellowship all help us remember God’s great work to first create us and then to redeem us.

Second, we rest every day by turning away from evil works and living for Christ by the power of his Spirit. Each day we remember that Christ has promised a great future, an eternal Sabbath, when we will be with him and his Father in a new creation, forever satisfied in God’s finished work to both create and redeem. This is why we read our Bibles daily, pray and sing, preach the gospel to ourselves, get together with other Christians, and do everything necessary to remember each day the rest-for-our-souls that Christ makes possible for us (Matthew 11:28-30).

Third, we rest our bodies when we can. We are not machines; we can’t run 24/7. We need sleep. We need weekly rest. We need a break from physical labor. We need rest from the pressures and complications and stresses of our modern, technological lives. We live in the city of the over-committed, the land of the stressed-out. Though we are not commanded to cease from work all day on the same day, as Israel was, we are wise to find a weekly pattern of ceasing from work, mentally and physically.

How can we respond to God’s intention for us in the fourth commandment?

First, let us call the Lord’s Day a delight, and come early and ready to our Sunday worship service. How can we make our Lord’s Day worship service the high point of our week? Are changes needed? What’s one step you might take in that direction this week?

 Second, let us daily find ways to look to Christ and live for Christ. Each of us desperately needs a daily reminder of Jesus’ finished work and certain return, so that we find rest for our souls and hope of an eternal Sabbath in his presence. What are your strategies for remembering this each day?

 Third, let us find a weekly rhythm of rest for our minds and bodies. What could this look like if we really got serious about living this way? What would need to change?

Mark Mullery

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