(You can listen to this sermon in its entirety by clicking on the link in the sidebar entitled, “Reformed, Yet Always Reforming.”)
One woman wrote a very candid assessment of our views on the Sabbath:
Do you rush, push, shout and become generally unpleasant on Sunday mornings? Do you complain about church? Are you irregular in your attendance? Are you over-conscientious about matters that are not really important? Do you always criticize the pastor, the choir, the length of services and the usher crew? Then don’t be surprised if your children grow up to look at Sundays as the worst day of the week.
Notice verse 22, “Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy.” It is not just the Levites who needed to guard the gates of the city, but all of God’s people from all ages need to guard our hearts in order to keep our Lord’s Day holy. Otherwise, we may find ourselves treating this day just like any other day.
The fourth commandment given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai was this:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,  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.  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 20:8-11, ESV).
Under the Old Covenant (that is, the Old Testament), the people of God were to remember this day as a reminder of all that God did to create all that there is. God made this day holy as a way for us to spend time in reflection on what God did — just as God may have. He ceased from his work not because he was tired, but because he gave us an example to recharge ourselves not just physically but spiritually.
The issue here in Jerusalem was an issue that was just addressed back in Nehemiah 10:
And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt (Nehemiah 10:31).
So not only did they celebrate the Sabbath each seventh day, but they celebrated it each seventh year and would have what is called a Year of Jubilee, when for 49 years (“seven weeks of years, seven times seven years” – Leviticus 25:8”). Why?
The idea behind the Sabbath is not simply a day of rest and reflection but a day where we free ourselves to minister His holy name. Look with me at Leviticus 25. During the Sabbath year, after the Lord establishes that no physical labor is to be done, here is a perk:
The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you,  and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food (Leviticus 25:6-7).
Now look down at the Year of Jubilee rationale in Leviticus 25:10-12:
And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.  That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.  For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.
Now some think, “That’s Old Testament.” Doesn’t Paul say in Colossians 2:16, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. Therese are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17, ESV). So do we need to observe the Sabbath?
J. Vernon McGee one time noted that the Sabbath had not changed, but that he had and he now celebrates this on the Lord’s Day — Sunday. And the majority of Christians choose to observe it on Sunday, which John in Revelation 1:10 refers to it as “The Lord’s Day.” Soon after Christ arose, Christians began worshiping and taking their Sabbath rest on Sunday to remember the greatest event ever in the history of the universe — Christ being raised from the dead. He came to provide us a grand Sabbath rest, yes?
One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.”
The Sabbath serves as a time of reflection, of ministry, and of ax-sharpening. Are you like me, looking forward to spending your Sundays worshiping in the morning, and watching the Bengals (or whatever other activity) in the afternoon? I wonder if this is the best way to reflect on all that God has provided for us in Christ.
May God help us never to forget the holiness of the Sabbath.
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