Redeeming the Sabbath

The title of this article is taken from my dear friend and colleague Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn.  In a recent class lecture, he shared his thoughts on the unfortunate way in which many churches practice a “60 Minute Sabbath.”  Although he did not have the opportunity to further elaborate, the phrase is pretty self-explanatory.  At least, it has been for me.  Without sounding overly negative, let’s just say that we as a church have a long way to go in our Sabbath observance.  I can’t help but feel that we have made attending worship the parenthesis of our Sundays.  We are really interested in those activities before and after worship, and that is the focus of our attention on any given Sunday.  There is so much to say about the Sabbath (e.g. creation ordinance, relations with the Lord’s Day, eschatological understanding, sign of the covenant, etc.).  The purpose of this article is to provide a few ways that we can practically “remember” (Ex. 20:8) and “keep” (Deut. 5:12) it.  My hope is that we will find a renewed conviction in Sabbath observance that will help us in our personal growth as disciples of Christ.

  1. Organize your week around the Sabbath:  Ex. 20:13-14 says that “six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”  This is to encourage us not only to set aside the Sabbath, but to dedicate ourselves to diligent work and labors the other six days.  In other words, Sabbath observance is not only understanding the nature of the seventh day.  It helps us to understand how to live during the other six.
  2. Talk to your children about the sermon after church:  Ex. 12 gives us the institution of the Feast of Passover.  After describing the particulars on how this feast is to be observed, verse 26 anticipates a time when a covenant child, not understanding these specifics, asks his father “What do you mean by this service?”  The father is given a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel message of the OT with his child.  I love this picture.  This is not the only time that the OT describes a parent catechizing his children.  In Deut. 6:20-24, parents instruct their children about the law of God.  In Josh. 4:6-7, parents instruct their children about memorial stones by the Jordan river.  In fact, one critique of the historical books is the failure of parents to disciple their children in the ways of the Lord that resulted in the rise of a new generation “who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Jdg. 2:10).  The majority of these OT scenarios envision a worship setting where the parents chat with their children about what they just heard in the proclamation of the Word.  Will children understand everything that they hear in any given Sunday service?  It would be great if they did, but they may not.  What a great opportunity this is for parents to talk to their children about the sermon that was just preached!  By doing this, it trains our children to learn how to listen to the preached Word and encourages them to listen attentively….because they know dad and mom are going to ask about it afterwards.
  3. Read the Bible:  Maybe this is stating the obvious, but it is one that is grossly neglected.  So, let me state it again: read the Bible.  I have found that by simply reading large portions of Scripture helps me understand the message of Scripture.  The Word of God is deep and pastors take the time to unpack all the rich redemptive motifs that is found within any given passage, but it is so easy to get lost in all the details of the tree that we lose sight of the forest.  By reading the Word, we come to appreciate the perspicuity, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture.  Will we understand everything in Isaiah 40-66 by reading it in one afternoon?  No, but you will learn more and build on your knowledge when you read it the next time!  The study of the Word is a lifestyle.
  4. Attend an evening service:  If your church offers an evening service, commit yourself to going.
There are so many other ways to observe the Sabbath that will be a blessing to you.  I pray that these few mentioned above will encourage you to find other means to “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you” (Deut. 5:12).
Dr. Peter Lee
Associate Professor of Old Testament
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.

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