Light for the Last Days

Today we’re going to go back to Exodus. So, if you’ve been with us for a while, you know that I’ve been looking at the lessons we can learn from Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness.

And we now come on to the Ten Commandments passage. The centre-point if you like, of the Exodus story. And indeed, of the whole of the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, in which God reveals His Ten Commandments.

Now let’s just have a word of prayer as we come to the word of God.

“Lord, we thank you for your Word, we thank you for the truth which we find in your Word and pray that you bless the preaching by the leading of your Holy Spirit and lead us into all truth, and help us to apply it to our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.”

The last time I did this we looked at Exodus chapter 20, and I looked at the first three of the Ten Commandments. Today we’re going to look at the 4th Commandment.

The 4th Commandment “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”. Let’s read what that Commandment says:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your So, n, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Exodus 20.8-11

Interesting that the Commandment to keep the Sabbath connects it to the sixth day of Creation and to the day of rest on the seventh day. In Genesis 2.1 we read:

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. 2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Genesis 2.1-3

So, the 7th day Sabbath is connected to the 7th day of Creation and, of course, in the Hebrew, the word for day is yom.

Yom today is equivalent to a 24-hour period and it becomes a little bit difficult if this is ‘several million years’ because, in that case, you’ve got to work for six million years and then, you can have a million years of rest on the Sabbath day.

And it makes a bit more sense if it is a day a literal day.

Actually, I do believe in a six-day Creation. I know it’s not very fashionable today, and it something mocked by the press and by the educational system because everyone believes that it’s billions and millions of years, and the concept is challenged by science today. But it’s built into the biblical narrative and I’m not going to go into details of it today because that would take up the whole of the message, but we do have a DVD I brought along called ‘Genesis is History’ which gives me reasons to believe that the Genesis account is actually the correct one of what happened.

And I always say that God has a bit of an advantage over the evolutionary scientists because he was there when it happened. They weren’t. So, let’s believe what God says.

The principle there is given that ‘God rested on the 7th day’. And so, we should have a day of rest on the 7th day. A day of rest which should be given to worship the Lord, to give praise to the Lord, and to do ‘no work’.

Now, remember this has actually been given to a people who had up until now been slaves in Egypt.

So, how many days off did they have when they were slaves? None. So, actually to give them a day off a day when you don’t work was a gift of God. A day when they could have rest, something that allowed them no longer to have to work every single day of their lives.

And the command says that they should keep the Sabbath holy. Be as a Sabbath to the Lord your God and do no work. And, briefly, that’s what it says, that’s what God says about keeping the Sabbath.

It’s interesting, when you look into the scriptures, there’s not a huge amount of detail on what constitutes work and what doesn’t constitute work. What you should do and what you shouldn’t do.

There are a few verses you find elsewhere in scripture in Exodus chapter 34 verse 21 says:

Six days you shall work but on the seventh day you shall rest in ploughing time and in harvest.

Exodus 34.21

“You shall rest”, in other words, have a day off when you’re doing the agricultural work.

Exodus 35 verse 2 says:

You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.

Exodus 35.2

In other words, don’t do any kind of industrial work.

Those two instructions are carried through to Jeremiah 17.21 which says:

Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; 22 nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.

Jeremiah 17.21-22

So, ‘don’t go schlepping, carrying lots of items around to do the work’. Just ‘don’t do that, don’t work on the Sabbath day.’

This actually becomes quite a big deal in Orthodox Judaism today because you’re not supposed to carry things outside of your house. Therefore, they put an eruv around a particular area, so they can actually call that area ‘their house’ and then be able to carry prayer books and whatever out of is required out of the house.

But I don’t think that’s actually what God is saying here. He’s saying ‘don’t take your things out of your house, carry them in order to do work with them.’

So, if you’re building, ‘don’t take the planks out of your house to go and use them on the next day in building.’

And Nehemiah chapter 10 says:

If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day.

Nehemiah 10.31

I’ll covering another area now, ‘buying and selling’. You do have a few items there about what not to do on the Sabbath, in Isaiah. You have something which tells you about what to do it says in Isaiah 58.13:

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath from doing your pleasure on my holy day and call the Sabbath a delight the holy day of the Lord honourable and shall honour him not doing your own ways nor finding your own pleasure nor speaking your own words. 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord and I will cause you to ride high on the high hills of the earth and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 18.13-14

‘A day to be a delight’. A holy day to the Lord. A day to delight yourself in the Lord and to speak about Him, speak about, not doing your own pleasure, not speaking your own words, but to do what is pleasing to the Lord.

If you could sum up all these verses, basically, they are saying ‘don’t do your day job, don’t just have a good time, but remember the Lord and honour Him. Those are the principles which apply to us as well now.

There’s little or nothing in the Old Testament about doing what we’re doing now, about meetings for worship and for teaching.

Do you know that I looked up the word ‘synagogue’ for example in a concordance and that you’ll find it comes ‘zero’ times in the Old Testament.

I think it appears 67 times in the New Testament. The only verse I could find in the Old Testament which actually speaks about meeting for any kind of assembly on the Sabbath is Leviticus 23 verse 3 where it says

Six days shall work be done but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You should do no work on it. It is the Sabbath of the Lord, in all your dwellings.

Leviticus 23.3

A holy convocation, in Hebrew, qrakadesh. The word m’qra is taken from a Hebrew word qra which means ‘to call or to read’. So, you could say it’s a time when they would come together, to be called together to read, perhaps from the Torah and to learn something about the Lord.

But there’s not a single verse, not a single passage in the whole of the Old Testament which tells you about them doing that. There’s no reference to any kind of meetings taking place on the Sabbath day in the in the Old Testament.

The Torah does speak about the need to teach the principles to the people. For example, in Deuteronomy chapter 6 it says:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6.4-9

And here’s a general principle of applying the Torah to your life, that you shall talk about it, teach it to your children. You should talk about it when you go on the way, but it doesn’t actually speak here about teaching it in a congregation.

I think one has to imply that there would be some time when people would learn it in a congregation but this actually applies to the home.

If you notice, it says that ‘you should teach your children bind them as a sign on your hands and as front lips between your eyes.’

In Orthodox Judaism, they actually do that literally by putting the passage on a scroll and putting it on what called phylacteries or to fill in binding it literally to your hand and to your forehead.

I think, really, what the Lord is saying here is actually that it should be guiding your thinking, your forehead, your hands, your action.

Put it on the door press of your house in a Mezuzah that Orthodox Jews do today and also, on your gates as you go out.

That it should guide your thinking, your actions, what goes on inside your house, and what goes on as you go outside of your house into the community. In other words, the teachings of the Torah should guide you in how you live, in your practical life.

So, it was likely that there may have been some time when priests and prophets would teach the people but we actually don’t have any record of it happening in the in the Hebrew scriptures.

We do read that Samuel for example went from year to year on a circuit to bethel Gilgal and Milspar and judged Israel in all those places.

So, perhaps Samuel is a prophet went and went to those places and taught the people in Malachi it says:

The teaching of the scriptures was part of the deal if you like. But I say there’s no mention of synagogues, there’s no mention of public meetings in the Old Testament. The general belief of scholars actually is that the practice of having a regular synagogue meeting began when the Jewish people were taken to exile in Babylon and, at that time, to remember the Lord, they would gather together, read from the scriptures and say something about it on a regular basis.

And that this was continued then as they came back to the land, and developed.

By the time you get to Jesus you have many examples. I said you don’t have any mention of the synagogue in the Old Testament yet you have 67 mentions in the New Testament.

It’s interesting that you see it when you come to the New Testament. You see some things about what would happen in the synagogue on the Sabbath day.

Let’s look at one in the Book of Luke chapter 4 verse 14, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and remember of course that Jesus is not a gentile Christian. Jesus is Yeshua Hamashiach, the Messiah of Israel. He came as a Jew. He was born under the Law. He kept the Law and He, according to this passage, regularly attended the synagogue. It says:

It says that Jesus went into the synagogue as was His custom on the Sabbath day. So, we can learn from that that there was a custom to go to the synagogue, that Jesus went to the synagogue and he read from the Torah.

Actually, this time, He read from the prophets, He read from the prophet Isaiah and, as He read this passage from Isaiah 61 which is actually a messianic prophecy that says The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He anointed me to preach the Gospel the good news to the poor. And He goes on to say at the end today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, in other words, ‘I’m the One this is talking about’.

So, it must be quite an unusual synagogue meeting because the person who the scriptures was about, the Messiah, actually came into the synagogue and read from the scriptures and said ‘this is actually about me’ and caused a bit of a stir as you read in Luke chapter 4.

But the thing I want you to notice there is that this tells us that there were synagogues in the region where Jesus taught, that He was an observant Jew, regularly attending synagogue on the Sabbath day, and that the reading from the Bible took place in these meetings.

Beyond, in the Book of Acts, you read how Paul went to preach the Gospel. He went out into what we would now call Turkey, Asia Minor. At that time, it was a Greek-speaking area, where there were Jews living in the diaspora and they had brought gentiles to believe in Jesus as well.

Therefore, you had gentile proselytes who believed in Jesus, and we read that they had regular synagogue meetings at that time.

Acts chapter 13 says:

And we read in Acts 13 how Paul then preached the Gospel to them. That would be good, if we could go into the synagogue down the road and be invited to preach the Gospel to the people there. But I don’t think it’s going to happen in Temple Fortune at the present time, but it did happen in those days and notice two things which are mentioned here:

  • first of all, they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day
  • and the people then read from the Law and the Prophets

So, there was a time then when they would read from the Law, from the Torah and from the Prophets and there was also, a time when they were invited to come up and speak and to give a word of exhortation.

We can deduce from that there were regular meetings of the synagogue on the Sabbath day. This time not in Israel itself but in the diaspora area. And they read from the Torah, they read from the Prophets, and Paul was invited to share a word.

If you go on to Acts chapter 15 verse 21 it says:

For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.

Acts 15.21

Again, this is a passage which tells you that, by the time you get to the Book of Acts, they had regular meetings in which they were reading from the scriptures and that this had been going on for many generations. It wasn’t just a new thing.

The principle therefore is that, by the time of Jesus, there was a regular meeting of Jews in the synagogue for the Sabbath day. And the meeting included readings of the Law and the Prophets and, in many ways, when the church began, they took over this practice themselves so that it would be a regular meeting in which the scriptures would be read and be explained, and people would gather together for meeting with the Lord.

Now, as I said, some scholars actually say that the practice began in Babylon and was developed on the return of the Jews from Babylon, after the time of Ezra, and leading up to the time of Jesus.

When you come to the time of Jesus, you find actually that He had disputes with the religious leaders over the Sabbath observance.

A bit of history actually helps you to understand this. When the Jewish people came back from Babylon, they were exiled first of all into Babylon according to the prophecies of Jeremiah and others because of their failure to keep God’s Commandments, to keep the Commandments of the Torah.

So, when they came back to Israel from Babylon, Ezra actually read to the people from the Torah and said that the reason ‘you went into exile was because you didn’t keep these commands. Now you have come back, you must keep these commands if you’re going to be blessed and stay in the land.

Therefore, it became very important that they should keep the commands of the Law and what Ezra did was right. He told them to observe the Torah, and he told them that they should keep these commands if they’re going to be blessed in the land.

As time developed, the people called the sopherim, the scribes and the tannaim came along and said ‘okay, we’ve got these Commandments which God has given to us but we may break them inadvertently because we actually don’t know the full details of how to keep them. So, we need to add a few laws to the laws which are there in order that we won’t break the laws inadvertently. These were called the ‘fence laws’

So, they put a fence around the Torah in order not break It inadvertently. They added a few laws to the laws which were already there. Principally, they said that these laws are made by man and they kind of complement God’s Laws.

A few generations later on someone came along and said ‘there are still a few holes in the fence, so, we need to add a few more laws.’ They said that the Laws given by Moses were given by God, the laws given by the sopherim, the scribes, are given by God but our laws are given by man. In that process, they’ve actually made the laws of man into the laws of God. Can you see that? They’ve added laws to the Law.

When you come to the time of Jesus, you find that this is actually the reason why he had disputes with the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus acknowledged the divine Laws given by in the Torah but not the laws of men, the additional laws.

When it came to the Sabbath, this was one of the big areas where this applied because, as I said, when you look at the Bible, the Torah, it doesn’t give you a lot of detail on what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath.

There are a few verses here and there, but there’s not a lot of data and so, the laws of the Sabbath were added about things which you can and can’t do, and, in the process, the Pharisees actually developed what they call ‘the teaching of the oral law’.

And they said that when Moses received the written Law given on Mount Sinai, he received the words of God which were written down but he also received what they called ‘the oral law’ which was not written down but which was passed on from generation to generation and which would tell you how to keep the written Law.

Now, when you look in the Bible, you’ll find ‘zero’ (0) references to this ‘oral law’, none at all. And many, including myself, scholars would say that these things were invented by the Pharisees in the later times and were then given this status of ‘being given by God’ in order they could be kept by the people.

You find that all of Jesus’ confrontations and disagreements with the religious leaders are over this particular matter.

Jesus accepted the written Law but not the ‘oral law’.

Tony Pearce

In later times, this ‘oral law’ was written down in what’s called the Mishnah and the Talmud which today is binding upon Orthodox Jews and is believed to be as divinely inspired as the written scriptures themselves.

They wrote down some of the things which are considered to work. So, you’ve got 39 classes of work in the Talmud. If you’ve got those up there there you are I won’t read them all but those are 39 different classes of what considers to be work: sewing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, cleansing crops, etc. etc.

Striking with a hammer and putting out a fire, all kinds of things were added to them. Eventually, it comes down to about 1,500 laws which are added on what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath.

Now, Jesus actually disputed all of this. He said these additional laws brought in by the Pharisees were not given by God and they caused them to fail to keep the true intention of God’s Commandments.

In Matthew 15 verse 3 it says:

Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

Matthew 15.3

It also says in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15.9)

Jesus said all this stuff is ‘the commandments of men’, forget it, it’s not the real deal. The real deal is what Moses gave. And you see this works out in some of the disputes Jesus has with the Pharisees, particularly, relating to the Sabbath. If we look at Mark chapter 2 verse 23:

Now it happened that He went through the grain fields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

Mark 2.23-24

They were just picking up a bit of grain and eating it. The Pharisees said they were actually ‘reaping’ which is against the law of the Sabbath

But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”

Matthew 2.25-26

And He concluded:

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 2.27-28

Now, the Sabbath is made for man not man for the Sabbath, in other words:

the Sabbath is a gift of God to man, something given by God to make your life less burdensome, not something to make it more burdensome by adding lots of rules to it.

Tony Pearce

And He says also, the Son of man, that’s Jesus Himself, is Lord of the Sabbath. He actually gave these commands in the first place so He can tell you what to do in relation to them.

Then, we have the incident in Mark chapter 3.

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger,

Mark 3.1-5

Jesus is being grieved by the hardness of their hearts.

He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Mark 3.5-6

Jesus is illustrating here the principle that the Sabbath was ‘made for man, not man for the Sabbath’, that He was doing good on the Sabbath. It is lawful to do good not to keep endless rules.

According to rabbinic teaching, it was permitted to save life on the Sabbath, but if you look at these miracles which Jesus did on the Sabbath, they were actually not saving life, they were dealing with people who suffered from a long-term condition and helping them to be free from it.

This man in particular had a withered hand that wasn’t actually causing him to die but it was actually something which was inconveniencing, difficult for his life.

Jesus told him to stretch forth his hand and He healed it. And no doubt, that man was rejoicing because he now had use of his hand.

When you look through the other miracles Jesus did, in Luke 13 a woman who had a spirit of infirmity for 18 years was healed by Jesus, In John 5 at the Pool of Bethesda, where there’s a paralyzed man and Jesus heals him, tells him to stand up and he stands up, and He tells him to take up his mat, his bed, and to walk. The man is then accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath law by carrying his mat on the Sabbath day.

So, rather than rejoicing that this man had been paralyzed and was now able to walk, they’d come forth with the fact that he was breaking one of their laws by carrying his mat on the Sabbath.

In John 9, the blind man says Jesus ‘spat on the ground and made mud and spread the mud on the man’s eyes.

Jesus actually broke several halachic rules by mixing, kneading, and smearing the clay on the blind man’s eyes, possibly in a prohibited anointing according to one commentary.

But he healed the man. He was blind from birth, so He’s breaking some of their laws but He’s actually healing a man who was blind from birth, which was in fact a messianic miracle, and something that you should give praise to God for, because he was this poor man, he’d been blind all his life, and now he could see.

Surely, if that happened, people should have rejoiced and be thankful because this man who had been afflicted by blindness, now could see. And they should have praised God for this amazing miracle which Jesus did, but the Pharisees said ‘this man is not from God because, He doesn’t keep the Sabbath’.

Well, Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. He’s the Lord of the Sabbath and He’s permitted to do good on the Sabbath. It’s not a day for making endless regulations, to make life more difficult for you, but a day of rest and refreshment. The day when God wants to do good for you.

And Jesus did incredible good for these people on the Sabbath, healing them of infirmities which had made their lives a misery. They were now whole. And so, it was natural to give thanks to God for the miracle, not to complain about it because of some man-made rule which God is not concerned about anyway.

The Law of Moses applies up until the time of the Resurrection of Jesus. Now, you have to understand also, that, in the time of the Gospels, before the Resurrection, Jesus is actually still functioning under the Law.

Once he dies and rises from the dead, and the Holy Spirit is poured out, you come into a new Dispensation, the time of grace, in which we are put right with God through the New Covenant.

So, things are going to change in how we apply the Law once we come into the New Covenant, and particularly in the ancient area of how to practice the Sabbath.

When Israel went into the land, they went into the land with the Torah, particularly, with the book of Deuteronomy which gives them a kind of code of how to live, and they were in fact then in charge of how to run the country. They could make the rules, they could make the laws and, if they made the laws according to God’s plan, God was going to bless them. They should run the country according to the Torah.

When the church began, the New Testament church, which was called in Greek ‘Ecclesia’ meaning those who were called out from the nations. It was made up of Jews and gentiles who were called from different backgrounds. Many of them were masters and some were slaves. Some were Jewish, some were gentile and they were coming together in a new body called the Body of Christ.

Now, the Body of Christ did not have the power to make rules about how society should be run. Can you see that?

In fact, they had to live under the rules of the Roman Empire. If they were living in the area of the Roman Empire they were not in a position to make laws for society. Therefore, the church was not in the position to make laws on how society should be run and that they should have a day off on the Sabbath.

Imagine you’re a slave in the early church and you become a Christian. You read this passage and you go to your master and you say ‘Actually, I’ve become a Christian now, today’s the Sabbath, I’m not going to work for you today.’ What’s he going to say to you? He’s probably not going to be too pleased.

And it wasn’t really until the time when Constantine, the Roman Emperor converted to Christianity that it was possible for the church then to make Sunday the day of rest.

At that time, they couldn’t actually enforce the Sabbath rule of not working, they had to fit in with the laws which were made by non-believers in society.

And when you look in the New Testament, you’ll find that the Sabbath command is the only one of the Ten Commandments which is not repeated and reinforced in the New Testament.

The legal observance of the Sabbath as in Exodus chapter 20 is not enjoined in the epistles as a requirement for the church.

Tony Pearce

Now, that might sound to you a bit heretical, I don’t know, but, if you look through the New Testament, you’ll find that every one of the Ten Commandments is somehow reinforced, except this one. This one is kind of reinterpreted.

In Romans chapter 14 verse 5 Paul says:

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. 

Romans 14.5-6

Therefore, concerning the observation of days, Paul gives us freedom to worship on whatever day, to come together at whatever time. These instructions are that individuals must be convinced in their own minds about when they’re going to worship the Lord.

Now, if the 7th day Sabbath were a requirement as in Exodus chapter 20, the choice wouldn’t be man’s, it would be God’s, and you would have to keep it.

Paul would hardly say ‘One man commits adultery, one man steals, another worships an idol, let each one be fully persuaded in His own mind about what to do.

Those things you have to not do because they are clear commands of God which are translated into the New Covenant. Paul says:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6.9-10

You can inherit the Kingdom of God if you repent of those things and become a believer in Jesus, but if you continue to practice those things, you won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. Those are things you need to repent of and forsake if you’re entering to the Kingdom of God. Those things mentioned here are for the most part connected to the Ten Commandments but the scripture doesn’t mention the seventh-day Sabbath as a legal requirement.

Colossians chapter 2 says:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Colossians 2.16-17

I’m saying something has happened in the New Covenant and you’re going to change your relationship to this particular Commandment. It says: the substance is of Messiah, of Christ.

So, it has something to do with Jesus coming. It is actually going to be the replacement for your rest on the Sabbath day.

Hebrews chapter 4 says:

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:

“So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ”

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:

“Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Hebrews 4.1-10

Quite a difficult passage that and I won’t go into it in detail, but

the basic principle there is ‘that entering into a relationship with Jesus’ is the equivalent of entering into your rest, which, in turn, is the equivalent of the Sabbath rest. Because if you enter into a relationship with Jesus, if you believe that Jesus has paid the price for your sins, that He has died on the cross as a sacrifice for your sins, and that, therefore, your sins are forgiven then, you are no longer earning your salvation by your good works, you’re earning your salvation by your faith in Jesus.

Tony Pearce’s interpretation of Hebrews 4.1-10

Now, I’m saying you must enter into this relationship with God through Jesus which becomes the equivalent of entering into the Sabbath rest.

I don’t know if you quite follow that argument, but that’s what, as I understand it, Paul is saying here (or whoever wrote Hebrews) is saying. We don’t work to receive grace but we receive it in order that we might work for the Lord. Having believed in Jesus, we’re then to do what God tells us, not to earn salvation through it, but in order to do good works as led by the Holy Spirit.

Now, does that mean ‘don’t come to church on Sunday’? Obviously, I want you to come!

The principle of setting aside a day to remember the Lord, to teach people the Bible, to have fellowship with one another, is clearly there, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

And it’s a good one. A good one which is enjoined by scripture. There are a lot of things which mitigate against it, and in our time a lot of things which mitigate against coming together for fellowship.

Today, we have all the shops open on Sunday, we have football clubs and so on, which a lot of young people want to go to instead of coming to church. And we have all sorts of entertainment. And they’re all things which kind of push people not to have fellowship together on the Lord’s day.

In recent times we’ve even had the corona regulations which have actually forbidden us to meet at all, and praise God we can still meet and we pray that we may continue to be able to meet in person as well as on Zoom and on the Internet.

And actually, if the state forbids public worship, it is going against the Word of God and against the will of God. And, personally, I think it’s actually illegal; but it’s happened, and we have to live with what happens in our society.

But we have no doubt that the New Testament encourages us to meet together. If we’re going to meet together on a day when it’s customary to meet together, that being Sunday, in our country, then, let’s do it on a Sunday. If you’re in Israel, you do it on a Saturday because that’s the day of rest and Sunday is actually a day of work.

But the fact is that the Bible is not so specific about which day you meet on, it encourages us to meet together, to hear the word of God, to teach, and to learn from the Lord.

Acts chapter 2.42 says:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

Acts 2.42-45

And these things are enjoined by scriptures as something which is good, something which we do communally and something which we should be encouraged to take part in.

Hebrews chapter 10 verse 19 says:

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10.19-25

We do see the day of the Lord approaching, the day of the Second Coming of Jesus and so, we’re encouraged to meet together to exalt one another, to build up our faith, and to come into the presence of God through the blood of Jesus, through that new and living way which is consecrated for us through His death on the cross, and which makes us acceptable to God as we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

Finally, should be doing this on Saturday or Sunday? A big issue in some circles.

Some would say that the Sabbath should be enjoined as a continuation of Torah observance. Seventh-day Adventists say that it’s wrong to meet on Sunday, you should meet on the Sabbath. Friday night to Saturday night is the Sabbath day. So, you meet on the Saturday.

A lot of messianic Jewish people do that as well. If you’re in Israel, you have to do it because Israel holds the Sabbath on Saturday and it’s the day of rest, since Sunday is a day of work. So, if you want to have your meeting on a Sunday, you won’t have anybody who can go to work on that day because it’s just a normal day of work.

Some of the most extreme Seventh-day Adventists, such as Ellen Gould White says that: “Worshipping on Sunday is to take the Mark of the Beast”. Which is a little bit extreme because that means that you get the Mark of the Beast by worshiping God, but if you don’t worship God on any day, you won’t get the Mark of the Beast. I think we can fairly sure that that is not the case.

Did the early church meet on Sunday or Saturday?

Well, we know that there were Jewish groups called the Nazarenes and the Ebionites who did keep the seventh-day. Some of them also kept Sunday as well.

There are passages in the New Testament which imply that they met on the first day of the week, for example Acts chapter 20 says:

on the first day of the weekwhen the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them

Acts 20.7

That first day of the week is the day after the Sabbath (or Sunday yom roshan in Hebrew – Sunday in our terms), the day when the people gathered to meet with the Lord.

It implies in Acts chapter 20 that this was a day when they met to break bread, have communion, and hear a message.

Preaching and breaking bread is not just a typical expression for eating a meal, but implies remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread or in communion. Also, the word for ‘met’ is sunago in Hebrew which is from the same root as the word ‘synagogue’, and describes some kind of assembly for worship.

And Luke seems to be implying in Acts chapter 20 a structured Christian assembly. This is the earliest clear witness to a Christian assembly meeting for the purpose of worship on the first day of the week.

It also says in Acts chapter 20 that Paul spoke until midnight (You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to speak until midnight), but he spoke until midnight and, actually, as he was speaking, a young man called Eutychus, who was on the top floor, fell asleep and fell out of the window (I don’t have any falling asleep at the moment but you won’t fall out of any windows and die here), because he died and then, he was resurrected, Paul brought him back to life.

But it tells you that they had a meeting at night. Now, it’s interesting that they had the meeting at night. Why would they have a meeting at night?

Well, as I said, in the time of the Roman Empire, they wouldn’t have had a day off from work. And there’s a reference to early Christianity from a hostile source a man called Pliny (the Younger), a Roman writer writing to the Emperor Trajan who said that, at the end of the first century, Christians in Bithynia, that’s in the area around about central Turkey now,

The meeting was before dawn and again in the evening on a fixed day and bound themselves with a vow not to steal commit adultery and the like.

Pliny the Younger writing to Emperor Trajan

Only Christians met before dawn and again in the evening. He says that these Christians observed the substance of most of the Ten Commandments ‘as they were able to do’. He says, ‘as far as they were able’, and since most of the Christians may have been of slave stock, the fact they left before dawn and in the evening may have meant that they had to go to work.

In the meantime, there are other reasons why the command not to work on the Sabbath actually was more difficult to apply in early church times. You’ve got other references in the New Testament: Paul, instructing the churches to meet together on the first day of the week in 1 Corinthians chapter 16 to “give offerings”, John ‘being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’ in Revelation chapter 1.

And we do have quite a number of references in early church writings which suggest that they did meet on the first day of the week. Some of them actually tell you interesting things about what they did. Unfortunately, we don’t have any DVDs or videos of early church meetings. It’d be interesting to know how they functioned, wouldn’t it? But we just have one or two writings. I’ll just read you a couple of records from the early church about their meetings:

This is from something called the Didache on the teaching of the twelve apostles. It says:

Interesting passages that I find it quite instructive about what the early church did. They had assembly on Sunday to read the Bible, they read from the epistles, they read from the memoirs of the apostles. It says that the leader gave instruction: a sermon, some kind of instruction on how to apply these to your life, prayer was also offered, the Lord was remembered in the bread and wine, and some kind of offering made which, was shared with those in need. It says that this took place on Sunday, the first day of creation and the resurrection of the Lord.

So, we have a little bit of insight there into how the early church functioned.

Let’s close today with: How do we do it? How do we apply this?

We live in a time of many difficulties, especially since the lock down and all that’s followed. Let’s at least do what Hebrews says and not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some but exalt one another. And so much the more as you see the day approaching.

Let’s meet together, let’s worship the Lord, let’s give thanks to Him, let’s learn from His word.

I have to say that one of the things which people write to me about when I write Light for Last Days Magazine is: ‘I can’t find a church in my area where they teach the Bible‘. This is a very sad state.

And I think one of the problems we have today in the church, and more generally in this country, is a departure from sticking to the Bible as the Word of God. This is something which we should learn from.

But let’s learn from the Word of God, let’s apply it to our lives, and let’s live our lives to the praise and glory of God.

And there’s a good thing: to join together in worship and in praise, and fellowship.

Tony Pearce

I hope that, as things loosen up, hopefully, we can be more available to have more fellowship after the meetings, to have more time to pray for one another, and time to build one another in the faith as we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

But we also remember that Jesus said:

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.

Matthew 18.20

So, we’re not just meeting with one another, we’re meeting with Him and He is alive today.

Jesus wants to meet with us and to bless us, and bring us into that REST of a relationship with Him, which can give us strength through the rest of the week and through the rest of our lives.

Tony Pearce

So, praise the Lord. Hopefully this gives you some thoughts on this subject and some reasons how we can apply the Hebrew scriptures to our lives today as believers in Jesus the Messiah, praise the Lord.

Let’s just have a word of prayer as we come to sing our last hymn.

Lord, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You Lord that we are able now to meet together in Your Name in this place, and we thank You Lord that You help us to apply Your Word to our lives and to live our lives according to Your principles, to what You have taught us and to give praise and honour to our Lord Jesus the Messiah who has brought us into Your presence through Your death and resurrection that we might have a true relationship with the living God as we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Tony Pearce