By Simon ManchesterSunday 22 Nov 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
Father we commit our minutes to you. We pray that you would prepare us by your Spirit to be humble and receptive and then faithful. We pray that the things from your Word which we hear and receive today would be planted and bring forth fruit. In Jesus’ Name – Amen.
Now friends we are thinking about the church on these Sunday mornings. We have had a good series so far. There is quite a few still to come and today the subject is really is – When to meet? That is, does God insist on a special day?
Now if you think this is simple we really need to follow Scripture very carefully and I am counting on you to do that with me this morning. Because for example the fourth Commandment says: Keep the Sabbath. You would think that would be pretty straightforward but when we get to the New Testament, there is no echo of this Commandment. Of all the writers in the New Testament, none of them think it’s important to underline or repeat.
Jesus occasionally we read, broke the Sabbath rules. The Apostle Paul seems positively disinterested in the Sabbath. He says for example in Romans 14 “Having a special day is optional”. In Galatians 4 he says “observing a special day could be a backward step” and he says in Colossians 2 as we have just heard “don’t let other people dictate to you”.
The early church met on the first day – sometimes called The Lord’s Day, The Resurrection Day. So what are we meant to do? Do you think that our society was better off when Sunday was in a shutdown mentality? No shops, no sport and much greater freedom to go to church? Were Christian people, do you think in the past, freer? Sitting around the church, sitting around at home – were they more liberated? Were they more joyful in the past? Or are Christians freer today with no rules, no obligations but often just running from one social activity to the next?
Now this is a very practical subject. The word “REST” the four letter word REST must be one of the most attractive and wonderful words in the Scriptures – in the world and when Jesus said “Come to me and I will give you rest” he meant some very wonderful things.
He meant you can rest from trying to satisfy God.
What a freedom that is!
You can be free, Jesus says, from your guilt and your fear before God.
You can enjoy fellowship with him.
You can begin to see what’s important and what’s not important.
You can have new strength to resist some faulty priorities.
You can have new strength to choose good priorities.
All of this comes from the person who comes to Christ. And we in the 21st Century who are on a treadmill of stress and are struggling even to sleep – the new epidemic of sleeplessness and people who cannot stop waking up and going straight to e-mails, as if e-mails are the top priority of the morning or who describe ourselves as busy, busy, busy, busy busy. We (and I am talking about myself here) we would do well to as Jesus says – “learn from him”. “Learn from me” says Jesus in Matthew 11 verse 29.
I read an anecdote of a lady who moved from a 3rd World country to a 1st World country like Australia and when she greeted people, she would smile and she would say “hello, I am busy” because she thought that was the normal greeting of the 1st World because that’s what everybody said to her “Hello, I’m busy”!
Well I have 4 points this morning and I hope you will follow with me as we think about Sabbath Rest and when the church should meet.
The first point is the Preaching Series so far – a 1 minute catch-up.
The second is the Priority of Rest – what does it mean?
The third is the Pattern of the Early Church.
The fourth is some Particular Questions for us Today.
Practical, pointed, pushy and pretty good questions for us today!.
Now my one sentence summary of the message goes like this – if you only get one sentence this is it. Our Sabbath Rest is found in our Saviour and seen in our values. Our Sabbath Rest is found in our Saviour and seen in our values. So you can’t find the Rest in Jesus without it showing itself in the way you think and live.
Well here is the first point The Preaching Series so far. We have been noticing in the last weeks that the church is not a building. When Jesus said “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail” – you don’t bash down the gates of hell with a building. The church is obviously a people.
We have also seen that the church is not a denomination – the Anglican denomination, the Presbyterian denomination, these are manmade structures for organizing local churches.
We have also seen that the church is not even a billion or too people individually scattered around the globe. God’s people are scattered around the globe. God’s family are scattered around the globe but the church by definition is a gathering. The church is a gathering by definition. And there are two places we have seen where Christians gather. And you need to get your head around this if you are to understand the New Testament. It’s a little bit complicated but you need to get it.
The first place the church gathers is spiritually in heaven with Christ. That is as soon as you come to Jesus and you put your trust in him you have new life. And the Bible says you are raised spiritually (Colossians 3:1) “Since you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above”.
We have also, believe it or not, been seated with Christ. Not just raised with Christ but seated with Christ spiritually in glory. Don’t ask me to explain this completely but that’s what the Bible tells us – we have been spiritually raised spiritually seated with Christ and the whole of God’s people gather spiritually in Christ with Christ before Christ waiting for the day where God’s people will physically rise to be with him in his presence.
So God knows exactly what he is doing. He knows how to do his job. He gives new life to his people and spiritually he places us in Christ with Christ waiting for the day when we will see him physically face to face.
Now the second place where the church gathers is in little scenarios all over the world – two’s or three’s, in two hundred’s or three hundred’s, in two thousand’s or three thousand’s – under a tree – in a room – in an auditorium – in a school – in a cathedral – gatherings of believers in the world and these gatherings are outposts or reflections or expressions of the heavenly gathering.
And we gather, as we heard last week, to hear the Word of God – his Word is much more interesting than anything I could say or we could say. We gather to hear his Word and we gather to respond in our singing and by faith and helping one another keep going because it’s easy to give up.
So if somebody says to you ‘have you been raised’?
The answer is “yes spiritually but no physically”.
If somebody says “are you home yet”?
The answer is “yes spiritually but no physically”.
We are in a kind of a happy tension.
My second point this morning is the Priority of Rest. We need to understand the Sabbath Rest so we don’t fall into the legalism of the sad Victorians who sat around in quite unhappy circles on Sundays in hot suits. But we also need to avoid the licence of many 21st Century Christians who have ended up with a completely selfish and secular agenda.
The original Rest from Genesis 2 is God resting, God ceasing his Creation work. And he then blessed something called the Seventh Day. And this Seventh Day you will notice if you read the text – had no evening. It was an open ended ongoing, we might say, eternal day. God attached to the Creation something that is more important and more wonderful than the Creation called “fellowship with him – eternal fellowship”. This was the plan of God that he would not only give us a place to live but fellowship with him – 6 days and then the 7th day.
And when Adam and Eve (historical people) rejected God they lost the fellowship, they lost the rest, and they were in the world without the rest so they were restless in the world. God in his mercy through Abraham started to gather a new people and when God had rescued his people Israel from Egypt he began to teach them the 7th Day and he began to do this by getting them to rest on the 7th day and to trust him to provide.
So he would say to the Israelites as they travelled through the Wilderness, gather your food on 6 days but on the 7th day STOP and REST. And then he made it a Commandment at Sinai – you must keep the Sabbath Day.
Now this is not because God wanted his people to be bored or to sit and do nothing but because he wanted to teach his people that there was something more important and more wonderful and more eternal than the world. And if I might say I think our world needs to hear this. There’s nothing more tragic than to see the people of our city who imagine that the only thing that is important is this world and then they lose it and discover that they have not only lost the world but they have been tragically without fellowship with God who made it.
So God is trying to teach his people that there is something more important than working and eating and sleeping and then dying. It’s called ‘enjoying the Rest’ – called ‘having fellowship with God’. And even the land was to have a Rest every 7 years.
Well Israel was so unfaithful that the Sabbaths never really happened. So who is going to restore the Rest? It’s obvious that the human race (even the people of Israel) cannot restore the Rest – who is going to do it?
Into the world comes Jesus Christ – He is in perfect fellowship with the Father. He makes the Sabbath a day of joy and blessing, not a day of sadness and false regulation. And he doesn’t fall for the man made rules that have been thrown around in time. And because he is going to go to the cross and pay for sins (including the sin of breading the Sabbath) he invites people who will listen to come to him and when they come to him,
He will give them Rest.
He will give them Sabbath.
He will give them fellowship with God.
He will give them an eternal relationship with God that will outlast the world.
‘You will find’ said Jesus ‘Rest for your souls’.
Now when we come to Jesus and I hope the Communion this morning for a few minutes will not be (and it is so easily) just an empty meaningless time but could be a time where today you reflect on the cost that Jesus paid to bring you back into the Sabbath Rest which is for eternity. When we come to Jesus we are back in fellowship with the Father – we have entered the Rest.
Now the writer of Hebrews tells us –
Yes we have entered the Rest
But we haven’t entered the Rest.
We have come to Jesus –
Yes but we haven’t come to heaven.
We have come into the Kingdom
But we haven’t come face to face
We are in a kind of a happy tension.
The wonderful thing about this Rest that Jesus gives us is that we can rest from our works. We no longer have to be in that terrible syndrome of thinking that we must be good, good good to please and impress God. We no longer need works to be saved. We can rest in the salvation which Jesus worked for us.
And we can also rest from our weekly work. We can rest from our job, our labour because God has freed us from seeing the work as our saviour or our master.
And we can actually meet with God’s people with Christian friends. And so you see our Sabbath Rest is found in our Saviour but it is seen in our values. That’s the second point this morning.
The third point is the Pattern of the Early Church. There is a lot of myth around today that the Early Church turned the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday but it didn’t. And I will tell you why.
The early Christians kept going to the Synagogue for a while because that was their heritage, that’s where the Word was being taught. And they of course had a new appreciation for the Scriptures. But they then started meeting on Sundays for Christian fellowship. For the early believers the Saturday Sabbath had found its goal. It was a signpost pointing to Jesus. They had come to Jesus. He was their Rest. The Saturday Sabbath was a shadow – it was over – it had been faded out.
The Sunday, however, became the day or a day or opportunity to meet – a day of remembering the Resurrection, a day of fellowship and a day of hearing God’s Word. It was never the Sabbath because Jesus is the Sabbath. It is just a good day to meet and have fellowship and encourage one another and to look forward to the final day.
So that’s really what we are trying to do in a way we meet – we are listening to God and his Word, we are responding as faithfully as we can in thanks and faithfulness and we are helping one another to keep going and not give up because the really important day is the final day where we will see Christ face to face. So whether you meet in a small group on a Wednesday, or whether you gather on a Tuesday morning with a few men or whether you gather on a Saturday morning with a few women or whether you gather on a Sunday, these are all outposts or expressions of the great fellowship in glory.
That’s why the Apostle Paul, friends, cannot get excited about the Sabbath being a Sunday. It just doesn’t interest him. I know there are some people who want to say that the Sunday is now the Sabbath – and I read of one writer during the week that spent 62 pages arguing this way but it was very unpersuasive and confusing and not worth it.
Now the joy of the Sabbath is Jesus
And he frees us so that we can meet wisely on a Sunday but freely on a Sunday,
Wisely on a Wednesday and wisely on a Saturday.
Well let’s come to the fourth point in the sermon which is the Point for Us Today. Here are some questions which I think really do flow from this and they relate very strongly to the question of when we should meet. The first question I must ask you this morning is – have you entered the Rest that Jesus gives? I am not asking whether you believe in God, I am guessing everybody in this room believes in God.
I was recently at a funeral for a school friend and I asked him, since he had many members of the family who were Christians and spoke like Christians at the funeral if he was a Christian and he said to me “I believe in God so I am OK”. And I said to him as sweetly as I could “and the devil believes in God”. I really didn’t want to push it at a funeral but it seemed to me to be a very feeble answer.
I am not asking you whether you believe in God, I am really asking you whether you enjoy fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. I am asking you whether the great weight of your sin and guilt and fear has been lifted off your back because you have given it to Christ. I am really asking you whether you can say, you know a miracle has taken place. I used to think God, Me and I must do my best to bridge the gap. I’ve stopped and I now think God, Me, Jesus has bridged the gap and I am in fellowship with God through Jesus. That’s the question I am asking. It does take humility to get this Rest because you have to hand over your sin and you have to hand over the controls of your life but the joy and the fellowship that comes outweighs whatever the cost.
My second question – are you resting from your job regularly because it is no longer your master and your saviour? You see you can rest from your works as a way of salvation, praise God, and you can rest from your job because it’s no longer your master, your idol or your saviour.
I suppose hard work is a good thing and jobs are wonderful. The Apostle Paul talks about ‘working hard’ but what is driving the work? That’s the question we have to ask every now and again because we are perverse. We can work for the wrong reasons.
Here are some reasons why people may work and I have borrowed all of this from a book called “Crazy Busy” by Kevin de Young.
Are you working so hard because of pride, to be famous?
Are you working so hard because of performance to be praised?
Are you working so hard because you are a people pleaser?
Are you working so hard because of a lust for power and possessions?
Or is it perfectionism?
Or is it the desire for promotion and posting?
When I hear that some Christians are being sent all over the place by some heartless profession causing them to miss many of their key relationships with family and church, I really do wish that they would get a better master because Jesus will free you from the idolatry and the irresponsibility and the tragedy of overwork.
I love the way Jesus in the Gospels in Mark 1 and Luke 4 could be faced with a thousand pressing needs and turn his back on them. Not because he is heartless and not because he lacks compassion but because he is so convinced in his mind of what he should be doing. And I love the way he gets to the end of his life in John 17 and he says to his Heavenly Father “Father I have finished the work you gave me to do”. Three years and thousands of people he never spoke to, thousands of people he never healed, thousands of placed he never went to – “I finished, I did it all” because he is so spirit led that he actually walks in the works that God had prepared.
And if we, I suspect, knew what it was to lay before God our energy and our time and our mind we may find ourselves being led more helpfully, more peacefully and more usefully in the world that is shouting at us from a thousand directions and some of us (and I include myself here) are too feeble to know what to say or do or how to resist.
Now my third question at the end here is “do people actually see your Kingdom values?”
What do they see by looking at you?
If they watched you for a week, would they see Kingdom priorities?
You have Christ – that’s wonderful.
No more burden to save yourself – that’s wonderful.
No more idolizing your work or your family – that’s wonderful.
You have peace with God; you have got sometimes peace of God
How do people know this? How are people going to work out what’s important to you? What are people going to say when the big occasion comes around for your retirement? What happens when the big occasion comes for the big birthday? Will your family and will your friends stand up and say ‘well, he’s very busy, he’s a funny guy, and he is very sporty”. Or would they stand up and say “he was an example to us of godliness, or taking Christ seriously”.
How are you going show people that you can see through the world to what’s eternally important and that the secular agenda which is family, parties, work, sport etc. is not your priority? How are people going to see that?
See friends, there is no external law that says to you – what you have to do about meeting. But there should be an internal desire in a healthy Christ which, if you find yourself putting almost anything in the way of your fellowship, you’ve got to scratch your head, haven’t you. You’ve got to save yourself ‘what’s going on when this person is professing Christ is the most important person in the universe but their practice is work, work, family, family, parties, parties, sport, sport always getting in the way of the fellowship.
You’ve got to assume at that point, haven’t you that the agenda of profession is not the agenda of practice and that the agenda of practice is actually the world’s agenda.
So I am talking the Christian agenda but I am walking the world’s agenda.
The world is actually coming before the kingdom.
Self is becoming before Christ
What I want is coming before what he wants.
So I want to urge you to test your practice before your profession.
And the last question is – are you fulfilling Hebrews 10 which says “don’t neglect meeting but encourage one another and all the more as you see the day approaching”. In your small groups, in your Sunday gathering you have a tremendous opportunity to help a person to see the eternal issues over the secondary issues – not avoiding the secondary issues but remembering the primary issues focusing people on the last great day.
Therefore inside us should be a healthy gratitude for Jesus who has brought us to Rest and salvation and it spills over – it spills unstoppably into values and priorities. So my one sentence again –
Our Sabbath Rest is found in our Saviour. We really have arrived in the Rest when we come to Jesus.
And the final Rest is just around the corner. But if our Sabbath Rest is found in our Saviour it is seen in our values.