Sermon for Sunday, September 5th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 31:12-18 ESV] 12 And the LORD said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'” 18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
New Testament reading:
[1Jo 5:1-5 ESV] 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
[Jhn 14:15-17 ESV] 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
[Exo 20:7-11 ESV] 7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus gave a double-answer; that the commandments could be summarized in two headings:
1: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind
2: You shall love your neighbor as yourself
The first summarizes the vertical commandments (between God and man) and the second summarizes horizontal commandments (those between man and man).
Last week we looked at the first 2 commandments, both of them vertical. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me and thou shalt not make any graven images.
Today we’ll round out the vertical commandments, looking at commandments 3 and 4.
As you heard in the OT reading, the commandments were written on two stones. And it is often thought that 5 commandments were written on the first stone, and 5 commandments were written on the second stone. If this were the case, you might think that there would be 5 vertical commandments for the first stone and 5 horizontal commandments for the second stone. Such a division might help to give due justice to that great vertical commandment – to love the Lord your God. But, in fact, only 4 of the 10 commandments are vertical. And we simple don’t know—for the Bible doesn’t tell us—how many were written on each stone. There are those who even argue that all 10 commandments were written on the first stone, and all 10 commandments were written on the second stone just as two parties to a treaty would each have a copy of the same document. Such arguments are interesting but not definitive.
Well, the important thing is not the numbering or the division of the commandments but rather the meaning of them.
So, in continuing to learn how to love the Lord our God we’ll look todays at commandments 3 and 4.
3: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
4: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
I. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain
I’ve heard it said that the 5th commandment is the only one with a promise. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
But notice that the 3rd commandments is the only one with a warning! You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Failing to obey the commandments can bring immediate disaster upon oneself from the repercussions common simply in the world. If you murder someone, you will be a fugitive. If you commit adultery you will ruin your marriage. These are punishments common to the world; whether one is a Christian or not.
But when you take the Lord’s name in vain, there isn’t an earthly warning. Yes, perhaps you’ll lose friends who are believers and don’t want to associate with a blasphemer. But the punishment for breaking this commandment is ultimately from the Lord. The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. And the wrath of God should bring far greater fear to our minds than the wrath of man. While man can harm you in the world, the punishment for sinning against the Lord is eternal.
But what does in mean to take the name of the Lord in vain?
Broadly, this commandment is a prohibition against misusing God’s name. [REPEAT: a prohibition against misusing God’s name] So it can be about using the Lord’s name in vain, as in cursing something or someone with God’s name. Or it can be other forms of misuse.
One of these forms is alluded to in the Gospels. Consider that when Jesus claimed to be God it was called blasphemy, a breaking of the third commandment. Now, of course, Jesus is divine, and so he was not blaspheming. But the principle remains: had another person called himself God he would be breaking the third commandment. So it is a commandment prohibiting not only the speaking ill of Gods name, but also the improper ascription of something or someone as divine.
When God’s name or reputation is dragged through the dirt, the third commandment is broken. You may remember some years ago — and the world tries to shock us often, though our tolerance seems to grow more and more — some years ago there were art exhibits of a religious nature and the artist added dung to the paintings. Such treatment of the Lord, or even the Biblical material (which is His word) is a breaking of the third commandment. We could summarize this point in saying that sacrilege is prohibited in this commandment.
Another way that the name of God can also be misused is in false prophecy. When a person claims, in the name of God, that some event will happen, and it is does not in fact happen, it is clear that the third commandment has been broken. You should not claim something as a message from God when it is not in fact a message from God.
Then so also the third commandment is broken in giving a false oath. God says in Leviticus 19:12 – “And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God.” This is a Hebrew parallelism, saying the same thing twice with slight alteration. And it shows that false oaths do profane the name of God.
Sometimes some profaning was done intentionally. In the ancient world, intentional attacks against a deity were made. One person or nation might curse the God of another nation. Perhaps today a person might still intentional invoke God’s name and scatter curses upon others. But in our world, blasphemy is far more likely to be casual.
This casual blasphemy that I’m speaking of are those words uttered when you stub your toe. And I might ask if this is sin, but we all know that is. So, perhaps another question is in order … is casual blasphemy as bad as blatant intentional blasphemy?
The confession tells us also that not all are equally heinous. But we know that all sins are sins and deserving of the wrath of God. So we should avoid all sins. We should seek to clean up our language and abide by the law of God because we love the Lord.
Our language simply does not need blasphemy or profanity. And avoiding such language is not merely a sign of sanctification but of education. It is not merely the righteous who avoid foul language, but the educated. Cursing often is the default for those whose vocabularies are limited. But we are given the gift of language and have the obligation to speak truthfully; having no need for foul language.
All of my favorite comedians are “clean.” They have mastered the telling of jokes without swearing and without blasphemy. And they are better for it.
We are better for it as well.
So let us conclude on the 3rd commandment in saying: We show God that we love Him when we use our language well.
Now the 4th commandment is the final one of the vertical commandments.
We are to the “Love the Lord your God,” in remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
II. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
On the one side this is a commandment that benefits us – the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But it is yet a vertical commandment—showing our Love for God—in that on this day of rest we also worship God.
Consider having a family member you love deeply, and you only get a chance to see them once a week. Would you not show up? What would that family member think if you didn’t show up? Would they be distraught, saying “I wonder if they love me?” Now, how about the Lord your God? He has called you to a weekly rest and worship here among the fellowship of the people of God. And Jesus says “the first and greatest commandment is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” With that in mind, can you fathom putting the worship of the Lord second behind anything else?
What I recommend is this. Whenever someone invites you to something on Sunday, say that you have a prior commitment. Your calendar should be booked 52 Sundays a year. These are holidays, holy days, kept holy and separate for your rest from the busy world and for worship of the Lord whom you love.
9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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.
Notice how this commandment includes the whole household. No one is to work. It is a rest for all. From this we should conclude that it is not right for us to take the day off while asking other people to work for us. This means, if you can avoid it, you should not conduct business on a Sunday. You should not eat at restaurants, or purchase groceries, or do anything else that requires people to work that is not absolutely necessary.
And necessary exceptions have been understood in Presbyterian history. Certain businesses – hotels, even some restaurants for those who are traveling may be open. And today, there are other business that must run 24/7. The power company, the water company, police, nurses. These are necessary on all days. But we do a disservice to God and to ourselves when we treat Sunday as an ordinary day rather than a holy day.
Do what you are able to make this day separate from the others.
The Sabbath, one commentator (Douma) says, “was a commemoration of liberation.” God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Each subsequent week as they take a sabbath rest it is a reminder of their freedom to do so. The slave does not get to rest, but the free man is blessed with that freedom to take a day off. So it is no wonder that Jesus says “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” As we rest from work we should also praise our God who freed us from the slavery of sin. The freedom from physical slavery is now a freedom from spiritual slavery. The shackles of sin have been removed. Praise the Lord.
This basis for this 4th commandment is found in God’s plan in creation itself:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Everything was at rest on the seventh day of creation.
This is one of those places in Scripture where the creation account is assumed as true. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth. Notice that, it doesn’t say “for in six billion years” God made the heaven and earth. It is six days. This shows God’s power; he can do what he wants. And it sets the example for our rest. God rested on the 7th day not because He was tired, but to set this as an everlasting commandment for the good of man.
And it is a good thing indeed, to take a break. I’ve frequently said that a hiker can hike more miles in 6 days than in 7. This is one of those paradoxical statements. Why can a person hike more in 6 days than in 7? Because if you hike 7 days, and 7 days, and 7 days again each and every week you will diminish your performance. Each day you’ll hike at a slower and slower pace. But if you take a day off in 7 then you can hike with full strength. So it is with whatever job you have. If you work every day you’ll burn out. Rest is necessary. And some people even have made idols out of their jobs, never taking a break. But the Lord commands that you worship Him, not your job. Thus it is so important to let all things happen in their right time. There is a time for work, and there is a time for worship and rest. And the Lord has set those times for us. 6 days you shall labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath day, a holy day for the Lord you love.
III. Loving the Lord
We love the Lord our God in obeying his commandments.
In John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
There is no ambiguity about how we are to love God. The Scriptures lay it out clearly. We show our love for God in obeying him.
John writes in 1 John 5:2-3 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Indeed the commandments are for our own good.
It is because the Lord loves us that He gives us these commandments.
And it is because the Lord loves us that even though we break these commandments, He forgives us in Jesus Christ.
In 1 Timothy 1:13 Paul says “I was a blasphemer.” Paul, the Apostle, had broken the 3rd commandment. But he was forgiven in Christ.
“formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into he world to save sinner, of whom I am the foremost.”
It is interesting here that Paul doesn’t say “I WAS the foremost sinner” but he says “I am (present tense) the foremost sinner.”
So great is the Lord’s love that he forgives time and time again, even though we break the 3rd commandment and the 4th commandment and all the other commandments. Ultimately our love for God does not pass the test. We cannot obey the commandments fully. And so in God’s plan —loving us despite our sins—he sent a sinless Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, to the cross to die for our iniquities so that He (God) sees us as righteous.
This Gospel of Jesus Christ brings all the more glory to the NAME of God whom we worship. Because of the Gospel we should strongly desire to PRAISE the name of God (not to despise it or misuse it) and we should strongly desire to WORSHIP God (not ignore Him). For without the Gospel we would be hopeless. But because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ we are given a new hope and new license on life; living according to his commandments and showing our love of the Lord.