“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).
Rules are given for a reason. We may not always like them but as we saw last week, rules are good. It is no different this week as we look at rule #2.
The rule this week—don’t worship fake gods, they’re fake—just kinda makes sense. We can just see that it makes sense. We may not at first see, however, how common it is for us to disregard this rule. We disregard it all the time. Even though we may not even know it.
This rule comes with caution. If we don’t listen there’s trouble. So, we’ll look at the warning. But, on the positive side, it also comes with a promise of blessing to those who keep it.
1) The Rule (v. 4)
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
What’s the big deal? I mean, I get not bowing. That seems weird. But why can’t week make stuff?
The Bible does not mean we can’t make things like painting, portraits, or sculptures. We know this because just a little bit later in Exodus God tells His people to make various things (e.g. Ex. 25:18-20, 33-34). The Bible means don’t make things that will lead you or someone else away from worshiping God, and worship Him in the right way, the way He has told us to worship Him.
As John Frame has said, “It is the misuse of an image that God condemns, not its existence or presence.”
God is invisible so we are not to try to make visible by making images of Him (cf. Deut. 4:15-19). God is living (e.g. Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10) so we can’t represent Him with something that is not. Unlike idols, for the one true God, “there is no assembly required.”
God is. He is that He is.
As Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
It is important that we worship God in the way He has told us to. For one reason, as Albert Mohler has said, “The wrong worship implies the wrong god.” It implies that He is not Lord of the universe. But He is. So, we must worship Him in the right way.
“And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3).
For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be looking at rules, the Ten Commandments. Yeah! Just what everyone wants to look at! Rules! I’m sure you’re giddy with delight.
Rules often have a bad reputation. They have for me in the past. Let me ask you though, have you heard of Thomas the Train? Thomas was a train. A blue train to be exact, and a happy train most of the time. But Thomas wanted to be free. He wanted to be free from the restrictions of the train track. He was unhappy because wanted to roam in the open countryside.
One day he got fed up. He made a break for it. He was going to go off the restrictive tracks once and for all! He was going to know freedom.
So, he did. He went of the tracks. He was finally free from the railroad tracks!
What do you think Thomas’ “freedom” was like?…
It was crushing. Literally, crushing. He couldn’t move. He was stuck.
He was somewhere where he wasn’t meant to be.
We often have…
Concern about Rules
We don’t like rules. But rules are good. Have you ever played the card game Mao? It’s a game with unspoken rules. It’s really hard to play because you don’t know the rules but get penalized when you break them. Rules are good because they keep things the way they’re supposed to be kept. They keep Thomas on the tracks so that he is free to come and go, free to be what he is supposed to be. It’s also good to know the rules so you’re not “penalized” for something you didn’t know.
To be honest with you I am convicted that I have not in my own life placed due emphasis on the Lord’s Day. So here I want to explore the Sabbath and what it means to us today.
Four major views on the subject:
First, the Seventh-Day Sabbath view. Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Seventh Day Baptists hold this view. This group gathers on Saturday for worship.
Second, the Christian Sabbath view. Edwards, Spurgeon, and a lot of other puritans held this position. They believed the 10 commandments are eternal moral laws and thus the 4th commandment still applies but they believed it applies to Sunday rather than Saturday. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, says the whole day should be spent in “the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Question 60).
Third, the Lord’s Day view. This is the view that I hold. Many of the people that hold this view are not very distinguishable from the Christian Sabbath view because of the way they live on Sunday.
In this view Old Testament regulations are obsolete (cf. Col. 2:16-17). However, believers follow the New Testament principles about the Lord’s Day. 1) Worship with other believers is the priority on the Lord’s Day. Believers are to gather together (Heb. 10:25) and it is observed from the New Testament when they gathered (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2), on Sunday-the Lord’s day, the day when Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead. 2) This group observes Sunday as a day for remembering the Lord. It is His day! They evaluate every activity in light of this truth. This day is reserved for extended worship of our great God.
Fourth, the Oblivious view. This is when Christians do not care and do not even consider what is and is not right to do on Sunday. This is where the majority of Christians are. However, it is also the worst place to be.
What does it mean for us today?
What does “honor the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” look like now (see Ex. 20:8-11)? It appears from Scripture and early church history that the Church began meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Sabbath, because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (See 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 20:7; Jn. 20:19 see also Matt. 28:1,6; Jn. 20:17; Lk. 24:45-47; Jn. 20:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Jn. 20;22; Acts 2:1-4 for other “first day of the week” passages). That is why the majority of Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This was truly a radical shift. Yet, of course, the shift came because of something far more radical, the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15).
So historically we see the surprising shift from gathered worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We also see that in Mark Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28 note context). What did Jesus mean? Can we just do away with the fourth commandment?
Jesus meant that Sabbath observance is not the end-all and be-all. The Sabbath is not an end in itself or the greatest good. It is designed to help, restore, and revive God’s people. The Sabbath is not to be legalistically observed like the Pharisees in the passage but neither is it to be disregarded.
Dr. Donald Whitney has said,
“Resting from work and worshiping God in prescribed ways on the Sabbath (Saturday) was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (Exo. 31:16-17). But it isn’t a sign of the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant Sabbath isn’t for New Covenant believers (Gal. 4:9-11). The Sabbath was a symbol, a “shadow . . . but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus Christ and His work is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. A person now enters the Sabbath rest by resting from trying to work his way to God and trusting in Christ’s work (Heb. 4:9-10). Thus we should read the Fourth Commandment with New Covenant, Christ-focused eyes.”
Ok, so we have a little bit of the context set. What does that mean for us? Does the fourth commandment still matter? Yes! All of the other commandments are still very vital, thou shall not kill is a good one. All of them are good ones. So, I think it is more a matter of how we keep it. Jesus did not say I am doing away with the Sabbath or the importance of the Sabbath. He said it was important, we need it, it is for us. Yet, that does not mean that we have to count how many steps we walk on the Sabbath to ensure that we are not working on it. However, it is important!
The Lord’s Day is a great privilege and not a burden. In fact, it is a great means of undeserved kindness to us. We must remember that God told us to honor the Sabbath, which I believe now is the Lord’s Day, not to burden us but to bless us. Often people talk about not doing anything on Sunday because it is wrong, yet I think it would be more accurate to carefully consider what we should do. We are exhorted to keep the Day holy; we are not exhorted to lounge around, though that is not necessarily wrong. I believe, however, that the Sabbath is meant for much more than just physical rest, though that for sure is a blessing which you will see if you’re at my house around 3pm on Sunday, yet what we need more is spiritual refreshment. We need the Words of life to feast upon. So yes, lounge around. But I greatly encourage you to lounge around with a Bible or a godly book. Make the Day holy!
A Few Practical Principles:
Lastly, a few practical principles for keeping the Lord’s Day holy (for myself as well!):
- Remember, the Lord’s Day is a blessing and a grace. We do not want to neglect that which God has blessed us. “Men honour God when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.”
- We must prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move in powerful ways, for the pastor, for the whole service. Pray for and examine your own life and confess sin. We prepare for so many things, should we not prepare to meet the LORD God in worship?! As J. I. Packer says, “An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent.”
- Public worship is central on the Lord’s Day. We must do what it takes to make it central. Go to bed early, wake up early, have clothes laid out and ready to go, etc. We make plans for other important things… we must also plan to make worship gathering central. It should be a priority (Heb. 10:25).
- Does your normal Lord’s Day use of time feel like Monday? Does it rob you of joy? How can you restructure your day to be refreshed in the Lord? At my house, for example, we often have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot so we have one less thing to distract us from worship.
- In regard to what is acceptable to do on the Lord’s Day, I think it is helpful to ask if it is necessary, is it an act of mercy, does it celebrate the Lord’s Day, and truly revive your soul?
- Though, the Lord’s Day is very important and very helpful we must avoid the pitfalls of legalism. I, for instance, have in the past had to miss church because of work. We should not make these decisions lightly. Individuals have to work out their particular convictions on their own based on Scripture.
 From class notes from Dr. Donald Whitney’s class “Personal Spiritual Disciplines.”
 J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, 252.
 Ibid., 253.