General Assembly Roundup

My thoughts on this year’s GA are not going to be comprehensive, as I was in Overtures Committee, which met for quite a long while simultaneous to the floor of GA itself. I missed the entirety of the Review of Presbytery Records report, for example. However, many of the most important things happened in Overtures this year.

The Overtures Committee (hereafter OC) recommended that GA answer Overture 1 (concerning setting up a mini-SJC for presbyteries) in the negative. There was quite a lot of discussion about this, but the problems with it were just too much. I am against the principle of having any commission being unaccountable to the presbytery that commissions it. I do not regard complaints as constituting full accountability, since complaints have to work against quite a lot of inertia in order to gain traction. The GA went with the OC’s recommendation.

Overtures 2 and 9, concerning the recreation clause, also got quite a lot of discussion, which got a bit heated in the OC. The OC decided, in the end, that our system was not broken, and thus recommended a negative response, which the GA adopted.

Overture 3 (concerning the baptismal vows) also foundered upon the recognition that the language of “dedication” was already covenantal in nature, when one considers the context in which it comes (do you know any Baptist who would be comfortable with BCO 56?). GA followed the committee’s recommendation.

Overtures 4-6 (presbytery boundary overtures) came through other committees besides OC, and they were approved (which means that my presbytery will be multiplying into three presbyteries as of January of 2016).

Overture 7 (concerning compelling a TE to testify) generated a lot of discussion both in the OC and on the floor of GA. The Kuyperian influence seemed rather strong, as quite a few people rather whole-sale imported civil judicial categories into the church (including fifth amendment rights). The vote in the committee was fairly strong on the amended version (which would have narrowed the cases in view to doctrinal cases). However, on the floor, the amended version was narrowly defeated (by about 22 votes, if I remember rightly). This despite the fact that TE David Coffin was the originator of the motion, and argued quite eloquently in favor of it. I think the overture should have passed. We have to be open anyway about what we believe.

In RPR, we won some and lost some. The most important one was won. Philadelphia Presbytery was cited for an exception of substance on their ordaining a man who wasn’t sure that the NT fully excluded women from the church offices. As I understand it, both the man and his church have left for a more liberal denomination. This exception was passed by a rather wide margin.

We lost the Westminster Presbytery vote, and they will have to answer next year’s GA for including language in their standing rules excluding theistic evolution from being an acceptable view.

Eastern Pennsylvania was also lost, concerning the man who had a very FV-sounding exception on paedocommunion (he first stated his difference in such a way as to include all the benefits of salvation to the baptized; on further reflection, he revised his views to state that some of the benefits of the Lord’s Supper accrue to all the members of the visible church, which is not a significant improvement).

The most exhausting thing about GA was the personal resolution offered by TE Sean Lucas and TE Ligon Duncan III on racial reconciliation (the OC spent at least 6 grueling hours on it!). There can be no doubt that this is a timely issue, and a very serious one, given the recent riots in various places in the US. The main issue in the debate hinged on whether the PCA ought to repent now of its racial sins in a less-than-perfect manner, or wait a year and perfect the language and accuracy of the language (and put some wheels on it, so that practical steps might be taken). The African-American Presbyterian Fellowship was not entirely in unison on this issue, thought it seemed that the majority who spoke favored waiting a year, primarily for the practical reasons. Another issue was how the personal resolution came to the floor (skipping the local session and presbytery levels). A more considered and thorough document could be forthcoming if various presbyteries get in the act for next year. Almost the last thing in the GA was a season of prayer for racial reconciliation that lasted well over an hour.

My thoughts on this are a bit mixed. On the one hand, I hate racism with a passion. All people are made in God’s image, and there is no such thing as a second-class citizen among God’s elect. On the other hand, I wonder if we are reacting too strongly to many impulses in the culture that would make white people feel guilty simply for being of the same color as people who have oppressed African-Americans in the past. The personal resolution called on the PCA to confess its sins in its complicity with those who opposed the Civil Rights movement. This was a bit strange to me, since the PCA was not in existence at the time. There are undoubtedly some churches and men in the PCA who were around then who have something of which they must repent. And I have no problem acknowledging that there are such churches and such men in the PCA, and that they need to repent. However, the fact that I am in the same denomination as some of them does not automatically make me guilty of the same sins, any more than I am guilty of teaching theistic evolution, simply because some in the PCA are doing so. I will write more about Daniel 9 in relationship to Ezekiel 18 later, as it really deserves its own post.

On a more personal note, my family came with me this time (7 people in a small hotel room makes our home seem absolutely humongous now!), and I was shocked to discover that I had more energy every day, not less. It was terrific family time that we had, especially in the pool.

Overtures 2 and 9 to the PCA GA

North Texas Presbytery and the Tennessee Valley Presbytery have both overtured the PCA GA to establish a study committee regarding the Sabbath. The issue is about the “no recreation” clause. In the minds of these presbyteries, so many men are coming who have a difference with the Westminster Standards on this issue, that the presbyteries think we should change our standards.

In one way, this is both understandable and laudable. I mean that both of these presbyteries are concerned with confessional fidelity, and feel uncomfortable in dealing with this issue so much today. Further, I don’t have any intrinsic problem with changing the standards, if we think there is a more biblical option on a particular issue (I agree with all three of the changes made in the American version of the WS, for instance).

On the other hand, I am wondering if there aren’t several misconceptions about the Puritan view of the Sabbath. It seems to me that our normal view of the Puritan Sabbath is that it is exactly like that of Almanzo Wilder’s father (in the Little House on the Prairie series), who wouldn’t let his sons do anything except sit quiet all afternoon and read the Bible. The example that most candidates use is “tossing around a football with my son in the backyard on Sunday afternoon.” Folks, anyone with small children will recognize that there are certain works of necessity (Ha!) that have to happen if the children are going to be able to pay attention to the evening service (actually, what’s that?). Ask yourself a simple question: will this activity be conducive to worship? This is the real question that needs to be answered.

In terms of granting the exception, it seems clear to me that different presbyteries have a widely differing spread on this issue. Some presbyteries have almost all of their guys taking this exception. Others have almost no one taking the exception. My question is a simple one: why do these presbyteries think that our current system is broken? That is what has not been made clear in my mind.

I have published an article on the “no recreation” clause in the Westminster Standards, defending it on biblical grounds. It was published in the Confessional Presbyterian Journal. The editor, Chris Coldwell, has graciously made this article available in the light of these two overtures in the PCA GA.

Legalism or Law-loving?

It is nearly impossible these days even to mention the word “law” without being accused of legalism. Certainly, any promotion of actually, you know, keeping the law is out of bounds (sports pun intentional here). Of course, that means that we have to shove many biblical passages under the rug, most notably the entirety of Psalm 119. How can David say that he loves the law?

The essence of the law is love. If more people got this through their thick skulls, there might be a good deal less antinomianism. We love love, but we hate law (and therefore we wind up not doing very much loving, either, because we have a completely wrong view of what love is!). This is a contradiction, my friends. How did Jesus summarize the law? Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Traditionally, that passage has been interpreted as Jesus’ summary of the entire moral law. What we cannot escape, biblically speaking, is the plain old fact that the law reveals God’s own character. Hate the law, hate the Lawgiver. Antinomians hate God when they hate His law.

I very much enjoy watching sports…on Saturday. I have no animus against sports per se, although I agree with Mark Jones entirely that there are some very big, fat sports idolatries going on in America right now. If you are contemplating watching the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, please, please read Mark Jones’s article on the matter first. You’ll be glad you did.

Sabbath Reflection

I found this in Joseph Caryl’s commentary on Job, volume 3, p. 309:

He hath nowhere to rest, who hath not Christ to rest upon: he is always out of the way, who is not in Him, Who is the way (spelling and capitilization modernized).

Recent P&R Books I Have Received

I have received a number of books from P&R for review purposes, and I’d like to say a few words about them. The Bavinck biography deserves its own post, so I will wait on that one a tad.

Almost deserving of its own post also is the Festschrift for Al Groves. I loved him dearly. He was one of those people who gets his way into your heart and won’t let go. However, it was often almost unconsciously done. I was far more affected by his death than I thought I would be. I was very happy to see a volume come out in memory of him. His contributions to scholarship are also more on the hidden side. He was a wizard with computers, and was a clearing house for information on the new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible (the Biblia Hebraica Quinta). So, I commend this series of essays, written by colleagues and students who loved him.

Most of these sermons are available in other formats (although some are occasional sermons for Easter). However, it is very nice to have them all together in one place on one topic, especially if you are trying to find help on the resurrection for your sermons. Anything Boice writes is worth reading.

This book has a very intriguing message. By our beliefs and by our actions, we often treat Jesus as less than He is. The picture on the front is a dog-tag with the title of the book on it, a very clever idea. And the writing itself is also clever. Consider the title of the chapter “Yawning in the Presence of a Mighty God,” a chapter on complacency in worship. This is a book to give to Christians who have grown up in the Christian world, since they are the ones most susceptible to this kind of sin. Prepare to be shocked again by how big our God is.

The cross of Christ is always the most astounding thing about the Christian faith. Rather than sentimentalize it, we should revel in its sheer “foolishness.” For the “foolishness” of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. We should not marvel that God is just. We should instead marvel that God is merciful, even to worms like us.

There are several good books on parenting that have come out recently. This book re-orients our parenting back to the central truths of the Gospel. This book reminds us that, instead of being overwhelmed at the enormity of the task (which is very easy to do!), we should overwhelmed by the centrality of the Gospel. If we do that, we will have all the resources of God’s grace to combat the forces of evil that seek to undermine the family.

The focus of this book is different, in that it looks at all the different stages of growth, and analyzes how parents can address the heart issues of their children. This book is heavily dependent (healthily so, in my opinion!) on the book by Tedd Tripp. Highly recommended for those seeking help on a particular stage of childhood development. There is an especially good chapter on the situation of children who rebel in major ways “When Things Don’t Go As Planned.”

Picking up where the previous book left off, what about parents of adults? To date, I have rarely, if ever, seen a complete book devoted to the parents of adults, and how to handle adult offspring. That’s where this book comes in very handy, indeed. I would also strongly recommend it to pastors who don’t have adult children, but need to have some help in counseling parents of adults. I love the title: “You Never Stop Being a Parent.” All too often, parents of adults simply let go entirely. Obviously the relationship is different, but how can parents of adults help without interfering? This book helps us navigate these difficult waters.

A book sorely needed today is one that seeks to expose and counteract our modern age’s obsession with materialism and greed. It is worth clicking through to look at the cover, which is a not-so-subtle reference to the glass empty or glass full, a matter of Gospel perspective. Barcley relies heavily on the definitive Puritan treatment of the subject, as he should. In fact, you can think of this book as an update of Burroughs.

The entire series “Basics of the Faith” are good things to have on your church book table to hand out to people. The one I received was the little booklet on belief in God. In our day, where the new atheism is gaining quite a militant public hearing, we need all the help we can get on this, and not just for pastors, but also the people in the pew need to hear why these views are wrong.

Lastly, but not least, this book on eschatology does such a wonderful job of bringing the subject into the realm of the practical. The volume is solidly Amillenial, and argues for a present understanding of “these last days.” For pastors, I would particularly direct them to Richard Phillips’s essay on counseling those who are about to die, and the bereaved. But all the essays are important and needed, particularly since pastoral treatments of eschatology seem to be a bit rare. If there are any out there who do not believe that eschatology can be practical, then read this book. You will revise your opinion, I assure you.

The Sabbath and Salvation History

It struck me today that there are broad connections between the Sabbath and the entirety of redemptive history. We will take as our starting point the magnificent contribution of Geerhardus Vos to our understanding of the Sabbath, when he said that the Covenant of Works was nothing other than an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. Just as God worked for six days and rested the seventh, so also Adam was work for the probationary period, and then enter into his eternal rest. Adam had a weekly reminder of this probationary period in the Sabbath. So far, so Vos.

The thing that struck me was that the change of day from seventh day of the week to the first day of the week can then be connected to the change of covenant from works to grace. Now, here we have to be careful, since we can in no way imply that salvation was by works in the Old Testament. Nor are we positing a dispensational understanding of the different eras of history. The Covenant of Grace began in the Garden of Eden after the Fall. However, what we can say is that Adam was told “Do this, and live.” We can expand the sentence to say “Do this for six ‘days,’ and then you will enter your seventh ‘day’ of rest, which is eternal life.” The Sabbath is a weekly sign of that Covenantal promise affixed to the Covenant of Works. OT believers thus lived in a time when the Covenant of Grace was administered in type and shadow, not in its fullness. This might have some implications for the debate on whether the Covenant of Works was republished at Sinai. I would think this Sabbatical principle connected to covenant theology does support a form of republication at Sinai (especially given the rationale for Sabbath-keeping which we find in the Ten Commandments in Exodus, which hearkens back to the time of probation in the garden; and, the people did not celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week yet, since the Covenant of Works had yet to be fixed by Christ. The Sabbath pointed towards Christ’s work as bringing true rest). However, just trying to think through how that would work is making my head spin.

The change of day from seventh day to first day at the very least parallels the shift to the time of Gospel, when we hear “Live, and do this.” To be more specific, the connection goes like this: Jesus has now accomplished the fulfillment of the Covenant of Works, and so now the order of events is reversed. Instead of “Do this and live,” we now hear “Live and do this.” Expanding the sentence yields the following formulation: “Celebrate your eternal life on the day of the week on which Jesus obtained it for you, and then work in the light of that salvation afterwards.” Instead of work coming before rest, rest now comes before work.

Furthermore, there is a telescoping relationship of type and antitype in the OT and in the NT. In the OT, the weekly Sabbath telescopes into the seventh year Sabbath for the land, which in turn telescopes into the Jubilee, a pattern of seven times seven. The last implied link is eternity. In the NT, the beginning of this eternity has erupted into time with the beginning of the Sabbath rest obtained for us by Jesus. In the NT, there are elements of “already” and “not yet” with regard to the Sabbath, just as in the OT. The difference is that there is a lot more “already” in the NT than in the OT. We celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in order to celebrate the new life and salvation we have in Christ Jesus. However, we still have not entered into our bodily eternal rest, even though our souls have, as Christians.

Seventeen Points of Denominational Renewal, part 1

Rev. Jon Payne’s motion, which became the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s motion, which was adopted at our 38th General Assembly, has seventeen points related to true denominational renewal. This resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. I’d like to post a few thoughts on these excellent points. Our denomination has passed it, and therefore we should give it due weight.

The first five points relate to the worship of God. They are preaching, sacraments, Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, and private, family, and corporate worship of God. Let’s take them one at a time.

Preaching is God’s ordained way of getting the Word to people. The Reformed dictum was that the preached Word of God is the Word of God. This generalization is understood to be qualified, of course, by the caution that the preaching must be accurate to what the text says in order to be the Word of God. Nevertheless, this qualification does not take the teeth out of the equation. This preaching, as Payne notes, must be “exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching.” Notice that this is first in position, as taking pride of place, as it should. Recovery of this will result in the recovery of all the other points. For the rest of the points constitutes a great deal of the whole counsel of God, which is indeed what should be preached.

Sacraments are efficacious. Notice the presence of the word “efficacious” in the second paragraph. While we will not go Federal Vision on this issue, nevertheless, we need to remember that the Sacraments are ordinary means of grace. What kind of grace is conveyed to worthy recipients is a discussion for another time (it’s been discussed ad nauseum on this blog!). The point is that the signs are not empty signs. In other words, we do need a high view of the efficacy of the Sacraments. We need to use them as God has ordained. It is very easy to forget them, and it is also very easy to use them improperly. The Larger Catechism has a great deal to say about how we should use the Sacraments. We would do well to remind ourselves of these truths.

The Sabbath is becoming much neglected these days. I can hardly count the number of young men coming out of seminaries these days who take exception to the Catechism on the Fourth Commandment. They usually go further than this and deny that the purpose of the day is worship, and not some kind of idleness. I have even heard people denying that work is forbidden on the Sabbath day. Now, some of these men have actually done all the research into why and how the Westminster divines wrote what they wrote on the subject of the Sabbath. However, most of the time, they take an exception there only because it is fashionable to do so, and they haven’t a clue as to why the divines wrote what they did. They have done no exegesis of Isaiah 58:13-14. Therefore, they often have no clue as to why the “no recreation” clause is in the Larger Catechism.

The Regulative Principle is also coming under attack. Our Reformed forefathers would be incredulous, to tell you the truth, at some of the attacks on this doctrine that have come up within supposedly Reformed circles. Outright denial of this doctrine, or complete redefinition, is commonplace nowadays. The Regulative Principle is quite simply this: if the Bible has not commanded us to do a certain thing in worship, then we may not do it. If the Bible doesn’t mention it, then it’s forbidden. While this is stated negatively here, it actually has an extremely positive meaning: we are not bound in our conscience to do anything in worship invented by man. Humanity has no right to bind the conscience. Only the Word of God binds our conscience. Sometimes the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of justification receive so much of the limelight that we forget that the RPW can really be described as the third great principle of the Reformation alongside the other two of Scripture and justification. Probably the reason why it is not viewed that way is because the Lutherans do not accept this principle.

Fifthly, private, family, and public worship of God is what we were made to do. This is our highest purpose in life. It is more important than work, play, entertainment, eating, drinking, sports, arts, education, or even evangelism. John Piper understands this, which is why he said, “Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. Evangelism exists for the purpose of our being God’s instruments to create worshipers of God. That’s the goal of evangelism. And we need to worship God on all these levels (private, family, and public) because each of these levels defines who we are in relation to God. God’s Word speaks to us on these three levels, and so also must we speak back to God on these three levels.

My Favorite Book on the Sabbath

This book well deserves to be reprinted, and Christian Focus is to be commended for so doing. It combines a Puritan view of the Sabbath with extremely practical help on how to make it work, even with small children! I commend it to all readers.

The Importance of the Sabbath Principle for Justification

I have loved this quotation from Vos as soon as I read it:

Before all other important things, therefore, the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed…The Sabbath brings this principle of the eschatological structure of history to bear upon the mind of man after a symbolical and a typical fashion. It teaches its lesson through the rhythmical succession of six days of labour and one ensuing day of rest in each successive week. Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from, redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the soteric. The so-called ‘Covenant of Works’was nothing but an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. (from Biblical Theology, p.  140).

It just struck me recently that the Covenant of Works functions as a Sabbatical principle because of the work-rest paradigm of the Covenant of Works. As God had rested from His labors, so also was Adam going to rest from his labors, had he obeyed.

This eschatological Sabbath-structure of the Covenant of Works plays also into justification and the Covenant of Grace, in that Christ has done the work while we get the rest of eternal life. Of course, this is only true in an “already” sense. There still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, which is why the Sabbath has not been abrogated. But the Sabbath character of the Covenant of Works is why all attempts to make Adam’s obtaining of eternal life solely by grace through faith fall to the ground, whereas Christ’s obtaining of that Sabbath rest for us (in an already/not yet schema) is the fulfillment of the Sabbatical principle of the Covenant of Works in the Covenant of Grace.

Lord of the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8


Audio Version

“Come to me, and I will give you rest.” So says Jesus. The burden of Jesus is light, and His yoke is easy, He says. And yet, sometimes we feel as if the burden should be heavier. There are some Christians who would prefer a life of self-accusation, self-burdening, self-atoning, self-salvation. Such people are likely to add to the law of God. The Pharisees were like that. Jesus will accuse them of placing impossibly heavy burdens on the people without lifting a single finger to help. One of those heavy burdens is the case-law that built up around the Sabbath. Against all the laws that the Pharisees and rabbis made so that the Sabbath would not be violated, Jesus tells us that He is Lord of the Sabbath, and that the purpose of Sabbath is not to impinge on human needs, as if people could not satisfy their hunger on the Sabbath. Rather, the purpose of the Sabbath is to worship God. Let me repeat that: the purpose of the Sabbath is to worship God. However, the worship of God does not mean that we starve ourselves, nor does it mean that we exercise no mercy towards people in distress. Let’s look at what the Sabbath means, and then look at how the Pharisees were adding to the Sabbath law, and lastly, how Jesus frees the Sabbath from all the extra commands of the Pharisees.

The Sabbath was instituted at creation. On the seventh day of creation, the Lord rested, or ceased from His work. Therefore, the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, like marriage and like work. Those are the three creation ordinances: Sabbath, marriage, and work. The Sabbath did not come into existence on Mount Sinai. Of course, the Ten Commandments are still a guide for the Christian life. But in no sense can we say that the Sabbath is only for Old Testament Israel. The Sabbath is for all humanity. In the Old Testament, there are two reasons given for why Israel was to observe the Sabbath day. The first reason is creation, as we have already seen. As God rested on the seventh day, so also the Israelites were rest on the seventh day. In Exodus, that is the reason given in the Ten Commandments themselves. In Deuteronomy, the reason is a different, but related reason. In Deuteronomy 5, the second telling of the law, the reason for keeping the Sabbath is that they were redeemed from the land of Egypt. They were slaves under the Egyptians, and had no time to rest, and no time to worship God. God redeemed them from the land of Egypt precisely so that they could rest from work on the seventh day and worship God. These are the two reasons for keeping the Sabbath: creation and redemption. As we saw in our call to worship from Isaiah 53, the Sabbath is for worship, and it is not for us to do any old thing we want to do. Some people might say, “well, the Sabbath is Old Testament, and we are in the New Testament, so the Sabbath law does not apply.” If that is true, then it is the only one of the Ten Commandments that does not apply any more. Is that really a reasonable conclusion to draw? Where does Jesus say that the Sabbath no longer applies? Jesus spends 14 entire verses talking about the Sabbath right in this very chapter. Would He have done that for a law that was about to become obsolete? Indeed, Jesus speaks of the Sabbath commandment just as much, if not more, than any of the other commandments. But there are further reasons for believing that the Sabbath is still in effect for Christians. We said that the two reasons for keeping Sabbath are creation and redemption. Well, the Bible speaks of the work of Christ as being a new creation, and a new redemption. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation. And, of course, Christ’s work is obviously that of a Redeemer. Just as God freed Israel from the land of Egypt, so that the Israelites would not have to work so hard, so also did God free us from our Egypt of sin and death, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. So Jesus fulfills the creation and redemption reason for keeping the Sabbath. That does not mean that the Sabbath is ended. It means that the day has changed from Saturday to Sunday.

In the Old Testament, there was a telescoping Sabbath pattern that points to the eternal Sabbath rest. There is the weekly Sabbath. Then, every 7 years, there was a Sabbath rest for the land, and then every 7 times 7 years (49 years), there was a Jubilee of freedom from servitude. These Sabbaths telescoped into each other, and opened out into the eternal Sabbath rest that Paul speaks of in Hebrews 4. There still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, says Paul in Hebrews. Ultimately, what the Sabbath means is eternal rest from our labors. Every time we celebrate the Sabbath Day, we are now looking forward to the eternal rest that comes when we get to heaven. Sunday Sabbath, then, is supposed to be a bit of heaven experienced beforehand. It is the sacred brought into the realm of time. However, there are lots of things that get in the way of our enjoying this day, just as there were lots of things that the Pharisees put in the way to keep that day from being a foretaste of heaven.

The Pharisees had 39 activities that were forbidden to do on the Lord’s Day. You could not carry something on the Sabbath Day, unless you were wearing it. You could not travel for very long. You could not reap, winnow, or cook on the Sabbath. And that, of course, is the source of their objections to what the disciples were doing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees did not have a problem with the disciples picking heads of grain from a field that did not belong to them. This was already allowed under Old Testament law. The problem was that they were doing these things on the Sabbath. The disciples were harvesting grain, and they were getting rid of the husks, and they were making a meal out of this grain. That was against their man-made laws.

Notice that Jesus never says that the disciples were actually breaking the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus argues that hunger is a legitimate reason to “break” the Sabbath. Hunger is not a sin. Hunger is something that makes eating a necessity. Jesus uses the example of David and the showbread. That showbread was only for the priests to eat. No one else was allowed to eat it. However, since David and his men were going about the Lord’s work, and they were fainting from hunger, the priest gave them the showbread, or consecrated bread. Necessity and the preservation of human life “trumps” other laws.

However, a word is necessary here about “necessity.” All too often, we make up things that are “necessary” so that we can break the Sabbath. We just “have” to go to the Hague Cafe, because we are tired. What did your fathers and grandfathers do when the Hague Cafe wasn’t open? What did they do when there was no cafe open for them to force other people to work on the Sabbath? They planned ahead. With a little planning, you can make Sunday very easy. Make a double batch on Saturday night of whatever you are making for supper. That way, Sunday is easy. You just have leftovers. Keep the meal simple otherwise. These are suggestions, of course. No one is going to make a rule about that. But that Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest from our normal labors, and is for worship. Now, some people might think that it is hypocritical of me to say that going to the Hague Cafe makes people work on Sabbath, and so breaks it, but then have potlucks on Sunday that make our people work. However, there are two differences between the two situations. The first is that the Hague Cafe involves people working for money, doing business as usual, whereas a potluck does not involve that. Secondly, a potluck is doing the Lord’s work of fostering fellowship among believers. Plus, when many people work together, is it really that much more work than eating a dinner at home? Therefore, I do not believe that they are the same kind of thing.

The next example Jesus gives to the Pharisees is that of the temple priests themselves. They work on the Sabbath, because they are doing the work of God, and they are doing the work of worship. They “work” on the Sabbath, and yet do not break the Sabbath. So, even if the disciples were “breaking” the Sabbath, Jesus is telling the Pharisees that it is fine for the disciples to do so, since He Himself is greater than the Sabbath, and is indeed Lord of the Sabbath. Incidentally, this proves that a minister is not breaking the Sabbath when he preaches on Sunday. He is leading the people in worship, just as the Old Testament priests did. Now, I make every effort to have all the reading and writing done before Sunday, so that all that is left is to preach and lead worship. But occasionally, necessity, in the form of many interruptions during the week, will force me to finish the work on Sunday. That is no breaking of the Lord’s Sabbath, since it is the Lord’s work.

The last piece of evidence that Jesus gives is the purpose of the law, which is mercy, not sacrifice. The Pharisees were not being merciful to the disciples, and not allowing them to eat these picked heads of grain (which, when you think about it, is such a small thing!). They were more interested in the letter of the law, than in the heart of the law, which was mercy. Jesus will go on to heal a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath as an act of mercy.

To sum up what we have been saying then: the Sabbath is for worship. On this day, we cease what we usually do during the week in order to worship God. That is the purpose. Everything we do on Sunday should be conducive to worship. Sometimes that means taking a nap, so that you can be awake for the evening worship service. Sometimes it means activities for children, so that they can sit quietly and reverently in the worship service. It means fellowship with believers, talking about the sermon and how it can apply to our lives. There are two categories of works that are lawful on the Sabbath: one category is the works of necessity, and again, that does not mean those things which we think are necessary, but really are not. It means those things which are truly necessary, like feeding hungry mouths, as Jesus here proves. And secondly, as we will see next time, acts or works of mercy, like healing, or visiting the sick and shut-ins. This is calling the Sabbath a delight.

« Older entries