August 30, 2018 Chapel Service — Dr. Eric B. Watkins
Posted On September 04, 2018
Dr. Eric B. Watkins is pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Fla.
Thank you again for the invitation and if you would open up your Bibles with me to two texts; the first is Exodus 31, and then, from there we will turn over to Hebrews 10.
Last time I was here, I learned a humbling lesson because I could barely see, I’m becoming far-sighted at the young age of 46, so literally, it’s on. Would you please stand? I like to do that, that we might give our reverence for God’s written Word. And I’ll be reading from Exodus 31:12-18, and from there we will turn to Hebrews 10. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will endure forever. Now let us hear it that likewise we might heed it together:
And the Lord said to Moses, “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. 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. 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. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 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.’”
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.
Now please turn over to the book of Hebrews 10:19-24, where it says:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Thus for the reading of the Word of God. Let us pray together.
Oh, Lord our God, we thank you for your Word. It truly is a lamp for our feet and light for our footsteps. Apart from it, we stumble and fall in the darkness of this world and are overtaken by our sins and by the sins of others. But your Word is a light and it leads us safely to Christ. It gives us rest and hope in Him. It refreshes our soul. We pray now, that by the power of Your Holy Spirit, You be pleased to refresh us, encourage our hearts, and fill us with love for You, for Your Church, and the great things of God. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
I’d like to ask you this morning, as we get going, how healthy are you? One of the things that catches my attention is the fairly recent craze, or a strong interest, in health. It strikes me that more and more are people having a strong interest in their health. It’s probably not a bad thing all together. At least up where I live, you can see CrossFit gyms popping up almost everywhere. You see people striving more and more to lose weight. You can go to McDonalds now and order a yogurt parfait. That makes no sense to me. I don’t go to McDonalds for yogurt, I go to McDonalds for grease wrapped around carbs, washed down with sugar; that’s it, that’s why I go. That’s all I need when I go there. Similarly, Wendy’s now has, on its menu a Mediterranean salad with hummus— what planet are we on? People are interested in getting in shape. And generally speaking, there’s a lot of even social momentum to do that. When I was actually working on my first college degree, which is almost never mentioned in situations like this, which is kind of regrettable to me, but my first college degree is in Therapeutic Recreation. That’s why I’m such a fun Orthodox Presbyterian Minister. I actually have a degree in fun. But I actually have a degree in Therapeutic Recreation and for years worked as a physical fitness instructor, or trainer.
And one of things that impressed me is how often people would come into the gym and they wanted to get in shape. I kind of enjoyed helping beat people into shape. And yet, so often they wanted it the easy way, they’d say, “So, I want to get into shape, but I don’t want to have to work a lot. I don’t mind getting into a treadmill, but can I do while having a donut? Let’s make this a lot simpler, is there a way I can get 10-minute abs in about 2 minutes?” And you see this trend, of course, everyone wants some easier, quicker, nice, neat packaging way to be able to get into shape. But at the end of the day, there’s a real simple truth here, this is not deep or profound, but it’s probably pretty helpful. If you want to get into better shape, you don’t have to get a degree, it’s actually quite simple. If you want to get into better shape, now listen there’s two things you need to do, this is easy: eat less, exercise more. Now I will repeat that because for some reason people assume to think it’s more complicated than that and spend a lot of money. I’m going to save you tons of money, so just watch this one more time. If you want to get into better shape: eat less, exercise more.
Now as simple as it sounds, people don’t do that, but it’s probably good advice. In Exodus 31, God gives us very good, profound, yet simple advice regarding how to stay in spiritual shape. And just as much as it’s the reality that if you neglect your body, neglect exercise and diet, you will get out of physical shape, so also, Beloved, it is the case that if you neglect things like the Sabbath or Lord’s Day, your spiritual shape will decline, as well. This is what I preached on last Sunday regarding the Sabbath, because I can imagine what your life is like. I can image what the work is like, I can image what the pace is like, I can imagine what your weekdays are like, I can imagine what your weekends are like, and I can image the pressure that is put upon your Sunday or the Lord’s Day to turn a day of refreshing into another day of work. To stay, regrettably, on that treadmill, which leads to its own version of spiritual unhealth. So, we’re going to talk about what God’s Word has to say regarding the Sabbath command and again the question “How spiritually healthy are you?”
So, if you look at Exodus 31, it’s beautiful that the Sabbath command falls where it does. Now I should say that as we get into these waters, the Sabbath is always been an interesting subject to me. As Dr. Nichols mentioned, I came to Christ later in life. My early theological days were actually spent kind of in a dispensational world that had very little regard for the Old Testament and its Christian usage. And frankly, it was not until I was in seminary that I was confronted with the idea of the Lord’s Day, honoring the Sabbath, and things to that effect. In my view, the Sabbath is one of the most either broken or ignored commands. Functionally speaking, I think we are a nine Commandment people, or maybe nine and a half. It’s there, it’s inspired, but it’s really elastic. Yes, says, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy,” but, you know, if you’re going break a commandment, that’s the one Christians are most okay with saying, “not really.”
But God —when He wrote these as the last verse of this section— says it was written with, “the finger of God.” He did not give to us a pencil that you could turn upside down with an eraser and say, “you know, if this is not convenient for you just go ahead and take it out.” That’s a very postmodern thing to do, by the way. Someone writes a book and instead of letting it be respected for what it says and what it means, you impute to it what you would like it to mean, and thereby excise the parts that are unhelpful or inconvenient to you. So, are you a nine or a 10 Commandment Christian? That’s part of the way we might answer the question, “How spiritual healthy are we?”
Well, notice in Exodus 31, we’re given this language, it’s introduced with a strong highlight as the Lord says, “Above all, you are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths.’” God does not posture the Sabbath command in some slight or minimal place, but rather, He says, “Above all;” it receives exalted attention. He does not say, “Above all you shall not lie, above all you shall not steal, or above all you shall commit adultery,” He says “Above all you shall honor and keep my Sabbath.” What is this Sabbath?
Well, in a very simple sense, it’s one day in seven, set apart by God, according to the instruction of His Word, for a holy resting, physical refreshment, spiritual resting, and intimacy with God Himself. It’s the market day of the soul. It’s the one day that sets the stage for all other days. It is nothing less than a sign of covenant between God and His people. This is a beautiful word here. One of the things that set Israel, as the people of God, apart from the nations is if they had God’s commands, the nations would look on the people of God and say, “You know what, there is something about them; they speak differently, they work differently, they view family different, they worship differently, and the even do this crazy thing, they set aside a day and they don’t chase and pursue worldly things. It’s not all about them, they have a whole day they set aside for God and that says, not only something unique about the people of God, but it really says something profoundly unique about the God of the people.” That God would say, “This is the sign of the covenant between me and you; that when you set aside this day, not only shall you be recognized as the people of God, but as people look upon you, they will see how I bless and provide for you, that you might actually have this day of Sabbath rest. It is given, in a very remarkable sense, that we might come to know God.
My family and I love to think of the Sabbath as really just a foretaste of heaven itself. But when you think about the Sabbath, regrettably, it has been reduced to such a legalistic thing, right? It’s just this burden placed upon your shoulders. It’s just, you know, the pastor may be trying to micromanage your life or your time. First of all, God never micromanaged His people, He blessed them with the gift of time. He blessed them with the gift of property. And He said, “I will give you the time you need and I will give you the things you need; and you will tithe back to me the things you need and you will give back to me the time you need, because all that you have I have placed in your hand, and the chief end of your life, is to know me.” So, what is the Sabbath if not a gift from God that people might get to know Him? What does Jesus say? John 17:3, “This is eternal life that they might know you.”
The chief end, Beloved, of the Sabbath command, is that on this day, Israel, just as we should, would set aside all the other business, the distraction, the stuff, the chasing and the being chased, and take God’s hand, or better yet, be taken by His hand, and commune with Him. To know Him intimately, to know Him covenantly, to sense His affection, to sense His comfort, to sense His peace, to sense His embrace, and to sense that we belong in heaven. And the things of this world are growing strangely dim, just as the old hymn says, but more and more the light of His countenance grows strong as we step, like stepping stones, across the pond from Sabbath to Sabbath to Sabbath, until we reach that final consummate day of the Lord, day of Sabbath rest. Where no longer do we work, do we tarry, no longer are we burdened, but rather we rest in His presence. Where no longer do we sin against Him and against one another, no longer is our worship distracted, as mine and, I’m sure, yours so often is, but it’s perfected. The closest you ever get to the perfection of heaven itself, is on the Lord’s day. That was the whole point. It’s a day of heaven ahead of time. It is rooted in creation.
If you happen to be a nine Commandment person, for what it’s worth, the Sabbath is not only written by the finger of God at Mount Sinai, as it says at the end of our section here, it’s rooted in creation itself. So many of the fundamental, bedrock things we believe and practice —think about the family, just think about the way we think about the Word of God, think about gender, and think about so many things that Christians are fighting for— are rooted in creation. The world is doing its very best to trample them and write them out of existence, as though they never happened in history. Do you not find an irony that at times Christians can lead the way in this, against the things that God placed into the very bedrock of creation itself and span the test of time biblically?
The Sabbath is rooted in creation. It says that when God created —this is marvelous language we call anthropomorphism— He rested, and He was refreshed. I don’t even know what that means; God was refreshed. I don’t think of Him as getting tired. It’s condescending language. Man made in the image of God and created to work, just as God worked, but then also to rest and be refreshed, as God Himself rested and was refreshed. Persuade me that you don’t need this— I’m listening. You’ve got work to do, because we all need to be refreshed, we all need to be more spiritually healthy than we actually are. This is a great kindness and a mercy, not only to you, but to others.
When you look at the earlier command in Exodus 20, regarding the Sabbath, it says that not only shall you rest and be refreshed, but even your animals shall rest and be refreshed. Even your fields should be rested and refreshed in a cycle set up for that every seven years. And those who are under your charge or care, your employees, or your servants, however that works out, they too shall be refreshed. The Sabbath is not only a gift to you, Friends, it is a gift through you to others. As you rest and draw near to God, you draw others into a narrative of drawing near to God in the context of resting as well. God not only protected His people, He protected the servants of His people. He said that everyone under the sun needs this rest. You must lead the way. It is a kindness, it is a mercy, and it is a beautiful thing.
It is even evangelistic. The Sabbath is evangelistic, you know why? Because Christians —now I’ve been pastoring now full-time for 18 years, I think I’ve earned the right to say this— we’re way too busy. I like busy, by the way. My mom is the most hard-working person on the planet, she raised four kids by herself and worked literally 70 hours a week. If you don’t mind me saying it, in the context of pastoring 18 years, I’ve planted two churches while raising kids, and done two degrees at the same time, you might describe me as a workaholic. It’s probably fair. I’m preaching to the choir, by the way. My church knows every Sunday I’m really preaching to myself; there’s a mirror and on the other side happens to be the congregation. But the Sabbath says you don’t need to just be busy all the time. In fact, the Sabbath says you really need to rest, and not only do you need to rest, even your unbelieving friend or neighbor needs you to rest. And here’s why: when you take time to set aside your worldly pursuits and ambitions, you now have time, not only to rest but to do as the Westminster Confessions says, “do deeds of love, and kindness, charity, and mercy.” When do you have time to be merciful? When do you have time to show compassion to those who are around you? We are so busy. We now not only have no time for our neighbors, we probably don’t even know their names.
The Lord gave us a wonderful opportunity. I preached this sermon this past Sunday, and afterwards, getting in my car, that’s when I turn my phone back on, and there’s a voicemail from a family in a hotel. Two kids, 8- and 10-year-old daughters. Their Dad is blind and tries to work. I get this call about once a week. This one really struck me. I thought, “You know what, I don’t have to preach this evening, I have our intern— he’s doing it.” I thought, “I want to pursue this, I want to practice what I preach.” I ended up spending an afternoon with this family, we ended putting them up in a hotel. Several families of the church, convicted by what I just preached, particularly on the issue of showing mercy to others, came alongside this family. This past week has just been a fantastic unfolding of several families in our church pursuing this couple. Turns out they have a homeschool background. Turns out there are people who know a co-worker and they were able to get this family, one of the members, work. Deacons came alongside and sat down with them, and said, “We think we should actually help these folks; they’re in a hotel for a week, they’ll be at church on Sunday,” ladies in the church are taking the mom out and talking about schooling curriculum.
The point is, if we don’t set aside time to rest and worship for ourselves, we certainly don’t have time for other people. The Sabbath is evangelistic, it says to the world, “This is the holy people of God.” But it also carves out space in your life and in your schedule to do holy things. The word by the way —the verb used here for keeping the Sabbath— is actually a beautiful, little Hebrew word shamar, the word used for the angel guarding the way back into the garden of Eden. In Genesis 3, when the fall happens —this is great, I love the way the Bible just does little things with its own vocabulary— when man fails to protect that which God declared holy, do you know what God did? He did it himself. When Adam failed to guard and to keep the garden and the covenant as holy and he was expelled, God put an angel right there at the gate, if you will, with a sword turning every which way to guard the way to the tree of life, because that tree and that space was holy. Beloved, that same word is used here for keeping the Sabbath; it is holy and it is to be guarded. God says to us, “Guard that which I keep as holy.” Guard it, don’t squander it. Guard it, protect it, you’re going to have to fight for this every week of your life. Things are going try to encroach and press in upon this day, and try to rob you of this joy of the Sabbath.
I said this to young people —this is where I get in a little trouble, this is where I get a little close to meddling, but I’m a pretty fast runner; I can out run maybe half of you here— sports. I know, you’re mad at me now. I saw your countenance drop as soon as I said the word. I’m a sports fanatic, I love it. I don’t really like watching them, I’d rather be the guy on the field. I love to play, I work hard, play hard. Surfing, beach volleyball, and all kinds of stuff. If I don’t exercise everyday, I go almost batty. My wife kicks me out, makes me go exercise; my kids go surfing with me. I love sports and I’ve also learned that sports can be my idol. It strikes me that years ago so many things for kids were on Saturday and now they are almost all on Sunday, and it creates this hard fork in the road for many covenant kids. What are you going to do? You going to go to soccer? You going to go to church? You going to go to the tournament, or are you going to go to worship? You’re going to have to fight for this. If you are persuaded, God gave all 10 Commandments and didn’t give you a little pencil eraser at the bottom. There is no asterisk beside the fourth commandment. You’re going have to fight for this, you’re going have to guard it, you’re going have to draw your sword. But it’s entirely worth it.
The Sabbath is perpetual, it is never repealed, only fulfilled in Christ. And it’s referred to as a sign forever, written by the finger of God. I don’t know how easily you can erase such language. What the Sabbath is not, it is not legalistic, it is not burdensome, and it is not dismissed without consequence. Now, a striking feature in this text is that those who break the Sabbath are put to death. And I explained to our church very carefully, especially for our visitors, we are not going to kill anyone this Sunday. We’re not putting people to death for breaking the Sabbath; this is good news. You can take a little sigh of relief. Just imagine if we were at this very moment to put to death all those in this room who have broken say just this command, would there be anyone left to hear this sermon? No. Would there be anyone left to finish this sermon? No. We don’t put people to death for breaking the Sabbath. But note, God commanded Israel too, because this was a big deal and here’s the reason why. The Sabbath was way of saying, “Do you love me more than all the stuff I’ve given you and the time and place I’ve given you to enjoy it in? Do you love me more than these?” To profane the Sabbath was idolatry and it was to tell God, who wrote this command with his finger, “God, you can talk to my hand, I’ve got better things to do today than be with you.” Capital punishment. It was not dismissible without consequence.
Now let me point out something; perhaps a lighter and more refreshing thought for the moment is where this is placed. And this is a reason why I wanted to bring this to you today as a community of Bible College students, professors, and staff folk. This comes right in between two significant things in Exodus. Like I mentioned, I’m preaching through the whole book. If you go back and look earlier in the section you have these two crazy names, Oholiab and Bezalel. Who are Oholiab and Bezalel? Well, they are two men that are described as being gifted, furnished with gifts of the Spirit. Beautiful language here. They are gifted by the Spirit of God to do the work of the ministry of building the Tabernacle. They are to lead the charge and to draw, in beautiful colors and hues, all the wonderful things that will now actually make up the Tabernacle itself. From the outside, to the curtain, to the tent, to the inside, to all the furniture, to the beautiful colors, and to the wonderful materials. God actually gave gifts to His people and said, “Now listen, I want you to work, and I want you to do that work well. I want you do it with joy, enthusiasm, and creativity, be an artist.” There is a wonderful place for artists in the Church, in the Old Testament. But do you notice that as soon as He says, “I have given you, not only the command to build this thing, I have gifted that you can do it well,” He follows those instructions with this, “Remember the Sabbath.” Even those who are in ministry, Friends, who are gifted as you are. You’re here because you have a sense of calling. You’re here probably because someone came along side of you and said, “You know what, I think you have gifts for the ministry.” You probably have artistic inclinations and you are going to do good things for God, just Oholiab and Bezalel did. And just as they needed to hear, Beloved, you need to hear it, make sure you’re hearing me now: You need rest or you will not be healthy. You need to take time off from even the good work of the ministry that you are doing and will do, to simply commune with God, to be refreshed in your body, to be refreshed in your mind, to be refreshed in your soul. Your car needs an oil change and so does your heart. You need the time off. You don’t improve the quality of your work by simply intensifying the quantity of your work.
Martin Luther was once asked in the business of his ministry and writing career, “Why is it that you take so much time aside to pray?” and his response was fantastic, “I don’t have time not to pray.” I know you’re busy and I know it’s easy in Bible College to say, “Well, you know if I’m studying for a Bible College class on a Sunday, that’s kind of like, you know, devotional stuff.” But be careful how you rationalize certain things. When my wife and I were in college we were quite busy. I worked my way through college, it was difficult. It was easy to say little things like this, “You know, if we could just get a couple of friends of ours together at a time that’s convenient for us, we’ll skip church and, you know, we’ll just quote that Matthew 18, ‘Where 2 or 3’ verses.” It’s number one, not the right handling of that text and, number two, a wonderful way to squander the means of grace and spiritual health. Be careful about the little things you baptize or white-wash in the name of ministry. If you want a good, long-term, healthy, and fruitful ministry, don’t be wiser than God. He gave you rest, He gave you a whole day, and He gives you the time and the ability to do everything else that you need, but the greatest thing that He has given is His Son.
Let’s go back to that death penalty. You know and I know what the wages of sin is. Is it not a wonderful that we can refer to the work of Christ? Your salvation, Beloved, was accomplished by the work of another. Is it not a sweet consolation that when Jesus was at the cross and He finished his work, he said what? “It is to be continued,” that’s not what He said. He said, “It is finished.” The work is done and one of the chief things we do as we gather together, not only for worship, but set aside a whole day to just rest, is to rest in the work of Christ. In your busyness, and in the good things you do, you need to stop and remember that the ministry is not about you. My church is not about me. This college is not about the professors. It’s ultimately about Christ, He is the builder of His Church, He’s the protector of His Church, and He’s the sustainer of His people. And if we can pretend that we can find rest and refreshment anywhere else than in Christ alone, do you know what that’s called? An idol. Outside of Christ there is no rest.
St. Augustine, after whom the city where I live is named, said wonderfully well in the context of the Sabbath, “You had formed us for yourself, O, God.” Our hearts are what? “Restless until we find our rest in you.” So, are you spiritually healthy? What are the habits that you have? Where does your life and schedule, your sense of time and space, things holy in contrast to things profane, where do they need to be reformed according to Scripture? The author of Hebrews exhorts us to exhort one another, to not abandon meeting together, especially as we see that consummate day falling. I had a lady in our church tell me last week, who struggles sometimes with her family to make it to church, “You know the problem we have is not that we don’t know what to do; we know what to do, we just so often don’t do it.” This is a Bible College, you know what to do. You know how to be healthy: you don’t need a magic pill, you don’t need a fitness guru, and you don’t need a really expensive program, you need a simple diet of the means of grace and rest. Rather than being wiser than God, rest in God. It was finished for you, so you could find your rest in Him. Amen, and let’s pray.
Transcripts are lightly edited.