Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Sabbath of the Great King

Once there was a great king who built a splendid city. In the middle of the city, the king designed a delightful park which was laid out with ponds, fountains and springs, magnificent trees from all over the world, gorgeous aromatic plants, inviting stretches of lawn, pathways and benches where people and families might walk and sit together, and a spacious amphitheater for public meetings. Weekly the king met with his subjects in the park. His people delighted in the time with him and one another.

One day the king had to go away. In his absence the rulers he left in charge began to let the park run down. Although they still held civic events at the amphitheater, these rulers had little interest in the park. They did not truly have in mind the king’s interests. Soon the park was overrun with weeds, the trees were not pruned, the exotic plants died, and the pools of water stagnated. The park was in ruins.

After a time a new group of rulers came into authority in the city. They were genuinely concerned about the park and began to restore it to its former beauty. They pulled out all the weeds, replanted all the gardens, pruned the trees, repaired the pathways and the benches, and opened the streams so that fresh water again flowed through the park. These rulers, however, were fearful that the park once again would fall into disrepair. In order to protect the park, they made it a memorial to the king, rather like a museum. They continued to hold meetings at the amphitheater, but they put a fence around the park’s border and along the pathways so people could look at the beautiful sites in the park, but could not actually use it.

They continued to hold meetings at the amphitheater, but they put a fence around the park’s border and along the pathways so people could look at the beautiful sites in the park, but could not actually use it.

Then one day, quite unexpectedly, the king’s son came to the city. One of the first things that he did was to tear down the fence. He exclaimed to the rulers, "Enough of this! This park was built for the people of the city to remember my father and to enjoy, but you have kept them out of the park." So after removing all of the fences, he invited the people to come and meet with him and with one another in the park.

Because the king and his son are still occupied throughout their great kingdom, they have appointed leaders in the city. Regrettably, of late, these leaders once again have allowed to the park to become unkept and trampled down. Again, weeds overrun it, the trees are not pruned, and the ponds have become stagnant. Because it has lost much of its charming beauty, people no longer come to it. Admittedly they have kept the amphitheater in good repair and continue public meetings, but increasingly the people are losing interest. The park is so unattractive that they see no need to go there at all.

Recently, developers, seeing the land unused, have begun seeking to put up an amusement park. The Historical Society is opposing them, wanting instead to restore the park and preserve it for the sake of tradition. But there is a third group who wants to restore it to its original purposes. To make matters more confusing, all parties are claiming to act on behalf of the interests of the king and his son. Meanwhile, as you might imagine, the king’s subjects are thoroughly confused.

If you have read Joseph Pipa’s The Lord’s Day, then you probably recognized the story above. When I first read this "allegorization" of the Sabbath it was a breath of fresh air. What insight and delight God can move men to set forth with a pen. It is my hope and prayer that as we study together, as well as prayerfully on our own, that our experience and that of our brethren, will be one of passion for the true interests of the King and His Son. May the worship of Watts become ours as we press on in our delight in the Sabbath of God...

Sweet is the work, my God, my King, to praise Thy Name, give thanks and sing,
To show Thy love by morning light and talk of all Thy truth at night.
Sweet is the day of sacred rest, no mortal cares shall seize my breast.
O may my heart in tune be found, like David’s harp of solemn sound!
My heart shall triumph in my Lord and bless His works and bless His Word.
Thy works of grace, how bright they shine! How deep Thy counsels, how divine!
Fools never raise their thoughts so high; like brutes they live, like brutes they die;

Like grass they flourish, till Thy breath blast them in everlasting death.
But I shall share a glorious part, when grace has well refined my heart;

And fresh supplies of joy are shed, like holy oil, to cheer my head.
Sin (my worst enemy before) shall vex my eyes and ears no more;

My inward foes shall all be slain, nor Satan break my peace again.
Then shall I see, and hear, and know all I desired and wished below;

And every power find sweet employ in that eternal world of joy.
And then what triumphs shall I raise to Thy dear Name through endless days,

For in the realms of joy I’ll see Thy face in full felicity.

Isaac Watts, Hymn from Psalm 92
"A Psalm for the Lord’s Day"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finding A Wife

I know having a title like that on a blog entry is dangerous at best, but bear with me please. You need to notice that the title does not read - Looking for a Wife, but rather Finding a Wife!

Today the words of the writer of the proverb were on my mind: He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.

There are many ways that I would say that my gracious Savior has blessed and favored my life, but few ways would be greater, save knowing Christ himself, than the blessing he gave me when he gave me a wife. Nineteen years ago today this blessing became mine. Today was our aniversary! We celebrated with the normal things - waking up in a house with a bunch of kids, letting oatmeal overflow in the microwave, taking the boy to physics class, pining as I drove by the book store wishing I had more time, doing some work at the church, helping a person in a providential encounter, taking the prized treasure of my wife to lunch at the Cotton Patch where we got some shrimp and chicken, coming back home and picking up baby Averie, our niece who is staying with us for a while, going to JC Penny to get a whole whapping four inches cut off my sweeties' hiar (WOW - she is pretty), coming home, cooking supper, jumping on the trampoline (no - not me - the kids!), watering the yard, and trying to make an entry in the blog while I am kicking my wife out of the office so she can't see what I am doing.

All that to say, it was pretty much a normal day at the Montgomery's castle in which my wife, the "good thing" I have received from the Lord, reigns as the Queen. Most of life around our home is just that - full of normal things - nothing really spectacular - just normal. It is in those normal things for the last nineteen years that I have grown to appreciate something of the treasure that I have in my wife. She is a picutre to me and I think a good one to many of the devotion the church is to have to Christ. She has loved me with a love that is amazing these many years and humbled me greatly when I know what she has to endure from me at every turn. God has been very good to me in "finding a wife" to bless me and show me his great favor.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Sabbath: A Confessional Approach

Herein is presented an examination of the doctrine of the Sabbath as it is found in the confessional standards of The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. This confession has been the standard confession among Reformed Baptist brethren for over 300 years. This paper seeks to examine our confessional standards, in particular, its doctrine of the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day in light of Scripture, history, theology and Christian practice. If we are to agree to walk together in Christian love, it must be around the truth of the word of God, agreeing together upon its meaning and import for the benefit of the church, and uppermost, to the glory of our great God.

We would surprisingly find agreement with our New Covenant Theology brother, Fred Zaspel, when he writes that

  • It may be an oversimplification to say that disagreements regarding the subject of divine law are all settled on the question of the Sabbath. Then again, (he adds) perhaps in some sense this is not oversimplification at all. It is common knowledge that disputes concerning the subject of divine law eventually and almost inevitably make their way to this subject and often with considerable energy (Zaspel, 211).

We hope and pray that this energy will be well spent for the cause of Christ and for the good of his beloved church. Our prayer is two-fold, first that we might once again, as our brethren in past ages have done, grow to a point for the glory of Christ where we will again taste and see the goodness of God in the precious gift of the Sabbath. Second, we pray that we might come to a point primarily in our hearts, but also in our practice, where the words of Isaiah will ring true within:

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day
of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
[14] then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Isaiah 58:13-14 (ESV)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why On Sunday?

O. Palmer Robertson

This question can be embarrassing, can't it? Why do you worship on Sunday? Doesn't the Bible say that the seventh day is the time God consecrated for his people? Where does the Bible say that Christians should sanctify the first day of the week, rather than the seventh day?
It's a good question, you will have to admit. It's also a question that needs an answer. So what can be said?

Creation and Redemption
Begin by considering the evidence of the Old Testament. The Sabbath in the Old Testament was not merely a special day that was to be recognized once a week. It had much richer significance. It pointed forward to the future "rest" of redemption that God would accomplish for his people. The Sabbath was not only a reminder of the rest that came after the six days of creation. It also was celebrated because God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.
God repeated the law for Moses after Israel had wandered in the wilderness for forty years, just before they entered the land of promise. When God repeated the law that had been given at Sinai, the Ten Commandments were the same. Not one of the original ten commandments had been changed. But another reason for observing the Sabbath was given. At Sinai, God's people had been told to keep the Sabbath because God had rested after the six days of creation (Ex. 20:11; cf. Gen. 2:3). But in Transjordan, God told Israel to keep the Sabbath in view of their redemption from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). Not only because of creation, but also because of redemption, the people of God were to rest one day in seven.
We know that Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the Passover lamb was only a shadow, a prophecy, of the deliverance that would come through the sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints were looking forward to the coming rest from the burdens of sin, just as each week they looked forward to their rest from work on the Sabbath day.
The Promised Land
So when Israel entered the land of their "rest" under Joshua, they marched around Jericho for seven days. Then on the seventh day they marched around the city walls seven times. When they had completed the march around Jericho the seventh time on the seventh day, the walls came tumbling down, and the people of God began to enter their rest in Canaan. The taking of Jericho was a picture of God's people entering into their Sabbath-rest.
In a similar way, the seventy years of Israel's captivity pointed toward the "rest" of the redemption that was to come to the Promised Land. For the seventy years of Israel's captivity in Babylon, the land "was enjoying its sabbath rests" (2 Chron. 36:21).
These Old Testament experiences showed that God's people were looking forward to the rest, the redemption, that would be accomplished by God's Messiah one day in the future. They worked six days in the week, looking forward to the rest that they would experience in the future. They looked to the land of promise as the place where they would enter into their rest from all the burdens of life.
A New Perspective
But now redemption has been accomplished. Jesus has come as the fulfillment of prophecy. By his death and resurrection, he has brought his people into their redemptive rest. We look back to the salvation that has been completed through Christ. "It is finished" was his cry from the cross, and so we know that everything has been done for our deliverance from sin, death, and all other evils in this world.
So now the Christian has a new perspective on the "rest" of redemption. For the resurrection of Christ is an event as significant as the creation of the world. By his resurrection, a new order of the universe came into being. A new way of life for man came into existence. The stone was rolled back from the door of Jesus' tomb to let the disciples in, not to let Jesus out! Because of his new form of existence in his resurrection body, he could pass through stone walls and locked doors without needing to open them.
The Resurrection of Christ
So it should not be surprising to find the disciples following a new pattern of worship and work. They began their week assembling with the resurrected Christ. Consider carefully the following evidence that the redemption accomplished through Christ's resurrection determined the day for Christian worship:
1. Jesus Christ arose on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1). He entered into his rest from labor, not on Saturday (the seventh day), but on Sunday (the first day of the week). As Jesus entered into his rest on the first day, so he encourages us to begin the week by resting in the confidence that he will provide for all our needs for seven days with only six days of labor.
2. Jesus Christ appeared to his assembled disciples on the first day of the week, as well as to Mary and to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (John 20:10; Luke 24:13). By these appearances on the first day of the week, the resurrected Lord set a pattern for meeting with his disciples. They began expecting to meet with him on the day of his resurrection, which is the first day of the week.
3. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples one week later on the first day of the week, with doubting Thomas present this time (John 20:26). Already a new pattern of assembly for worship was emerging. God's new covenant people were making it a habit to assemble together on the first day of the week, the day of Christ's resurrection. Jesus honored these assemblies by appearing to the disciples at this time, and encouraged their faith in him as the resurrected Lord.
4. The resurrected Christ poured out his Spirit on the assembled disciples exactly fifty days after the Sabbath of the Jewish Passover, which was the first day of the week (Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15-16). The word Pentecost means "fifty," referring to the fifty days after the Sabbath of the Passover. Forty-nine days would span seven Jewish Sabbaths or Saturdays, and the fiftieth day would then fall on a Sunday, the first day of the week. So it would appear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came on the first day of the week, when God's new covenant people were assembled for worship. So the pattern would be established more firmly. Both the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit occurred on the first day of the week.
5. As Paul spread the gospel of Christ among Jews and Gentiles throughout the world, the first day of the week was used as the time for Christians to assemble for worship. In Greece, Paul and Luke assembled with the people of God to break bread and to hear the preaching of God's word on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). This was the day that the people of the new covenant assembled to hear God's word.
6. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth to establish the pattern for their presenting of offerings for the service of the Lord. He ordered the Christians in Corinth to follow the pattern that had already been set with the churches in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1). On the first day of every week they were to consecrate their offerings to the Lord (1 Cor. 16:2). This schedule for honoring the Lord had become the pattern for God's people throughout the churches. The churches were not to present their offerings any time they wished. Rather, on the first day of each week, all the Corinthian Christians were to follow the pattern that had already been set among the Galatian churches. The first day of the week was the designated time for the presentation of offerings to the Lord.

The Lord's Day
7. The apostle John, now aged and perhaps the only living member of the original twelve apostles, had been banished to the island of Patmos. In this circumstance, he could not assemble for worship with the people of God. But the apostle informs us that "on the Lord's Day" he was "in the Spirit" (Rev. 1:10). The significance of his being "in the Spirit" seems quite clear. He had entered into the presence of the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was offering his adoration to him.

But what is the meaning of the phrase "on the Lord's Day"? In one sense, it may be said that every day of the week belongs to the Lord, and so might be called the "Lord's day." But John is referring to something more specific. He does not speak merely of "a" day that has been consecrated to the Lord. Instead he speaks of "the" Lord's Day.
That one day that may be called "the Lord's Day" was the day in which he proved to the world that he was Lord. On one particular day, Jesus made the universe understand that he was Lord of all. That day was the day of his resurrection. On that day, he conquered the last of the sinner's enemies, which is death. On the first day of the week, he showed that his power could overcome all enemies, even death itself. That day is "the Lord's Day."
So by the end of the lifetime of the first apostles, Christians knew about one day of the week that was called "the Lord's Day." On that day, they celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That day became the time for their assembly as they rejoiced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Honoring God
So it is the same today. The original commandment to honor God by worship one day in seven still holds, since this requirement was a part of the Ten Words laying down the moral standards of God for men. One day in seven must be consecrated for worship and service to him. Both creation and redemption show that God must be honored in this way.
From the creation of the world until the coming of Christ, that day was the last day of the week. People in the days of the Old Testament were looking forward to the rest that the Savior would bring.
But now Christ has come. He has risen victoriously over all his enemies. This victory he won on the first day of the week. On this day he meets with his disciples as they assemble to commune with him.
So we are to celebrate the rest he has won for us. We are to taste and anticipate his rest by offering our worship on the first day of the week. For it is the only pattern demonstrated in the Scriptures of the new covenant for the worship of God's people today.

The author has served as a pastor and a seminary professor. Presently he teaches at African Bible College in Malawi and Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2003.