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The First Things: The Creation Sabbath

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 7, 1998

Genesis 2:1-3

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If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 2. These are perhaps words you thought you’d probably never hear. Genesis, chapter 2. Let me review for you just a little of what we've done as we've looked at Genesis, chapter 1 together. We've already said that Genesis lays the foundation, not simply for the Exodus, but for the whole of the Old Testament. Indeed, for the whole of the scriptures. Isn't it interesting. We’re going to see at least one example of this tonight. Isn't it interesting how often the Lord Jesus goes right back to the very beginning to establish a particular teaching. For instance, when he is interacting with the Pharisees about the issue of marriage and divorce and remarriage. Isn't it interesting how Jesus cuts through all the hundreds and hundreds of years of tradition, and he take the Pharisees right back to Genesis, chapter 2 to discuss with them marriage. When things are awry, where do you go? You go right back to the beginning and that's exactly the pattern which our Lord Jesus followed. He does that on many other subjects as well. And it is amazing as we look at these first three chapters, the first five chapters, the first eleven chapters of Genesis, how many foundational points which resonate throughout the rest of Scripture are first announced there. So, as we looked at Genesis 1, we said that the book of Genesis itself was the foundation for the rest of Scripture. It begins, of course, recording the history of the creation of the world, but as we will see as we continue to work through the early chapters of Genesis it also records three other significant events. The fall of Adam, the flood of Noah and, of course, the incident at the Tower of Babel. Each of those events punctuates the early history of man. And in each instance God responds with both judgment and grace.

And we've already said that the book of Genesis as a whole can be divided between Genesis 1 through 11 and that primeval history, and Genesis 12 through 50 which is the history of the patriarchs, particularly in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

Now in Genesis, chapter 1, we said that the very first two verses form a preface to the description of creation, telling us the way in which the world was brought into being and what it was like originally and from verse 3 down to verse 31 of the chapter, we get a detail on the kind of work that God was doing on each of the days of creation. We have focused especially on the 6th day, because on that 6th day man as the pinnacle of God's creation was made. And we are explicitly told in Moses’ record of the 6th day which runs from the 24th verse down to the 31st verse that man is made in the image of God. And so we spent one evening simply considering what it means to be made in the image of God.

Then the last time we were together looking at this passage we focused again on the 6th day. This time looking from verse 26 to the end of the chapter in verse 31 and we looked at what we called creation ordinances and blessings. In other words, these were things which God had woven into the very fabric of creation, commands and privileges and responsibilities for man; but also blessings and provisions which He had made for man woven into the very fabric of creation. And we identified, in particular, four of those creation ordinances. First of all in Genesis 1:28 we saw the ordinance of procreation. "Be fruitful and multiply." And that ordinance of procreation we saw was directly connected to the ordinance of marriage which is going to be looked at when we get to the end of Genesis, chapter 2. The second ordinance that we saw the last time, was also in verse 28, and that is the ordinance of labor. God said to man, "fill the earth and subdue it and rule." And we said that implicit in that rule over the earth was man's responsible labor. Now more is going to be said about that labor again in Genesis, chapter 2. But the first description of that responsibility of man to labor is set forth there in Genesis 1:28. And we said in passing, by the way, that that reminds us that work is not a result of the fall. Now you wouldn't know that from the attitudes of a lot of folks today. You know the bumper stickers "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go." Or the attitude which says that work is basically only to provide us an opportunity to escape from work, so that the work week is simply a means to an end, the end being to forget about work on the weekend. And so recreation becomes viewed as an escape from something that's bad, something that you hate. And that obviously had drastic consequences for your view of vocation, for your view of work. And one of the essences of the Protestant view of work, what is often called the Protestant work ethic, that as part of our being as humans, as created in the image of God, God has given us the privilege and responsibility of expressing dominion. That dominion that we express is expressed one natural way through labor, through work. So, when we look to the rest of heaven, it is not the rest of inactivity, it is the rest of labor which will not be toilsome. The toil of labor came because of sin, but labor itself is blessed. And that gives an entirely different view on our approach to labor. Yes, we still work in a fallen world, and that means that we have to deal with conflicts with colleagues and with customers. And it means that we have to deal with sinfulness and wicked dealings on the part of business partners. And it means that we have to be diligent, and we have to be vigilant. And it means that things happen that are very disastrous to people who have worked very hard from time to time. People who work very hard can sometimes lose everything they have made or they can see their company go belly up or have various other problems like that. But work in and of itself is blessed, and especially for those of us who are redeemed, we can rejoice in the vocations that the Lord has given us because our callings, wherever God has called you to work in the world, are no less God's call for you than a minister's call is to minister the gospel. And so just as a side glance, we've look at the ordinance of labor. And we’ll come back to that again. But then, and we haven't looked at this so clearly, but we will tonight.

We mention that the ordinance of the Sabbath is set forth in Genesis 2, verse 3. We’ll look at that tonight. And we've also hinted that the ordinance of marriage is spoken of in Genesis 2:24. "A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh." So with those words of introduction, let's go back and look at the third of those four creation ordinances. The ordinance of the Sabbath, the creation Sabbath. Hear God's holy word beginning in Genesis 2:1.

Genesis 2:1-3

Father, we do thank You for this word. There is so much here we cannot do it justice, but in outline, O Lord, we can sketch the meaning of this for our own Christian living. Help us to love this ordinance that You have provided for us. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

I want to concentrate with you for a few moments about this creation Sabbath as an ordinance. As we've already said, God establishes certain blessings and obligations for man at the very outset of His relationship. The very first words out of God's mouth, the very first words that man heard in his ear drums were the words of God blessing him. And so this ordinance of the Sabbath is also meant to be a blessing. And I'd like to look with you verse by verse at this passage tonight.

I. The seventh day marked the completion of God's special creative work.
First of all in verse 1 of Genesis, chapter 2, we see that the seventh day of creation, the seventh day marks the completion of God's special creative work. But that completion of God's work of creation does not imply that God was inactive. Notice the words, "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts." Now we've already been told in Genesis 1:1 and 2 that God created the heavens and the earth. But there is a new phrase added in Genesis 2:1, "and all their hosts" designed to express to us that the entirety of creation has been made and filled out. The work has been brought to a conclusion.

In this phrase, "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts," God is proclaiming the completion of His creation work of the entire organized world. Look back at Genesis 1:1-2 and see the contrast: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." Emphasis on that first phrase, "the earth was formless and void." It was without form and it was empty. Now, Genesis 2:1, "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts." So we've gone from emptiness to fullness. We've gone from the beginning of creation to the completion of creation. And so in that phrase creation is brought to a finish. It was finished, this distinctive, special creative work of God.

Let me mention some interesting things. This same word, this same Hebrew word for finish is used twice more in the Old Testament for important works of completion. If you have your Bibles I would invite you to turn with me to Exodus, chapter 40. In Exodus, chapter 40, we see a word recorded about the completion of the tabernacle. You will remember that for some twelve or fourteen chapters God has been giving instructions about the tabernacle and its contents and exactly how it is going to be made and who's going to make it. And in Exodus chapter 40:33, we read this: "And he, that is Moses, erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work." Same term is used there of Moses completion of the tabernacle. All that labor prospectively described in the chapters preceding Exodus, chapter 40, is brought to a culmination in his completion of that work. He finished that work. And then over in II Chronicles the same term is used. II Chronicles, chapter 7, verse 11. This is right in the context of the feast of the dedication of God's house which Solomon had built. And in verse 11 we read: "Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king's palace and successfully completed all that He had planned on doing in the house of the Lord and in his palace." So the thing that he set out to do was brought to completion.

Now it ought to encourage us that God brought to completion that which He set out to do in creation. That is very important for our confidence that He has brought to completion what He set out to do in redemption. We need in this sinful world, in this fallen world, to be assured of the certainty and the completion of God's work of grace. And isn't it interesting that the terminology of finished is applied to that as well in the New Testament. For instance, in John, chapter 19, turn with me there. In John 19:30, John records for us this word of the Lord Jesus, "When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit." Now those words are packed with significance indicating that Christ has brought to completion that which was necessary for the work of redemption, that is, to buy us back and to open the way for us into fellowship with God. He has brought that work of redemption to a close. It is done. It is like a bill which has been paid in full. It has been marked off and no more will it be charged to our account. He has finished that work of redemption, and I want you to note that specifically with regard to the new creation the same terminology is used in the book of Revelation. Turn with me there, Revelation 21:5-6. In the context of the discussion of the new heaven and the new earth. Let's pick up in verse 1: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth." Notice again we are immediately in the language of the original creation. What did God originally create? The heavens and the earth. Now in Revelation 21 in which we get constant echoes of Genesis, especially in the first chapters, listen to John. "I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true..’ And He said to me, ‘It is done.’" It has been done, it has been completed, it has been finished. "‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of water of life without cost.’" And so in this passage we see the finishing of the old creation and the establishment of the new creation by the Lord Jesus Christ in the same language. It is done. What God begins, He completes. He brings that work to conclusion. That ought to bring us confidence that when He promises that He will not leave us or forsake us, and that the good work that He has begun in us He will bring to completion, that He really means what He says. Because over and over in His word, you can see His bringing to completion of the things that He sets out to do. So here in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 1 His work of creation is done. But that does not mean that He ceases to work. He ceases from the work of creation. That work is never to be done again, never to be repeated, it is done. That original foundation-laying work is never to be relaid. The only thing comparable is in the new creation. That work is done.

But He continues His work of providence, preserving and governing the creation. How do we know that? Well, we know it because Jesus especially tells us in John 5:17. And we’ll look at that passage in just a few moments. Calvin says, "Inasmuch as God sustains the world by His power, governs it by His providence, cherishes and even propagates all creatures, He is constantly at work." So God's Sabbath rest is not a rest of pure inactivity. He is not immobilized in His Sabbath rest, it is a resting from His creative works.

II. God rested from His creational labors on the seventh day.
Then in verse 2 we learn that He rests from His creational labors on the 7th day, and we’ll learn from the New Testament that He does that for our benefit. God rests from His creational labors on the 7th day, and in the New Testament we learn that He does that for our benefit. Look at verse 2 of Genesis, chapter 2: "By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done." So God's finished work of creation is sealed with the words, "He rested." Cessation from His special activity of creating the heavens and the earth and everything in them is of course implied.

But again, this does not mean that God is inactive. Indeed He continues to nurture His people and His creation. Take a look at a few passages which describe this. Turn with me first to John, chapter 5. In John, chapter 5, Jesus has been confronted by the Pharisees for His Sabbath practice. You remember in Jesus’ time the emphasis in Israel on how to observe the Sabbath was in refraining from doing things. The emphasis was on what you didn't do. And Jesus’ Sabbath gave the Pharisees fits because Jesus was constantly engaged not only in activities of worship but also in activities of mercy, of service, of ministry. And that gave the Pharisees fits. And so they questioned His Sabbath practice in John 5 after He had healed a man on the Sabbath day. And look in John 5, beginning in verse 15. "The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath, but He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’" Now what's the Lord Jesus saying there? He's saying that the Lord God's Sabbath activity has not been one of simply cessation from doing anything. He actually has been involved in working a different kind of work, but He has been active nevertheless.

Notice again in Jesus’ words in Mark, chapter 2. Mark, chapter 2, verses 27 and 28. He preserves the same creational pattern that we’ll see expressed in Genesis 2, verse 3. In Genesis 2, verse 3 we're told that God blesses and makes holy the Sabbath day. He blesses and sanctifies the Sabbath day so that the Sabbath is both a blessing and a holy day. Now Jesus preserves that precise pattern in Mark 2:27-28. He says again that the Sabbath is blessed and hallowed. Look at His words and see how these correspond exactly, in v.27, "Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’" In other words, Pharisees don't you understand that God made the Sabbath to be a blessing, not a curse. And then He goes on to say in verse 28, "‘So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’" It's still set apart, it's still holy. In fact, it's going to be called the Lord's Day in the new covenant. So it's both blessed and holy and this again indicates that it's a day in which God is concerned to nurture His people, to bless them.

And then again in Hebrews, chapter 3, you might want to scan a long passage from Hebrews 3, verse 7 all the way down to Hebrews 4, verse 11. I won't go into this in detail. You can come on Wednesday nights and get the whole scoop. Here it is stressed that God's Sabbath was not only a gift for man, but it is a promise for believers for a rest which we experience in part now and which we look for in the future, in the new heavens and the new earth.

And so God's Sabbath is entirely designed for the blessing and nurturing of His people. And so He is active in nurturing His people in His Sabbath. The Sabbath is designed as a day for the nurturing of spiritual life, for worship and service.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons why Presbyterians have historically had worship services at the beginning and at the end of the day because we want to emphasize that the whole day is given over to the Lord in worship and in deeds of mercy and service. I remember one of the great examples that I saw of this kind of service on the Sabbath and frankly, I think probably one of the things that we emphasize the least in our practice of the Lord's day these days is service and mercy and ministry. It was of the ruling elders whose home I would frequently visit when I was in Edinburg, Scotland, and after we would have the gargantuan Sunday dinner that is always served there, it usually doesn't get on the table until about 2:00 and you’re not pushing away until about 4:00 and you’re ready for a big-time nap. I know where we got that Southern tradition from. It came directly from Scotland. At any rate, and then they pull out the sweet tray, you know, about forty minutes later. But as soon as we would get up from that table, this elder would head off to the local nursing home and to visit the shut-ins who were in his foal. The church was divided up into elders and foal groups, and he would be out to visit those who were in need in his foal group. And I thought what a tremendous example. He could have done just like the rest of us. Everybody was invited to spread throughout the house and find a couch or a bed or a chair and relax for the rest of the afternoon, and out the door he would go to visit his sheep. It was a beautiful example of serving on the Lord's day. Not just gaining rest for the soul and spiritual refreshment at church, but actually serving on the Lord's day.

III. God set apart and specially favored the seventh day because of His rest from creation.
Then in Genesis 2, verse 3, I want to point to one other thing as we close. In Genesis 2, verse 3, we see that God set apart, and he especially favored the seventh day because of His rest from creative work. Look at those words. "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it he rested from all His work which God had created and made."

Because of His resting which He did for our benefit, God favored, He blessed the seventh day and He hallowed, He made holy that seventh day. When I say that He blessed that seventh day, that Sabbath day, I mean that He made it an effective means of blessing for all those who sanctify it by rest and worship and service. He made it a means of grace, and He sanctified it. When I say sanctified it, I mean that He consecrated and He set it apart for a holy use as a day unto the Lord. Now remember those who first heard these words of Moses in Genesis already had a Sabbath. Moses isn't telling them this in order to argue that they ought to have a Sabbath. He's telling them this in order to explain to them where their Sabbath came from. In other words, he's saying, ‘This idea which we have heard propounded from Mt. Sinai in the Ten Commandments is not a new idea. This idea is rooted in a blessing that God gave us at creation.’ His point is that God did not need to rest as if He were physically exhausted, but His pattern of work and rest in six days and then a seventh of rest was designed specifically for us because He knew that we needed that rest from our labor.

And so the Sabbath is a memorial of God's blessing to us in creation. And of course it's a memorial also of the rest that we will have in redemption. And isn't it interesting that Exodus and Deuteronomy, in the two passages where they record the Ten Commandments, that both of those things are stressed. Why don't we look there real quickly. In Exodus, chapter 20, as God explains the Sabbath day in Exodus 20, verses 8 and following, look at verse 11. There Moses stresses this. "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day, and therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." In other words there Moses says the reason why we're to remember the Sabbath day is because the Lord established this in creation. This is what He did in creation.

Then, if you’ll turn over to Deuteronomy, chapter 5, he stresses God's redemptive work. In Deut. 5 we read this. Beginning in verse 13, the command for the Sabbath day concludes this way: "And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." Therefore, because God freed Israel from slavery, they were to observe the day. So His work is grounded both in creation and in redemption. And I want to just say in passing, remember this is an entire nation made of former slaves whose lives had been completely controlled by those who owned them. And now God is saying in His Sabbath Commandment, I command you to have seven and a half weeks of mandatory vacation every year. Seven and a half weeks in which you cease from the regular labors of your six days of work and you give yourself to worship and rest and service. Deeds of necessity and mercy. And what a blessing that would have been to slaves. Their response would have not been our customary, "Oh, no." It would have been, "This is incredible, this is wonderful." And so the Lord's day is provided for them as a blessing. We ought to be excited about this provision of the Lord for us in the Lord's day.

Mark Ross, a friend of ours who has preached in this pulpit before, was describing this and trying to capture the function of the Lord's day in reviving and nurturing our spiritual life. And he said let me use an earthy illustration. He said, "Men, when you are courting the woman that you’re going to marry, one of the great purposes of your spending time with her is so that you will know her, that you will be able to love her more effectively better when you are united in marriage." So also, he said, the Lord's day is a day designed for time to be set apart so that you might know the bridegroom, so that when you spend eternity with Him, He might know you, you might know Him, that your heart might be prepared for heaven. And that's why the Lord's day is a market day for the soul. Let's look now to the Lord in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word. We ask that You would work it into our hearts, help us to see this provision of Yours as a great blessing. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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