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Lesson 9: The Covenant Sign *

Introduction: Last week we saw how Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into two groups. The first four dealt with our love for God and the last six with our love for our fellow humans. (See Matthew 22:36-40) Some of you may have said, "Wait a minute, Bruce, I'm not sure the fourth commandment neatly fits into one of those two groups. It has as much to do with God's love for us and with our love for Him." I agree it is a special commandment that deserves more attention. Let's dive into God's Word and see what we can learn about the fourth commandment!

  1. Sabbath Benefit


    1. Read Exodus 20:8-11. The third commandment tells us not to misuse God's name. That command is clearly in the "love God" category. The sixth commandment tells us not to murder. That commandment is clearly in the "love humans" category. For whose benefit is the fourth commandment that tells us to keep the Sabbath holy? Into which category should it go?


      1. In the United States, "President's Day" is a federal holiday that just took place. If you had that day off from work, for whose benefit was the holiday created? (It honors the presidents and it gives us a break from work.)


    2. What does the Sabbath honor? ( Exodus 20:11 tells us that in six days God created the world and He rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath celebrates Creation. Since Creation is the "birthday" for humans, the Sabbath honors God and it honors us.)


      1. Why is God's Creation important to remember? (Our allegiance to God in the beginning, His claim to authority over us, was that He created us.)


      2. Is God's claim as the Creator at issue now? (The theory of evolution is a frontal attack on the authority of God as our Creator.)


    3. Read Genesis 2:2-3. Do you think God needed to rest? (No. He generally spoke His creation into existence.)


      1. If God did not need to rest, why did He designate the seventh day for rest? (He seems to have done it for two reasons. First, God designated the Sabbath as holy to give us a weekly reminder that He is our Creator. Second, the Sabbath gives us a day of rest - and, unlike God, we need to rest!)


  2. Sabbath Sign


    1. Read Exodus 31:16-17. This text tells us that the Sabbath is a "covenant" and a "sign." In what way is the Sabbath a "covenant" (promise or contract)?


      1. Have we studied anything like this earlier in this series of lessons? (Read Genesis 9:11-13. God told Noah that the rainbow was the sign of the covenant that God would never again destroy the earth with water. That is not the only sign of agreement given by God to humans. Remember that circumcision was a sign of God's covenant with Abraham? ( Genesis 17:9-10))


      2. When you think of the rainbow as a sign of God's promise not to drown us all, what was Noah promising in exchange? (I think the promise was based on Noah's past performance. He promised nothing for the future that I can see.)


      3. What is "our side" of the Sabbath covenant? What do we promise? (Our side of the Sabbath is resting and remembering!)


    2. Read Deuteronomy 5:12-15. To what event is Sabbath-keeping linked in this recitation of the Ten Commandments? (God rescuing His people from slavery.)


    3. Read Hebrews 4:1-4. To what is Sabbath-keeping linked in these verses in Hebrews? (You may need to read Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 to get the complete picture. The "rest" spoken of in these verses is our "rest" in Jesus' work on our behalf as our High Priest in heaven. This is a picture of righteousness by faith.)


    4. Read Exodus 31:12-13. To what event is Sabbath-keeping linked here? (God making us holy.)


    5. Put all four of these "Sabbath link" pictures together: Sabbath/Creation; Sabbath/Rescue from slavery; and, (two) Sabbath/Rescues from sin. What is the "big picture" you see from these four smaller "pictures?" What kind of "sign" is the Sabbath? (The big picture is that God created us and then saved us (or recreated us) from sin. The Sabbath is a sign of what God has done and continues to do for us!)


      1. Given this picture, how important do you think it is for us to keep the Sabbath holy? (It is central. What more important "sign," what more important "flag," could we waive than what God has done and is doing for us!)


    6. Our lesson (Tuesday) has a brilliant question: "What is it about the Sabbath that would make it so appropriate a symbol of the saving relationship with God?" (The answer is that we "rest" on the Sabbath. Many Christians claim that those who still concern themselves about the Ten Commandments are legalists. But in fact, at the heart of the Ten Commandments is our rest in what God has done to create us, save us from sin and make us holy. The Sabbath of rest and remembrance is a beautiful sign of the most important covenant that God has made with us. Resting on the Sabbath is a wonderful symbol that when it comes to salvation, our job is simply to accept (rest in) what Jesus has done for us.)


  3. Sabbath Application


    1. What we have studied so far suggests that the Sabbath applies to all humans. Some argue that it only applied to the Jews. Do we have any evidence that the Sabbath command existed before the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai? (Read Exodus 16:22-26. This text refers to "manna," the food that God miraculously supplied each morning to His people during the Exodus. The manna was supplied in this way prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, thus tending to show the Sabbath rest requirement did not begin at Sinai. Instead, the Creation account shows that the Sabbath observance began at Creation.)


      1. One argument against the continuing validity of the Sabbath is that it is not mentioned in the time frame between Creation and the Exodus. What explanation do you have for that? (The Bible is not a very large book - and this particular (and long) time frame is covered very briefly in the Bible. If the Sabbath was not a matter of dispute, I would not expect it to be mentioned.)


    2. Read Isaiah 66:22-23. To what does the phrase "the new heavens and the new earth" refer? (This is talking about time after the Second Coming of Jesus.)


      1. What does this tell us about the Sabbath? (That it is celebrated even in heaven and the earth made new!)


        1. What does that say about the argument that Sabbath observance is for Jews only? (The Sabbath began at Creation and continues through eternity. It transcends a specific race. This gets us back to our familiar text, Galatians 3:29, which says that if we are in Christ, then we are of "Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." The Sabbath is for all of Abraham's seed.)


    3. Some today argue that keeping the Sabbath is not necessary. If they are right, what reason can you present for keeping it anyway? (If it is our choice, why not choose to do what God told us to do? If we could pick any day to worship God, why not choose the day He commanded? This gets back to the old question: Do you worship God or do you worship yourself? If I worship God, then I go with His choices, even if I think it might not be terribly important. Of course, because the Sabbath is a sign of Creation and our recreation, I consider it to be of utmost importance.)


    4. Friend, God has a special time for us to rest and remember His work of creation and salvation. It is a sign of our acknowledgment of God as Creator and Redeemer. If you have chosen Christ, will you observe the sign of His authority and graciousness to you?


  4. Next week: The New Covenant.
* Copr. 2003, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2014 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
Website by Blake Cameron, M.D.
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