Summary: Coming to hear God’s Word brings us joy when we remember that through his Word Jesus, the Rest-giver, has rescued us from sin’s slavery and he refreshes. He gives the rest and peace of forgiveness.
Regularly Remember the Rest-Giver
Do I Have to Go to Church?
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God through which the Holy Spirit guides our hearts and minds today is recorded in Deuteronomy 5:12-15:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD you God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. ON it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien with in your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath Day.
(Deuteronomy 5:12-15 NIV) – This is the word of the Lord.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, who are sanctified by his word,
“Do I have to go to church?” I remember asking that question a few times while growing up. The cartoons, “Underdog,” and the “Rockie and Bullwinkel Show,” were on Sunday mornings and I wanted to see them. I don’t think I asked the question too often, since the answer was always the same: “You’re coming to church with us.” But that doesn’t mean that the question didn’t come up in my mind at other times.
It was good and right for my parents to take me to church each week whether I wanted to go or not. But what about that question: “Do you have to go to church?” To fully address the attitude behind that question will take a little time, but to get us started let me offer this simple answer: “No, you don’t have to go to church.”
I’m glad to see that you all didn’t get up and leave, because there is more to the answer. To stop here would be dangerous. When our sinful nature hears that we don’t have to go to church, that sinful nature does everything it can to keep us out of church. I’m sure, like me, you have struggled against that nature and all the excuses it can come up with for skipping church, ranging from tiredness to important family activities.
Maybe by now your asking, “But doesn’t the Third Commandment say we have to go to church?” You just heard the Third Commandment as recorded in Deuteronomy 5. On the surface, did it say anything about going to church? No, it didn’t. Rather it commanded Old Testament Israel to rest, not do any work, on the Sabbath Day, which wasn’t Sunday but Saturday, the seventh day. In fact, the word Sabbath, in Hebrew, means to rest, to stop working. The people were to rest on the Rest Day, the seventh day.
So what does that have to do with going to church? Let’s dig below the surface to answer that.
1) The Rest-Giver rescued us from sin’s slavery
Listen to what the Lord wanted Old Testament Israel to think about as they rested on the Rest Day, the Sabbath. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15).
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures and movie scenes about Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Imagine yourself walking acre after acre in fields that have been harvested. You’re picking up the stubbles of straw, which you need to make bricks. Back home the straw is mixed with clay under the hot Egyptian sun. Your muscles ache from digging and kneading the clay and carrying the bricks. Your own people are driving you hard because if you fail to meet the quota, they are beaten by the Egyptian slave drivers.
Then your life changes. The Lord God stretches out his arm and turns water into blood. He brings plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, disease, locust, hail, and darkness against your enslavers. His mighty hand strikes down the first-born of all the Egyptians from the son of Pharaoh on the throne to the prisoner in the dungeon to the livestock in the stall. You are free to go. And when Pharaoh changes his mind and tries to pin you between his army and the Red Sea, look at what God does. The Lord again stretches out his arm and his mighty hand pushes back the waters of the Red Sea. You cross on dry ground. Pharaoh’s army is destroyed as your God brings the waters down on it. The horse and its rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord your God gave you rest from slavery by rescuing you.