THE LORD'S DAY

by David Chanski


An “endangered” commandment?
In the world today, all of God's commandments are ignored, neglected, and despised to one degree or another. There is one commandment that has been subject to assault even from the professing church of Christ itself. That is the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." The Puritan pastors who wrote the Westminster Larger Catechism were right when they said about the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath, that "Satan with his instruments much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety." We have seen the evil one make such progress in this battle in our generation that we have to wonder if he is declaring, "Mission accomplished!" What sensitive Christian does not grieve over the empty pews in churches, especially on Sunday evenings, which have been abandoned for the idols of the NFL, the NBA, or the Mall of America.

The church historian Philip Schaff wrote that observance of the Lord's Day "is a wholesome school of discipline, a means of grace for the people, a safeguard of public morality and religion, a bulwark against infidelity, and a source of immeasurable blessing to the church, the state, and the family. Next to the Church and the Bible, the Lord's Day is the chief pillar of Christian society."

Many Christians today are calling for a return to the faith of our nation's founding fathers. The Lord's Day was a pillar of their religious worship. The godly Jonathan Edwards wrote, "Those who have a sincere desire to obey God in all things, will keep the sabbath more carefully and more cheerfully, if they have seen and been convinced that therein they do what is according to the will and command of God, and what is acceptable to him; and will also have a great deal more comfort in the reflection upon their having carefully and pain- stakingly kept the sabbath." As Edwards points out, we should observe God's day because the Bible tells us, not just because our forefathers did it. But we fool ourselves if we think we will see the blessings they experienced if we are un- willing to imitate their devotion to God.

For the Jews only?
One of the first arguments brought against the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8), is that it was a commandment intended only for the Jews, but not for Christians. However, such reasoning overlooks the Bible's plain teaching that the Sabbath institution has been around, literally, since the creation of the world. It was on the seventh day of the creation week that we read that "God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" Genesis 2:3). That He "blessed" and "sanctified" the day means that He made it a special day, a holy day, set apart for His own purpose. But that was not so that He could observe a day of worshipful rest every seven days, but that we might. s Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" Mark 2:27). So man's obligation to keep the Sabbath has existed since the creation of the world.

But what about the objection that the Fourth Commandment was not written until the days of Moses? First, the very wording of the Commandment points back to its institution at creation: "Remember the Sabbath day". This directs us back to Genesis 2:23, for there is no other statement regarding the institution of the Day in the Bible. Second, consider the reason given for obedience to the Commandment: "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day" (Exodus 20:11). This motive for keeping the command is as relevant for Adam and all mankind as for the Jews in the desert. Third, consider that the same objection could be raised against the rest of the commandments. But would anyone want to argue that Cain did not sin in murdering his brother, Abel, just because the Sixth Commandment had not been written yet? Or that idolatry or lying were not sins before Moses' day?

Christian friend, don't resist the ordinance of God. Instead, embrace the teaching of God's word and find that the Lord's Day was given to us for our good, as Jesus said. Remember, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

The Sabbath established at creation

The first pillar of the Bible’s doctrine that Christians are obligated to keep one day in seven holy to God is the fact that the Sabbath ordinance was established at creation (see Genesis 2:3). The second pillar is the fact that this obligation is one of the Ten Commandments. God commands, in Exodus 20:8-11, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work." But who says the Ten Commandments are so special? God does! Remember that when the Lord gave these ten commands He spoke publicly with His own voice, He wrote the commandments on stone with His own finger, and he later told Moses to keep the stone tablets in the ark of the covenant. Not only are these commandments very significant, but God also regards them as a unit (see Exodus 34:28; James 2:10-11). Therefore, we should expect them all to stand or fall together. Yet both Jesus and the apostles assumed that the Ten Commandments are still valid for us today (Matthew 5:18-28; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:10-12).

Someone might object that we can easily see how it is true that the other nine commandments are a reflection of God's own character and that our keeping them is part of our imitating Him—but is this true of the Fourth Commandment?! That is exactly the point of Exodus 20:11, in which we are told that we should keep God's day holy, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day."

Many people say that Christians who keep this commandment are the ones who have to prove that God requires it of us. But we have seen that the Bible clearly teaches that the Sabbath was established at creation and that keeping it is part of his moral law. Do you want the task of convincing the Judge of all the earth that these are not strong enough reasons for you to remember God's day? If you have neglected this commandment, confess your sin to God, and keep His day holy for the good of your soul and the glory of His name!

How do we “observe the Sabbath”?
If Christians are really obligated to keep the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," just how do we do it? What is the purpose of the Lord's Day? What are we supposed to do on Sunday? For one thing, we are supposed to rest. The Hebrew word, "sabbath", means to rest or to cease from something. On the Lord's Day, we cease from our regular labors. God has given us a time for rest and recuperation. In this way we imitate God, "for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" (Exodus 31:17). But the Lord has not given us this day simply to kick back and spend time with our families--let alone to devote ourselves to hunting, water-skiing, or watching the Vikings.

Rather, we are to come apart from our six-day-a-week labors in order to devote ourselves to another kind of enterprise—worshiping our God. Throughout the Old Testament, we are reminded that the Sabbath was not just a holiday, but a religious holiday, a holy day. "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings" (Leviticus 23:3). Notice that it is a day of solemn or holy rest, on which the people gather together to worship the Lord in a holy convocation. And it is not our day, to do as we please, but it is the Sabbath of the Lord. It is a day of rest for worship.

What a simple, yet blessed way to devote ourselves to the service and glory of God in our generation. Not by observing a number of meaningless, manmade holy days on a church calendar, but by honoring and celebrating the one truly holy day the Lord has instituted in His Word—fifty-two times per year! May the Lord restore a love and a reverence for His day among His people in our generation, and may we know His promised blessing:

Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father
(Isaiah 58:14).


Teaching of the New Testament
We have observed that the Bible directs us to set apart one day each week as a day of rest for the purpose of worshiping God. This is so because 1) God set apart the Sabbath day for that purpose from the time of creation and 2) He requires observance of that day as part of His moral law. "But," the discerning reader may reply, "that's what the Old Testament says. What does the New Testament say?" For many have said that the New Testament does away with Sabbath observance altogether. What about it?

Many claim that Jesus Himself abolished the Sabbath, both by His teaching and by His actions. But a careful reading of the gospels reveals that that is not at all the case. First, the Scriptures give every indication that Jesus faithfully and conscientiously obeyed the Fourth Commandment. Luke 4:16 says that it was Jesus' custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Furthermore, in the passages in which many allege that Jesus criticized Sabbath observance, he is really criticizing only the Sabbath laws and practices of the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:1-15; Mark 2:23-3:6; Luke 6:1-11). In Matthew 5:20-48, Jesus over and again condemns the teaching and practice of the Pharisees, and enforces the true meaning of God's holy law. Similarly, in these passages concerning the Sabbath, Jesus exposes the Pharisees' legalistic and perverted understanding of God's law. (By Jesus' time, the Jewish rabbis had developed over 600 manmade laws to corrupt God's holy day and to obscure its gracious intent.) Jesus opposes these false teachers; He does not oppose the Old Testament, the Fourth Commandment, or the God who gave them both!

Think of it. The Jews saw fit to add their own rules and regulations to the Sabbath and thus turn it into a harsh, legalistic, and oppressive affair. When you read the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", do you view it as something negative and legalistic? That is, are you interpreting God's word as the Pharisees did? Or do you read it like Jesus, who saw the day as a gift from God, a great blessing and a delight?

If we admit that Jesus did not abolish the Fourth Commandment, either by his teaching or his practice, we are still left with some "controversial" statements from the pen of the Apostle Paul. In Colossians 2:16 Paul wrote, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths." Some believe that this text clearly and directly shows that there is no longer any obligation to keep God's command to remember the Sabbath day. But this view does not stand up to a careful consideration of the apostle's words.

The word "sabbath" in the New Testament refers only and always to the seventh day sabbath—Saturday—or to Jewish feasts or holy days. Paul is therefore sserting that Christians are under no obligation to observe the Jewish religious calendar. Paul lumps the Jewish holy days in with the Jewish food laws. The Christian is not required to observe them--no matter what the "Judaizing" teachers insist. Paul is addressing the subject of things that are 1) Jewish and therefore 2) indifferent. But obedience to the Ten Commandments does not fall into either of those categories. Obedience to the Ten Commandments is not exclusively for the Jews, and it is not a matter of indifference. The Christian must remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The Christian, however, obeys this command by making the first day of the week God's day, not the seventh. Paul's statement is indeed damaging to the notion that we must still observe the seventh day as a sabbath, but it does nothing to overturn the Fourth Commandment or to wrench it from its place in God's moral law.

We are reminded of the danger of twisting the Scriptures to suit our native laziness and selfishness. As Paul wrote, "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm"(1Timothy 1:5-7).

Change of the day
Perhaps the most perplexing question regarding the Christian Sabbath is, On what day of the week should it be observed? The Old Testament clearly designated the seventh day, Saturday, as the Sabbath. Indeed, there are some who argue that the Sabbath is still the seventh day of the week. Others say it does not matter what particular day is observed, so long as we give one day each week especially to God. Others like to use this confusion as proof that there is no obligation to observe any day as a holy day under the New Covenant. But the New Testament provides the basis for the Christian church's unwavering observance of Sunday as the Lord's Day for nearly two millennia.

When the Apostle John wrote that he had a vision on "the Lord's Day" in Revelation 1:10, he was telling us that it was the Christian church's day of worship, the first day of the week. It is not simply coincidence that the church came out of the first century uniformly celebrating a day called the "Lord's Day" as a day for corporate worship, and doing that on the first day of each week. And this is not the only mention within the New Testament that the early disciples worshiped on the first day of the week. When Paul stopped in Troas on his way to Jerusalem, he had to wait until Sunday to see all the church, since that was the day they gathered together for worship (Acts 20:6, 7). Paul knew that this was also the practice in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:2)—in both cases because he himself had taught them!

But on what grounds could the Apostles introduce such a momentous change? Simply this. God finished the First Creation and then rested on the seventh day. Jesus inaugurated the New Creation with His resurrection and rested from His work of redemption on the first day. This helps us to understand why each of the four gospel writers was careful to point out that Jesus rose and appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1, 13, 33-36; John 20:1, 19, 26). It is fitting therefore that the New Covenant people of God observe the first day of the week as their special holy day.

Is it difficult to accept that the God-appointed day of public worship has been changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week? Consider these Scriptural parallels. When God delivered Israel out of the bondage of Egypt in the Exodus, this was Israel's redemption. It typified the greater redemption to be accomplished by Jesus Christ. Two memorials were observed in Israel in honor of this redemption: the Sabbath and the Passover (Exodus 12:13-14; Deuteronomy 5:15). Besides being a sign of creation, the Sabbath became a sign of redemption, its rest typifying the deliverance of Israel from slavery.

The New Testament presents the work of Christ as a greater deliverance, a new exodus, and a perfect redemption which sets believers free from the bondage of sin and death (Hebrews 2:14-15; 4:8-11). But again, two memorials are appointed of this redemption by the Redeemer Himself: the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20) and the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10). (The exact Greek word translated "Lord's" in these verses occurs in only these two places in the New Testament.) No longer do Christians celebrate the Passover and the Sabbath. Now, in commemoration of a greater salvation, they observe the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Day.

How eloquently this speaks of the fact that the Lord's Day is patterned on the Sabbath and, like the Sabbath, should be kept holy. Just as Israel's observance of the Sabbath and Passover indicated thier esteem for their God, so also our reverence for the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Day measures our love for the Savior. And if that be true, what does it say about the condition of today's church? Christian friend, what does it say about you? Have you left your first love? God help us to remember from where we have fallen, and repent and do the first works (see Revelation 2:4-5).

Delight yourself in the Lord
If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father (Isaiah 58:13 & 14).

Do these words of the prophet Isaiah describe your attitude and your experience when it comes to the Lord's Day? If they do not, why is that? Many people who profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ respond to the Bible's teaching that we ought to observe the first day of the week as a day of holy rest and worship by saying that such an idea is legalism. They think that it is overly restrictive, if not downright harsh and oppressive, to tell the Christian that he has no business being in the workplace on the Lord's Day, let alone being on the golf links, at the Metrodome, on the beach, at the mall, or at the State Fair.

But is such an attitude even close to the spirit of the prophet—indeed of the entire Word of God? The Bible teaches us that the Lord is the Christain's portion, his chief delight. Moreover, the Scriptures teach that the Lord is present with His people in a special way when they gather together to worship Him on His appointed day. And we are told that He grants them a peculiar blessing when they consciously and deliberately deny themselves other earthly pleasures just so they can be with Him. To say that spending an entire day with God is oppressive is in effect to say, "I don't want to be cooped up with God all day, and no one can make me!"

Think of it in these terms. Would you tell a young man who is looking forward to spending a week with his new bride in a secluded cabin that he is being hard on himself? Of course not! He wants to be with the one he loves! Whom do you love? When it comes to spending God's special day in His company, can you say from the heart, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"?
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