Without question, our culture has embraced secularism and the absolute autonomy of the individual as the new credo for living.
In keeping with this change over the past several decades, practices that once regulated public life to a degree, such as Sunday store closings and the setting apart of Sunday for worship and rest, are no longer seen by most people as of any consequence.
Without realizing it, many Christians too appear to have become lax in how Sunday is to be observed. Rather than making it a true Lord’s Day for worship and rest from the labors of the week, Sunday might include doing laundry, shopping for groceries, washing the car, mowing the lawn, cleaning house, or spending hours of hard study to compensate for a poorly disciplined week.
To refocus on the Sabbath principle (Lord’s Day observance) consider a brief review of Bible texts that give a good sense of how Sabbath observance came into being and how Christians should be encouraged to set the day apart even in our secular times.
We begin with the account of Creation. The Book of Genesis tells us that after six days of creation, “on the seventh day God rested (ceased) from all the work of creation that he had done” (Genesis 2:2,3). This rest is sometimes referred to as a Sabbath rite, a standard to be observed by God’s creatures.
Then, in Exodus, the second book of the Bible, we learn that during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God gave the miraculous gift of manna as daily food (Exodus 16:22). Each morning the Israelites were to go out and collect enough for the family for only that day. But, on the morning of the sixth day, they were to gather enough for two days so they would not need to gather on the Sabbath.
Again, this arrangement reflected God’s merciful provision for the temporal needs of his chosen people and at the same time his call for them to desist one day out of seven from their weekly labors in order to rest in his mercy and celebrate his care.
Then, later came the giving of the Ten Commandments. The fourth said, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” [setting it apart, sanctifying it] (Exodus 20:8). Commandments one, two, and three say “You shall not…” Commandment four is a ‘You shall’ positive command to remember and observe the Sabbath Day.
Many centuries later, the Israelites were well settled in the Holy Land and had become prosperous. As so often happens when people feel wealthy and secure, they became neglectful of God’s laws. Prophets like Isaiah prophesied against their wanton disobedience, pinpointing as one major piece of evidence their disregard of the Sabbath.
To counter their offense Isaiah prophesies, “‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath / and from doing as you please on my holy day, / if you call the Sabbath a delight / and the Lord’s holy day honorable, / and if you honor it by not going your own way / and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, / then you will find your joy in the Lord, / and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land / and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13,14).
Do New Testament teachings agree with these examples from the Old Testament? In the four Gospels there are at least 58 references to the Sabbath. The problem with Sabbath observance then was that several generations of Rabbis had embellished the basic Sabbath laws with all sorts of picky regulations making the special day burdensome rather than renewing.
The Gospels do not cancel the Sabbath principle — one day in seven for worship and rest from one’s labors. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man.” He humanized it as the Father intended for creaturely renewal — a day to throw off the labors of the week, worship God among his people, and launch the new work week refreshed in body and soul.
In time, Christendom generally switched the rest day from Saturday to Sunday. That’s because Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection. It is celebrated as the Lord’s Day.
Is there adequate reason for this change? Jesus rose from death on a Sunday and appeared to his followers both morning (John 20:1-17) afternoon (Luke 24:13-32) and evening (Luke 24:36-49). These meetings set the stage for the weekly celebration on Sunday of our Lord’s resurrection and the promise of ours!
A generation later Paul and Luke were in Troas (now Western Turkey) and Luke writes, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread’ (Acts 20:6-12). Again, Paul instructs the Corinthians to set aside their special offerings “on the first day of the week” — Sunday, rather than Saturday. (1 Corinthians 16:1,2).
Wise and devout Christians to the present see the wisdom of making Sunday a special day of worship and a day of rest from the labors of the week. They find joy in meeting with a company of Christians for the worship of the resurrected Christ, and setting aside week-day labors to renew faith and clear their vision of life through the living Christ.
In observing the Lord’s Day with care — carefully avoiding making it “just another day” — we acknowledge God’s mercy. As well, we bless ourselves and our families by turning our thoughts heavenward and consciously resting in God’s faithfulness.
(Adapted from my booklet, Give it Rest)
Photo credit: Kārlis Dambrāns (via flickr.com)