What Makes Sunday A Special Day for Christians?

The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd, 1877

Last week I explained to two of my great-grandchildren why the day of rest and worship shifted from Saturday for the Jews to Sunday for Christians: Sunday was the day our Lord rose from the dead.

I then reviewed for them, and other family members around the table the following Christian certainties under-girding the Lord’s Day:

On Friday of Holy Week our Lord’s brutalized body was hastily placed in a tomb because the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and the work of his burial was forbidden from then until after sundown on Saturday.

Thus for a part of three days: Friday, all of Saturday and the early part of Sunday, our Lord had been entombed.

At daybreak Sunday morning the Jewish Sabbath was over and several deeply grieving and devoted women, all followers of Jesus, went to the tomb with spices, in order to finish the burial rites.

Adding to their grief and distress, they found the tomb open and empty. Two of the women rushed back to Jerusalem to report this to the disciples.

Mary Magdalene stayed behind. As she stood weeping beside the tomb, she was addressed by ‘someone’ standing near the tomb. She rebuked him, thinking he was the gardener and that perhaps he had moved the body elsewhere.

But when the Lord Himself answered back, “Mary,” she fell at his feet and cried out, “Rabboni” — Teacher!

This is why Mary was the first witness to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

After that first early morning appearance to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appeared in the afternoon to two disconsolate men walking the Emmaus road leading away from Jerusalem. At nightfall he appeared for the third time that day, this time to frightened disciples huddled within a locked room in fear for their lives.

Of course he subsequently appeared to many more before his ascension into heaven. But that first Sunday was Resurrection Day, a day unmatched by any other in history.

Our Lord’s resurrection from death on Sunday makes that day, rather than Saturday, the Lord’s Day of rest and corporate worship.

Whether in cathedrals, storefronts, sod huts, or even secret hiding places, Christians raise their voices together in song and prayer to celebrate Jesus’ living presence with his people.

That conversation with family was short but memorable. The children learned about the special reason for the Lord’s Day, perhaps for the first time, and the adults reviewed the conviction together with them.

Sunday is a day to rest from our labors, to gather for worship with a company of his people, and to say again with conviction, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

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What Two Children Learned About Sunday

At our house one Sunday recently a family gathering included two of our great-grandchildren, Jesse, 9, and Rebekah, 8.

I decided to begin our mealtime with a brief question for the children:

What makes Sunday, such a special day for Christians? And why do we call Sunday the Lord’s Day?

Jesse quickly cited the creation story of Genesis 1 explaining that God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested from his labors and that is what we are to do also.

Rebekah agreed — both of them reflecting teaching they had received in their home and at Sunday School.

Both children were engaged so I decided to add some building blocks to the foundation their parents and teachers had already laid down.

I noted that Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is still the Holy Day observed by devout Jews, but we Christians set aside for special observance Sunday instead, the first day of the week.

Interest around the table even for the adults was keen so I reviewed for all of us that a day of rest from our labors is still required for Christians in the Ten Commandments: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

But, I went on: for us Christians Sunday is not only a day of rest from our labors; it is also a special day to gather for the worship of our Living Lord. He rose from the grave on a Sunday! That’s why we gather and we call it the Lord’s Day.

For most Christians that is how Saturday, the original Sabbath Day of Rest, became Sunday — both a day of rest and the Lord’s Day. There are hints in the Scriptures that this shift of days was beginning even when the New Testament was coming into being (Acts 20: 6-12; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Revelation 1:10).

The interlude with the children around our table was a memorable moment for our family gathering. We then followed the brief exchange by giving thanks for the food and enjoying lively family fellowship over our Lord’s Day evening meal.

Photo credit: Jason Lander (via flickr.com)

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Is God Everywhere?

Five-year-old Charlie sat on his father’s knee peppering him with questions. The toughest of them: How can God be at our house and at Grandma and Grandpa’s a Long drive away at the same time?

Touching Charlie’s shoulder gently his father asked, “Are you here?” “Yes,” the boy answered.

Then he touched his son’s knee, asking the same question: “Are you here?” Again, Charlie answered, “Yes.”

“If you can be everywhere in your body at the same time,” his father continued, “why can’t God be everywhere in his world at the same time?” Charlie seemed satisfied and went on to something else.

But this five year-old’s question is more challenging than at first appears. That is, in this almost immeasurably vast universe can God be where the Northern Lights shine brightly and at the same time in the semi-darkness of the rainforests in Brazil?

It’s an issue that stretches our faith, yet our Scriptures bear witness repeatedly to this “everywhereness” of God. The theological term is “omnipresence.”

For example, the Psalmist, David, prayed: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there. (Psalm 139:7,8).

From the wisdom literature of the Old Testament comes another assurance: The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3).

Jeremiah speaks God’s words as his prophet: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24).

Eighty years ago in Sunday School back in Saskatchewan we children were taught a little chorus that went like this:

“Be careful little hands what you do; be careful little hands what you do. There’s a Father up above, and he’s looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do.” (also mouth what you say; etc.).

The conviction that God is everywhere is reassuring for those of us who live under the Lordship of Jesus. The Proverbs declare: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).

Our God is everywhere! There is nowhere he is not. So, we are never out of the range of his watchful eye and his loving care.

Believing this truth does us good in two ways: it sharpens our consciences to resist evil and enriches our faith to trust in his care wherever we may be.

Photo credit: Eduard V. Kurganov (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: Is Our Problem Pride or Low Self-Esteem?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna)This month a teacher told her students that if they planned to give out Valentine cards, the cards must meet these rules: every card must be the same; every classmate must get one; and nothing must be written on them. She wanted to save any child from damaged self-esteem.

But recently Professor Baumeister at Florida State University studied levels of self-esteem among different groups of adults. He found the highest levels in … prison inmates! And the violent offenders had the highest perceived levels of them all.

Self-esteem is critically important. We are God’s creatures, bearing his image. Therefore it is right that we should carry ourselves with dignity and should be careful to honor the dignity and worth of our fellows.

But the Scriptures make clear that damaged self-esteem is not our greatest problem. According to the Bible we are the offspring of Adam and, although we bear the image of God, that image is marred; we are by nature sinners.

One consequence of that sin is that we have a proud desire to be independent from God — on our own in his universe. That was the error of the builders of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

The Genesis passage says the people moving eastward found a beautiful plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and decided to settle there, build a city, and erect a tower that would reach to the heavens. The up-reaching tower was a symbol of man’s thrust for autonomy.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, and he discerned the people’s intent to seek complete autonomy rather than living under his mandate to settle the earth he had given them. So he confused their language and “scattered them over all the earth” (Genesis 11:8).

We see this impulse toward autonomy early in children. One of our grandsons, at the age of only four, said to his mother in a commanding way, “Mommie, I want you and Daddie to let me and my sister do whatever we want to do.” It was given as a first cry of the heart for absolute autonomy — “Don’t fence me in.”

Theologians have followed the Scriptures in noting this impulse to pride which at its center resists the rule of God and his son, Jesus Christ. St. Augustine called human pride, “the love of one’s own excellence.” John Calvin defined it as an “innate self love by which we are all blinded.” John Wesley wrote: “The first advice I would give those who have been saved is to watch continually against pride.”

To be graciously delivered from pride by God is a worthy request because, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Humility is the secret of fellowship, and pride, the secret of division.” It is true that wherever there is unresolved conflict, whether in home, family, community or church, secondary causes might be teased to the surface. But at the base, this pride will be found to lurk.

Heart pride is divisive. It erects barriers. On the other hand, where there is heart humility there is joy and good fellowship among the people whether in family, community, or church.

Which makes the words of the Apostle Paul to the young church in the imperial city of Rome my favorite instruction to any church on this issue: “For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

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Beware of Spiritual Hackers!

I was on the phone with a banker to change a password. The officer I was speaking with suddenly informed me that my account had just been locked. Apparently an unauthorized party was trying to get into it.

After a few words of advice the call ended. Almost instantly there was a notice on my screen saying I should phone a certain number to obtain protection from a hacking attempt against my computer.

I didn’t suspect the banker. I had initiated the call to him. I also knew that clicking on a link is what you never do at a time like this. I also learned from a person of experience that you may take the risk to phone a number or receive a call so long as you provide the caller with zero information.

So out of curiosity that some might caution against, I phoned the number on the screen. When the voice on the other end of the line informed me that he was calling from “Mac” — I own an Apple — I began to sense I was in touch with the evil intentions of a hacker so I hung up.

That left me curious about the term. Where does it come from? What is its original meaning? I discovered a definition: “A malicious or inquisitive meddler who tries to discover information by poking around.” Our world has more than its share of computer hackers — clever but dishonest people who hone their electronic skills in order to cheat the unwary.

But does it occur to us that there is a Hacker prowling around in the spiritual realm and preying on the unwary, with even greater cunning, especially towards Christians?

I refer to a master spiritual hacker who goes by several names — Lucifer (star of the morning) satan (deceiver), the devil (false accuser). This evil force is known as well by many metaphors — wolves in sheep’s clothing, a (deceitful) angel of light, a roaring lion, a great dragon and a serpent.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s description of the spiritual environment in which believers in the city of Ephesus were to live out their faith: “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

The Scriptures exhort us to beware of these spiritual hackers! They repeatedly caution us that our only eternal defence is to avail ourselves by faith of the grace, peace, and truth lodged in our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only to believe in him, but to surrender our lives to him so as to live under his guidance. In all of this, we are assisted by His Spirit, His Word and Christian friends.

The caution is real. As Saint Peter exhorted the early Christians: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

A loss of the contents of a bank account to a human hacker or valuable content in our computers could be costly–even devastating–in this life. But loss of faith and our very souls to the master of all spiritual hackers will be eternal and irreversible.

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Photo credit: Garrett Coakley (via flickr.com)

Re-post: The Second Coming of Christ — Is it on Your Radar?

3184871233_83c52d668b_nIt’s been estimated that one out of every 28 verses in the New Testament has to do with the Second Coming of Christ.

I have three favorite verses that keep that hope vibrant and uncluttered in my heart. I call them my anchor verses on the subject.

First, there are the words Jesus spoke to his eleven disciples during their time in the upper room only hours before his crucifixion. He said, “I am going to (my Father’s house) to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-4).

Can such a lavish promise be trusted? In his teachings Jesus constantly pressed the issue of truth. He often introduced his message with the words, “Truly, truly I say to you.” Or, “I tell you the truth.” He even testified, “I am the truth!” Is it not reasonable then to take him seriously when he says, “I will come back.” so that, “you also may be where I am”?

If he made good on the first half of his promise to ascend to the Father to prepare a place for us, then we can count on him to make good on his promise to return for his followers.

Second, two angels spoke to the disciples on the Mount of Olives at the time when Jesus was taken up into heaven. To the astonishment of the “eleven” these heavenly messengers said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

“This same Jesus.” Our Lord was fully human when he ascended. Why should it be hard to believe the promise of angel messengers that he will return “bodily.”

It was apparent that the brutal, disfiguring death Jesus had suffered had not in any sense diminished him. His identity was fully preserved, even though his distraught followers had to clear their vision to see it. In fact, by his resurrection they saw he had obviously been endowed with new qualities of life (Luke 24:30,31,36; 1 Cor. 15:44-49).

The Apostle Paul, taking his cue from these facts, later referred to a resurrected body as a spiritual body with new properties and capabilities. And — good news for us — Christ himself said to his followers, “Because I live, you too will live” (John 14:19).

The third scriptural portion I hold dear on the Second Coming of Christ was written years later by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. He compared living in this mortal body to living in a tent (2 Cor. 5:1). Tents can provide shelter but they are fragile. A sudden wind storm can blow them away. Then what?

By contrast, the Apostle visualized our state of living in heaven as living in “an eternal house, not built by human hands” (1 Cor. 5:1). The difference between living in a tent and living in a house built by God — a resurrection body — is infinitely great.

But what about the interim between “tent” and “house?” My third verse fits here. We are left to wonder about the intricacies of what some call the “intermediate state” — the time between the believer’s death and resurrection when Christ appears in his glory. The Apostle covers the interim adequately with the words, “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:8).

For the true believer that assurance is enough. We may not be told when or where or how, but we have the assurance that during the waiting time, for those who have died in Christ, the situation will be, “absent from the body, (but) present with the Lord.”

Some say it’s all a myth. A fairy tale. A cover for the fear of death.

In response: I believe in the resurrection of the body because our Lord promised it, the apostles proclaimed it, the early martyrs died believing in it, and through the ages the church on earth has born witness to it as an ongoing anchor point for faith.

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Photo credit: Mike Vondran (via flickr.com)

Re-post: God Knows Everything

When we were little children in Sunday School seventy years or so ago we used to sing a chorus that went like this:

He sees all you do, He hears all you say,
Our God is writing all the time, time, time.

Sometimes, in that simple little one room church in a prairie town in Western Canada, the superintendent would add a few words of earnest counsel. He wanted to be sure we understood. We would gaze up at him wide-eyed. God knows everything. It was a heavy message for little impressionable minds.

Choruses like these formed an early chapter in our moral training. The bottom line issue was that God knows us altogether and we can’t hide anything from him so we should keep this in mind when we go about our daily activities. I thought of those early lessons this morning as I read about the outrageously wicked King Herod the Great, and the innocent little Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

They called him Herod “the Great” for good reasons. He built the seaport at Caesarea and wisely named it after the emperor. He built a theater in Jerusalem and an amphitheater outside the city. He set in motion the rebuilding of the temple which became a magnificent structure for the Jewish people. Herod was an exceptionally skilful administrator and diplomat.

But power was his issue, and he used it ruthlessly. His police were everywhere. Purges were frequent. His own wife, Mariamne, was marched off to execution because he suspected her of plotting against him. Her three sons also, and five others of his children from various unions met the same end. He even had all but two members of the ruling council of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, murdered. Herod’s viciousness was about on a par with the viciousness of a Saddam Hussein.

So, when some mysterious figures called Magi arrived in Jerusalem coming from a land as far away as Persia, the word spread through the city fast. The place must have buzzed. And when Herod learned these Magi claimed to have been divinely guided by a heavenly light to come to the birthplace of a baby born to be King of the Jews, his paranoid tendencies flared.

No matter that the child the Magi sought was a miracle baby sent by God to be the redeemer of the world. How could such an infant be safeguarded against the murderous jealousy of a powerful sovereign who would stop at nothing to keep his shaky throne secure?

Here’s how: God in Heaven knew what was in Herod’s mind. God knows everything. He sent a warning to the baby’s human father, Joseph. He sent it by means of a dream in the night: Get up right away and get out of town; head for Egypt; the murderous Herod intends to find and kill the child. Joseph obeyed and the child’s life was spared.

Today we have a more sophisticated word for the belief that God knows everything. We say he is omniscient. But he can’t be omniscient unless he knows the end from the beginning, and the whole sweep of history down to its minutest detail. The psalmist, David, wrote, “Before a word is on my tongue/ you know it completely, O Lord.” (Ps. 139:4) Jesus said his Father sees the insignificant sparrow fall. He also said that his Father alone knows the future date for the end of human history.

The little choruses sung in Sunday Schools 70 years ago may not fit our present cultural moods. Times have changed. But the truth has not changed. It is still a cornerstone conviction of orthodox Christians that God knows everything. And when we operate on that conviction we handle the crises of life better and our daily walk is more stable.

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Image credit: woodleywonderworks (via flickr.com)