Our culture as a whole has clearly embraced secularism and the absolute autonomy of the individual as the credo for living. In keeping with this change, over the past several decades former societal practices that put God collectively above the individual, such as Sunday store closings for family, worship, and rest, have vanished.
Many Christians appear to have followed this change. Rather than making Sunday a true Lord’s Day for worship and rest, Sunday might include any-day tasks such as laundry, shopping for groceries, washing the car, mowing the lawn, cleaning house, or spending hours in hard study.
The question to a believer such as I is whether we give up something precious when Sunday becomes like any other day of the week.
The Sabbath originally referred to Saturday, but for the largest part of Christendom it has become Sunday. That’s because Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection and is therefore “the Lord’s Day.”
Consider as well that on the Sunday of his resurrection, Jesus also appeared to his followers that morning (John 20:1-19), afternoon (Luke 24:13-32), and evening (36-49). These meetings set the stage for the weekly celebration on Sunday of our Lord’s resurrection and the promise of our salvation and eternal life with Him!
For further support of Sunday observance, note Luke’s documentation that a generation after Christ’s resurrection, when he and Paul were in Troas (now Western Turkey), “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). And as well, Paul instructs the Corinthians to set aside their special offerings “on the first day of the week” (1 Corinthians 16: 1-2).
The Sabbath principle really begins 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 (16:12). 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 (16:29).
Again, this arrangement reflected God’s merciful 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 (20:8) said, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” (setting it apart, sanctifying it).
The first three commandments all start with the phrase “You shall not…” Commandment four begins with “You shall” — it is a positive command to remember and observe the special 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, their sense of self-sufficiency had led them to neglect God’s laws. Prophets like Isaiah prophesied against their disobedience, pinpointing as one major piece of evidence their disregard of the Sabbath. To speak to 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 in triumph 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. However, 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. In response, the Gospels do not cancel the Sabbath principle. Instead, 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.
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 ordinary labors of the week. They find joy in meeting with a company of Christians for the worship of the resurrected Christ, to renew faith and clear their perspective on life through the living Christ. In this way, we acknowledge God’s merciful provision. As well, we bless ourselves and our families by turning our thoughts heavenward and consciously resting in God’s faithfulness.
Photo credit: sean mason (via flickr.com)