The Day Of Rest And Gladness
We are told in Genesis 2:1-3 “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done.” All of us are trapped in days that last for exactly twenty-four hours. The miser cannot rebel and cry, “I shall live in terms of a 40 hour day to give me more time to make money.” That is chronologically unachievable. The prisoner complaining that his days of confinement are too long cannot make the decision to cut his days down to 16 hours in length to get his sentence over faster; that also is impossible. Twenty-four hours is the period of time for the earth to rotate on its axis, and all mankind has to fit its life into such a length of day. We are all structured to work and to rest within every single day. There are other daily rhythms that are essential for the natural functions of the bodies which God has created out of the dust of this world.
Without Genesis chapter one how would anyone explain a week? One dictionary I consulted this week defined it as a period of time longer than a day and shorter than a month! We can relate a day to the earth rotating on its axis, and we can relate a year to the period of time in which the earth completes a single revolution around the sun, consisting of 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds of mean solar time. You cannot relate a week of seven days to the sun or moon. It is not linked with what God has made; the lunar cycle, for example, is not one of 28 days but 29 and a half days and 44 minutes. The week of seven days has to be linked to how God made everything. He worked in terms of six days and then he took a day of rest.
Attempts have been made to lengthen the week. The French obsession with metrification – having everything in units of ten – and their opposition to the church resulted in the decision to have ten day weeks. That was attempted during the French revolution, but people couldn’t cope with that. Human bodies function in a sabbatical structure; they needed rest every seven days not every ten. There have been shorter groupings of days in some African communities linked with market days occurring every four days, but overwhelmingly, all over the world and linked to a variety of religions, even men without the Bible have lived by a week of seven days. That is because of an earlier grace in the world displayed at its very creation.
1. GOD BLESSED THE SEVENTH DAY AND MADE IT HOLY.
Genesis one has told us that God did not only create the universe but that he created time too. He didn’t create the world in an instant. Why did he take so long to make the heavens and the earth? Why did he spread it out over six whole days? It is in order to tie us to our Creator with the loving bonds of the Sabbath.
What did God do on the seventh day of creation week? Our text uses several words to describe the rest and the activity of God. First, he did no more work; second, he rested; third; he blessed the day; fourth, he made it holy. There had been omnipotent supernatural activity manifested in the first six days of creation reaching to the most distant galaxies in the universe, but all that divine working ended after six days. Of course God continued to uphold everything he had made; he opened his hand and satisfied the desire of every living thing. The movement of the atoms and the stars had their being in him, but there was no new creative activity. God rested from all of that for a day. God resting? That is a peculiar idea isn’t it? Certainly Omnipotence doesn’t grow weary. The Ancient of Days doesn’t begin to totter and sigh and look for a couch to lie on. On this seventh day he was engaged in a different form of existence. The Father could take delight in the Son and the Son delighted in the Father, and both in the Spirit and he in them. Eternity had always been an existence of blissful joy. It was not from loneliness or frustration that God created the cosmos. It was not from tiredness that God rested.
Then we are also told that God blessed this day of rest. How do you bless a day? Sometimes we limit blessedness to a feeling of happiness. Well, then we have to ask the question once again, how do you make a day happy? I think it is better to think in terms of asking what is the opposite of ‘blessed’ and that is ‘cursed’. To be cursed by God is to be out of his favour, outside his friendship, subject to his judgment, whereas to be blessed is to be in a special relationship with him, to be the subject of his love and grace. So God made this day a blessed day, one that was uniquely related to himself. He made it a good day; Sundays are great days. Let me turn that two ways;
i] Firstly, I learned from my friend Bruce Ray that the Babylonians acknowledged every seventh day, but not all the year around simply during two of their months. However, unlike the biblical Sabbath celebration the Babylonian seventh days were considered unlucky days. They were bad days. You avoided activity and travel because anything and everything could go wrong on those days. So people were forbidden to eat meat that would be baked on a fire because the fire might be dangerous. The Babylonians’ religious writings warned the king not to travel in his chariot, and not to make a speech on these black sabbaths. Doctors were told not to treat their patients on one of these days, and so on (Bruce A. Ray, Celebrating the Sabbath, P&R Publishing, 2000, p. 33). Their sabbaths were filled with our world’s foolish superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th. If any accident or mishap occurred then their sabbath was blamed. The Babylonian sabbath was a cursed day, but our Sabbath day has been blessed by God. It is engenders happiness.
ii] Secondly, I learned from the biography of the missionary James Paton, the blessedness of Sundays in Paton’s recollection of his boyhood as he looked back from his isolated vigil in the remote South Sea Islands. “Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds down, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us – as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flagstone floor, telling over the substance of the day’s sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living ‘encumbrances,’ got very seldom indeed to church. Dad would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, praising us when we got the length of ‘taking notes and reading them over on our return, and then he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story or some martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the Pilgrim’s Progress. Others must write and say what they will and as they feel, but so must I. There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that, and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has ever been heard or ever will be heard saying that the Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But . . . God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love!” So God blessed the day.
I received the Gospel Standard yesterday and read with pleasure the testimony of Elizabeth Parish, written fifty years ago, a short time before her ninetieth year, in which she died. She had been born in 1862 in the village of Over near Cambridge. These memories caught my eye because this theme was on my mind: “My parents were very gracious people, both members of the Strict Baptist chapel there. It was a happy home, with seven children. We were brought up to observe the Sabbath. There was Sunday School morning and afternoon – and the other three services when we were old enough. We were not allowed running out in the street on the Sabbath. Cambridgeshire is a fruit-growing county, and we had a lovely big fruit garden where we were permitted to go, in the intervals between services. The chapel was very near to our home. I never remember Sunday as a dull or dreary day, but look back to those days with much pleasure, especially the Sunday School We were taught to commit to memory Dr. Watts’ Divine and Moral Songs, many of which I remember today. The Bible was read and taught, and many portions learnt by heart, for which I am thankful now.” That was read by me for the first time yesterday. Her whole little sketch of her long and useful life was worth reading.
Mr Paton’s experience and Mrs. Parish’s memories would be ours too. Sundays have been days to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ, for the children to get out of their school clothes and put on something attractive; to hear the most fascinating truths one will ever hear; to sing the praises of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; to gather with our friends; to put our lives back on track again; to find base passions exposed and weakened; to be given new resolutions and determination to live lovingly with kindness and patience; to return and eat delicious food; to rest and for little children to learn to play quietly indoors; something special is eaten at tea-time; and then back to church again for the evening service and more encounters with the good and blessed God; supper, happy chat and bed. God has blessed this day.
You see the earth revolving on its axis, taking twenty-four hours to turn, gripped by our Saviour. God blessing the world Monday . . . Tuesday . . . Wednesday . . . Thursday . . . Friday . . . Saturday . . . and then Sunday what special blessings come down on the planet as the day spreads from east to west. Christ commands the Spirit to go forth and draw the people of God together, to fill his church again and make it the fellowship of the Spirit, to save as the gospel is preached, to sanctify by making Christians stronger, holier, more loving and peaceful. For twenty-four hours each week without fail this world is the special recipient of God’s saving work. God has blessed this day.
Also the Lord made the day holy (v.3). The God who is full of blessing is also Holy . . . Holy . . . Holy! Everything that belongs to God is in a sense holy, the whole creation is holy, and yet God separates some things to himself. He makes them ‘holy’ that is separated in that sense. He is going to have a holy people, and a holy land, and a holy city, and a holy temple, and holy garments and vessels. There was nothing magical about that holiness, that is, there was no physical change taking place in the fabric or stonework of those places and objects. Rather they were holy in being set apart and separated to himself. God gave instructions to Moses to build a tabernacle – an elaborate tent for worshipping the Lord: “let them make me a sanctuary [literally, ‘a holy place’], that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8). It was a holy place. So too in one sense, every single day is holy, and all of creation is holy, but in another sense when God separates one day to himself and says, “This is my day,” then he makes it different. It is a holy day. Every day belongs to the Lord, Monday is his day, Tuesday is his day, Wednesday is his day, and so on. Surely that is so, and let us glorify God in all we do every day of the week, but nevertheless God set apart one day for special use, and one place, the tabernacle, as a special place where special business was to be transacted between God and his people.
You may question me and say that that was the Old Testament and now in the New Testament we don’t have a holy land or a holy place or a holy time. But you consider the Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching about prayer, does he say, “You can pray anywhere, as you fish, or walk along the street, or when you are riding your donkey, or ploughing your field.”? That might be true, but that does not prevent the Lord Jesus talking about a holy place wherein you meet with God. This is what Christ says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt. 6:6). You make a place and you go there in order to meet with me. Then that place becomes holy. Jesus says he will never leave nor forsake his people; Christ is always at hand, but then he says there are special occasions where he comes in blessing; “where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst.”
Think of people’s attachment to places. Why do people keep going to buildings where the congregations are getting smaller? Why do they hesitate about merging with another church and closing and selling their old buildings? Sentimentalism and traditionalism? It may have something to do with that, but there’s more than that, the people will tell you, “We are not in the business of closing churches. We are praying that God will revive his work here. We were converted in this building. I actually met my husband or wife in this building, and we were married here, and how the good Lord blessed our marriage. It was here that the living God met with us and changed our hearts and minds. God spoke to me many times in this place.” Places and the first day are blessed and holy under the new covenant as under the old. God’s purpose is that this should happen very regularly. Every seven days there is a day for drawing close to God and honouring him.
2. GOD MADE THIS DAY ONE OF HIS ‘CREATION ORDINANCES.’
Now that is a buzz word! It is a part of the special vocabulary that Christians have built up over the centuries. The phrase is a sort of code, and once you understand it you might use the phrase too. Let me explain it like this that there are certain patterns which God our Creator has built into all his creatures, and responding positively to those templates is essential if we are to be real men and women, expressing our humanity and state and place in the world. Even if Adam and Eve had never sinned they would have kept ‘creation ordinances.’ What are these? There are three;
i] Marriage. The world that God made was ‘very good,’ but one thing was not so good and that was man being alone. Adam needed someone to relate to emotionally, intellectually, psychologically and physiologically. Not one animal could be that; none of the wonderful birds and mammals surrounding Adam could help him, so God built a suitable helper for him. That was the foundation of marriage.
ii] Labour. Before Adam fell into sin God told him to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing. God put him in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). God didn’t put him in a university, or a library, or to be entertained by angels or virgins, but to dig and delve in a garden, to get dirt under his nails, and expand his own creativity in how he replenished the earth. Adam was not lying on his back in the Garden with his mouth open waiting for a grape to obey the law of gravity and drop in. Eden was not a place for sluggards. Hell is the home of Mr. Lazy Bones. So there was the ordinance of labour, of achieving a good day’s work.
iii] The Sabbath. God made the creation over a period of six days, steadily, step by step until it was all made, and then taking a whole day off from labour. “That is the pattern for you,” God was saying to all mankind. “Enjoy my blessings and share in my life.” God gave man a sacred place – the Garden of Eden, and he gave man a sacred time, a weekly Sabbath, and he gave him a sacred Friend to walk with in the Garden. I am saying that even if man had never fallen and the world developed in ever increasingly sinless beauty there would still have had to be marriage and work and a special day each week.
What do unbelievers today have instead of this special day? I tell you – the ‘week-end’! And I am saying that those who forget the holiness of the Lord’s Day are failing to get much out of the week-end. It fails to fulfil. An author called Max Gunther wrote a book over forty years ago called The Week-enders and he describes the variety of things that people get up to over a week-end. Then he asks the question, “What went wrong? Didn’t they have fun? Didn’t they spend enormous sums of money, travel endless miles to and from crowded beaches, lakes, mountains, give and attend big, nosy parties, endure hours of strenuous sports, and raise countless blisters tinkering, painting, fixing, building, and gardening? If none of this frenzied activity yielded that sweet, sweet feeling of peace, why not?” That question of Max Gunther is a very good one, don’t you think? Many people spend vast sums of money watching Premier football games and then go to the pub for a few drinks and on to a night club afterwards. It is fearfully expensive. The next day they read the Sunday papers, play some golf and finally watch television, and they do this year after year, and do they wonder why they don’t get satisfaction from it?
A ‘week-end’ cannot replace a Sabbath. Man needs a day with the living God; a day of worship; a day of prayer; a day of hearing the saving and sanctifying Word of God, a day of awakening as we confess again our faith in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. We need a festival of faith every week in which we rejoice because of God’s salvation revealed at the cross of Calvary. We need a day when we meet with other Christians to find out how they are coping, to experience our common love for one another, and bear something of the others’ burdens. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance. Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.
A Chinese minister once told this story to his congregation; there was once a good man who owned a house with seven rooms. A poor man came to him who had no home and he asked could he have a room. The good man actually gave him six rooms with one condition that he would keep the seventh room in order for the owner. The poor man was very thankful and at first he kept his promise, but increasingly he turned the seventh room into his own place. He used it exclusively for himself, and finally he declared that all seven room belonged to him. In that way, said the Chinese pastor, many religious people treat the Sabbath. God gave us six days, but we take all seven for our own ends.
3. GOD INCLUDED THE KEEPING OF THE SABBATH IN THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
In the fourth and longest of the ten commandments God says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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 animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
i] Remember this day! It is one of the two positive commandments of the ten. “Remember!” it cries. It looks back; it assumes that the Sabbath was already in existence. Moses didn’t invent the Sabbath day. There is a blessing described in Exodus 16 when God fed his hungry people in the wilderness with bread from heaven – manna. On the sixth day of every week they were to gather enough for two days. The Sabbath was already being kept. “On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much – two omers for each person – and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, ‘This is what the LORD commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”‘ So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. ‘Eat it today,’ Moses said, ‘because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any’” (Ex. 16: 22-26). So while a lot of the legislation Moses gave the people was new, much that was connected with the ceremonies surrounding building the Tabernacle, this Sabbath commandment was already being implemented because it went back to creation itself. “Please don’t forget it,” was how the commandment was structured.
You might protest that there are no other references to the Sabbath during the lives of the patriarchs or when Israel was in Egypt – throughout all those centuries described in Genesis 2 right through to Exodus 15. “Where is a mention of anyone keeping the Sabbath?” you ask. I would simply remind you that the other creation ordinances such as labouring were observed throughout this period, and also marriage (though this latter was sadly encroached by cultural pressures from surrounding nations which the wealthy leadership of Israel found hard to resist). Also have you considered this, that there are no references to Israel’s obedience to the commandments to refrain from idolatry nor to misuse the name of the Lord God during those centuries? Of course those commandments were being honoured in Israel throughout that time though there is not one reference to those activities – long before the breach of those commands was tabulated on Sinai’s tablets of stone. In fact all the first three of the commandments could have begun with the exhortation to “Remember!” Remember to have no other gods, nor make an idol, nor misuse his name. Remember also the Sabbath day.
ii] Keep it holy, that is, set it apart to God. It is the Lord’s Day; it is not my day; it is not the family’s day; it is his day, the day of the God who is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable. He is so tremendous that it is not enough each day to be giving him some time in the morning or the evening. We have to devote to him one whole day every week. I am going to spend eternity in his presence; we are never going to be out of one another’s company, and so we get close to one another with him in this world every Sunday and that will help us to be holier every other day.
“Keep it holy,” is the command. It means, guard it, preserve it, hedge it about because there is going to be a fight over this day. Satan wants to destroy this day because he knows how much God’s blessing on this day can revitalize and encourage the people of God. Nehemiah locked certain of the gates leading into Jerusalem on the Sabbath and putting watchmen on them to guard them. So if we are to keep the day holy there may be some gates we will have to close, things we will not look at which are legitimate other days, things we won’t look at on the Lord’s Day. None of my grandchildren watch television on a Sunday. My nephew and his four sons are all rugby fans, but they won’t watch Wales play rugby on Sunday afternoons, but they video it and get up early on Monday morning and have a special breakfast and lots of fun and noise; they watch it then. The people in the church are in on their conviction; they don’t spill the beans and tell them in the evening service what the score was. My nephew spends more time with his sons those Sunday afternoons of the games – they occur only two or three times a year, and the boys love him dearly as a caring consistent father. The Sabbath is incidentally a wonderful day for the family because of the fact that it is a holy day to Jesus Christ. The Lord makes good fathers.
iii] It is a time of rest from our daily toil. The Abbot Mullois was the chief domestic chaplain to the French Emperor. He once sailed across the channel to London and entered the Thames on a Saturday afternoon sailing steadily up the river on the tide through mile after miles of wharfs and quaysides. Hundreds of boats were being loaded and unloaded, hundreds of cranes were removing cargo from the holds. Men were climbing across the rigging of the ships like spiders on their webs. This went on for thirty miles until in the evening the boat moored in the city. Here was the most powerful city in the whole world. That night Mullois slept in his bunk on board his ship. He was awakened the next day to the sound of church bells, and when he walked up the stairs onto the deck and looked around him what hit him was the total silence. There wasn’t a single docker to be seen. All the cranes were locked up. The sailors were nowhere in view. The only sounds to be heard were the seagulls’ cries and the church bells summoning the people to worship. That was Great Britain at its most powerful; Britannia ruled the waves because God was so real to many in the nation. There was a fear of God in the land. Holyoake, the English atheist, wrote in 1857, “Whether Englishmen know it or not, it is the English Sunday that has made and keeps England great. If you would kill Christianity, you must first kill Sunday.”
Christians sometimes find Sunday rather busy as they join in worship at both services, listen intently to the word being preached, teach in the Sunday School, give hospitality to guests, drive people to and from church. Sometimes you hear them say with a wry smile, “Isn’t this supposed to be a day of rest?” The answer is that it is a day of rest from our normal labour. It is an intermission or interlude during the most satisfying activity in the world – the work of the Lord. It is a day in the presence of the risen, living Jesus Christ. Just like a good holiday should be somewhat active, so should the Lord’s Day include spiritual sacrifices for the Lord. The Sabbath rest is a weekly change from all secular affairs so that we may be engaged in wonder, reflection, praise and service. It is a day that looks ahead to the great day to come when we will enter into our real and enduring rest of satisfaction and celebration.
4. GOD CHANGED THE DAY FROM THE SEVENTH TO THE FIRST.
God could not rest on the first day of creation; he had to devote himself to creating in order to rest from his own labours, and so the initial order was after labour comes rest. One day in seven is to be a day of rest; after six days there is a special day; that is the principle. It was not a Jewish ordinance; before there was a single nation the Sabbath day was special. When the Son of God became incarnate he met plenty of disputes concerning what was right and wrong conduct on the Sabbath day. He pronounced by his own authority that the Sabbath was made for man – not just for Israel and the Jews but for all of mankind. Don’t those words prove that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance? Then Jesus told them that he was the Lord of the Sabbath. It is a day which henceforth has his name attached to it. So you see why the day itself had to change from seventh to first?
i] The seventh day Sabbath was part of the whole ceremonial structure of the old covenant period’s feasts and years. In Leviticus 25 we read of sabbatical years; “The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you – for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten. Count off seven sabbaths of years – seven times seven years – so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property”‘” (Lev. 25:1-13). So the seventh day sabbath was part of this whole sabbatical structure of years. You cannot isolate just one part of that, that is, the seventh day in the week, Saturday, and quote to us the decalogue and insist, “The seventh day of the week always has to be God’s holy day of rest.” If you develop that mentality of reverence for old covenant details then you are bound to pick up other baggage from the Old Covenant’s ceremonial laws, like the food laws, and you will forbid Christians eating bacon and venison and crab meat – while yet ignoring all the other legislation about what you must do with your land every seven years – keeping it fallow – and what you have to do every fiftieth year in opening the prisons. Under the new covenant there is no longer a holy land with slaves who are in slavery because of their debt. It is all over; the seventh day of the week as a ceremonial day has disappeared with Israel itself, but one day in seven still remains. We are no longer to “observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gals. 4:11). Like circumcision and kings and judges and tribes and priests and synagogue rulers and feasts their day has gone for ever. Paul says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Cols. 2:16&17). The old has to give way to the new not the new to the old. Christians have to interpret the old covenant in the light of the new not the new in the light of the old.
ii] The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on this day. There is a great phrase in all the gospels naming the day that Jesus Christ rose as the “first of the sabbaths” literally, “the first day of the week of days” (Matt. 28:1, Mk. 16:2, Lk. 24:1 and Jn. 20:1). Just as the last day of the week marked the completion of creation so the first day became the completion of redemption. The resurrection of Christ is the reason for our faith; it is the ground of our hope that because the Lord lives we shall live also; it is the pledge of our personal salvation – he was raised for our justification, and it is a display of his ultimate power over creation, the devil, disease and death itself. Little wonder that this first day became the new Sabbath day.
iii] On this first day of the week Christ appeared to his disciples. Frequently he appeared to them on this day, in the Garden, and in the Upper Room and on the Road to Emmaus. On this day he appeared to the apostle John on the isle of Patmos and John was the first to call this day, “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). That is quite an unusual phrase. In pagan literature it occurs more frequently and it means ‘imperial,’ belonging to the emperor. In the New Testament it occurs only in the phrase, “the Lord’s supper.” The supper belongs to King Jesus; the day belongs to him too.
iv] On this first day of the week the Holy Spirit was given. We know from Leviticus 25:15&16 that the day of Pentecost was always seven days later than the “day after the Sabbath.” That was the day on which the sheaf of first fruits was given by the priest as a wave offering – Christ himself was the first fruits risen from the dead. So the Lord chose a Sunday on which to pour out his Spirit upon his people on that first definitive time.
v] On the first day of the week the apostles met with the Church. Listen: “But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight” (Acts 20:6&7). They gather for the breaking of bread and for preaching on the first day of the week, and we find Paul telling the churches of Corinth and Galatia “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up,” (I Cor. 16:1&2). I am saying to you that the apostles themselves met with the churches on this first day of the week. Of course many of the first Christians were converted Jews and they couldn’t give up a tradition that was hundreds of years old, keeping the last day of the week as a special day. So these first Jewish converts would have kept two days special each week, the cultural seventh day Sabbath as well as Sundays, but steadily the seventh day declined as increasing number of Gentiles were added to the church. For almost three centuries before the Emperor Constantine legislated in protecting the rights of Christians to meet on the first day of the week the early Christians met on Sundays, the Lord’s day.
5. TEN REASONS TO KEEP THE SABBATH DAY.
I adapted an approach of my friend Erroll Hulse;
i] It is pleasing to God and there is nothing greater any Christian can do than to give pleasure to his God and Saviour.
ii] Our great aim is to be imitators of God and we learn from Genesis chapter two that one day in the week of creation God rested from his work. It was not because he was weary. It was to establish an example for mankind. We are to be steadfast and unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord every day of the week, but one day a week we are to call a halt to manual toil and be still and know that the Lord is God.
iii] The Lord says that if we love him we will keep his commandments, and there amongst the ten commandments is the fourth word from God to us to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. The law is good, a New Testament apostle wrote, and we also love our lawgiver and so keep his word.
iv] What a witness it is to our neighbours to leave our homes every Sunday and drive off to church. It is the most basic and fundamental characteristic of a Christian that on the Lord’s Day he is not ashamed to gather with other Christians and worship God.
v] It is a declaration we make to fellow believers that God matters to us supremely – knowing God, loving God, praising God, walking with God, looking forward to being with God.
vi] Sundays belong to Christ. He has invested in this day his power, life and glory, and all over the world his people gather together in his name, and there he is meeting with them. He is going to meet with them and we are not? At this very moment he is active in a million congregations teaching, convicting, shepherding, and restoring. How many of us were converted on the Lord’s Day by Jesus Christ? How many of you have been helped and blessed on this first day of the week? Every one of us. Because it is Jesus’ day Sunday is the best of all days.
vii] Sundays are the best day for gratitude to God. Think of the structure of the Christian life which has captured us – Guilt, Grace and Gratitude. We live lives of gratitude because God’s grace in Christ has delivered us from our guilt; we vow, “every day will I bless Thee and I will praise Thy name for ever and ever.” Let me illustrate it like this; think of a kind person who has given some wonderful gift to a group of brothers and sisters; it is breathtakingly generous; it is going to change their lives. Then they learn that their benefactor is on his way to their home. When he enters they all press around him to express their thanks. All of them appear; none makes an excuse for staying away to play, say, with video games. They drop everything to thank him. That is the simple illustration, and I’m saying that the whole church of God on the Lord’s Day meets in gratitude around its Saviour and Lord. We will not lag behind anyone in saying, “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath.”
viii] On Sundays especially we will walk in the Spirit. We will not provoke the Lord either by idleness on six days of the week – “six days shalt thou labour” – nor by ignoring him on his special day. We fear the consequences of grieving the Spirit. What if our behaviour on this day causes him to depart from us and we become a congregation without the Spirit? How horrible!
ix] The men we most esteem are those who have had the highest view of the Lord’s Day – not the Lord’s morning, but his whole day. Those people have all been most full of God. They hungered and thirsted for him; their lives are full of his grace. Observing Sunday as a day they could spend with their Saviour has been their delight. Aren’t we told that it was the custom of Christ to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day? I cannot tell what ignorance and error and stupidity he heard from the speakers there during the thirty years he went each Sabbath with his family to the synagogue in Nazareth, but he knew it was his duty to be there, and he was always present. Then I shall be with the assembly of God on the Sabbath too.
x] We shall always speak warmly and positively about the Lord’s Day. We will defend it. We shall delight in all the public means of grace. We will look forward to being with the people of God. We will sing all the hymns, and capture our wayward minds during the praying. We will listen to the preaching and do what we hear. We will be careful not to complain about the Lord’s servants especially when little ears are listening. We shall enjoy a splendid meal with our family and guests and at the end of the day bless God for his grace in giving us a day of rest each week in which to glorify and enjoy God. This is the day that belongs to Jesus in a special way. It does not belong to the Old Testament, it belongs to him.
The seventh day Sabbath of Genesis 2 pointed forward to rest that would come at the end of Christ’s great redeeming work in the world. The Lord’s Day on the first day of the week would point to the rest which has already been won by Christ. “Come unto me!” And we come every Sunday to meet with him, and he gives us rest, again, and again, and again.
Four Meditations from John Owen September 26, 2023
This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain searching and pertinent today. * * * The Value of the Gospel No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and […]
Peacocks and Rutterkins: Calvin the Colloquial Communicator August 31, 2023
John Calvin is thought of, principally, as a theologian. Of course, he was that. But, as Andrew W. Blackwood once told me, in his day he was first of all considered a preacher. Too few of his sermons have been preserved.1 English translations are mainly in 16th century English!2 Nevertheless, the more I read them, […]