WHICH DAY IS SACRED?
We live in an exceedingly busy society. Few of us escape the pressures and tensions of the daily grind. Frequently our bodies or minds break down under the tension and pressure and make us rest. Many of us are work-a-holics by nature, and we enjoy the high the pressure gives up, and we seek to be lifted up even higher with emotional hype and cups of caffeine.
The Unions have won after a century of fighting conditions that mean we don’t have to work seven days a week and every waking hour, but society pushes us into demanding 24 hour shopping facilities, second jobs for large mortgages, and even when we play sport it is competitive and never relaxing. We are the must rushed, pressured generation ever to have lived. And it shows!
In times of breakdown, the Christian quietly murmurs:
“Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm!”
That busyness hurts those we love most. Children often have parents so absorbed in other things that they have no time for their sons and daughters. There is no time to read to them, no time to play with them, no time to listen to their concerns. Wives complain that husbands have no time for them. They are too occupied elsewhere to talk about what really matters to them both. There is no time to share activities they both used to enjoy, no time to work together on mutual goals. Is there any greater insult than to say to another person, `I don’t have any time for you!’?
Is there any greater compliment than to say, `I always have time for you’? You can offer no higher favour than to give another your undivided attention. If human relationships are tragically broken and people are deeply wounded by our not having time for them, what of your relationship with God? Surely you have time for the One who made you!
Christians know the Lord made you for fellowship with you, to tell you what is on his mind and heart. He created you in his likeness to walk with him and talk with him. God wants this naturally and spontaneously, not by reason of regulation and set rules. That is Paul’s concern for Christians who are right with God by their faith in Christ, but who want to regulate just how much time they will spend in God’s presence.
So the question of vegetarianism, discussed last week, was not the only matter in dispute in the Church at Rome; there was also the question of the observance of certain days. One person “considers one day more sacred than another”, whereas another person makes no such distinction. This meant some observed the Jewish Sabbath and feast and fast days. Paul’s previously had written strongly about those who observed “special days and months and seasons and years”: “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal. 4:10-11; Col. 2:16ff.). Paul rejected all such views with derision. Paul taught the centrality of justification by faith with the observance of a certain day as a practice some believers may find helpful only. (“The Epistle To The Romans” L.Morris. Eerdmans 1988)
Today some Christians are very confused over the observance of a special day to worship. Some Christians believe every day is a good time to spend with God. Others say we must keep the Jewish Sabbath, Friday night to Saturday night, as the sacred day of worship. Others say the Fourth Commandment has been changed to Sunday for worship.
1. WHAT DO WE MEAN BY A SABBATH?
The `sabbath rest’ means the peace of God which comes into the heart of a believer who is right with God; the rest that comes when we at last enter heaven.
a. The Sabbath goes back to the time of creation. The Bible states: `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.’ Like God, we are to work only six of each seven days and rest on one. If so we will have peace in our hearts.
b. But most people think of the Sabbath as a Jewish custom. The Commandment says “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor 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 man servant or maid servant, 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.” (Ex 20:8-12). Jews obey the Ten Commandments, keeping one day free from work, and spending that sabbath in rest and worship.
c. Many Christians are confused about the Sabbath. Many have taught that Christians do not keep the Sabbath. They claim the New Testament is silent on the fourth commandment so we do not have to keep the Sabbath. Yet Jesus said: `The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mk 2:27-8). This contradicts those who argue the Sabbath is now rescinded, and not intended for the Christian era. This justifies spending a meagre hour in church followed by a rush to join the world in all its pursuits of business and pleasure.
No wonder more Christians watch TV Sunday evenings then support Gospel services. Some Christians attend early services so they can get their worship out of the way and be off sooner to the main business of the day. Some Roman Catholics go to Mass Saturday night, so as nothing interferes with Sunday’s golf. Only as God’s people return to the habit of engaging in systematic spiritual exercises, family activities and true recreation for an entire day each week, will the moral fabric of our age begin to be strengthened. I know of nothing more likely to improve your health, reduce most causes of hospitalisation, and bring blessings to individuals, families, churches and communities. Many bemoan the lack of time to pray, read, worship, witness, teach children, grow in family life, garden, swim, bushwalk, think…yet God in his wisdom and grace has provided time if we only obey Him. One 70 year old man bemoaned his lack of time to do significant things for God, but I replied: “You had 3,600 Sundays!”
Jesus points us back to the `making’ of the Sabbath. His pointed not to the formation of Judaism, as He saw the Sabbath as more than part of a Jewish legalistic system. It began in creation week when humanity was made on the sixth day, then the Sabbath was declared for the seventh day. From the order in which humanity and Sabbath were created, our Lord concluded that the Sabbath was made to serve our well-being, health and welfare. More, the Sabbath was not to the Jews alone. It was for Adam and Eve and all since. Sabbath was for the enrichment of all people from the time of creation. It was to be our weekly re-creation.
2. THE EARLY CHURCH’S SABBATH WAS ON A SUNDAY.
Various religions observe the Sabbath on different days. Most Christians worship on the first day of the week. Jews worship on the seventh day. Muslims worship on the sixth day. A different third of Jerusalem is closed for three days each week! Which is the right day for worship? When Christians worship on the first day of the week, do they disobey the Fourth Commandment? Does Scripture support holding Sunday as a Christian Sabbath?
The New Testament believers worshipped on the first day of the week after our Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the first day. Our Lord’s early appearances to the saints came on the first day. `On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together’(John 20:19), Jesus first met the disciples. Thomas was not present on that occasion. Our Lord did not disclose himself to the doubter until the next first day (Jn 20:26). A pattern was being set.
In the Apostles time it became the firm habit of Christians to meet for worship on the first day of the week. Sunday began to be called “The Lord’s Day”, in the same way as the Eucharist began to be called “The Lord’s Supper”. When Paul wrote to the churches about a special offering for the needy, he instructed people to give on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1-4). When Paul travelled to Jerusalem for the last time and wished to farewell to believers at Troas, he delayed his journey until Sunday when they met for worship.
When the Apostle John was exiled on Patmos, God gave him a remarkable Revelation `on the Lord’s Day’. All Christians understood that the Lord’s Day was the day of the Lord’s resurrection, the day of the Lord’s out pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and when Christians everywhere met to worship. The Lord of the church has a day! It is the first day of the week. The Emperor Constantine did not make Sunday the day of rest: the Lord did. The Emperor only officially recognised it.
3. DOES THE BIBLE SAY SUNDAY IS THE CHRISTIAN SABBATH?
Yes, the New Testament gives an answer regarding the change of the Sabbath Day from the seventh to the first in the book of Hebrews. This book is written to Jewish believers who served God under the Mosaic covenant. Now they served Jesus the Messiah under the New Covenant. Before Messiah came, they loved the temple, priesthood, sacrifices, and traditions of Judaism. But now God had dismantled their beloved and familiar system of life, worship and service. They missed the old Jewish ways of worship. The temple and priesthood had been destroyed.
The book of Hebrews teaches how the Christian faith replaced the Jewish covenant. It explains how the New Covenant fulfils and surpasses in glory everything the Jews had loved. This includes the seventh day worship. God’s rest for God’s people, would now be observed on the Lord’s Day not on the seventh day. Hebrews 4:1-10 argues that God gives a new Sabbath rest for His new people: 7 “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.”
The author tells us in Hebrews 4:3 “Now we who have believed enter that rest.” His works were finished from creation week. He entered his perfect rest. And from the time of the seventh day he has called men to enter into his rest with him.
But sinful man was disobedient to the promises of God and rebellious at the call of God. Jesus Christ provides what is lacking in us to enable us to enter God’s rest. In Christ, we can enter God’s rest today. `There remains, then, a keeping of a Sabbath for the people of God; for he who did enter his rest did rest from all his works, even as God did from his.’
There is `a Sabbath observance’ for the people of God. There is a New Covenant Sabbath Day! Christ entered his rest when he rose victorious from the grave. Christ ceased from his own work of redemption as God did from his work of creation. Christ ceased from his work on the first day of the week, just as God ceased from His work on the seventh day. Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant, is the Lord of the Sabbath. Sabbath-keeping is part of the activity of those who are in His kingdom. Sabbath-keeping in the New Covenant is the first day of the week and not the seventh. Jews worship on the seventh day. Christians have the new covenant sabbath on the Lord’s day.
So the New Testament supports the fourth commandment, but changes the day of the week on which we worship. A seventh day Sabbath under the Old Testament marked for the Jews the promise of entering God’s rest. A first day Sabbath under the New Testament marks for Christians the promise of entering God’s rest with him and of doing so as a sinner saved through the finished redemptive work of Jesus Christ. (“Call The Sabbath A Delight” W. Chantry. Banner Of Truth 1991.)
No age has needed Sabbath-keeping more than ours. Attempts to scrap God’s moral law and to replace it with our own self-serving pleasure are miserably failing. We live under too much strain and stress. Christians must be clear about the need of Christian Sabbath observance. Our stressful life-styles need rest. Our worship of God requires more considered commitment. And God accepts our worship whatever the day. As Paul said: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.” (Romans 14:5). Know why you worship on Sunday.
The film “Chariots of Fire” tells how the flying Scotsman, Eric Liddell, gave up a chance to win the gold medal in the 100m final at the 1923 Paris Olympics because the final was being run on a Sunday. Instead he went to church. Later he won a gold medal in the 400m setting an Olympic record that stood for 27 years. His support for the Sabbath became a by-word around the world. Twenty years later, he was in the squalid conditions of a Japanese internment camp in China. One there later said: “Eric Liddell was the outstanding personality. In his early forties, quiet-spoken and with a permanent smile. Eric was the finest Christian man I have ever had the privilege to meet.” “Eric was the Christ-figure at the camp. He befriends the prostitute and the despised businessman; he carries coal for the weak and teaches the young. There were to be no games on Sunday; it was a principle from which he had never deviated. But many of the teenagers protested against this and decided to organise a hockey game by themselves despite him – boys against girls. It ended in a free fight, because there was no referee. On the following Sunday, Eric turned out on that field to act as referee. He would not run on a Sunday for an Olympic gold medal and all the glory in the world; but he refereed a game on a Sunday, he broke his unbreakable principle, just to keep a handful of imprisoned youngsters at peace with each other.” (“The Flying Scotsman” by Sally Magnusson pp 163/4) Sunday is for the worship of God and the service of those in need.
“O Sabbath rest by Galilee! O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity, Interpreted by love.
With that deep hush subduing all
our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall,
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.” J.G.Whittier.