Monday, July 31, 2017

The Lord's Day

As we begin looking at the particulars of how to live Christian in an unchristian world, we will begin with a rather easy question.  How ought the Christian observe the Lord's Day?   Much of this involves the clear teaching of Scripture in conflict with a society that would encourage us to ignore the significance of the Lord's Day.

As we consider this question, it gives us the opportunity to consider how this study teaches us to live Christian in an unchristian world.  We will not offer concrete answers to particular questions.  God made life too varied to compile a list of absolute laws for every circumstance.  Those laws He has ordained we find plainly in Scripture.  Most of life requires the use of discernment, taking the absolute teaching of Scripture and applying it to the very particular and individual question the beset us.  We discussed this truth in a previous lesson.

The relative ease of the question about the Lord's Day comes from the clear teaching of Scripture.  We don't have to search for an implication that might apply to the circumstance.  Rather, the Bible clearly tells us how we are to act on the Sabbath.  Within those regulations, modern life confronts us with particular questions how to sanctify the Lord's Day in light of our current situation.

Let us begin with the Biblical witness.  In any discussion of the Sabbath, we must begin with its origin in Genesis 2. "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (2:2-3)  Care must be taken how one understands God's rest.  This day occurs after the work of creation.  The sixth day ended the work of creation so that the seventh day God rested or stopped doing the work of creation.  This distinction is necessary because we cannot attribute to God the complete cessation of effort.  Were that to be so, the universe had ceased to exist.  God continued His work of providence even as He rested from His creational work.  This informs our understanding that it is not all work that ought cease on the Sabbath, but the work God commands that we set aside.

The legal edict for the Sabbath appears in two chief places.  In the first giving of the Ten Commandments by God to His people, we read the following.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)
Notice three thing in this command.  First, the command seems absolute.  We are to cease from all our work.  The rest of the teaching on the Sabbath clarifies that this refers to the normal labors man undertakes for his wealth and estate.  It does not mean we remain idol, but that we set aside our ordinary activity of the rest of the week to rest.

Second, notice that the command applies especially to heads of households.  As those who can direct others to work, they are to ensure that they enable those who they may oversee to observe the Sabbath.  The command requires God's people to, so far as it is in our power, to enable others to rest on the Sabbath.

Thirdly, notice the reason we are to observe the Sabbath.  The Lord takes us back to Genesis and His own resting after the creation of the world.  In this passage, the emphasis is on the people of God imitating their God, having accepted the foundation of the relationship, that the Lord would be their God, and they would be His people.  As His people, they ought to desire to imitate the Lord.

This reason changes when Moses reiterates the commandments in Deuteronomy. "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day." (5:15)  This change ought not cause us to conclude an inconsistency within Scripture, but rather, as there were two copies of the law written on stone, so the Lord probably repeated the law to Moses and Israel.  In one the reason for the observing the Sabbath was imitating the Lord, in another, the reason includes the people's own experience.  The Sabbath, then not only gives us the opportunity to imitate the Lord, but also gives life space to remember our redemption.  We are to remember who we were before God intervened in our lives, rejoicing in His grace to us.

The importance of the Sabbath day appears also in Isaiah.  In a portion describing the Lord's restoration of His people, the Lord addresses the topic of Sabbath keeping.
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Here is the heart of the Sabbath.  The Lord has set aside a day for us to stop doing what our sinful hearts want to do, to stop doing that we ordinarily do, to do what the Lord wants to do.

I suggest we think of the Sabbath this way.  Many fathers I know have the practice of "special time" with their children.  One such father told the story of one child who was more interested in eating their treat than spending time with their father.  I think this speaks to us about the Sabbath.  The Lord has set aside a day to spend especially with His people.  This is not to say He is not present the rest of the week, but the Sabbath is His "special time" with His people.  Instead of enjoying the fellowship we ought to have with the Lord, we want to eat our dainties.  Instead of appreciating the time the Lord has designate to delight in Him, we seek to delight in anything else.  We despise the Lord's special time when we fail to observe the Sabbath.

This point appears in Jesus teaching about the Sabbath day.  The lord of the Sabbath, as Jesus styled Himself, stated, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27)  This statement countered the teaching of the Pharisees who had so labored the day with regulations to prevent work, that in spending the day keeping them, the people had forgotten the purpose of their special day with the Lord.  Instead of wasting time with dainties, they didn't even come out of their rooms for fear.  Jesus reminds us that the people need the Sabbath.  They need it to reconnect them with the source of their redemption.

As we come to the principle of the Lord's Day, we must first address the question of how the day of rest changed from the last day of the week to the first.  The first day is the day upon which Jesus rose from the dead.  We have examples of the church meeting on this day. (I Cor.16:1-2; Acts 20:7)  We also see this worship day called the Lord's Day. (Rev. 1:10)  We then rightly observe the Sabbath on Sunday, and rightly call it the Lord's Day.

From this we see that Christ has fundamentally changed the construction of time.  Remember the two reasons for the Sabbath.  The first still applies as we observe one day in seven for rest.  The second also applies in greater ways.  Before, it merely reminded Israel of the mighty redemption the Lord had accomplished for them in the Exodus from Egypt.  Now, it reminds us of the completed redemption that Jesus has accomplished for us, not from physical slavery, but from spiritual slavery, freedom not from the lash, but from sin.

The Westminster Confession of Faith fitly summarizes our duties toward God on the Sabbath.
This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (WCF 20.8)  
The requirement of preparation here comes from the account of the law to Israel regarding manna collection. (Exodus 16)  Each day, each person was to collect only enough for that day.  Any excess would rot.  On the sixth day, Israel was to collect and prepare twice as much in preparation for the Sabbath on which no manna would fall.

The term "worldly" here does not mean sinful, but having to do with our ordinary and common work and recreation.  The concept of worship here indicate the time we ought to spend with the Lord.  This day of all days is the day we spend time with our Savior.

Here is where many Christians turn delight into duty.  Instead of focusing their attention on what they get to do, the special day with God, they focus on what they cannot do.  This is what Isaiah warns of when he encourages Israel to turn away from their own pleasures and delighting in the Lord.

At this point, I'm sure you want me to answer the question, "Can I do X on the Lord's Day?"  I'm not going to answer that question.  This is our problem with the Lord's Day.  The world has so infiltrated our minds that we think of all the things the world offers for us to do on the Lord's Day.  We live in Vanity Fair.  Every day is the market day of the flesh.  But the Puritans famously called the Lord's Day the market day of the soul.  We need to understand the on the Lord's Day, it is our duty to turn away from Vanity Fair and to feed our souls.

Instead of answering those particular questions, I will give you a question that ought to help you answer those questions.  "Is X the way you want to spend your special time with the Lord?"  The God of the universe set aside one day to spend with you each week.  How will you spend your time with the Lord?  How will you spend your special time with Jesus?  These are the question we should be asking and answering of ourselves if we would live Christian in an unchristian world.

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