Thoughts on the Lord’s Day (Sunday)

9 January 2017

J.C. Ryle – Oh, Sabbath-breaker, consider your ways, and be wise!

What harm has Sunday done to the world, that you should hate it so much? What harm has God done you, that you should so obstinately turn your back on His laws? What injury has the Christian Faith done to mankind, that you should be so afraid of having too much? Look on the heavens above you, and think of the mighty Being, Who is the eternal God.

Go to the house of God, and hear the Gospel preached. Confess your past sin at the Throne of Grace, and ask pardon through that blood which “cleanses from all sin.” Arrange your time on Sunday so that you may have leisure for quiet, sober meditation on eternal things. Avoid the company that would lead you to talk only of this world. Take down your long-neglected Bible, and study its pages. Do it, do it without a week’s delay! It may be hard at First, but it is worth a struggle. Do it, and it will be well for you both in time and eternity.

…When was the last time you heard such a thing in a church? To call a specific day “The Lord’s Day” seems jarring to many Christians, as if to say that the other days do not belong to the Lord. Of course, we know that’s not true. God is sovereign over all. Every day is a gift from him and belongs to him. But there is day that belongs to Him in relation to His people (the church). This point is key in understanding the Lord’s Day.

In the beginning of the Bible, we see that God finishes creating all things, and on the seventh day He rests from His work, blessing the seventh day, and making it holy (Gen.2:1-3). At the very beginning, we see God setting apart one day from all the others, and He makes it holy. We are finite beings contained within time, and God gives us this day as a gift that we may rest, and also be reminded that He is the Creator and sovereign over all. We live in His world, He doesn’t live in our’s.

At Sinai, God gives the Law to his people. He tells them in the fourth commandment that Saturday is the Sabbath, a day of rest, to be kept holy “to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-9).

Throughout the Old Testament we see the Sabbath as a key component to Israel’s worship. A common theme runs throughout – when God’s people keep the Sabbath, they are blessed. When they don’t, they’re not. And yet, this isn’t simply intended in a ritualistic sense. God expected His people to keep the Sabbath as a reflection of faithful hearts and as a means to cultivating more faithful hearts (e.g. Isa.1:13; Isa.58:13-14).

Now speed up 2,000 years. Jesus keeps the Sabbath, but in a different way. He keeps it in the Isaiah 58 kind of way – a vibrant observance of the Sabbath that wasn’t mere ritualism, but was marked by love for God and love for neighbor.

For example, one day Jesus and His disciples were picking corn on the Sabbath. The Pharisees come and rebuke Him. And He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). And then, instituting His authority, He says that He “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Another example, in Mark 3 Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees pounce, and He silences them by asking, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill?”

In His words and actions, Jesus calls Israel to a purity of heart. In these two examples, we see that He is Lord over the Sabbath; He affirms the Sabbath not as a chore, but as a gift; not as a time for selfishness, but a time for service.

…But something happens! Jesus is crucified on Friday. His body lies lifeless in the tomb on Saturday. And on Sunday morning, as if to say that the old has gone and the new has come, Jesus rises from the dead!

All the gospel writers repeatedly emphasize that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances took place on the first day of the week. As if, they weren’t simply reporting the facts, but showing that something new has begun – new creation, a new age.

Then something amazing happens. A bunch of Law-observing Jews, who their whole lives observed the Sabbath on Saturday, start meeting for worship on the first day of the week!

  • Acts 20:7 – “On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread.”
  • 1 Cor. 16:2 – “On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.”
  • Revelation 1:10-11 – “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…”

Didache (late 1st century) – “On every Lord’s Day – his special day – come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifices (worship) may be pure.”

Pliny the Younger (AD 112) – “…they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.”

Apology of Justin Martyr (AD 155) – “And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writing of the prophets are read as long as time permits…” “We hold this common gathering on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead on the same day.”

The pattern of the New Testament and Church history shows that Sunday is the new Sabbath. Jesus does not set aside the Sabbath, but fulfills and reinterprets it through His gospel work. Sunday is the day that God has set apart as holy, through the resurrection of Jesus, for His church, which is His resurrection community (Rom.6:3-4; 1Pet.1:3).

Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. It is a holy day that’s been set apart by God as a means of grace for His people. It’s a gift! As Christians, we have a great opportunity to witness to the kingship of Christ by obeying Him as we devote ourselves to gathering with His people. Of course we want to worship God every day throughout the week in our individual lives, and we should! Yet Sunday is special because it’s when the church gathers. When this happens we testify to our neighbors and friends and co-workers that Jesus’s kingdom is ultimate, and not things like soccer and baseball, sleeping in, and doing housework.

The Lord’s Day is a responsibility and a gift. This is a day that we are reminded that we can rest (because we’re not God – ie. the world isn’t going to fall apart without us). It’s a day that we worship (because we’re not God – ie. we will fall apart without Him). It’s a day that we make ourselves available to serve one another and others (because we’re not God – ie. world doesn’t revolve around us).

Here are three encouragements on how to thrive on the Lord’s Day:

  1. Receive it as a gift.

At the beginning of a week that is often dictated by other people and pulls us in a hundred directions, start off by letting God dictate what is best for you. This is a sacred day, to be refreshed in Christ and to which we belong to no-one but Him and His people. Though there may be circumstances and times that complicate things, we all should be proactive in setting boundaries around this day so we can receive it as the gift that it is. Rest and worship.

2. Prayerfully worship.

One of the keys to biblical Christian worship is total dependence upon God. When we worship, we should be actively and prayerfully engaged.

  • During the time of silent preparation – actually pray! Ask God to soften and form your heart.
  • When we pray and recite Scripture, mean the words you say!
  • As we are singing, praying, and preparing to hear the sermon – pray and acknowledge your dependence upon Christ. Ask Him to help your unbelief. Ask Him to illuminate His Word. Ask Him to hold onto you and help you hold onto Him.
  • During the sermon, have your Bible open, take notes, write down the “pressure points” that are being hit. And then talk about it! Not in a analytical or critical, but in a dependent way. What’s God saying to you? What resonated with you? Were there questions that were raised? Was their sin that was revealed? This is where we become hearers and doers of the Word.

3. Recommit to Christ

Every Sunday, we gather to take the Lord’s Supper. This is a means of grace, because in it we receive the gospel afresh and we ourselves recommit to Christ. This meal is a meal that marks us out as a community, and also as Christians. We are wholly dependent upon Christ, aware of our sin and need for Him. Therefore, we must prioritize the Lord’s Day, because it is the day that we take the Lord’s Supper. It’s when we gather around the Table. And in this act, we are reminded of who we are – in Christ, new creations.

May we be resolved this year to make the most out of Sundays; to receive it as the gift it is; to show up to church as the church. Not as individual consumers, but as a holy priesthood – ministering grace to one another and receiving God’s grace ourselves.

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