The biblical principles governing the Sabbath are creation, the fourth commandment, and spiritual rest. The practical side of it is that Christians are called to sanctify the Sabbath. However, because of Christ's resurrection the Sabbath is now on the Lord’s Day. Let this article do the unpacking.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2006. 5 pages.

Celebrating the Sabbath? Biblical Principles and Practice Regarding the Lord’s Day

Read Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11; Mark 2:23-28; Isaiah 58:13-14

Our topic has much relevance for today for the majority of believers (evangelicals) say that there is no longer a Christian Sabbath. You notice that many Christians go to restau­rants, work themselves and treat Sunday as no different than any other day of the week. We hear the testimonies of sports heroes who think nothing of playing their games on the Lord’s Day.

Does the Christian Church owe her existence to the keeping of a special Day holy? Voltaire the famous French atheist once said: “If you want to kill Christianity, you must abolish Sunday.”

1. Biblical Principles🔗

A. The Creation of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3)🔗

When your car is broken down you should look at the factory service manual. (How many guys look at manuals? How frustrating for their wives!) God’s manual is the Bible and in it He tells us that the Sabbath is very important, for it was instituted at the very beginning in creation itself. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance. Creation ordinances are God’s laws embedded in the creation order itself which are: a) The Sabbath, b) Work, and c) Marriage.

So the pattern of working hard for six days and resting on the seventh is found in God’s pattern of creation! Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made (Genesis 2:1-3).

Notice that on the seventh day of crea­tion God declares that His creation work is finished and He rested from more work of creation. The Hebrew verb to rest is where we get word Sabbath from. Also notice that this rest does not mean inactivity but means a different kind of activity, for God is always upholding the world He created by His provi­dence: But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17).

Genesis 2:3 emphasises that God made the seventh day holy. This means separate from all of the other days of the week, separated unto Himself, for His honour and glory. Do you treat this day as a special day, dedicated to God’s glory? Do seek to find rest in the work of Christ on this day?

B. The Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11)🔗

In the fourth commandment, we see the rea­son God provides in telling us to Remember the Sabbath day is the pattern of Creation itself: For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:11). So just as God worked for six days and then rested, we are to pattern our lives accordingly.

To remember a birthday/anniversary means that you don’t forget or neglect it; but it means far more. It means that you observe it, celebrate it. If you decide to remember your wife’s anniversary by treating this day like any other, she will likely not be too pleased. Treat her romantically all the time, and particularly on your anniversary!

So how are we to remember the Sabbath day? The answer is found in Scripture: by keeping it holy, separate from the busyness of the other days of the week! By rejoicing in the rest which Christ has secured for us. By loving Him, drawing closer to Him listening to His Word, gathering with His people! As Dr. Joey Pipa says in his excellent book, The Lord’s Day,

If you begin to grasp the princi­ples of the Sabbath ... it will be your favourite day, better anticipated than Saturday, more restful than a holiday. Adapted from Pipa

God is saying in the fourth commandment, I have given you six days; I require that you give me one.

Also notice the strong language – for the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God. What strong possessive language! This is not your day to do your own thing, but it belongs to the Lord. God is not taking our pleasure away, but giving us a differ­ent pleasure. We cheat ourselves and God when we use the day for our own work and recreation.

C. The Sabbath made for Man (Mark 2:23-28)🔗

Some will say that this is all fine, but you have not shown me the New Testament teaching. The Sabbath was for Israel and the Jews, but this doesn’t means that the law is relevant for today. In fact, many evangelical believers regard the fourth commandment as a ceremonial law fulfilled in Christ with little or no abiding relevance for today.

However, in Mark 2:27 Jesus alludes to this creation ordinance to explain the real purpose of the Sabbath: And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). The context is that the Pharisees tried to fence of the law to keep people from getting too close to the edge and falling off. We rightly fence off dangerous gorges or canyons so that those who want to look do not fall over the edge. But if we place a 4 meter high fence 10 meters from the edge we have cut off all meaningful sightseeing of what we wanted to look at in the first placed! The man-made Sabbath laws of the Pharisees is like some churches forbidding all use of alcohol. Let us never forget that legalism operates from fear and denies the sufficiency of Scripture.

So how does Jesus correct the Phari­sees? By going to the beginning. Man was not made to a rule-keeping robot on the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for the spiritual rest and joy of man! They had forgotten the wonderful, original purpose of Sabbath. Jesus never overturns the law, but shows us its real meaning and benefit: it was made for our physical and spiritual good.

D. The Lord’s Day🔗

The most difficult question about the Sab­bath that Christians face today is why do we worship on the first day of the week? The basic answer to this question is that Jesus did not abrogate the law, but came to fulfil it. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17) If we do away with the fourth commandment, we will have to do away with the entire law of God. So how did He fulfil the fourth commandment?

He fulfilled the fourth commandment by rising on the first day of the week and by meeting with believers on that day. Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene... (Mark 16:9). Scripture is emphasising here that this mightiest miracle, this crowning act of our redemption took place on the first Day of the week!

Notice that in the NT it is called the Lord’s Day – it belonged to Him for on it He revealed Himself without a doubt I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, (Revelation 1:10). In a manner similar to the Lord’s Supper this day was instituted by Christ and belonged to Him alone.

This is why the practise of the NT Church was soon one of gathering on the first day of the week: Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19). Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight (Acts 20:7).

Finally, the Sabbath is a foretaste of our rest in heaven. It is evident that God’s rest after creation continued and is an eternal rest. When we enter eternal life, we are said to have entered this rest. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11). Are you tired?

Are you weary of battling sin in this world? Do you long for the rest which Christ offers you? Then love the Lord’s Day!

2. Biblical Practice (Isaiah 58:13-14)🔗

A. Desecration or Sanctification?🔗

We likely do not have as much of a problem with the Biblical principles for the Lord’s Day as we do with the practice. I recall as a young fellow many debates in our home which were very negative –why can’t we do this or that? We cannot answer every detail or practice here, but it is essential that we have a positive view of this day.

Notice that Isaiah rebukes Israel for desecrating the Sabbath Day:

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleas­ure, Nor speaking your own words.Isaiah 58:13

Turning your foot from the Sabbath means keep your feet from trampling on the holiness of this day! Like someone trampling on a lovely bed of marigolds so the prophet is saying, watch your step on the Sabbath day. Remember that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.

Notice how Isaiah brings the creation back to our remembrance: the Sabbath is my holy day, a holy day of the Lord. This means that it is set apart from the other six days for our spiritual joy and rest in Christ.

Isaiah says, remember that this is a day to be honoured for you must honour the Lord in it! The Hebrew word to honour means to be weighty, special. Sabbath keeping should be an important matter to us and to our families. How do we honour it? By calling it a delight. This word means to take exquisite pleasure in something. Sometimes it is used of a beautiful wife! We are to delight in wor­ship, fellowship, and in works of mercy on this day.

The entire focus of the Lord’s Day should be that we cease from our busyness to have time to find uninterrupted pleasure in God. Don’t make it a burden, but a blessing. If you are still looking at this day with a negative mindset – what can’t we do – then God’s truth has not hit home in your heart.

B. Not doing our own things🔗

Isaiah lists 3 areas of our lives we should examine in order to honour day: a) our own ways, b) our own pleasure, c) our own words.

Our Ways here is not only evil ways (as in Isa 53:6; 55) but the busyness and responsibility of every day living (Pipa (p.19). Although our work is legitimate and commanded on six days of the week, we are to cease from it on the Lord’s Day. God has given us six days to transact our business affairs, but the seventh day belongs to Him. This means that we should avoid our work or business in home or office as much as possible. This also applies to homework if we are students except for Catechism and Bible Study. As a minister of the Word this also means that I should not be preparing my afternoon ser­mon on Sunday either.

Our own pleasure means what pleases ourselves. We are to cease from many amusements and activities for our own pleasure on this day. Why? So that we find pleasure in God.

God frees us from pursuing lesser pleasures so that we might pursue greater and more noble things. We are to look at the Lord’s Day like a spiritual vaca­tion. God gives us a weekly vacation that we may turn away from mundane, everyday activities and enjoy Him. Pipa, p.21

Our focus must be on delighting in and finding rest in Jesus Christ.

Our own words means our idle words, our chit-chat is to be avoided as much as possi­ble. This does not mean that all conversation about our business or family affairs is out of line. After all, how can you have meaningful fellowship without discussing many things? But all needless conversation about our work, pleasures and hobbies should be avoided. Instead, we should be sure to discuss the things of God. Our conversation after church should also reflect what we do in worship. Does your conversation reflect the delight you find in worship?

C. Wonderful promised results🔗

Now Isaiah says that we should pay serious attention to the Sabbath because God will reward our obedience. Notice the logic of Scripture: the then in verse14 is emphatic. If this day is set apart, and honoured, then we will reap great benefits. The greatest delight we receive from observing this day is unsurpassed communion with God! For to delight yourself in the Lord is the same word used as described above – exquisite pleasure.

To take exquisite pleasure in the Lord is to be overwhelmed by His beauty and glory that are revealed in His attributes and work (Pipa, p.12). As Christ manifests His love to us, we respond with gratitude and delight. God says, so you will find delight in Me on this day especially. Are our spiritual batteries flat, because we fail to experience this communion on the Lord’s Day? I have experienced both dullness and some delight on the Lord’s Day. Both experiences have to do with my keeping of the Lord’s Day. Be sure to read, pray and meditate on this day! Go to the church library and work through some excellent food for the soul!

Another promised benefit of our keeping this day is victory over our enemies: And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, (vs.14b). This is language of victory! (See Deuteronomy 32:12-13; 33:29). This language describes the victory of Israel returning from exile, victory over her cruel enemies. (see Isaiah 33:16) In the New Cov­enant we are promised victory as well. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

Are you experiencing victory over sin and temptations? Are you constantly beaten down? Could it be possible that you con­tinue to fall under the dominion of some sin because you have not sanctified this day in your heart?

The last promise for honouring this day is that God’s people will feeding on gospel riches: Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the herit­age of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 58:14). To feed on an inheritance is to receive it and make use of it. An inheritance which remains all tied up in the lawyer’s office is not a very useful inheritance! Israel was promised the land, but if they did not receive it, they could not enjoy it. How does this inheritance apply to us? We have been promised the benefits of salvation: adoption, assurance of salvation, boldness in prayer, confidence. This prom­ise means we will revel in our privileges as children of God (Pipa, p.14). Are you feeding on and enjoying the riches of what God has promised you?

D. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it🔗

The last little phrase is used by Isaiah when he speaks great, gospel promises! The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, “And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5). Here God is guaranteeing the promise! The Lord puts it all on the line. He say,

I the Lord God who cannot lie, I promise that if you keep my Sabbath and delight in it, you will delight in me, gain spiritual victory and enjoy your inheritance. Pipa, p.14

If we still have endless arguments about don’t do this or don’t do that on the Lord’s Day we have missed the point. Our focus must be on delighting in God on His day so that we may experience greater communion with Christ, and victory over our enemies.

Questions for Discussion:🔗

  1. You are discussing the Sabbath with an evangelical friend. He/she says that the Sab­bath is no longer valid as it was a ceremonial law now fulfilled in Christ. How would you de­fend one’s keeping of the Lord’s Day? What Bible passages would you refer to?
  2. Is your attitude to the Lord’s Day largely positive or negative? What should one’s ap­proach be? List 5 activities you could do in this day to help you to delight in the Lord.
  3. Does it matter what kind of work you choose to do or what kind of career you choose to study for? Can you establish some principles for Sunday jobs? Does our global and industrial age make finding and applying Biblical principles more difficult? (For example, in Canada if the power supply would be disrupted for a short time, people would begin to freeze to death. What about a believer who works at the power plant at times on Sunday shift?) (Did you know that the Puritans taught that public inns should be open on Sunday for food and lodging?)
  4. Is Church attendance on the Lord’s Day important to you? Do you delight in coming twice? Be honest! How could your attitude be improved?
  5. In light of Isaiah 58:13-14 what kinds of recreation would be legitimate on the Lord’s Day? What kinds of activities do you think you could change in your life?
  6. Discuss: Legalists and liberals both fail to properly observe the Lord’s Day. What are both groups missing out on concerning this Day?
  7. List some ways in which you can best prepare for the Lord’s Day.

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