The Lord’s Day
Mr. Donald L. Norbie of Greeley, Colorado, is a frequent contributor to “Food for the Flock” magazine. He serves the Lord in numerous ways. including a ministry among college students.
With the summer season in full swing, Mr. Norbie’s article is indeed timely.
Drive down certain streets in Jerusalem on Saturday and you may be stoned. Fervent Jews will wave their fists at you and shout “Sabbath.” They take quite seriously the fourth commandment.
It is quite a contrast with much of Europe and North America. Sunday for some is another work day, for others a “fun” day, for others their shopping day. But few take it seriously as a religious day, a day for God.
So what should the Christian’s attitude be? We are not under the Law, right? Isn’t that the whole thrust of Paul’s writing to the Galatians? “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free …” (Gal. 5:1).
It is true that Paul taught law-keeping as a means of salvation or to keep one saved. Salvation is the free gift of God, not of works (Eph. 2:8, 9). Any attempt to reintroduce law-keeping as a part of salvation is to be resisted as an attack upon the Gospel (Gal. 1:9).
But does this mean the believer can sin freely and arrogantly? Hardly! Paul fought antinomianism as hard as he fought legalism (Rom. 6). Both are perversions of the grace of God.
Paul stressed God’s desire that “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4, NASB). The moral and ethical requirements of the Law are as unchanging as the nature of God, woven into the very fabric of the universe. Adultery and murder were wrong before the Law, under the Law and today.
What was the teaching concerning the Sabbath? First of all, the word means “rest” and the example of God resting on the seventh day is held forth to man (Ex. 20:11). Israel apparently was familiar with the Sabbath before Mt. Sinai. It is mentioned in connection with the gathering of manna (Ex. 16:22-30). However, at Mt. Sinai it was codified in the Decalogue as the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11).
The Sabbath belongs to the Lord. It was a day for physical rest and spiritual renewal, a day uniquely belonging to God.
Inasmuch as its institution is connected with God creating the universe there would seem to be the implication that it is applicable to all men. “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), not the Jew only.
It was regarded as so important that a wilful violation was punishable by death (Ex. 31:14-16). To reject the Sabbath was to reject and to despise God.
The history of the Jewish people reveals the corruption of the Sabbath. This took two directions. One was perfunctory, formal observance. It was viewed as “bad medicine” to be gulped down so as to get back to material concerns.
When the new moon be over,
So that we may buy grain,
And the Sabbath that we may
open the wheat market,
To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger,
And to cheat with dishonest scales,
So as to buy the helpless for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals,
And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?
(Amos 8:5, 6 NASB)
Against such gross materialism the prophet cried out. The Sabbath was to call back to God and to holiness.
The other abuse was an oppressive legalism which multiplied rules and made the day a burden instead of a joy. Jesus said of the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders …” (Mt. 23:4, NASB).
The prophets constantly exhorted the people to a proper use of the Sabbath. There is spiritual joy and blessing in putting a day aside for God.
If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on my holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight, the day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure,
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.
(Isaiah 58:13, 14a NASB)
Jesus in his life and teaching honored the Sabbath. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to hear the Word of God (Luke 4:16). He used the opportunity to preach and teach. But He did attack the traditions which encrusted and perverted God’s Word. It was right to do good and to heal on the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-3:5). For this the Pharisees hated Him.
How did the early church function? The Law with its sacrifices, ceremonies and dietary restrictions was put aside. The new wine of the Gospel must be put into the elastic structure of the Church rather than into the hardened forms of Judaism. Gentiles with no background in the synagogue must not be required to live as Jews. This issue was settled by the Apostles and elders under God in Acts 15.
Under the Apostles’ leadership as the believers were forced out of synagogues (Acts 18:1-7), they began to meet on the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection. It came to be called the Lord’s Day —what a fitting title! (Rev. 1:10). It was the time when they met for teaching, worship and prayer (Acts 20:7), a time when an offering could be taken for needy Christians and missionary work (1 Cor. 16:1, 2). If some were slaves and might have to work, meetings could be held in the evening.
The Lord’s Day was a day set apart for God, a day of rest from mundane pursuits. It was not a day to be shackled with petty rules and sterile legalism. It was a day to be in the Spirit with God’s people, a day to function collectively as priests before the Living God. It was a day to remember Christ’s death and resurrection, to hear the Word of God and to pray. It was a day of family life, koinonia with God’s children. It was a day for spiritual renewal and praise.
What does the Lord’s Day mean to you?