THE LORD'S DAY
by David Chanski
The Lord's Day, #1
In the world today, all of God's commandments are ignored, neglected, and
despised to one degree or another. There is one commandment that has been
subject to assault even from the professing church of Christ itself. That
is the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
The Puritan pastors who wrote the Westminster Larger Catechism were right
when they said about the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath, that "Satan
with his instruments much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory
of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety." We have seen the evil
one make such progress in this battle in our generation that we have to
wonder if he is declaring, "Mission accomplished!" What sensitive
Christian does not grieve over the empty pews in churches, especially on
Sunday evenings, which have been abandoned for the idols of the NFL, the
NBA, or the Mall of America.
The church historian Philip Schaff wrote that observance of the Lord's Day
"is a wholesome school of discipline, a means of grace for the people,
a safeguard of public morality and religion, a bulwark against infidelity,
and a source of immeasurable blessing to the church, the state, and the
family. Next to the Church and the Bible, the Lord's Day is the chief pillar
of Christian society."
Many Christians today are calling for a return to the faith of our nation's
founding fathers. The Lord's Day was a pillar of their religious worship.
The godly Jonathan Edwards wrote, "Those who have a sincere desire
to obey God in all things, will keep the sabbath more carefully and more
cheerfully, if they have seen and been convinced that therein they do what
is according to the will and command of God, and what is acceptable to him;
and will also have a great deal more comfort in the reflection upon their
having carefully and painstakingly kept the sabbath." As Edwards points
out, we should observe God's day because the Bible tells us, not just because
our forefathers did it. But we fool ourselves if we think we will see the
blessings they experienced if we are unwilling to imitate their devotion
The Lord's Day, #2
One of the first arguments brought against the Fourth Commandment, "Remember
the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8), is that it was a commandment
intended only for the Jews, but not for Christians. However, such reasoning
overlooks the Bible's plain teaching that the Sabbath institution has been
around, literally, since the creation of the world. It was on the seventh
day of the creation week that we read that "God blessed the seventh
day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God
had created and made" (Genesis 2:3). That He "blessed" and
"sanctified" the day means that He made it a special day, a holy
day, set apart for His own purpose. But that was not so that He could observe
a day of worshipful rest every seven days, but that we might. As Jesus said,
"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark
2:27). So man's obligation to keep the Sabbath has existed since the creation
of the world.
But what about the objection that the Fourth Commandment was not written
until the days of Moses? First, the very wording of the Commandment points
back to its institution at creation: "Remember the Sabbath day".
This directs us back to Genesis 2:23, for there is no other statement
regarding the institution of the Day in the Bible. Second, consider the
reason given for obedience to the Commandment: "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" (Exodus 20:11). This motive for keeping the
command is as relevant for Adam and all mankind as for the Jews in the desert.
Third, consider that the same objection could be raised against the rest
of the commandments. But would anyone want to argue that Cain did not sin
in murdering his brother, Abel, just because the Sixth Commandment had not
been written yet? Or that idolatry or lying were not sins before Moses'
Christian friend, don't resist the ordinance of God. Instead, embrace the
teaching of God's word and find that the Lord's Day was given to us for
our good, as Jesus said. Remember, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
The Lord's Day, #3
The first pillar of the Bible's doctrine that Christians are obligated to
keep one day in seven holy to God is the fact that the Sabbath ordinance
was established at creation (see Genesis 2:3). The second pillar is the
fact that this obligation is one of the Ten Commandments. God commands,
in Exodus 20:8-11, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six
days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath
of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work." But who says the
Ten Commandments are so special? God does! Remember that when the Lord gave
these ten commands He spoke publicly with His own voice, He wrote the commandments
on stone with His own finger, and he later told Moses to keep the stone
tablets in the ark of the covenant. Not only are these commandments very
significant, but God also regards them as a unit (see Exodus 34:28; James
2:10-11). Therefore, we should expect them all to stand or fall together.
Yet both Jesus and the apostles assumed that the Ten Commandments are still
valid for us today
(Matthew 5:18-28; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:10-12).
Someone might object that we can easily see how it is true that the other
nine commandments are a reflection of God's own character and that our keeping
them is part of our imitating Him--but is this true of the Fourth Commandment?!
That is exactly the point of Exodus 20:11, in which we are told that we
should keep God's day holy, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens
and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh
Many people say that Christians who keep this commandment are the ones who
have to prove that God requires it of us. But we have seen that the Bible
clearly teaches that the Sabbath was established at creation and that keeping
it is part of his moral law. Do you want the task of
convincing the Judge of all the earth that these are not strong enough reasons
for you to remember God's day? If you have neglected this commandment, confess
your sin to God, and keep His day holy for the good of your soul and the
glory of His name!
The Lord's Day, #4
If Christians are really obligated to keep the Fourth Commandment, "Remember
the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," just how do we do it? What is the
purpose of the Lord's Day? What are we supposed to do on Sunday? For one
thing, we are supposed to rest. The Hebrew word, "sabbath",
means to rest or to cease from something. On the Lord's Day, we cease from
our regular labors. God has given us a time for rest and recuperation. In
this way we imitate God, "for in six days the Lord made the heavens
and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed"
(Exodus 31:17). But the Lord has not given us this day simply to kick back
and spend time with our families--let alone to devote ourselves to hunting,
water-skiing, or watching the Vikings.
Rather, we are to come apart from our six-day-a-week labors in order to
devote ourselves to another kind of enterprise--worshiping our God. Throughout
the Old Testament, we are reminded that the Sabbath was not just a holiday,
but a religious holiday, a holy day. "Six days shall
work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.
You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings"
(Leviticus 23:3). Notice that it is a day of solemn or holy rest, on which
the people gather together to worship the Lord in a holy convocation. And
it is not our day, to do as we please, but it is the Sabbath of the Lord.
It is a day of rest for worship.
What a simple, yet blessed way to devote ourselves to the service and glory
of God in our generation. Not by observing a number of meaningless, manmade
holy days on a church calendar, but by honoring and celebrating the one
truly holy day the Lord has instituted in His Word--fifty-two times per
year! May the Lord restore a love and a reverence for His day among His
people in our generation, and may we know His promised blessing:
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 (Isaiah 58:14).
The Lord's Day, #5
We have observed in this space over recent weeks that the Bible directs
us to set apart one day each week as a day of rest for the purpose of worshiping
God. This is so because 1) God set apart the Sabbath day for that purpose
from the time of creation and 2) He requires observance of
that day as part of His moral law. "But," the discerning reader
may reply, "that's what the Old Testament says. What does the New Testament
say?" For many have said that the New Testament does away with Sabbath
observance altogether. What about it?
Many claim that Jesus Himself abolished the Sabbath, both by His teaching
and by His actions. But a careful reading of the gospels reveals that that
is not at all the case. First, the Scriptures give
every indication that Jesus faithfully and conscientiously obeyed the Fourth
Commandment. Luke 4:16 says that it was Jesus' custom to go into the synagogue
on the Sabbath day. Furthermore, in the passages in which many allege that
Jesus criticized Sabbath observance, he is really criticizing only the Sabbath
laws and practices of the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:1-15; Mark 2:23-3:6;
Luke 6:1-11). In Matthew 5:20-48, Jesus over and again condemns the teaching
and practice of the Pharisees, and enforces the true meaning of God's holy
law. Similarly, in these passages concerning the Sabbath, Jesus exposes
the Pharisees' legalistic and perverted understanding of God's law. (By
Jesus' time, the Jewish rabbis had developed over 600 manmade laws to corrupt
God's holy day and to obscure its gracious intent.) Jesus opposes these
false teachers; He does not oppose the Old Testament, the Fourth Commandment,
or the God who gave them both!
Think of it. The Jews saw fit to add their own rules and regulations to
the Sabbath and thus turn it into a harsh, legalistic, and oppressive affair.
When you read the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to
keep it holy", do you view it as something negative and legalistic?
That is, are you interpreting God's word like the Pharisees? Or do you read
it like Jesus, who saw the day as a gift from God, a great blessing and
The Lord's Day, #6
If we admit that Jesus did not abolish the Fourth Commandment, either by
his teaching or his practice, we are still left with some "controversial"
statements from the pen of the Apostle Paul. In Colossians 2:16 Paul wrote,
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival
or a new moon or sabbaths." Some believe that this text clearly and
directly shows that there is no longer any obligation to keep God's command
to remember the Sabbath day. But this view does not stand up to a careful
consideration of the apostle's words.
The word "sabbath" in the New Testament refers only and always
to the seventh day sabbath--Saturday--or to Jewish feasts or holy days.
Paul is therefore asserting that Christians are under no obligation to observe
the Jewish religious calendar. Paul lumps the Jewish holy days in with
the Jewish food laws. The Christian is not required to observe them--no
matter what the "Judaizing" teachers insist. Paul is addressing
the subject of things that are 1) Jewish and therefore 2) indifferent. But
obedience to the Ten Commandments does not fall into either of those categories.
Obedience to the Ten Commandments is not exclusively for the Jews, and it
is not a matter of indifference. The Christian must remember the Sabbath
day to keep it holy. The Christian, however, obeys this command by making
the first day of the week God's day, not the seventh. Paul's statement is
indeed damaging to the notion that we must still observe the seventh day
as a sabbath, but it does nothing to overturn the Fourth Commandment or
to wrench it from its place in God's moral law.
We are reminded of the danger of twisting the Scriptures to suit our native
laziness and selfishness. As Paul wrote, "Now the purpose of the commandment
is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith,
from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle
talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they
say nor the things which they affirm"(1Timothy 1:5-7).
The Lord's Day, #7
Perhaps the most perplexing question regarding the Christian Sabbath is,
On what day of the week should it be observed? The Old Testament clearly
designated the seventh day, Saturday, as the Sabbath. Indeed, there are
some who argue that the Sabbath is still the seventh day of the week. Others
say it does not matter what particular day is observed, so long as we give
one day each week especially to God. Others like to use this confusion as
proof that there is no obligation to observe any day as a holy day under
the New Covenant. But the New Testament provides the basis for the Christian
church's unwavering observance of Sunday as the Lord's Day for nearly two
When the Apostle John wrote that he had a vision on "the Lord's Day"
in Revelation 1:10, he was telling us that it was the Christian church's
day of worship, the first day of the week. It is not simply coincidence
that the church came out of the first century uniformly celebrating a day
called the "Lord's Day" as a day for corporate worship, and doing
that on the first day of each week. And this is not the only mention within
the New Testament that the early disciples worshiped on the first day of
the week. When Paul stopped in Troas on his way to Jerusalem, he had to
wait until Sunday to see all the church, since that was the day they gathered
together for worship (Acts 20:6, 7). Paul knew that this was also the practice
in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:2)--in both cases because he
himself had taught them!
But on what grounds could the Apostles introduce such a momentous change?
Simply this. God finished the First Creation and then rested on the seventh
day. Jesus inaugurated the New Creation with His resurrection and rested
from His work of redemption on the first day.
This helps us to understand why each of the four gospel writers was careful
to point out that Jesus rose and appeared to His disciples on the first
day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1, 13, 33-36; John 20:1,
19, 26). It is fitting therefore that the New Covenant people of God observe
the first day of the week as their special holy day.
The Lord's Day, #8
Is it difficult to accept that the God-appointed day of public worship has
been changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week? Consider
these Scriptural parallels. When God delivered Israel out of the bondage
of Egypt in the Exodus, this was Israel's redemption. It typified the greater
redemption to be accomplished by Jesus Christ. Two memorials were observed
in Israel in honor of this redemption: the Sabbath and the Passover (Exodus
12:13-14; Deuteronomy 5:15). Besides being a sign of creation, the Sabbath
became a sign of redemption, its rest typifying the deliverance of Israel
The New Testament presents the work of Christ as a greater deliverance,
a new exodus, and a perfect redemption which sets believers free from the
bondage of sin and death (Hebrews 2:14-15; 4:8-11). But again, two memorials
are appointed of this redemption by the Redeemer Himself: the
Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20) and the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10).
(The exact Greek word translated "Lord's" in these verses occurs
in only these two places in the New Testament.) No longer do Christians
celebrate the Passover and the Sabbath. Now, in commemoration of a
greater salvation, they observe the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Day.
How eloquently this speaks of the fact that the Lord's Day is patterned
on the Sabbath and, like the Sabbath, should be kept holy. Just as Israel's
observance of the Sabbath and Passover indicated thier esteem for their
God, so also our reverence for the Lord's Supper and the Lord's
Day measures our love for the Savior. And if that be true, what does it
say about the condition of today's church? Christian friend, what does it
say about you? Have you left your first love? God help us to remember from
where we have fallen, and repent and do the first works (see Revelation
The Lord's Day, #9
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, 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 (Isaiah 58:13
Do these words of the prophet Isaiah describe your attitude and your experience
when it comes to the Lord's Day? If they do not, why is that? Many people
who profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ respond to the Bible's teaching
that we ought to observe the first day of the week as a day of holy rest
and worship by saying that such an idea is legalism. They think that it
is overly restrictive if not downright harsh and oppressive to tell the
Christian that he has no business being in the workplace on the Lord's Day,
let alone being on the golf links, at the Metrodome, on the beach, at the
mall, or at the State Fair.
But is such an attitude even close to the spirit of the prophet--indeed
of the entire Word of God? The Bible teaches us that the Lord is the Christain's
portion, his chief delight. Moreover, the Scriptures teach that the Lord
is present with His people in a special way when they gather together to
worship Him on His appointed day. And we are told that He grants them a
peculiar blessing when they consciously and deliberately deny themselves
other earthly pleasures just so they can be with Him. To say that spending
an entire day with God is oppressive is in effect to say, "I don't
want to be cooped up with God all day, and no one can make me!"
Think of it in these terms. Would you tell a young man who is looking forward
to spending a week with his new bride in a secluded cabin that he is being
hard on himself? Of course not! He wants to be with the one he loves! Whom
do you love? When it comes to spending God's special day in His company,
can you say from the heart, "As for me and my house, we will serve
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