The Church’s Day

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By Preston Highlands Baptist Church. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

What Travelers Need

Every traveler knows that the two things you must have to keep going on your journey is fuel and rest. Without fuel, your car stops running, your plane can’t fly, and your body won’t work. Without rest, you may fall asleep at the wheel or be miserable when you get to your destination.

If John Bunyan was right and the Christian life is best summarized as a pilgrimage, a journey, toward the celestial city, then we’ll need fuel and rest to get us there. Without fuel, we’ll fall by the wayside. Without rest, we’ll burn out. Jesus says, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). I want to make it to the end. Do you? Fuel and rest is the only way we’ll get there.

The Gift of Worship and Rest

In his grace, God has provided just what we need for our journey. He’s a good and kind Father who knows exactly what his pilgrim children need. From the very beginning, God gave his people a means to refuel and rest while they journey toward the promised land.

The gas station, or truck stop, looked different for Old Testament Israel than it does for the New Testament Church. But God has steadily provided the gift of fuel and rest throughout his people’s journey through the earth.

And God isn’t a miser either. He doesn’t give his people a dirty old gas station with no bathrooms. He gives his people the Buc-ees of travel stops! He provides his people with good fuel and refreshment.

His provision comes in a form we may not expect. The way God refuels his people is by gathering them for worship around his Word. The way God rests his people is by giving them one day out of seven to cease from working. God provides his pilgrim people with fuel through worship and rest through the sabbath.

Apart from these good gifts, an already hard journey becomes nearly impossible. With these gifts, we can make it to our destination and the journey is infused with joy.

The Relationship Between Worship and Rest

Through the centuries, the church has understood how these two things (worship and rest) relate to one another in various ways. Before the church, how Israel was to worship and rest was clearly defined in the Law of Moses. The seventh day was a Sabbath, a day to cease from working and worship revolved around the sacrificial system centered at the tabernacle and then the temple. There were specific feasts and holy days throughout the year, but worship through sacrifice could happen anytime.

During and after the exile, after the temple was destroyed, the development of the synagogue system began to reshape the way worship was done for the Israelites. Worship and rest began to be centered on the same day and revolved around activities at the synagogue.

Sabbath versus Lord’s Day

The conflation of these two elements eventually led some Christians to suppose that the day of worship and the day of rest must be the same day. This idea is called “Sabbatarianism.” Sabbatarianism says that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. The London Baptist Confession of 1689 says it like this, “After the resurrection of Christ (the sabbath day) was changed to the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s Day. This day is to be kept to the end of the age as the Christian Sabbath, since the observance of the last day of the week has been abolished.”

Interestingly, this idea isn’t found in the New Testament or the first few centuries of the church. This view began to take hold in the church in the early 300’s after the emperor Constantine declared that Sunday would be an empire-wide day of rest. Historian Justo Gonzalez says, “This decree (had) enormous consequences for the history of Sunday. Up to this time, Christians did not relate Sunday observances with the commandment to rest on the Sabbath. Sunday was not a day of rest. It could not be for Christians who were not masters of their own time.” New Testament scholar Andrew Lincoln adds, “Nowhere do the New Testament writers or the writings of the first three centuries of the church’s life indicate that the first day was actually treated as a day of rest.”

The problem with Sabbatarianism is threefold: it misapplies Old Testament commands to Christians, it’s not commanded in the New Testament, and it’s not found in the first three centuries of the church.

Sabbatarianism is a Disputable Matter

This doesn’t mean that Sabbatarianism is bad or evil! Many Christians have taken this position throughout church history. This is a good example of “disputable matter.” Because the New Testament isn’t clear on how Christians should appropriate the sabbath commands of the Old Testament, Christians are free to do so according to their conscience.

We shouldn’t judge one another if we have differing views on the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day. Paul addresses this issue directly in Romans 14:5, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” And Colossians 2:16, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”

Some Christians have taught that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, but our church believes that binds the conscience in a way that the Bible doesn’t. So we say we’re characterized by not being Sabbatarian, meaning that we don’t teach that Sunday is the Sabbath day. However, if someone believes Sunday is the Sabbath, that’s fine! They just can’t require other church members to believe the same.

A Day for Worship

So if Sunday isn’t the new Christian day of rest, is God’s gift of the sabbath still available for Christians? And when are Christians supposed to refuel through worship? I’ll take these in reverse order. My main point here is that the principle of the sabbath still stands for Christians and that Sunday should ordinarily be set aside for Christian worship.

First, Sunday, the first day of the week, should ordinarily be set aside for Christian worship. Let me show you why and then give you some implications.

The reason why Sunday should ordinarily be set aside for worship is because that’s the pattern we find in the New Testament. The first Christians began gathering for worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, because that’s the day Jesus rose from the dead. Mark 16:2, “And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb…and entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him’” (cf. Matt. 28:1; Lk. 24:1-3; Jn. 20:1). And John 20:19, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers on the first day of the week, thus his first followers began to gather to worship him on the first day of the week.

There isn’t clear teaching on this in the New Testament, but there does seem to be a clear pattern. In Acts 20, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem but stops at Troas for a week. Verse 7 says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” Paul preached so long that a young man fell asleep and fell out of a window and died! Thankfully, Paul had the gift of miracles and brought him back to life. But the point here is that these Christians were gathering on the first day of the week for teaching and the Lord’s Supper.

In First Corinthians 16:1-2, we also see this pattern. “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” The church members were to bring gifts for the offering “on the first day of the week.” The assumption here is that the church was meeting on this day.

This day eventually began to be called the “Lord’s Day.” In Revelation 1:10, the apostle John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Eventually, Christians began to call the first day of the week “the Lord’s day.”

Christians for two thousand years have ordinarily set aside the first day of the week, or the Lord’s day, for worship. I say “ordinarily” because many Christians in an Islamic context worship on Friday because that’s the day that everyone has off from work. It’s like the Muslim Sabbath, so Christians find that it’s the most convenient and strategic time to meet for worship. But meeting on Sunday, when and where possible, is preferred because it’s the pattern we find in the New Testament.

Christians Should Be in Church

Let me give you two implications of this for us. First, if you’re a Christian, going to church on Sunday should be a normal part of your life. This is the clear pattern of Scripture and commanded in Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us…not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.”

Unfortunately, this is still “the habit of some.” I was discouraged this week as I read the 2021 Book of Reports for the Southern Baptist Convention. It reports that there are approximately 14 million members in SBC churches, but that only approximately 4.4 million of those members are in worship each week. Only a third of SBC church members are in church every week. What does this say about our understanding of the church and the gospel? Our desire to love and serve our brothers and sisters? Our health as a Convention?

None of us will be able to be in church every Sunday. And you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. The point is that, just as an employee you regularly go to work and as a family member you regularly gather with your family, a Christian will regularly be in church. For many church members in America, regular attendance is one or two times a month. But what if you only ate half your meals every month or only went to work half the time? You wouldn’t be very healthy and you wouldn’t be a growing and productive member of your company.

We tell our members that, unless you’re sick or out of town, we expect you to be in church. Our church covenant says, “We covenant to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” and “We covenant to, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.”

The members of our church are expected to gather regularly for worship on the Lord’s Day, and, if they move, to find another church they can gather with as soon as possible. Why? Because this is what Christians have done from the beginning. A Christian who doesn’t regularly go to church is foreign to the New Testament.

And this isn’t supposed to be a burden. The end of Hebrews 10:25 says that the opposite of neglecting to meet together is “encouraging one another.” How will we be encouraged if we’re not around the people meant to encourage us? Regular, simple, ordinary doses of encouragement will increase our overall well-being.

Sometimes our job may force us to work on Sunday’s so that we have to miss church. In that case, start praying for a new schedule or a new job. When you apply, tell your employer up front that you can’t work on Sunday mornings.

The importance of worship on the Lord’s day means that parents shouldn’t allow their children to miss church in order to play sports every weekend. We’ll all miss church! But not all reasons for missing are created equal. Going to church every Sunday should be a normal part of a Christian’s life because it’s what Christians have been doing since Jesus came out of the grave.

The Lord’s Day is about the Lord

There’s another massive implication of this that’s easy to miss. The fact that the early church called the first day of the week the “Lord’s day” means that they ordered their entire week, indeed, their entire lives around Jesus’ lordship. In worship, we recognize that Jesus, not us, is Lord. And because we worship him together as a church on the first day of the week, we declare that his lordship starts in his church.

Jesus is Lord of his church. This is what we declare every Sunday when we gather to worship him. Together we’re saying that Jesus, not work or sports or recreation or money or family or politics or presidents or anything else, is Lord.

The way God refuels his people is by gathering them for worship around his Word. The Lord’s Day is a gift for the Lord’s people, a gift that’s like a gas station. A place and time you can be refueled and reignited to love and serve Christ and others.

The Gift of the Sabbath

The other gift God gives his people for their journey is the gift of rest. The way God rests his people is by giving them one day out of seven to cease from working. God provides his pilgrim people with fuel through worship and rest through sabbath.

The commands to Israel about the Sabbath may no longer be binding, but they still have a lot to teach us. They tell us that God is concerned about his people’s rest.

The Sabbath is a unique gift to God’s unique people. Judith Shulevitz, a Jewish writer, talks about how the Jewish rabbis described the Sabbath. She says, “The Sabbath, said the rabbis, is a bride given by God to her groom, the people of Israel. Once a week, they go forth in wedding clothes to marry her. The Sabbath, said the rabbis, is a gift from God’s treasury. Once a week, his people receive it and are enriched. The Sabbath, said the rabbis, is the Temple in time rather than space. Once a week, every Jew becomes a priest and enters it. The Sabbath, said the rabbis, is the Chosen Day, just as the children of Israel are the Chosen People.”

Jewish people understand how wonderful and beautiful the gift of a day of rest is. I’m afraid many of us modern evangelical Christians do not. But Jesus explicitly says that the Sabbath was made for us. Mark 2:27, “And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’”

Those in Christ are free to not observe the Sabbath laws, free from the specifics of the Old Testament commands. But we aren’t free to ignore God’s wisdom. We’re not free from the wisdom of the principle of the Sabbath. Pursing a pattern of regular rest is wise, not slavish law-keeping. Adam Mabry says, “If you’re concerned that by embracing regular Sabbath rest you’re in danger of coming under some harsh legalism, simply ask yourself how not observing Sabbath rest is going for you. It’s not rest that threatens to oppress you, but your refusal to.”

When should Christians Sabbath? Whenever is best for you and your family. Take a day each week, or a portion of a few days, to cease from working and rest. Take time each year to rest – we call this vacation. Find what works for you and your family and your stage of life. Talk to another brother or sister in Christ and see what they do.

Let me say a quick word to husbands who have young children: your wife needs you to give her time without the children. Mothers won’t be able to clock out of caring for the little ones unless you step in and do something to make it happen. Young moms need rest perhaps more than most of us. Dad, make sure she has time for regular refreshment in the Lord.

What Should We Do When We Rest?

Finally, what should we do when we rest? Two things. First, do anything that’s not work. This doesn’t mean inactivity. It means do something that’s not part of your regular work. It means do something just for fun. Find a hobby, something you can do to unwind that isn’t part of your job. For me it’s running and reading. Running isn’t easy, but it’s super relaxing for me. When we go on vacation, I take a stack of books on things I just want to read about that aren’t directly related to my work. Because I’m a pastor and around people all the time, rest for me means being away from people. What do you love to do? When can you carve out time to do it?

Second, we should worship when we rest. Sabbath is “a time of rest, holy to the Lord.” Sabbath means setting apart time to rest in and with the Lord. This means that you need to open your Bible and pray during your time of rest. The point is to rest with Jesus, not from Jesus. Binging on Netflix during your Sabbath isn’t Sabbathing. Pursue things that will fill your soul, not numb your mind.

We need extended time to think about Christ and ourselves. We need to process what’s going on in and around us. Some of you struggle to grieve because you never sit with yourself long enough to grieve, to feel what you feel and think what you think. Sabbath is God’s invitation for you to find healing and peace and rest in Jesus’ name. Sabbath is God’s gift to you, meant to keep you alive and healthy and on the narrow road that leads to the celestial city.

A Never-Ending Sabbath

The Sabbath command is the only one of the Ten Commandments not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. What is clear is that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath laws for us (Heb. 4:3, 8-10).

By doing the hard work of living a perfect life and by laying down his life for our sins and rising from the dead on the third day, Jesus fulfilled the law and grants eternal rest to everyone who puts their trust in him and turns from their sins. Jesus’ work was for our rest.

The Sabbath points us to the One who can give us true rest, rest for our souls. Listen to Jesus’ offer, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

The Beauty of Jesus’ Message

The beauty of Jesus’ message is that you don’t have to unburden yourself to come to him. You don’t have to collect yourself, get your life right, and start acting religious before you qualify for friendship with Jesus. You don’t have to pay anything. Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is a gift, not a reward for good behavior, not a transaction.

So whether you’re working hard to make your life look better than it actually is (“labor”) or finding yourself weighed down by things beyond your control (“heavy laden”), Jesus wants to give you rest. He sees you. He understands what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what’s been done to you. His heart is tender, welcoming, willing, and open to receive you. All you have to do is be honest with yourself and with him about your need.

As Ray Ortlund says, “To all who are weary, and need rest; to all who mourn, and long for comfort; to all who fail, and desire strength; to all who sin, and need a Savior, Jesus Christ, the Friend of sinners, welcomes you.”

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