The Christian Sabbath

February 1, 2017

 

Dear Friends,

 

“…He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day…”  (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21-7)

 

Christians have often wondered why the day of worship was changed from the last day of the week to the first day of the week in the early church.  Since we are reading through the section of our Shorter Catechism on Sunday mornings dealing with the fourth commandment, it is good for us to remind ourselves of the reasons for this change.  It is certainly clear in the Scriptures that this was the practice of the early church (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2, Acts 20:7, Revelation 1:10) and it was directly related to the fact of the resurrection of our Lord taking place on that day.  It is also true, as the framers of our Confession rightly state, that the emphasis of the Scriptures has always been on “keeping the Sabbath holy” and not on keeping the seventh day holy.  This is where the Seventh Day Adventists, among others, seem to go astray.  The emphasis has never been on the order of time (the seventh day) as much as it has been on the proportion of time (one day in seven).  Therefore, “the first day of the week is still the seventh as far as the proportion of time is concerned” (GI Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith For Study Classes, p. 172).  But is that all that is going on in the change of the day from the last to the first—merely because Christ rose on that day and they were free to change it since the proportion of time was the same?  By God’s grace, there is more to be noticed here—for even in the ordering there is a wonderful testimony of the deep meaning of the Christian Sabbath and of the sufficiency of Christ!

 

The meaning of a Sabbath occurring at the end of the week (Saturday) is one where we work and labor the whole week only to find rest at the end of that week.  The picture is one of working in order that one day we might find our rest in Christ.  However, with the resurrection of Christ, God turned everything upside down!!  The resurrection was God’s seal of approval on all that His Son had accomplished on the cross for His people (“It is finished!”, John 19:30).  Now, we gather on the first day of the week as a stark reminder that our labor and work flows from our resting in Christ and His finished work!  It is very significant that we rest on the first day of the week—rest from our own works of righteousness, as well as from other works, so that we might give our attention to the worship of God, as well as to “the duties of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21-8; cf. Isaiah 58, Matthew 12, Luke 6, Mark 3).  The picture is much different—it is one of resting in Him (something we acknowledge as we gather together for corporate worship where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered) in order that we might work and labor for His glory and honor during the week that follows.  What a beautiful picture God has given to us in this holy day set aside—our labor flowing from our rest in Him!

 

Here’s the picture: we will arrive at Grace Presbyterian Church this Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as God’s people, to gather before Christ, to receive His Word and to feast on Him by faith in the Lord’s Supper.  We come as those looking forward, looking upward (for Christ is seated in the heavenly places at the right hand of God), fixing our eyes on Him.  We do not come looking back to our works of the previous week, but looking forward to the labors of the coming week and seeking His strength to be at work within us, acknowledging our deep need, and receiving the grace offered in the means He has appointed—the Word and Sacrament!  Therefore, the Sabbath is called a delight! (cf. Isaiah 58:13,14).  Come prepared to celebrate the supper together and to receive the grace offered in it to all of those who feast on Him by faith!  May you truly find it to be a delight for your soul as you come to Jesus by faith to receive from Him the grace He promises to give to help you in your time of need.

 

In the Name of Christ, the Lord of The Sabbath,

Pastor Ted Trefsgar

 

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