WORSHIP AND THE SABBATH-DAY
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 21, paras 7-8)
The Apostle Paul in Romans 4:11 refers to Abraham as the “father of all those who believe.” While Abraham was yet childless, i.e., before he was a father, the Lord brought him outside and said, “‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” Genesis 15:5.
Now the point the Lord was making to Abraham surely was that the One who created and put all those stars in the night sky is more than able to give Abraham offspring innumerable. Abraham looked at the stars and the very next verse says, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”
What is it about the starry night sky that stirs in us a sense of belief and awe? If you’ve ever looked at the stars while in the Australian outback or some other deserted place, you’ll feel the need to worship bubble up from somewhere deep within you. Why is this? Well, it’s because the law or light of nature shows forth that there is a God and that He ought to be worshipped. Isn’t this one of the illustrations the Lord used to remind Job of who He, the Lord, is? The Lord said to Job, “Can you bind the cluster of Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion? Can you bring out Mazzaroth in its season? Or can you guide the Great Bear with its cubs? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you set their dominion over the earth? Job 38:31-33.
So, when we look at the stars we are compelled to think of their Creator. And as we do so we see something of the awesomeness of the Creator. In a word, to look at the stars is to be reminded that God is Creator and we are mere creatures of His creation. The welling up of worship from within is based exactly on that principle: the lesser worships and serves the greater. And who is greater than He who made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them?
So, we may safely conclude then, that the law of nature, or the light of the things God has made (including us), shows us that a due proportion of time should be set apart for the worship of God.
What we’re mainly concerned with in the following is the proportion of time set apart for worship that is commonly called the Sabbath Day or the Lord’s Day.”
The Creation Sabbath
We always need to keep in mind the origin of the Sabbath or Lord’s Day – lest we forget! Like a fence-post imbedded in wet concrete becomes a solid and immovable pillar, so the Christian Sabbath is set in the very beginning of creation. The Christian Sabbath is the Creation Sabbath. It is the Creation Sabbath after the redemption of the fallen Creation has been completed. But before we examine the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day we must consider the pillar of the Creation Sabbath that remained even after man sinned by breaking the everlasting Covenant.
When Adam ate the forbidden fruit he broke the Law, i.e., the Ten Commandments God had written upon his heart upon man’s creation. All Ten, including the 4th Commandment written on man’s heart before the Fall would have been written in positive terms because man had not yet fallen. The 4th Commandment would have read something like this: Worship God as He will be worshipped.
Now, before the Fall Adam would have known the times when to worship God. And in particular he would have known from the light or law of nature what day God had set aside to be worshipped. We’ve already noted the stars when we mentioned Abraham. Well, if you were to look at Genesis 1:14 you would see that, among other things, the stars and planets in the sky are a giant clock, if you will. Genesis 1:14, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years…’” So, man before the Fall would have been able to count the days, weeks, months and years simply by looking at the starry night sky.
Now, we can’t know how much the curse God put on the fallen creation affected time, but we suppose that before the Fall each week could be measured by the phases of the moon. With reference to the stars the moon completes one revolution in an elliptical orbit about the earth in 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, and 11.5 seconds. And to complete an entire lunar orbit, going through each of its weekly or quarter phases it takes 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds.
Why am I telling you this? Well, so that you can see that from the very beginning of creation man, who was created on the sixth day, knew which day was the Sabbath or Lord’s Day. It was one day set apart in every cycle of seven.
Look at it this way: God created Adam and made Eve from his rib on the sixth day of creation week. Genesis 2:1-3 says, “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.”
So, we see that God had worked for six days and rested on the seventh day. Therefore God has set a pattern for His creation and man to follow. Man and God’s creation are to labour six days and, like God, rest every seventh day. But don’t miss the important words of Genesis 2:3, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it…” So, God then, has given a special status to one day of every seven. He has blessed that day and He has sanctified or declared it a holy day.
Now, we’ve already mentioned that God had made Adam and Eve on the sixth day. God made Eve from Adam’s rib after Adam had considered and named all the animals. Not one of those animals was comparable to Adam. But the point I make is that Eve was made after Adam had considered all the animals. Therefore the sixth day would have been getting on towards evening before Eve was made.
So, the newly-weds, Adam and Eve got to spend their honeymoon night under a romantic star-lit sky. But did Adam have to turn to his bride Eve and say, “Honey, I need to get some sleep, I’ve got some gardening work to do in the morning”? No, because the next day was the Lord’s Day. The next day was the Creation Sabbath. God was still creating on the sixth day and wouldn’t finish His work until the end of the sixth day, Genesis 2:2.
Adam and Eve were part of God’s creation work on the sixth day. Thus we see then that, though God’s holy and blessed day was the final day of a period of seven, it was the first day of the week for Adam and Eve. Therefore Adam and Eve would very easily be able to count off the days from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. They would begin each week with worship on God’s holy and blessed day – the Creation Sabbath.
God’s Law written on man’s heart would testify that Adam ought to worship the Creator. And the stars on their courses would let him know when to prepare for the Lord’s Day. Now, that’s all very well pre-Fall, but what happened when Adam broke God’s Law? Well, we know that God didn’t abandon mankind. Neither did He abandon the day He had set apart for man’s rest.
The Christian Sabbath
We’ve already noted that the Christian Sabbath is the Creation Sabbath. However it is the Creation Sabbath after the redemption of the Fallen creation. Before the Fall the Creation Sabbath signalled nothing of redemption. It was all to do with creation – an unfallen world doesn’t need to be redeemed.
Another way of saying this is that the newly created world was not in need of re-creation. We use the word ‘recreation’ to speak of a time of refreshment and renewing. To be sure, we tend to think of recreation as a time of fun and amusement. However, if we compare the day of rest before the Fall with the day of rest after the Fall we’ll see that both speak of a time of refreshment and renewing – the day of rest after the Fall much more so.
So, we’re saying that the Christian Sabbath is the re-creation or new-creation Sabbath. The new creation began with the resurrection of the new and replacement Adam, Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ brings mankind to the point (and, of course, beyond!) where Adam would have been had he not sinned. In other words, as Adam and his new wife began their week together on the first day of the completed creation, i.e., the Lord’s Day, so Christ and His bride began their week together on the first day of the new creation, i.e., Resurrection Day or the Lord’s Day.
God rested from all His labours at the end of the week, so the God-man Jesus Christ rested from all His labours in the tomb at the end of the week. Matthew in his Gospel account says in Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” So we see then that something wonderful happened on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene found the tomb to be empty because Christ had risen!
The Psalmist speaks of this wonderful day – the Resurrection Day, the Christian Sabbath - in Psalm 118:22-25: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.”
Christ, the Rock of our salvation from whom flow rivers of living water, has brought us prosperity. Which is to say that He has brought us new life – He has brought us a new creation – re-creation. He has redeemed this fallen creation and has brought it new life on the first day of the week – Resurrection Day. He is the chief cornerstone of the new creation.
The first Adam had not laboured for six days before he started his new week. And neither do we labour before we start our new week. Like Adam and Eve we begin the new week refreshed in the Lord. Therefore the Creation Sabbath has been restored for man by and through the resurrection of the Last Adam, Jesus Christ.
Jesus says in Mark 2:27&28, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” If Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath He has the authority to change the Sabbath day from the end of the week to its beginning. Therefore the Old Testament end-of-the-week Sabbath ended and the New Testament beginning-of-the-week Sabbath began the day of His resurrection.
Now, we’ve been labouring hard to demonstrate that the weekly Sabbath is a creation ordinance. In other words, the weekly Sabbath did not arrive on the planet earth at the time of Moses. The weekly Sabbath therefore is for all men everywhere to enjoy to the glory of God.
However, what did arrive at the time of Moses were certain ceremonial laws pertaining to God’s people at that time. These were attached to the Creation Sabbath. These ceremonial laws, which were typologically redemptive, were abrogated by Christ.
What God spoke on Mount Sinai and wrote down on two tablets of stone is His eternal Moral Law. The Ten Commandments are God’s positive and perpetual commandments. And as you know the Fourth Commandment or Sabbath Commandment is part of that Moral Law.
Exodus 20:8-11 records the Fourth Commandment as part of God’s Moral Law: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
The 4th Commandment as recorded in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, interestingly focuses more on redemption than creation. But we see in Exodus 20 that the 4th Commandment itself harks back to the six days God laboured at creation, resting on the seventh.
And notice the word “remember” at the beginning of the commandment. That word “remember” presupposes that the people already knew what the Sabbath is. Indeed we see the Sabbath referred to in Exodus 16, which was before the giving of the Decalogue. Speaking of gathering manna, Moses says in Exodus 16:26, “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”
We don’t have time to talk about all the sevens, including the seven-day or weekly periods, mentioned throughout God’s dealing with Noah. The briefest examples of this would be to mention in passing, e.g., Genesis 7:10, “And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth.” And see Noah wait seven days between sending out the dove after the raven from the ark etc. The point being that the saints knew there was a weekly Sabbath even before God gave the Ten Commandments.
Now, we’ve mentioned that the 4th Commandment as part of the Ten Commandments harkens the hearer of it back to creation. What happens when you look at the starry night skies? The urge to worship starts bubbling up from within, doesn’t it? The LORD took Abraham outside and had him count the stars. Does not the 4th Commandment when carefully considered engender the urge to worship? “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” Thus the Sabbath Day is about worship – worshipping the Creator and Redeemer of the world.
Now, we’ve already alluded to the temporary Sabbath provisions that were later given by God to Moses – after He had given His Ten Commandments. The Lord’s Apostle Paul refers to these temporary Sabbath provisions in Colossians 2:8-17. I’ll just mention Colossians 2:16&17 as it mentions the word “sabbaths”: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
The “festival” refers to the four Old Testament Sabbath Festivals or Feasts. These were tied to annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem – there were four of them (Deuteronomy 16:16; John 10:22). The “new moon” is tied to the Sabbath Festivals. The “sabbaths” mentioned there in Colossians 2:16, while pertaining to the Festivals, also, we believe, pertains to the way the weekly Sabbath was to be obeyed with all its ceremonial or typological or redemptive aspects.
The Old Testament Sabbaths were shadows of the Christ to come. Therefore now that the Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His wings, the Old Testament shadows have fled. Which is to say that Christ has “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us.” Colossians 2:14. But, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “There remains therefore a rest [a sabbatismos, i.e., a keeping of a Sabbath] for the people of God.” Hebrews 4:9. This keeping of a Sabbath is what we are calling the Christian Sabbath or the “Lord’s Day” as referred to by the Apostle John in Revelation 1:10.
Now, by keeping in mind that the Christian Sabbath is the restoration of the Creation or Edenic Sabbath we should be able to note certain differences between it and the Mosaic weekly Sabbath. When we say that the Sabbath Moses was involved in has been done away with, we are not saying that the 4th Commandment has been done away with. The 4th Commandment or Sabbath Commandment remains because it is part of God’s perpetual Moral Law, (Hebrews 4:9). However, the Mosaic covenant has been superseded by the New Covenant.
When Moses led the people of Israel out from their bondage in Egypt the Mosaic Sabbath typified redemptive rest. The Sabbath rest they were to gain by entering the Promised Land, i.e., the Land of Canaan typified their future reward at the end of their laborious journey. So, under Moses the weekly Sabbath pictured redemption – i.e., being released from the hard labour of their slavery in Egypt. And the Land of Canaan was the symbol of Sabbath rest. This was the inheritance promised to Abraham – the place where the people of God were to dwell in safety and have rest from their enemies round about, Deuteronomy 12:10.
Now, these two things, the weekly Sabbath and the ‘Sabbath’ or Rest in the Land of Milk and Honey, as already noted, were tokens or symbols of something far greater. These were typifying what the great Redeemer was coming to do. He was coming to set His people free from their bondage to sin by setting them and creation free from its bondage to the curse of corruption and decay of sin. This is what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has accomplished and achieved. The things promised in the weekly Mosaic Sabbath and the Sabbath rest in the Promised Land have been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Where does this leave the Sabbath in our own day? Well, we’ve seen that the Sabbath has been the day of rest and worship from the very beginning of creation. The Christian Sabbath still points to the God’s eternal rest as it has from the beginning. Therefore there still remains a typical or symbolic aspect to the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day. But: as it was for Adam and Eve, so it is for us.
We begin the week rejoicing in the company and presence of God! But the difference between Adam and Eve and the saints today, is that the Covenant blessings promised to mankind have already begun to be poured out by Jesus Christ. He has kept the covenantal Sabbath perfectly. He has entered into God’s eternal rest. And He has opened up the way for us to enter into that rest.
The Land of Canaan has become the whole earth, nay, the whole world – the cosmos! The heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them are ours in Jesus Christ. Therefore we gather together every seventh day to give thanks to God for Jesus Christ and to give thanks for His resurrection. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday for the Christian! We gather on the day He was resurrected, for that is the day that the new world began. Jesus Christ is its first fruits.
The resurrected Jesus met with His gathered disciples on the first day of the week. He met with them again on the first day of the week a week i.e., seven days later. He poured out His Holy Spirit on His gathered church on the first day of the week – the Day of Pentecost. The saints gathered to break bread on the first day of the week, Acts 20:7. Paul the Apostle preached a sermon until midnight on the first day of the week. He told the saints to take up their offering or collection on the first day of the week, 1 Corinthians 16:1&2.
The first day of the week is the Christian Sabbath – it is the Lord’s Day, Revelation 1:10. And it is the day that is to be kept holy to the Lord. We are to prepare our hearts to worship God on that day. Therefore we need to organise our everyday affairs to accommodate the worship of God on the whole of that day.
And we should strive to be involved in private worship as individual and family - if you have one. And of course we mustn’t forsake the gathering of the saints for worship, Hebrews 10:25. The whole of the day should be set apart for worship, while not neglecting those duties of necessity and mercy – from milking the cows to looking after the sick.
The Lord through His Prophet Isaiah spoke of the new covenant with its Christian Sabbath: “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 honourable, and shall honour 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. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13&14.
Call the Sabbath a delight, and delight yourselves in the LORD.