From the very time of creation, the idea of one day in seven being different has been taught us by our Creator’s example and precept. Later this was embodied in the Ten Commandments and stressed by the prophets as an indicator of love and obedience to God. Finally, it was transformed by the Lord Jesus who is ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:28).
Since then, till about thirty years ago, the Lord’s Day (the day he rose from the dead and the day he chose to set apart as his) has generally been regarded as a replacement for the Jewish Sabbath.
Campaign for change
In former times, believers rightly applied the principle enunciated by Alec Motyer: ‘The Sabbath is first a call to consecrate life’s timetable to God, to adopt a style for six days which allows the seventh day to be a day apart’. They set this day apart, as one to be treated differently from the other days of the week.
This is no longer the case. The world, hostile to such a day, has long campaigned for change and, sadly, the church generally has bowed to public opinion. The Lord’s Day (Sunday) is no longer looked upon as a day set apart.
Admittedly, Sunday is still the main day for Christian worship. But there is a marked change in attitude to it. The truth is that the battle to keep the Lord’s Day different from other days has been lost.
It is understandable that the world uses Sunday as a day when they can do everything they have not had time or inclination to do during the week. This simply reflects their enmity against God and their basic belief that they should be free to do what they want, when they want. But it is nothing less than tragic to see how far this spirit of the world has rubbed off on believers.
This brings us to our title; can the Lord’s Day be reclaimed? Can the church reclaim the Lord’s Day to such an extent that it is again recognised (both in the church and the world) as ‘a day apart’?
There are two different but complementary answers to this question. The short answer is, ‘Yes, it is possible’. We must believe that, because, ‘nothing is impossible with God’ (Luke 2:37).
The longer answer is: ‘Yes, but not without great effort and sacrifice on the part of God’s people’. This answer may be amplified by answering two more questions: What are some of the sacrifices involved? Why should we make such an effort? Let’s think about some of the sacrifices.
Firstly, there is the sacrifice of losing the favour and good opinion of others. To take a stand for the Lord’s Day will be costly, and you can count on the world’s frown and cold shoulder.
Even more painful, you can expect even believers to misunderstand and misrepresent your convictions. Do not be surprised if some believers accuse you of legalism or being a traditionalist who has not learned to think for himself.
Secondly, there could be the sacrifice of losing a good job, when an employer learns you are unwilling to work on the Lord’s Day. For others it could mean taking a lower paid job in preference to a job that demands unnecessary Sunday work.
Thirdly, for parents, there will be the sacrifice of much time, thought and effort in planning to make the Lord’s Day a blessing and not a burden to their children. For example, in certain situations one or both parents will have to forego a rest or fellowship with other Christian friends (apart from the regular worship services where our children should be with us). By doing so, they can do things with the children that keeps the Lord’s Day special yet helps to make it enjoyable and profitable.
Delighting in the Lord
Now, let us turn our attention to three reasons why such an effort should be made by all who desire to reclaim the Lord’s Day.
Firstly, it is an outward expression of our love and loyalty to the Lord. It is easy to talk about our love for God, but Jesus challenges us all with his words: ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).
Our Lord has not laid a heavy burden on us concerning his day. As Lord of the Sabbath he has changed the day of rest, delivered us from the ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath, and told us the real rationale behind it. Indeed, the Lord’s Day supersedes the Sabbath which ‘was made for man and not man for the Sabbath’.
A day of rest is not to be thought of as an oppressive burden, but as a gracious gift from God, specially made for the benefit of man. If God could promise his ancient people that Sabbath-keeping was a way to ‘delight yourself in the Lord’ (Isaiah 58:13,14), how much more should this promise apply to believers who observe the Lord’s Day?
Loving our neighbour
Secondly, an effort to reclaim the Lord’s Day is an outward expression of our desire to love our neighbours as ourselves. If we believe that ‘the Sabbath was made for the man’ we will want our neighbour to gain that benefit as well as ourselves.
We cannot force people to observe the Lord’s Day. However, if we keep the Lord’s Day special, it is a witness to our neighbour that Christianity is more than words. We show by our actions that the Lord Jesus is worthy of a day when his people devote themselves, publicly and privately, to God’s worship and to duties of necessity and mercy.
Thirdly, such an effort is in our own best interests. The Lord’s Day is meant to be a delight and joy for believers; a day intended by our gracious God to meet physical and spiritual needs that can be met in no other way.
As one writer correctly comments: ‘Man’s bodily welfare needs one day in seven for rest from ordinary labour. The soul withers without it. It thrives in proportion to its observation’.
Good reasons for doing a duty can encourage us to do it. But without God’s help and grace they are not enough. Our greatest encouragement to duty must be God’s call to it. His Word says: ‘Those who honour me I will honour’ (1 Samuel 2:30) and he promises: ‘I will strengthen you’ (Isaiah 41:10).
‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King? Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?’ May God help us to answer: ‘Joyfully enlisting, by thy grace divine, we are on the Lord’s side, Saviour we are thine’.