Sabbath, Sunday, or Weekend?

Several years ago, my wife’s elderly grandfather said something that has stuck with me. After observing the way that we as a society do, or don’t as the case might be, observe the Sabbath today compared to how it was observed a generation or two ago, he made the statement, “When I was young, it was the Sabbath. As I got older, we called it Sunday. Today, it’s the weekend.”

As the above quote indicates, a couple of generations ago Sabbath observance was taken much more seriously than today. There were in most homes in NW Iowa a list of do’s and don’ts that were observed on the Sabbath. Certainly no shopping was allowed. And as some might remember, if you ran out of gas on Sunday, you just stayed put. There wasn’t a gas station open anywhere in the area. I myself was prohibited from shooting a basketball at the school yard near my home, and the 3-wheeler never once ran on Sunday. While some of these rules might seem silly to us in our day and age, the message that was being sent by those rules was clear: The Sabbath was a day set apart for a special purpose, and it was to be very different from every other day of the week. The Sabbath was reserved for activities centered around God and His church, not man’s enjoyment of his hobbies and regular activities.

Somewhere along the line, we lost the idea that the Sabbath was to be different, special, a day set aside for more holy endeavors than what might be accomplished on a normal day. I suppose we didn’t lose our reverence for the Sabbath overnight. As is usually the case, these things slip away in degrees; a little slip here, a little slide there. But there’s no denying the result, and now most of us refer to it as “the weekend”. The “weekend” holds no spiritual significance other than to offer the option of church, followed by a nice meal at a local restaurant, maybe a quick trip to Wal-Mart, or perhaps 9 holes at the local golf course. Of course, this assumes that we find ourselves at home. The weekend is an excellent time to spend at the lake, camping, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors.

In and of themselves, all the activities mentioned above are perfectly acceptable behavior for anyone to enjoy. While I myself don’t enjoy ruining a nice walk by chasing a little white ball, there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. The same can be said for almost any activity we might engage in on a given day. Why not enjoy these activities on Sunday, or the weekend, as well?

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it Holy”. God has set aside the Sabbath day so that His people might rest from their daily activities, and to “diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor.”, according to the Heidelberg Catechism. While Holy Scripture does not supply us with a neat list of do’s and don’ts for the Sabbath day, it does teach us by way of example.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were prohibited from cooking or even gathering manna on the Sabbath in Exodus 16. The punishment for desecrating the Sabbath was death according to Exodus 31, and the Israelites were rebuked sharply for buying on the Sabbath in Nehemiah 13. The New Testament shows that Jesus and His disciples were always in the synagogues on the Sabbath day, preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God. Nowhere in the New Testament do we read that Jesus or his disciples were busy with any other activity on the Sabbath day, save for the work of the kingdom.

From both the Old and New testaments then, we can glean what the Lord would have us do on the Sabbath. We are to, as quoted from the Heidelberg Catechism above, diligently frequent the house of God. To put it in plain language, our primary, indeed our only focus on the Sabbath, should be the worship of God with His people in the organized worship services of His church. Only as we worship our Lord in the fellowship of other believers can we begin to truly keep the Sabbath as the Lord intended. And in keeping the Sabbath as the Lord commands, we begin to enjoy in a small way a foretaste of our heavenly life with God in eternity.

We should not regard the keeping of the Sabbath as a burden, as a hindrance to what we really want to be engaged in on the weekend. We should rather view the Sabbath as an opportunity to spend time with the God who has sent His Son to die for us, to offer Him our worship and praise, and to hear what He would say to us from His word. This should not be something that hinders our enjoyment of the weekend. It should be the highlight of our weekend. If we view the Sabbath this way, those questions about what we should or should not do on the Sabbath will become more and more clear to us. By God’s grace, we can begin to view the Sabbath as the pinnacle of our spiritual life here on this earth, and so begin to enjoy a small foretaste of the eternal Sabbath.

Certainly none of us keep the Sabbath perfectly. We are all sinners and fall short of the goal the Lord sets out for us regarding His holy day. But as we strive to more and more observe the Sabbath in accordance with what scripture teaches us, we will find that we can begin to confess with the psalmist, “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Psalm 84:2.

Categories Articles | Tags: | Posted on September 11, 2012

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