If I had titled this article “What You Can Do On Sunday” I suppose there would not be a single Pharisee interested in the article. Pharisees were interested in how impressive they could be in their pursuit of the letter of the law. They were in show business: “See how incredibly self-denying I am.” But relax (especially if it is Sunday): Only God knows what it looks like when we apply a pharisometer to our hearts. Hopefully we can enjoy this delicious gift rather than seeing how sour we can get it by the many things the Pharisees prohibited on the day. Nevertheless we must ask, “What can’t you do on a Sunday?”
The question of what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath goes back thousands of years. The people of Israel who saw the man picking up sticks in Numbers 15:32ff didn’t assume it was a game. They wanted to know if this was something you can’t do on a Sabbath. Moses consulted God on the matter and it turned out their suspicion was right. The Sabbath was not a day for collecting firewood. The man had to be stoned. This was serious.
Stoning someone for the way he treats Sunday is not currently on our radar, but we do want to treat the question with the same seriousness. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19). At this point, Jesus was dealing with a number of issues from God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath law is part of God’s moral law.
The Sabbath law as part of God’s moral law has been misunderstood or ignored by some believers. They have somehow grouped this law with the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament and have therefore assumed that this law is like the other ceremonial laws that have been replaced or fulfilled in Christ. The fact that the Sabbath law sits right there in the middle of the moral law should be a strong indication that is still valid for us.
The Hebrew word for Sabbath is shabbat. The words “to sit,” “to cease” or “to strike” (from working) come from the same root. God stopped after six days of work. He didn’t need to. He doesn’t need rest, but we do. Therefore, He created the pattern for us. God gave the command to rest one day after six days of work long before he gave the law to Moses. This means that this law did not come about as a ceremonial law. Some ceremonial laws are based on the Sabbath but the law itself is a universal law. God gave the law to all people at creation. The command to work was also given at creation. Since the fall, work has only been harder and therefore the rest we need became more necessary.
Now, finally, let us get practical. What does God expect of you on Sunday? There are three things I want to highlight: rest, worship and thinking.
Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Firstly, you should work for six days and do all your work. But then, on the seventh day, it is very clear that God expects you to rest and to let others (even working animals) rest. God doesn’t merely invite us to stop; He commands us to stop (as the man in Numbers discovered). But it is a gracious command. It is a command that is in our own interest and in the interest of others with whom we have contact and influence. Jesus said that God had made this day for man, not man for this day. Man needed this day. Man needs to “switch off” from work for one day in seven. Like feeding the Israelites with manna, God still gives us seven days of provision for six days of work. So maintaining a Sabbath rest on Sunday is an act of faith in Jehovah Jireh. God will provide. Taking a proper break from work is not something we should feel guilty about. Not taking a break from work one day in seven is foolish and faithless.
What would it take from you to rest and to let others rest? What implications would this have for your work, shopping, eating out and sport?
Second, we have reason to worship on the day. We worship our Creator God, who created everything in six days and was finished on the seventh day. We worship Christ who said, “It is finished,” after He completed the work of salvation. Christ sat down (shabbat) next to the Father after His work was completed on earth. In Him, you and I can sit down in our salvation. There is nothing more we have to do. We can simply rest and enjoy His finished work and look forward to our final rest. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10).
What would it take for you to make it a day of worship?
Third, Isaiah shows that there should be a deliberate effort to guide our thoughts on the day. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14).
What would it take from you to change your thoughts and talk from everyday thoughts to Sabbath thoughts and talk? What implications would this have for the entertainment you have on the day? What discussions would you have? Where would you go? What would you read? What would you watch? For the “payment” of self-denial on this day God promises some serious payback in v. 14 above! Are you willing and wise enough to make the investment?