Why The Sunday Sabbath?

tree of happiness

Why is the Lord’s Day celebrated on Sunday? What a delight it has been to do a little research into God’s Word as a follow-up to my previous post. This is just the kind of refining to my doctrine that I hoped this blog would accomplish. I consulted a few tried and trusted resources as well as a new one. G. I. Williamson has written a brilliant study guide for the Westminster Confession of Faith which I have carefully studied, as well as a commentary for the Westminster Larger Catechism, which to date I have used more as a reference. A dear friend gave me Joel Beeke’s A Puritan Theology for Christmas and I consulted his chapter on the American Puritan, John Owen’s, exploration of the Sabbath.

As I study Reformed Theology, I am awestruck and overwhelmed by God’s brilliance and His beautiful design. The Reformers, the Westminster Divines and the Puritans in particular, have so thoroughly and faithfully immersed themselves in God’s word, so reverently and deeply plumbed its depths, and the result is an incredibly profound, cohesive and comprehensive articulation of God’s revelation of Himself to us and of His plan for us. It is from their explication and my biblical verification that I understand God’s intention for the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was always intended to be devoted to God as a celebration and remembrance of His work. In the Old Testament, it was from the beginning a day to rest from work as God did on the seventh day. As Genesis 2:3 makes clear, “then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” He sanctified the seventh day, set it apart, made it holy and elevated it above the other six days. On the Sabbath, from that time forward, man is to remember God’s work of creation. This reminds us of our total dependence on Him as well as our moral responsibility to Him.

In the New Testament, when Jesus was alive, He, a Jew, also celebrated the Sabbath on the seventh day. He affirmed the Sabbath, and reasserted that it is for all time and for all men. But He took exception to and rejected the Pharisees’ man-made laws regarding the Sabbath. He made it clear that as a result of sin and its damage to creation, the Sabbath cannot be perfectly kept. Accordingly, He demonstrated that exceptions to the command to refrain from any work activities common to the other six days of the week can be made in cases of piety, necessity and mercy. Piety refers to works that must be done for God to be worshipped; necessity refers to works that cannot be delayed without harm to life or property; and mercy refers to acts of kindness to a person sick or in distress.

Yet Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the Sabbath. “But man’s sin and misery required that this Sabbath be broken, as it were, if man was to be redeemed. This came about when Christ did the “work” of redemption. The very reason for a “new” Sabbath was that Christ did His work of necessity and mercy on the former Sabbath of God.” (G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, p. 222) Now the Christian Sabbath is on the first day of the week in remembrance of God’s work in redemption, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Isn’t this brilliant? When you look more deeply into the Bible, patterns and connections, especially between the Old and the New Testaments, become beautifully and inspirationally clear.

In addition, the Fourth Commandment, as one of the ten moral laws we are still to observe (not for salvation but for God’s glory and our good) only requires that one of seven days be set apart to God; it does not specify a particular day. And finally, the Apostolic Church clearly observed the Sabbath on the first day of the week (see Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev 1:10).

So we are to celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. “Thus it may be said that the Old Testament Sabbath commemorated God’s original creation, while the Christian Sabbath in addition calls attention to God’s new creation, His great work of redemption in Jesus Christ.” (G. I. Williamson, Ed., The Westminster Larger Catechism; A Commentary, p.323).

I hope this helps you understand the Sabbath better and increases your appreciation for our magnificent God! It has done that for me. Let me know your thoughts.


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