Since I first posted this, I have come to believe even more that Christians are willingly relinquishing treasured aspects of worship that they would fight to preserve if someone tried to forcibly take them away.
In Daniel Defoe’s 1791 novel, “Robinson Crusoe”, the main character begins to orient himself after a shipwreck has left him stranded on a deserted island:
After I had been there about ten or twelve days, it came into my thoughts that I should lose my reckoning of time for want of books, and pen and ink, and should even forget the Sabbath days; but to prevent this, I cut with my knife upon a large post, in capital letters – and making it into a great cross, I set it up on the shore where I first landed – “I came on shore here on the 30th September 1659.”
Upon the sides of this square post I cut every day a notch with my knife, and every seventh notch was as long again as the rest.
If Crusoe had taken the modern Christian’s attitude toward Sabbath observance he could have saved himself the worry. It is true that we are admonished to recognize the uniqueness of a God-given day of rest, but the practical application by professing Christians has diminished the command to “Remember the Sabbath Hour”, if it is honored at all. And that’s a shame.
This command is placed appropriately in the “10 Words” from God. We see that God has:
a Holy Exclusiveness thou shalt not have any other gods
a Holy Form of Worship- thou shalt not make any graven images
a Holy Name- thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain
and he has a Holy Day.
These things follow in a logical progression and if this commandment were missing we would note its absence.
This command also makes an appropriate bridge from the first three to those remaining. It has often been noted that the first three deal with our relationship with God and those remaining deal with our relationship with man. But this command not only states that we are to keep it in a very specific way, but it also says that we are not to have any one desecrate it on our behalf.
Now, there are those who would argue that this commandment is trapped in an Old Testament Dispensation, and therefore not applicable in the Dispensation of Grace. What is present in the text to make us suppose that this command should receive such treatment?
The Methodist theologian, Adam Clarke, noted that there were only four circumstances in which a law could properly be set aside. First, there might be circumstances that would designate a necessary setting aside of a law. Jesus exampled that when he reminded the Pharisees,
“ What man shall there be among you, that shall have a sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out”.
Second, there could be a superior law that could override. We see this exampled in our day through the authority of the Supreme Court. Third, a law of charity could supersede a stated law. Last, a law could be abrogated by the authority that gave the law in the first place. Please note that “ecclesiastical civil disobedience,” that is an attempt to break the law out of existence, is not one of those four legitimate ways.
Let’s look at Christ’s observance of the Holy Day. The historian, Luke, noted that Christ went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, “as was his custom.” Jesus observed the sabbath of his day as was his custom. He didn’t just observe it when he had a major pronouncement to make or a miracle to perform. He was into a “Sabbath habit”to consecrate the day.
It was a day that Jesus himself put into unique perspective. On one particular Sabbath day, as he and the disciples walked through a grain field, they plucked some grain and ate it. The Pharisees, always trying to trap Jesus, asked why he and his disciples harvested and winnowed on the Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Lord is the Lord of the Sabbath also”. Meaning that he was the authority that undergirded the uniqueness of the day and he chose not to set it aside as something archaic. He was present at its institution at creation, and his humanity observed it during his time on earth.
And yet that is not the attitude of the church today. This was not the first commandment to be broken, but it may well be the first command to be given away in mass by its own adherents. We gave up our Holy Day so that we might accomplish more, work more, buy more, and play more. As we gave up this God-given blessing of rest, the world was not in a hurry to stop us. No, they recognized the benefit to their god, money, while we were desecrating ours.
Our loss did not stop there. Once the authority of the Holy Day was lost, the loss of the authority of the Holy Book was an inevitable conclusion. It is no wonder we have difficulty in seeing the presence of our Holy religion in the culture any more.
To cast aside the uniqueness of this day is to turn our backs on 2000 years of church history. In A.D 111 Pliny the Younger wrote to Caesar concerning the Christians of Bithynia, who he was persecuting:
Namely the Christians were in a habit of meeting before dawn on a stated day of the week and singing alternately a hymn to Christ, as if to a god. And they bound themselves by an oath not to commission any wicked deed.
By A.D. 148 Justin Martyr wrote:
On the day called Sunday, all that live in the cities or the country, gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles are read or the prophets.
He further states:
We all hold our assembly on common Sunday, because it is the first day that God, having wrought a change in darkness and chaos, made it cosmos instead of chaos. And because Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead on that same day.
Christians have been worshipping on Sunday as the Christian Sabbath for 2000 years. This generation of Christians argue not which day is appropriate for worship. Its argument is that there is no Holy Day. Thus, the church joins hands with the world in desecrating what God has separated for Hallowedness.
Some say that Christ did not mention this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount so we are not obliged to keep it. First, to establish doctrine on the argument of silence is a dangerous thing. But note that after Christ’s ascension the disciple never abrogated the observance of this command.
There are those who say, “If I won’t work on Sunday, I will lose my job.” Or, “I need that extra income from overtime by working on that day”. Did not Christ address this issue when he said, “Remember first the Kingdom of God and all of these things will be added to you”?
There are those who say that because of the hectic nature of life, Sunday is the only day to catch up. As with much in our life it is a matter of priorities. We do get done those things we choose to do. In his biography, Lee Iacocca, the man who was a success with the Mustang in the 1960’s and brought Chrysler back from bankruptcy in the eighties, said he could never understand why the executives that worked for him had to take their work home with them and work on Sunday. He said that if he wasn’t smart enough to get his work done in six days, he was not smart enough to run the company. Surely the small things we have to do can be accomplished in six days.
There are those who say that observance of the Sabbath is legalism. The plea for the observance of this commandment is not a call for some sort of “Sabbatical Regeneration”, whereby observing this command saves souls. That is what the Jews tried to teach the new converts and what Paul condemned in Colossians. But to say that observance of this command is not in itself regenerational, is not to say it is vestigial. There is a right, a purpose, and a power to the observance of all of God’s Holiness, including His Holy Day. We Christians would do well to bring it back into our lives.
This post is edited from a sermon series on the 10 Commandments.