All of us can remember memorable events in our lives: earning a diploma, getting married, seeing your child or grandchild for the first time, and the deep comfort of knowing an older loved one has passed into glory. Add as well, the first time you acknowledged your sin and turned unto Christ for your salvation. There is only one thing in this life that surpasses all of those wonderful experiences, and that is the great privilege of entering into the Lord’s presence and resting our bodies and souls in Him Lord’s day after Lord’s day (Hebrews 4:9).
Sadly, we fill up the Lord’s day, the first day of the week, with those things that hinder our entering into the presence of the Lord and our resting in Christ alone. The Church needs to meditate deeply upon the truths of Scripture and our Standards and turn from this errant way in which we are burdening ourselves with the things of this world (Nehemiah 13:15-19). Besides work, entertainment, sports, games, and other pleasures, there are a great number of burdens we place upon ourselves in body and soul. This month, many in the Church and outside the Church celebrate Christmas. Additionally, many congregations celebrate other man-made days such as Easter, Father’s day, and even Reformation day. Such days are burdens that compete with or overshadow Lord’s day worship. Consequently, they cloud our minds and hearts from focusing on the Lord and His worship.
Regarding the activities that we attend to on the Lord’s day the Westminster Confession of Faith 21.7 first reminds us,
As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him…
Unlike the previously mentioned celebrations, a day for the worship of God has been appointed by the Lord, not by man. This day in Scripture is called the Lord’s day, and it binds us all by God’s commandment (Revelation 1:10). The origin of the Lord’s day is unique in that the Lord set us an example by resting on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). It is then our duty and our privilege to focus our full attention upon our great God and King on that day. The regularity and frequency of the Lord’s day is a great blessing! It is a celebration of the resurrection and gospel of Christ. We are enabled through the blood of Christ by the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to come into His very presence, to Mount Zion, before His throne, and rest in Him.
Lamentably, the body of Christ often comes up with ways to mitigate and ruin that rest that the Lord has set aside for us by thinking about, speaking about, and acting upon those jobs we need to do inside and outside of our homes in the rest of the week. Additionally, we are tempted by ways of taking pleasure in this world which are lawful on other days of the week.
The compromised Church in submission to her undershepherds adds to the Lord’s day things that are sacred to the world (e.g. viewing of sporting events, the celebration of days, special offerings in accordance with holidays, etc.). Not only are such additions brought into worship but they are also imposed on to the whole Lord’s day. They burden us and hinder that rest God wants us to have in Him. Moreover, the Church adds special decorations, messages, songs, etc. to bring in to His worship and His Church the things of man. Additionally, the Church dares to cancel the worship of the Lord because of these man-made days so that individuals and families can celebrate these things in their homes and fill up the day with secular things. Or the Church takes the times that are normally spent in public worship and calls the gathering of God’s people together to spend it on fleshly things instead of hearing the very Word of God and worshipping Him.
The undershepherds of Christ are often scared to go against the sheep who don’t care to keep the Lord’s day holy. Such leaders give their rationale, “We do this to reach the culture around us for Christ.” The sheep are not the King and Head of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus is King and Head. Therefore, undershepherds and all people must obey and submit in all things to Him. Christ is seen and worshipped not in our becoming like the world, but in our testifying the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, becoming like Christ, and worshipping and honoring Him on the Lord’s day according to His commandments alone. True rest on His day is set down in holy Scripture. To do anything other than what He prescribes on the Lord’s day is heinous, and doing so in His worship is strange fire in the sight of our holy, holy, holy God.
We are commanded to delight in the Lord’s day and to rest in the Lord on His day. When we as the Church do this we are promised to be richly blessed. Isaiah 56:2, 7 says,
Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil… Even [the sons of the stranger] will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
That is the promise of the blessing of entering into the presence of the Lord on His day. However, when we cloud the Sabbath and our rest in Him with man-made things, we might still gain some blessing but only by God’s mercy. We, however, would not be putting ourselves in the way of God’s promised blessing, but rather returning to that slavery of the world and ourselves (Deuteronomy 5:15). Isaiah 58:13-14 exhorts us,
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Our Confession in 21.8 tells us how to keep the Lord’s day holy and delight in it,
This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
The Scriptures are clear, that we must spend our whole time worshipping the Lord with the body of Christ, our families, and in private, and spending our time in those duties of necessity and mercy (Isaiah 58:6-7). If the Church were faithful in this we would not have time for those things our God forbids nor for celebrating man-made days (see Westminster Larger Catechism 116-121). If the sheep or our children believe the Lord’s day is just a focus on the things we ought not to do, then we have failed because they have not been encouraged in the commands and promises of the Lord in what to do on the Sabbath. What we are to do on the Lord’s day is of great delight and joy to the soul (Psalm 19:8).
The promises of the Lord are clear and therefore the body of Christ can be confident if the Church spent its time on the Lord’s day in morning and evening worship, in private worship, and showing physical and spiritual mercy to those in the body and our communities, then we would not have time for those other things that burden us on His day, but we would experience tremendous blessing. My constant prayer is that the Church would stop filling up its time with burdens, but instead would faithfully worship and rest in the Lord, casting aside the burdens of this world with confident trust that our Lord would bless His faithful people.
The Church needs to repent and turn from its sins of forsaking the Lord’s day. The undershepherds of Christ’s Church need to repent and turn from their sins of leading the sheep into great burdens on His day. I challenge the undershepherds of the Church of Jesus Christ to be courageous and stand on the truth, and that the sheep, this month and for the remainder of the race set before us, would celebrate the Lord’s day as the Lord commands. Resisting the flesh and the world is very difficult, but what blessing there is in obedience.