Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 38
Q 103. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?
A 103. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.
Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.
The issues of the Sabbath day in modern culture is complicated, to say the least. Some say that Sunday is the new Saturday and that the day is for church and church only. Others treat Sunday as a “second Saturday” that is interrupted by a church worship service. In either case, I think, we miss the mark of what is going on when it comes to Sabbath rest and the Bible.
During Jesus’ ministry, he was confronted by a number of religious leaders that challenged Him on any number of teachings. One that frequently drew criticism from them was Jesus’ treatment of the Sabbath laws. His response, in one of these encounters, was this: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.“
For us, this is an important teaching because it gives the context for the ultimate purpose of the Sabbath. God created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Scripture tells us that this 7th day was made to be holy, a day set apart for rest. Jesus’ teaching reminds us that the Sabbath was actually created after humankind was; there is an order of priority.
If humans were made second and placed in a sort of already created work/rest paradigm, then it would be right for us to hold one day a week for explicit rest in which we literally did nothing (you know like when your parents didn’t even let you ride bikes with your friends). Sabbath would almost be like gravity in this sense, we wouldn’t be able to get around it.
This, however, is not the case for us. After God has finished creating everything, He introduces the concept of Sabbath. Something that was created and purposed for all of the creation, especially for humanity.
Observance of the Sabbath day was codified in the giving of the Mosaic Law to the people of Israel as part of the covenant. Keeping the Sabbath was a practice that only the Israelites observed, and it was done as a sign of both covenant faithfulness and trust in God’s ultimate provision. Herein lies a great deal of the meaning behind the Sabbath day.
In a world that never rests, we are called to be set apart and distinct as God’s people. Does this look like the legalistic observance of a particular day of the week? I think not. Does it, however, emphasize our trust in God as the ultimate provider of all our needs by giving a day to honor Him? Well… that would certainly be counter-cultural and different.
In today’s world, things never stop. We can’t stop working, researching, checking email, texting, or posting on social media for fear that we will fall behind. If we fall behind at work, the competition could take us over or take us out. We could lose our jobs, our livelihood, and everything we’ve worked for. In essence, we are in charge of our own destiny… or so the “American dream” would have us believe.
But what if that weren’t true? What if we didn’t take the place of God, the place of the provider of all our needs in our lives? What if we let God be God and trust that His ways are higher than our ways and that He will always keep His promises, even if it doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing?
More than this, though: what if God created a sabbath day of rest/trust because He knew it would not only be good for us, but it is exactly what we need as humans? It’s construct is a gift to us, we who would more readily work ourselves to death in an effort to get ahead. Instead, God once again offers us grace and peace by supplying our much needed physical rest in the observance of a Sabbath day… and spiritual rest in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“May our hearts be restless until they find their rest in You, our Lord and God.” – St. Augustine