In defining the gift of the Christian Sabbath, I think the Heidelberg Catechism strikes a lovely balance of creating anticipation, expectation and freedom about this day which the Lord of the Sabbath made for man without the restrictiveness of creating rules and policy. The question is asked: What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment? The answer is given: First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I regularly 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 already in this life the eternal Sabbath.
I like to think of the Lord’s Day as the Festive Day of Rest. It is a party! When someone throws a party, invitations are sent and people mark their calendars and clear their schedules because they want to gather in the enjoyment and celebration of the host and the occasion. It is a privilege to get invited and the party becomes a fixed point in your life and is typically not neglected. In the Lord’s Day the invitations are sent to those whom He loves to come to share in the fellowship and worship of the Savior and all the attendees are richly blessed just to be there.
When you are invited to a party, you also engage in thoughtful preparations so you can enjoy the party. We always work hard to get all of our tasks done ahead of time so that we can ENJOY the party and the host. For the Lord’s Day, that means working hard for 6 days to accomplish our tasks so that we can enjoy the festivities. It even takes some preparation to get in the festive mood, doesn’t it? Doing things to warm our hearts and avoiding things that can dampen our spirits the evening before can help get us in the right frame of mind so that we can get the most out of the Lord’s Day is a great way to enjoy His Day to the full.
I have bemoaned that most of the teaching I have heard on the Sabbath has been unsatisfying to me because it is either viewed as a policy with a list of joyless regulations or as an old-fashioned obsolete shadow of the past. The sabbath policy people imply that God loves the Sabbath and created man for it when Christ said the opposite, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” So here is the New* View from the lips of the Savior: The Christian Sabbath is the Lord’s Gift for His Beloved to unwrap every Lord’s Day.
We learn from the highest authority that “the Sabbath was made for man.” We certainly need it and it blesses us. But we would have never had it had it not been MADE FOR US. And it was made for us by Him who needed no rest to woo us to rest and worship. What genuine love that presents the gift of the Lord’s Day to protect men from themselves and the exploitation of each other, to guard us against workaholism and burnout and lead us to a fully enjoyment of God and others!
If the Sabbath is just a rule, something I have to do, some duty or regulation, there’s no refreshment and no joy. Humans tend to view rules according to convenience anyway: I’m late so I’ll speed; taxes are high so I’ll fudge. The Sabbath is also not just a benefit that we can take or leave if we feel like we need it or not. Christ indicates the the Sabbath is a gift specially designed for us so this places a different motivation in our hearts. Now I don’t know about you, but I love gifts and the nature of gifts is to create ANTICIPATION, just ask any child before Christmas what she wants to do with the wrapped presents under the tree. The motive of gift-giving is from a heart of affection for the recipient, a gift is a token of love. Moreover, when you receive a gift from someone who loves you, your natural desire is to excitedly unwrap it even before the appropriate time. The Christian Sabbath is the Lord’s Gift for His Beloved to unwrap every Lord’s Day.
Jesus proceeds to claim His rightful ownership over the Sabbath when He adds, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus with sovereign freedom exalts himself over the Sabbath. The King is here and His Name is Wonderful! He is a Servant and a Giver and Lover so as the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is saying, This is My Gift to Give not your Rule to Police.
The Sabbath is FOR man and TO God. Those who are in union with Christ are freed to enjoy His Gift of Christian Sabbath. A weekly gift for the ceasing of duties, resting your mind, calming your anxieties, refreshing your soul and engaging in the dynamic synergism of corporate worship! We are to think of the Lord’s Day not as a regulation to keep, not as a law that can be violated nor even of a benefit that we can take or leave but as a Gift given to us by a Generous God to unwrap every Sunday to receive the Grace that He wants to impart to us. A sustaining Grace which we desperately need and can only be found in corporate worship.
So don’t leave the Gift unopened: Gifts are not for taking or leaving. When someone you love and who loves you gives you a gift, you can hardly wait to unwrap it. If your lover gave you a gift and you left it sitting upon the table still wrapped and then you received another gift and you also left it wrapped next to the other on the table, what does that say about your feelings toward your lover? And when your lover arrives to see the wrapped gifts stacked up, what emotions are evoked? Remember: Loving the Giver means enjoying His gift.