You may have heard that at the General Synod, the Synod decided that Churches do not need to meet on a Sunday. Of course, this is true! In the Bible, the church is a community of people who seek to live in love of the Lord Jesus Christ and so in obedience to his loving commands (John 13-16), one of which is love one another as he has loved us. We are to do this every day of the week! Yet I believe, we can become very confused on this topic of rest. What can we say about the Bible’s teaching on rest?
1.We are commanded to rest due to the pattern of Creation – Whatever we think about the early chapters of Genesis, what no Christian can doubt is that God had a working week: “..God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done.” Genesis 2:3. So God rested, and so he commands us to rest one day in 7: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:10. Now, for some, this commandment no longer seems to apply. Why? Have any of the other 10 commandments been changed? Do not murder? Do not commit adultery? Do not steal? Do not bear false witness etc. Jesus did address abuses of the sabbath and famously said “The sabbath is made for man not man for the sabbath.” But he also claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. Difficult to be Lord of something that no longer exists! Did Jesus keep the sabbath? Was he found in the synagogue reading the scriptures each sabbath? Yes! “…on the sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” Luke 4:16. So I want to gently challenge us: would we let our children murder, or steal or lie? Why do we let them break the sabbath? This means not just not working, but also as Jesus makes clear by his example, spending time hearing his word. Why?
2.Jesus Christ is our True Rest – Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. Fundamentally, true rest is not a day, but a person. Yet on the Lord’s day, the Christian sabbath (Rev 1:10), it is appropriate that we gather, to give thanks to God, to ask forgiveness for our sins, to hear his holy word and to seek together to love one another and all people, in Christ. Can we love other Christians if we do not meet with them and with Jesus Christ? People say to me, “you don’ t have to come to church to be a Christian.” True. But at the very least we are disobeying Christ’s supreme commands of love and the commands of almighty God to rest one day in 7. Why is this not as clearly taught in the New Testament though? Two reasons I think. The first is that in many cultures, the day off is not necessarily the Lord’s day, a Sunday. In Israel, it is still Saturday. Ancient Rome had an 8 day “week”. So, it was difficult to celebrate the Lord’s day in different cultures. But where there is freedom to do so, why would we not do so? The second reason is this:
3.Rest is to look forward to Heaven – The writer to the Hebrews makes clear that the day on which God rested, the seventh day, is still future for those who believe (Hebrews 4). Not only do we look back to the pattern of creation when we rest. We also look forward to the day when true rest will begin, when Jesus returns. On that day, he will be seeking a people who have not rejected his word, but believed in it, and so obeyed it. Of course, we are not saved by keeping his commands. That was the mistake of the pharisees. But equally, if we are saved, we will keep his commands rather than become lawless. Of course, church can meet on other days. But God’s people should want to keep the Lord’s day, to be with God’s people, to hear his word, to refrain from work, to look to Jesus and his return – to rest. May we all keep Sundays as the Lord’s day, because we can in Christ!
With much love in our rest who is Jesus Christ, John Parker