Catechism lesson 34: The Lord’s Day (LD 38)

As people belonging to the Jesus Christ, we must worship him regularly together with other believers. This is a reminder and a picture of the spiritual rest he is giving us.

LD 38 q&a 103

What does God require
in the fourth commandment?

First,
that the ministry of the gospel
and the schools be maintained

and that, especially on the day of rest
I diligently attend the church of God
to hear God’s Word,
to use the sacraments,
to call publicly upon the LORD,
and to give Christian offerings for the poor.

Second,
that all the days of my life
I rest from my evil works,
let the LORD work in me through his Holy Spirit,
and so begin in this life
the eternal Sabbath.

“Sabbath”

The word Sabbath means “stopping with work”; it also sounds like the Hebrew word for “seven”. The ancient people of Israel stopped their work on every seventh day of the week, and spent that day in worship and rest. God had commanded them to do so.

Technically, the seventh day was a weekly Sabbath. There were also monthly celebrations (the “new moons”), yearly celebrations (the Passover, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Booths); every seventh year was supposed to be a “sabbath year”, when the fields were not planted. The mention of the Sabbath day in the fourth commandment is like a tip of the iceberg; God wanted his people to spend time for him, and to celebrate his goodness.

Because that was the point of the Sabbath: it was a time for worship and celebration.

When celebrating the Sabbath day, the Israelites were imitating something the Lord had done. What was that? (See Ex. 20:11)

According to Deut. 5:15, what did the Israelites commemorate especially on the Sabbath day?

Spiritual rest

The Sabbath was a ceremony, a ritual with a deeper meaning. It was a simple earthly picture of the heavenly rest and peace that God promises to give to believers. The fourth commandment is not meant to stop us from doing things; it is not intended to make life boring and difficult. The fourth commandment tells us to focus on our relationship with God and the reality of heavenly rest in our lives.

The catechism emphasizes this deeper meaning in the “second” part of q&a 103. We must “stop and rest”, from our evil works. Positively, we already “begin in this life the eternal Sabbath”. If we take time to focus on worship, we grow in faith and in love for God; and the more we grow in this way, the better we understand and experience the happiness of God’s Kingdom.

The Bible says that Jesus is the one who brings us into the rest of God (see Heb. 4:9). As believers, we are on our way to “eternal Sabbath”. But that perfect rest of God is not only future; it already begins now.

The Lord’s Day

Christians no longer celebrate the Sabbath. Just like the temple and its rituals, the old Sabbath is gone, because Jesus fulfilled it. Col 2:17 says: “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

But that doesn’t mean that the fourth commandment means nothing to us. First of all, the moral idea of the fourth commandments is that we should take time to worship the Lord, together with other believers. That has not changed! In fact, we have even more to celebrate.

The earliest Christians already set apart the first day of each week. That was the weekday on which Jesus had been raised from the dead. Resurrection Day. “The Lord’s Day,” the early disciples of Jesus called it (see Rev. 1:10). A day set apart for the Lord Jesus himself.

(Some Christians speak of a “Christian Sabbath”, and say that the Bible indicates that it was moved from the seventh day to the first day of the week. I don’t think that is the best way of looking at it. Of course, our Sunday is similar to the old Sabbath in some ways. But our New Testament “resurrection day” is a different, a greater celebration than the Old Testament Sabbath.)

Sometimes we think of the Sunday as a boring day. There are so many things we don’t do—things our parents tell us not to do. But the Lord’s Day should be a busy day. A day on which we are active in worship, in Christian fellowship. Always keep in mind the purpose of the day: it is reserved for the celebration of the Lord Jesus and all that he has done for is. It is a day to spend time with God’s people, and to focus on praising him and listening to him. If you do that right, it will not be boring at all.

Discussion

  1. What activities keep you busy on the Lord’s Day? Are there things you could / should add to that list? Are there things that distract you from the heart of the matter?
  2. During his ministry on earth, Jesus often healed people on the Sabbath Day. Why did this make the Jewish leaders especially angry? What did Jesus want to show them about the meaning of the Sabbath?
  3. Many of us grow up with rules, “dos and don’ts”, related to the Sunday. What kind of rules may be good for a family to make about this? What kind of rules are unhelpful?

Homework

All: Memorize q&a 103.

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