The fourth commandment teaches us to set aside one day out of seven to rest from our work and to worship God:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exod. 20:8–11; cf. Deut. 5:12–15)
We Are Hardwired for One Special Day Every Week
We were created for work, but we were also made to rest. It’s interesting that even secular studies have embraced the idea that we need to take a break and relax regularly (see these pieces in the New York Times, The Economist, and Scientific American). Rest is a creational principle—it is embedded in the molecules of our DNA.
We were made not only to rest but also to worship, and what better day to do so than the first day of the week, Sunday—the very day of the week on which Jesus was raised from the dead? God gave us permission to take a break once a week by modeling rest for himself. Take advantage of this special day!
At first, it appears that Jesus was the ultimate Sabbath breaker. The Jewish religious leaders were furious with him for continually healing people on Saturday, which was known to the Jewish people as the “Sabbath” (a sacred or holy day). But if we look closer at the passages where Jesus performed acts of healing on the Sabbath, we’ll notice that, far from being a Sabbath breaker, Jesus was a Sabbath keeper. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day misunderstood the true purpose of the Sabbath, so they distorted it and added new rules on how to keep it. Jesus exposed the truth: if a man can be circumcised on the Sabbath in order to keep the law of Moses, certainly the healing of a man is acceptable according to the same law (John 7:22–23).
There is one significant difference between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sabbath (or Lord’s Day) that is important to note. The Jewish Sabbath mirrors the creation account in Genesis 1–2, where God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Interestingly though, the Lord’s Day reverses this pattern entirely.
According to the Law, we are to work first, and then we are granted rest. Jesus reversed this pattern for us when he perfectly obeyed all of the Ten Commandments and kept the law on our behalf. By living the perfect life, Jesus has met God’s perfect standard.
According to the gospel, we are gifted with rest; and then out of gratitude, we actually want to work. Now, we don’t have to try to earn God’s favor—he is already favorable toward us in his Son. Because of Jesus’ work, we start each week with rest—mirroring that eternal Sabbath rest that is already our inheritance in the new creation (Heb. 4:9–10).
Giving thanks to God, we return to our workweek refreshed and thankful for what God has done for us in Christ. Although the day of the week has changed from Saturday to Sunday for Christians, the principle itself remains the same. We are to work for six days and rest for one, according to God’s design for us.
The Lord's Day Shows the World We Belong to Him
One of the most popular catechisms of the Reformation was the Heidelberg Catechism, which opens with a beautiful statement: I am not my own, but belong both body and soul to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. Do we view Sunday as our own time, or is it God’s time? By attending church on Sunday, we show that we really belong to Christ. The question Christians ask should never be "who am I?" Instead, it should be "whose am I?"
Since we belong to God, our time—and even a portion of the day—is not our own but instead belongs to another (God) and to others (our neighbors). Our culture celebrates Sunday as an extra free day—as “Sunday Fun Day”—but, for Christians, the first day of the week is to be set aside as a day for rest and worship, and for works of necessity and mercy. We may also have the opportunity to tell our neighbors about the gospel or to invite them to come to church with us the next week.
The Lord Blesses His People on the Lord’s Day
In the public service each week, God pours out his rich blessings upon us. Through the preached Word, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism, God gives to his people generously what we are most in need of receiving. Just as we need physical food in order to be healthy and survive, we also need spiritual food to preserve our souls and nourish ourselves unto eternal life.
We are also encouraged through the fellowship of the saints; and unlike weekdays, we have more time on Sunday to spend opening up our homes to others (hospitality), reading the Word (or other edifying books), and praying. On this special sacred day, the Lord blesses us in ways we are not blessed any other day of the week.