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Celebrating the Sabbath

No Christian approves of worshiping idols or disapproves of honoring parents. No brother or sister will accuse you of being legalistic if you’re against stealing or are in favor of telling the truth. But I know many people who object to Sabbath keeping and approve of using the Lord’s Day for work or personal pleasure. We don’t argue about the other nine; why is the fourth commandment a catalyst for more heat than light?

These are some of the questions the Rev. Bruce Ray considers in his book, Celebrating the Sabbath: Finding Rest in a Restless World. Ray laments the low view of the fourth commandment in churches today. Churches today cater to the busy lifestyles of churchgoers by creating more services on more days for shorter periods of time. Ray uses the term “McSabbath” to describe the state of the Lord’s Day in most churches in America.

Ray gives a clear description of how Christians dread the Sabbath rather than delighting in it. He shows from scripture how we are to understand the Lord’s Day. God is sovereign over time and gives us a day of rest because we need it—it is for our good. The Lord is in control and sovereign over our work. We do not need to work seven days to get everything done, but rather we are to rely and trust on the Lord, who is sovereign over rest and commands us to rest. It is God’s appointed holiday. We are to refrain from work and we are to worship Him and be refreshed.

Very quickly Ray goes to the Bible and shows the origins of the Sabbath at creation. Just as working for six days of the week and procreation are creation ordinances, so also is the Sabbath Day. Ray traces the Sabbath blessing from seed form in Genesis to full blossom in the New Testament. Ray rightly points out that Exodus 20 is not the beginning of the Sabbath observance but rather a command to continue, which is made clear by the fourth commandment’s first word, “Remember.” The Lord made the day holy at creation, and it is always holy. Treating it in any other way is profaning it.

Only Christians can celebrate the Lord’s Day. Only Christians can understand the Lord’s Day. Those who do unnecessary work are denying the sovereignty of God.

Ray moves on to the New Testament to explain what he calls the Resurrection Sabbath, a transformation of the Creation and Exodus Sabbath. New creation came through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Ray expounds on the normality of transformation from Old Covenant/Old Testament to New Covenant/New Testament. Old Covenant circumcision was transformed into New Covenant baptism, Old Covenant Passover was transformed into New Covenant Lord’s Supper, and Old Covenant Sabbath is transformed into New Covenant Lord’s Day.

Ray concludes his biblical analysis of the Lord’s Day with the Final Sabbath. The Final Sabbath is that which we look forward to in heaven, the Eternal Sabbath. We taste it every Sunday on earth if we keep the Sabbath holy, but the fullness is yet to come: “As creator [God] blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. As Redeemer, He appointed it to be a sign of the covenant of grace. The Sabbath is now, and always has been, the Lord’s Day.”

Ray is careful to address the two major issues facing the keeping of the Lord’s Day, lawlessness and legalism. The Sabbath was intended to be a day of gladness and not of gloom. Ray shows the entrance of legalism into Sabbath Day observance with the captivity in Babylon and Assyria. Just like the purifying of the temple, Jesus purified the Sabbath Day during His earthly ministry. Ray is clear to the show the continuity of the Old Testament with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in the New Testament. The Pharisees had taken the blessed Lord’s Day and made it a great burden. Ray’s commentary on this topic is among the most helpful parts of the book.

Ray expands on lawlessness and legalism by showing how Christians who participate in lawlessness on the Lord’s Day are not in conflict with the fourth commandment per se but are in conflict with the authority of Jesus Christ. He poses the question, is Jesus Christ Lord or not? If He is Lord of the Sabbath, then He defines its intention. Ray argues that men reject the Lord’s day of rest because they reject the Lord of the day. They bring stress and disease on themselves and eventually physical death.

In the concluding chapters, Ray shows how God wants His day to be kept. First, it should be kept “holily,” that is, we should keep it the way God intended and not necessarily the way we do. We don’t need the 1,500 rules the Pharisees had; we just need to understand and obey God’s Word. Part of this keeping holy the day requires gathering with God’s people for corporate worship. Second, we must keep it happily. In order to do so, we must be keeping it holy. How happy it is to forget about our worldly cares and employments and to be refreshed in the Lord. Third, Ray argues that we ought to keep it honestly. We ought to be striving to keep it better, not looking for loopholes to escape its requirements. Finally, Ray shows how we are commanded to keep the day humbly. We must put God’s Word above the imaginations of our hearts.

Bruce Ray does a fine job in this book arguing for the keeping of the Lord’s Day: the importance of keeping it, the blessing wrapped up in it, and the many dangers of profaning it. In the mega-church, individualistic society we live in today where many, including professing Christians, do what is right in their own eyes on the Lord’s Day, we need to remember the Lord’s Day and keep it holy. This is not an option, nor is it a burden; rather, it is a refreshment for the glory of the Lord and our own spiritual good.

Celebrating the Sabbath: Finding Rest in a Restless World can be found at online Christian bookstores for $7.49.

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