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We are celebrating Easter, the day on which we commemorate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. But not only did He rise, but all things were restored in Him, which is something we model, not only annually, but also on a weekly basis. We worship on the first day because we are privileged to have a weekly Easter, a weekly memorial of life from the dead. Eventually we may be able to shake the name Easter (a Germanic fertility goddess, for crying out loud), but in the meantime we can rejoice that the names of the baalim don’t mean much to us anymore (Hos. 2:17). Thursday is Thor’s Day, and who cares anymore? This is an endearing quirk of English- speaking peoples—everywhere else Christians have the good sense to speak of Pascha. During the transition, if someone objects that Easter used to be a pagan name, we can reply that this seems fitting—we used to be pagans. But now we are Christians, and Christ is risen.
“There remaineth therefore a rest?? to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9-10).
Summary of the Text
The Scriptures in the older testament speak of different rests—all of which the believer is invited to enter into on the basis of faith. God created the world and He rested. God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, which was another rest. And God promised that Jesus would come to bring an ultimate salvation rest. This means that believers throughout history were invited to enter into the antitypical rest of Jesus by approaching every lesser rest with the eye of true and living faith. But now that Jesus died and rose in history, this does not mean that we have no tangible rests to work through any more. No, God helped the Old Testament saints look forward to the resurrection, and He helps us look back to it. There remains a Sabbaath-rest for the people of God (v. 9). But why? Verse 10 often throws us because of the dense cluster of pronouns. We still have a Sabbath-rest because “he” has entered a rest, and has ceased from “his own works,” in just the same way that God did at the creation (v. 10). We need to fill this out.
It is sometimes assumed that the he here is a repentant sinner, ceasing from the futile labor of trying to save himself. But why would we compare the ungodly labors of self-righteousness to the godly work of creation? Why would we compare a foolish sinner to a wise God? Why would we compare an incomplete and botched work to a glorious work that was fully completed? It seems like a really bad comparison.
But what if the He is understood as Jesus? Jesus has entered a rest, just as God did. Jesus recreated the world, just as God created the world. Jesus said it was finished, and God looked at what He had made and said that it was very good. Jesus ceased from His labor of recreating the heavens and earth, and entered into the reality of the new creation. God labored for six days and nights and rested. Jesus labored for three days and nights and rested. Therefore, the people of God still have a Sabbath rest. Therefore, we worship God on the first day of the week (the day He entered His rest) instead of on the seventh day of the week.
A Regulative Reality
First, some background. We do not have the right to worship God with whatever pretty thing comes into our heads. The apostle Paul elsewhere calls this tendency “will worship” (Col. 2:23). In Reformed circles, the desire to honor this truth has been called the “regulative principle”—that which God does not require of us in worship is therefore prohibited. All Protestants need to be regulativists of some stripe, and the best expression of this principle that I have found is this one: “Worship must be according to Scripture.”
But there is a strict version of the regulative principle which is impossibly wooden, and it is not surprising that there are many inconsistencies. We can’t have a piano, because they are not expressly required. We can’t sing songs by Charles Wesley because he and other hymn-writers are not authorized. You get the picture. But we also have no express warrant for serving communion to women, or . . . worshiping God on Sunday.
A Few Hints
The most we have are a few hints. John tells us that there was a specific day that he called “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that they should set money aside “on the first day” (1 Cor. 16:2). We are told of an instance where the disciples gathered on the first day of the week to break bread and Paul taught them (Acts 20:7). But if we are looking for express warrant, this is thin soup.
The Real Reason
How does God require things of us? What does He do to get the message to us? Are His actions authoritative? Well, yes. The material universe was created on Sunday (Gen. 1:5). The Jews had been observing the seventh day Sabbath for centuries. God appears to have told the Jews that the seventh day observance would be an everlasting covenant (Lev. 24:8). But then the day shifted from the seventh to the first without any notable controversy. How could that be? What could account for this? Nothing less than the total recreation of all things. Behold, Jesus said. I make all things new (Rev. 21:5; 2 Cor. 5:17). He came back from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9; John 20:1), meaning that this was the day on which the reCreator entered His rest. Jesus made a point of appearing to His disciples on this same day (John 20:19). His next appearance to them was a week later, on the following Sunday (John 20:26). The Holy Spirit was poured out fifty days later, also on Sunday (Acts 2:1). And in the main, the Christian church has never looked back.
Not one Christian in ten thousand could give a decent biblical defense of our practice of worshiping God on the first day, and yet here we all are. Look at us go. Can we account for this through an appeal to the stupidity of blind, inexorable tradition? No—we should actually attribute it to the fact that two thousand years ago God overhauled everything, raising His Son from the dead in broad daylight. Jesus entered His rest, and consequently we may rest and rejoice before Him.