Eric Liddell, 85 Years Later
Scotland Rugby Star Euan Murray Resolves to Keep the Christian Sabbath
The last time Murray played on a Sunday was in the 2008 Six Nations against France, but since that game, he has resolved to skip Sunday games, saying,
“I was going against my conscience and it became impossible to enjoy. I realised it’s quite simple, really. Jesus said, ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’ and there are ten commandments—not nine.'”
For this reason, Murray has negotiated a clause in his club contract stating he will not be required to play on Sundays, which is unique in top-flight rugby.
What would a professing Christian in an American football team do if he wanted to emulate 1924 Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell—and now Murray? Almost all 16 regular-season football games are played on Sundays!
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, has a useful sermon on keeping the Sabbath holy, “The Son of Man is Lord Even of the Sabbath” based on Mark 2:23-3:6. Here’s the summary of his sermon:
What application can we take with us from this conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature and character of the Sabbath. Given Jesus view of the Sabbath, as Christians, how then should we understand and observe the Sabbath?
We are Christians so, obviously, we no longer observe the Jewish Sabbath. Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday and from that time on Christians met for worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. This tells us that worship on the Lord’s day (Sunday) reflects the fact that this day is, in part, the day of celebration of the new creation. Therefore, the Lord’s Day (Sunday) becomes the Christian Sabbath, now stripped of all types and shadows and as well as pharisaical rituals and regulations.
The Sabbath is not only a creation ordinance—God worked for six days and rested on the seventh day—it is also enshrined in the Law of Moses. As a creation ordinance, this means that God intends for us to work for six days and then rest on the seventh. Even though the day of rest has shifted from Saturday to Sunday, the reality remains. We are still to work for six days and rest on Sunday as a sign of the new covenant and its blessings. The Lord’s Day is not only intended to provide rest for our bodies—so we are to cease from working on this day—it also reminds us that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we can rest every day from the labor of trying to earn our salvation. The Lord’s Day is a picture to us of what awaits us in heaven, when we at long last enter into the glorious presence of the Lord, where there are no more labors from which to rest. In this sense, the Lord’s Day is an eschatological sign that God will renew his creation and that he has saved his people from their sins. It is also a day in which we can demonstrate our gratitude to God by simply enjoying all the benefits of this wonderful day.
This means that for a Christian, Sunday is not just like any other day of the week. Sunday is that day God himself has ordained so that we might receive his blessings. That being said, our focus should not be upon things forbidden to us on this day by checking off a list of things we cannot do—that is to risk falling back into the religion of the Pharisees. Instead, it is better to focus upon what we should do on this day which God has given to us as both a sign of his favor, and as a day which we in turn dedicate unto him.
Simply put, the Lord’s Day is a day which should be devoted to the things of the Lord—that means attending church, where we hear God’s word and receive the sacraments, where we learn the things of God (which is why we have a second service devoted to the catechism on this day), and where we enjoy the fellowship with God’s people. This is a day to hear the gospel and worship our God. Our Lord’s Day celebration points us ahead to eternity. As our catechism so helpfully puts it,
103. Q. What does God require in the fourth commandment? A. 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.
This is exactly right. The focus is where it should be—not on what is forbidden, but upon enjoying this wonderful blessing given by God to his people. And how can we enjoy this blessing if we treat Sunday as another day to work, and another opportunity fill our lives with business and things of the world. If you are too busy—and who isn’t?—this is the biblical solution. This is a day to rest. This is a day to read your Bible and pray. This is a day to read that theology book you never get around to reading. This is a day to discuss the things of the Lord with your family. This is a day to nap and relax. The Lord’s Day is a gift given to us because the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Where the Pharisees went off on the wrong track was to make the Sabbath centered upon what people were not supposed to do and then having not done the things on their list, regard it as righteousness. They missed the whole point that it is a day focused upon God’s gift to us—a day to worship our God and rest our bodies as a sign of our salvation in Christ and of what lies ahead in heaven. When Jesus says that he is Lord even of the Sabbath, we should see this as confirming the fact that the Lord’s Day is a wonderful gift which God gives to us. The celebration of this day flows out of that glorious redemption that is ours in Christ. The Lord’s Day is not to be a burden. It is a gracious gift. And so it should be with a grateful heart that we devote this day to the worship of our God and in which we rest from our labors.
In doing so, we honor Christ’s Lordship over the Sabbath and we bask in the knowledge that one day we will enter that rest he won for us on the cross and in the empty tomb.
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