If the house of God is neglected, the sabbath is secularized. Instead of being consecrated to the LORD, it is used for satisfying one’s own pleasures, and thus degraded to an ordinary day. The people have forgotten what they promised in Nehemiah 10 (Neh 10:3131As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego [the crops] the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.).
While Nehemiah is in the process of making everything right again for the service in the house of God, he sees the sabbath being profaned. He warns the traders. Then he approaches the nobles and talks to them about these evil practices. There is nothing against trade, as long as it is not on the sabbath. He points out that it is for this very reason that God has brought disaster upon the people (Jer 17:21-2721Thus says the LORD, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.22You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.23Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction.24“But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,” declares the LORD, “to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it,25then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever.26They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the LORD.27But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.”‘“). Then he takes measures to stop this evil work by having his servants posted at the gates.
When he sees that there are traders who spend the sabbath just outside Jerusalem to enter as soon as the gates open, he takes action against them as well. He knows what an impact it has if the evil that has been removed is near. The traders might indeed not be able to bring the Jews to violate the sabbath commandment, but the Jews would be reminded of it all the time. Their minds would be filled with the things they could do tomorrow, with the profits they would gain. God would be driven out of their minds. To deal with this evil, he has Levites guarding the gates in addition to his servants.
Before the Levites guard the gates, they must first cleanse themselves. In order to guard the gates, there must be nothing with them that would prevent them from doing their duty properly. Similarly, we, too, can only keep imminent evil at a distance if we have removed from our lives what may be a connecting factor to the evil we must stop.
The sabbath commandment is a commandment that like no other commandment asks every Israelite for simple obedience. The reasonableness of any other commandment can be seen after contemplation because it governs the relationship between God and people and between people. The sabbath commandment is given because God wants the sabbath to be held. Surely in doing so He has the welfare of man in mind. But fallen man considers especially the sabbath commandment to be something difficult. The sabbath is the clearest test of obedience to man under the law.
The Christian does not live “under law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14b14For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.). Therefore, he is not under the sabbath commandment. He stands in the freedom of Christ in heaven. Every Christian who truly understands this will not be living a loose life. His life is subject to Christ. The norm of his life is not the law, but Christ. He is interested in everything Christ is interested in. Christ’s interest is particularly in the house of God, the church.
For the church it is not the sabbath, but Sunday that is the special day of the week. This does not mean that what applies to the sabbath in Israel applies to Sunday in Christendom. It is a day that is in a special way of the Lord. A remarkable connection in the use of words in two biblical texts clearly indicates this. We read of “the Lord’s Supper” or “the Supper of the Lord” (1Cor 11:2020Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,) and of “the day of the Lord” (Rev 1:1010I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like [the sound] of a trumpet,). I quote the footnote that the TELOS translation puts in Revelation 1:10: “In the Gr. there is an adjective derived from ‘Lord’ (i.e. different from e.g. in 1Thes 5:22For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.), in the sense of belonging to the Lord. The word is further only found in 1Cor 11:2020Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper,.
These two Scriptures show how much the Supper of – thus in the sense of belonging to – the Lord, celebrated by the congregation, is connected with the day of – thus in the sense of belonging to – the Lord. It is clear that the day of the Lord is no other than the first day of the week, Sunday. There are several indications in Scripture that the first day of the week is the day of the meeting of the church (Mk 16:2,62Very early on the first day of the week, they *came to the tomb when the sun had risen.6And he *said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, [here is] the place where they laid Him.; Lk 24:13,33-4913And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.33And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them,34saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”35They [began] to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.36While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.”37But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.38And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?39See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”40And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.41While they still could not believe [it] because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”42They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish;43and He took it and ate [it] before them.44Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”45Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,46and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,47and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.48You are witnesses of these things.49And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”; Jn 20:19-2919So when it was evening on that day, the first [day] of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace [be] with you.”20And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace [be] with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, [their sins] have been forgiven them; if you retain the [sins] of any, they have been retained.”24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”26After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace [be] with you.”27Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”28Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”29Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed.”; Acts 2:11When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.; 20:77On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul [began] talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.). And if it is a day that belongs especially to the Lord, there is every reason to spend that day as such.
In this spending, the Lord gives us complete freedom – except that He says to us to “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb 10:2525not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another]; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.). Any thought of acting under the pressure of a law is foreign to the freedom in which the Christian stands. If, however, the interest in God’s house diminishes, the day of the Lord also becomes more and more a day in which one’s own pleasures are satisfied. We may still visit the church, but for the rest we hang out in front of the TV, surf the Internet endlessly, go out and do all kinds of things, but without dedicating ourselves to the service of our Lord.
Hanging out in front of the TV is not an activity (well, activity …) that is a Christian’s honor. A Christian is expected to live consciously for the Lord every day of his life. But if Scripture itself marks a day especially as ‘His’ day, it is surely a call to dedicate ourselves to His house on that day. On that day we can, for example, concentrate a little more on fellowship with our fellow believers.
It is good to have a day on which we, as far as possible, distance ourselves from things that we, by order of the Lord, have to concern ourselves with on the other days of the week. It is just like the Lord’s Supper. We will, if it is good, be occupied with His death every day. After all, we owe everything to Him. But how good it is to have a special opportunity to think about His death, to remember it, when we come together for that purpose as a church.
After Nehemiah has again given the sabbath its rightful place among the people, consecrated this day anew to God, he again speaks out for God (verse 22b22And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. [For] this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.). He does this every time he has done a work. He asks if God will remember him with regard to what he has done for the maintenance of the sabbath. Last time he asked this concerning what he has done for God’s house. He places each work separately before God’s face.
He asks if God will have compassion on him. After his resolute performance there may have been a feeling of exhaustion. It takes a lot of effort to show God’s people the right way and to correct what is wrong. As long as the effort has to be made, there is strength. But when the work is done, you can feel very tired. We may say that to the Lord.
We also feel that our actions, no matter how powerful they may be, are still carried out in great weakness. Then, like Nehemiah, we may call upon God’s great lovingkindness. He knows who we are, He knows us through and through, for He has made us. To remember that gives courage to go on. That’s what Nehemiah does.