The Sabbath as an Eschatological Sign of the Covenant
Exposition, Part 2: Practical Considerations
The Lord's Day has been given to us as a means of grace, an opportunity to reflect upon our present spiritual rest in Christ, and in the future consummation of that rest in heaven, when all our earthly toil will be over. The primary thing that we do on the Lord's Day in order to enjoy this already/not-yet rest is to attend corporate worship with the saints, in order to enter into the heavenly sanctuary and fellowship with Christ. Weekly worship is a foretaste of our eternal worship. The early church gathered together on the first day of the week for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments (Acts 2:42; 20:7), because Jesus had first established the pattern during his post-resurrection appearances with his disciples.
On the day of his resurrection, he met with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And what did he do? He preached a redemptive historical sermon to them, showing them the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. "Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures" (Luke 24:27). And after the ministry of the Word, Jesus came to them in an even deeper way through the ministry of the sacrament.
"When he had reclined at table with them, he took bread and blessed it, and breaking it, he gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (vv. 30-31). Afterwards, the disciples said, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the way, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us?" (v. 32). And they reported these things to the other disciples, relating "how he was recognized by them in the breaking of bread" (v. 35). Later, Jesus met with all the disciples and pronounced the Aaronic benediction, "Peace be to you" (v. 36), and so we continue the practice today at the close of our services. Similar post-resurrection experiences of fellowship, communion, and instruction are reported elsewhere (Matt. 26:32; 28:7-10, 16-20; Luke 24:40-45; John 20:19-29; 21:9-14; Acts 1:3-4; 10:41).
The early church was convinced that even after Jesus had ascended into heaven, he continued to meet with his disciples through the ministry of the Word and the sacrament.  Ever since that time, the church assembles on the first day of the week to meet with Jesus, to have their hearts burn within them as he is proclaimed in all the Scriptures, and to have their eyes opened as they dine with their risen Savior in the breaking of bread. "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread [sacrament], Paul began speaking [preaching] to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message [sermon] until midnight" (Acts 20:7).
So the primary principle in the practical area of new covenant Sabbath observance is that we ought to be inflexibly committed to gathering together with God's people on the first day of the week for public worship in order to fellowship with the risen Christ through the means of grace.
But there is also a secondary principle of new covenant Sabbath observance. On this day we are invited to a physical rest as well as a spiritual rest. The physical rest of the day is a foretaste of the heavenly rest that we will enjoy at the resurrection. But again, the motivation is completely different. In the old covenant, cessation from work was a sign of the fact that their work was the basis for entering God's rest. In the new covenant, by contrast, God's people do not cease from physical work for this reason. Indeed, to rest for this reason would be to reject the finished work of Christ!
因此，在新约中，我们的目的不是绝对停止任何身体的劳动，而是为了能更好地享受属灵的安息。停止工作是信心的行动，藉此承认我们不像世界，在这个世代努力建造恒久的屋宇。我们不必像世人一样追求工作，把我们所有的精力和盼望投资在此生当中。我们在每个礼拜当中都可以停止工作，因为我们是客旅，朝向更美的家乡（来11：8-11，13-16；彼前1：1；2：11）。在新约中我们在一周的开始，而不是在一周结束时停止工作的这个事实，表明当我们安息时，不是安息在我们的工作“里面”（rest ‘in’），有如这份工作最终会带领我们进入天堂，而是安息在我们的工作“之外”（rest ‘from’），认识到基督已经为我们预备了天家。
Thus, in the new covenant, the goal is not to cease absolutely from any and all physical exertion, but in order to enjoy our spiritual rest better. Cessation from work is an act of faith by which we recognize that we are not, like the world, striving to build lasting homes in this present age. We don't have to pursue work the way the world does, investing all our energy and hopes in this life. We can stop from work every week, because we are pilgrims on the way to a better homeland (Heb. 11:8-10, 13-16; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). The fact that in the new covenant this cessation from work is placed at the beginning of the week, rather than at the end, highlights the fact that when we rest, we are not really resting "in" our work, as if that work would eventually lead us to heaven, but "from" our work, knowing that Christ has already secured heaven for us.
As a pastor I often get questions that take the following form: "Is it okay to do X on the Lord's Day?" Instead of answering the question directly, I offer two tests which correspond to and flow from the two above-mentioned principles. In the first test I teach people to ask themselves, Will the activity in question hinder me from participation in the corporate worship of God's people?
Anything that interferes with my ability to worship the Lord with God's people and to benefit from the ministry of the Word and sacraments, is obviously unacceptable (with exceptions for emergencies, sickness, etc.).
The second test is to ask: Is the activity in question conducive to a spiritually restful frame of mind in which I am reminded that I am a pilgrim on the way to the eschatological Sabbath rest? There are many activities that we may engage in on the other six days, but if done on the Lord's Day might prove to be a spiritual hindrance. The new covenant Sabbath is to be observed not only by attending public worship, but by keeping a spiritually restful frame of mind throughout the day.
This second test is subjective, not in the sense that there is no right answer, but in the sense that it will be answered differently by different people. One person may find activity X conducive to spiritual rest. Another may find that activity X inhibits or saps spiritual rest. I think Paul's principle that whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) will need to be applied at this point. If you can do the activity in faith, with a clear conscience, and in the knowledge that it is going to promote the overall tenor of the day as "rest stop" on the road to heaven, then you should do it "without misgivings" (Acts 10:20; 11:12).
Notice that this second test (whatever is of faith) flows from the nature of the Sabbath as an eschatological sign. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder of my identity as a pilgrim on the way to the heavenly city. This world is not my home, I'm just passing through. If this is what the Sabbath means, then it is observed by faith, that is, by taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by this day to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the week, and to reflect upon and enjoy my eternal rest in Christ.
Since this spiritual resting occurs by faith, abstaining from certain activities does not automatically produce it, and engaging in certain activities does not automatically detract from it. There are, to be sure, various external stimuli that many Christians will want to avoid, insofar as these stimuli are often found to detract from a calm and peaceful attitude focused upon Christ. But even here, the judgment will vary from person to person.
In addition to the two tests above, there is another implication of my view that the Sabbath is an eschatological sign for the covenant community. In point 12 above, I state that believers should not abstain from certain activities solely on the ground that such activity may cause unbelievers to work on the Sabbath. This does not mean that any activity which makes unbelievers work is legitimate. Rather, it means that this concern cannot be the sole consideration when evaluating the appropriateness of any given activity.
My view forces the individual Christian to make such evaluations on internal grounds - does it hinder or promote my spiritual resting on the day? One obvious concrete application of this is that Christians should feel free to go out to eat at a restaurant on the Lord's Day as part of their rest. I should think that our wives would be particularly appreciative of the opportunity to rest from some of the domestic labors that occupy them the other six days.
When is church discipline appropriate in Sabbath matters? Because of the differences that inevitably arise regarding Sabbath sanctification outside of corporate worship, I believe that sessions should allow freedom in this area. This doesn't mean that no instruction should be given. People should be taught the biblical principles, but the application should be left up to the individual or family. The only specific application that should be spelled out is the command to gather with the saints on the first day of the week for corporate worship. Therefore sessions should reserve the use of church discipline for those who forsake the assembly of God's people.
My main concern has to do with the issue of church power, and the relationship between what is said in the ministry of the Word and what is implemented by means of church discipline.  If the pastor preaches that abstaining from X is a mandatory implication of the fourth commandment, it follows that anyone who does X on the Sabbath may or ought to be disciplined. To preach one thing and practice another with respect to discipline sends contradictory messages. Any ethical teaching which the church refuses to enforce is ethical teaching which we are saying is biblically doubtful. Disciplining members who are otherwise faithful in church attendance is unwarranted by the New Testament, and puts the liberated children of God back under the weak and beggarly elements of the old covenant with its strict enforcement of the Sabbath.
We should not be surprised that the new covenant Sabbath is less characterized by the spirit of bondage and code-like specificity that stamped the whole old covenant order and especially its stringent enforcement of the Sabbath. The new covenant people of God are no longer minors needing the external tablets of stone to govern and regulate their conduct. We are no longer slaves under the disciplinarian of the law; in Christ we have taken up our place as sons in the kingdom (Gal. 3:25-26; 4:1-7). There is therefore much more freedom for the sons of God to determine how they will sanctify the Lord's Day.
Those who want detailed legislation for new covenant Sabbath observance are in danger of putting themselves back in bondage to the Mosaic Law. To do so would be to miss the real value of the Sabbath as a lamp lighting the believer's way to heaven. Experiencing and enjoying this eschatological significance of the Sabbath is far more important, and beneficial, than becoming consumed with Talmudic details. Indeed, I fear that the neo-Puritans of today so emphasize the casuistry of the literal cessation from labor and recreation that they are in danger of emptying the Sabbath of its rich benefits by turning it into a covenant of works. Those who may be less strict in practical matters, but who are using the day to enjoy a foretaste of their eternal rest in Christ, are
the true Sabbatarians.
Is it ever legitimate for someone to do work related to their regular employment on the Sabbath? I believe that in some cases, such work may be necessary in order to avoid financial hardship.
How do we determine what constitutes financial hardship? Each individual will have to make those decisions conscientiously before the Lord. A materialistic desire for wealth obviously would not be a legitimate reason. It would not be inappropriate for a pastor to admonish those who appear to have the wrong priorities in this matter. But if they reply that they have prayerfully considered this matter and are acting in faith, and if they are faithful in church attendance, I do not believe it would be appropriate for a session to exercise formal discipline. Liberty of conscience must be preserved even in (or especially in) doubtful cases. However, pastors should encourage people who feel they must work on Sundays to schedule their work in such a way that they are not prevented from regular church attendance.
What are some positive things we should do on the Sabbath? Corporate worship is obviously primary and non-negotiable. In addition to church attendance, various spiritual exercises, both privately and as a family, are also conducive to enjoying our spiritual rest in Christ on the Lord's Day. Bible reading is highly commended. Many of us are so busy during the week that we rarely have much time to meditate deeply on the Word of God. The Lord's Day affords an excellent opportunity to sit down and read lengthier portions of Scripture, enabling us to get the rich benefits of seeing the text in its larger context rather than focusing devotionally on a brief paragraph or handful of verses. For example, it is a rewarding exercise to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting.
The Lord's Day also affords the opportunity to catechize our covenant children - not merely in the formal sense of memorizing the catechism, but informally as well, through discussions about the sermon, the Bible reading, and so on. I also encourage members of the church to invite other members and visitors over to their house for afternoon/evening fellowship. If there are opportunities for good works of mercy (e.g., visiting shut-ins or people on skid row), that is also to be commended. If your church has an evening service, I would also recommend attending the second service, although I do not see it as an absolute requirement, since there is no Scriptural command to attend worship twice on the Lord's Day.
In some ways, however, attending an evening service can make it difficult to do the other things like catechizing and fellowshiping with the saints, since there is only so much time in the day (significant commutes to and from church are also increasingly a factor today). Each individual or family will have to make these decisions prayerfully before the Lord. It is tempting to want to do everything every Lord's Day, but we must also keep in mind that physical rest is a significant part of spiritual rest.