Sabbath Observance and the Lord’s Day

1. Understanding the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3) John MacArthur

For some Christians, Sunday is the new Sabbath…which means no work, travel, or exercise. For others, Sunday is just another day of the week. What do you need to know about the Sabbath and Sunday worship?

Transcript: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/90-379/understanding-the-sabbath?term=90-379

2. Why Sunday Is the Lord’s Day (Selected Scriptures) John MacArthur

Transcript: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/90-380

http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA135/are-the-sabbath-laws-binding-on-christians-today

For a fuller and richer treatment of this issue, the following series by Pastor Dan Caffese is highly recommended at this link.

Are the Sabbath laws binding on Christians today?

We believe the Old Testament regulations governing Sabbath observances are ceremonial, not moral, aspects of the law. As such, they are no longer in force, but have passed away along with the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, and all other aspects of Moses’ law that prefigured Christ. Here are the reasons we hold this view.

1. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul explicitly refers to the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ, which is no longer binding since the substance (Christ) has come. It is quite clear in those verses that the weekly Sabbath is in view. The phrase “a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” refers to the annual, monthly, and weekly holy days of the Jewish calendar (cf. 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 31:3; Ezekiel 45:17; Hosea 2:11). If Paul were referring to special ceremonial dates of rest in that passage, why would he have used the word “Sabbath?” He had already mentioned the ceremonial dates when he spoke of festivals and new moons.

2. The Sabbath was the sign to Israel of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:16-17; Ezekiel 20:12; Nehemiah 9:14). Since we are now under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8), we are no longer required to observe the sign of the Mosaic Covenant.

3. The New Testament never commands Christians to observe the Sabbath.

4. In our only glimpse of an early church worship service in the New Testament, the church met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

5. Nowhere in the Old Testament are the Gentile nations commanded to observe the Sabbath or condemned for failing to do so. That is certainly strange if Sabbath observance were meant to be an eternal moral principle.

6. There is no evidence in the Bible of anyone keeping the Sabbath before the time of Moses, nor are there any commands in the Bible to keep the Sabbath before the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.

7. When the Apostles met at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), they did not impose Sabbath keeping on the Gentile believers.

8. The apostle Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles, but breaking the Sabbath was never one of them.

9. In Galatians 4:10-11, Paul rebukes the Galatians for thinking God expected them to observe special days (including the Sabbath).

10. In Romans 14:5, Paul forbids those who observe the Sabbath (these were no doubt Jewish believers) to condemn those who do not (Gentile believers).

11. The early church fathers, from Ignatius to Augustine, taught that the Old Testament Sabbath had been abolished and that the first day of the week (Sunday) was the day when Christians should meet for worship (contrary to the claim of many seventh-day sabbatarians who claim that Sunday worship was not instituted until the fourth century).

12. Sunday has not replaced Saturday as the Sabbath. Rather the Lord’s Day is a time when believers gather to commemorate His resurrection, which occurred on the first day of the week. Every day to the believer is one of Sabbath rest, since we have ceased from our spiritual labor and are resting in the salvation of the Lord (Hebrews 4:9-11).

So while we still follow the pattern of designating one day of the week a day for the Lord’s people to gather in worship, we do not refer to this as “the Sabbath.”

John Calvin took a similar position. He wrote,

There were three reasons for giving this [fourth] commandment: First, with the seventh day of rest the Lord wished to give to the people of Israel an image of spiritual rest, whereby believers must cease from their own works in order to let the Lord work in them. Secondly, he wished that there be an established day in which believers might assemble in order to hear his Law and worship him. Thirdly, he willed that one day of rest be granted to servants and to those who live under the power of others so that they might have a relaxation from their labor. The latter, however, is rather an inferred than a principal reason.

As to the first reason, there is no doubt that it ceased in Christ; because he is the truth by the presence of which all images vanish. He is the reality at whose advent all shadows are abandoned. Hence St. Paul (Col. 2:17) that the sabbath has been a shadow of a reality yet to be. And he declares elsewhere its truth when in the letter to the Romans, ch. 6:8, he teaches us that we are buried with Christ in order that by his death we may die to the corruption of our flesh. And this is not done in one day, but during all the course of our life, until altogether dead in our own selves, we may be filled with the life of God. Hence, superstitious observance of days must remain far from Christians.

The two last reasons, however, must not be numbered among the shadows of old. Rather, they are equally valid for all ages. Hence, though the sabbath is abrogated, it so happens among us that we still convene on certain days in order to hear the word of God, to break the [mystic] bread of the Supper, and to offer public prayers; and, moreover, in order that some relaxation from their toil be given to servants and workingmen. As our human weakness does not allow such assemblies to meet every day, the day observed by the Jews has been taken away (as a good device for eliminating superstition) and another day has been destined to this use. This was necessary for securing and maintaining order and peace in the Church.

As the truth therefore was given to the Jews under a figure, so to us on the contrary truth is shown without shadows in order, first of all, that we meditate all our life on a perpetual sabbath from our works so that the Lord may operate in us by his spirit; secondly, in order that we observe the legitimate order of the Church for listening to the word of God, for admin-istering the sacraments, and for public prayers; thirdly, in order that we do not oppress inhumanly with work those who are subject to us. [From Instruction in Faith, Calvin’s own 1537 digest of the Institutes, sec. 8, “The Law of the Lord”].

For further study, see D. A. Carson, ed., From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).

Sunday – the Lord’s Day

SundaySUNDAY: THE LORD’S DAY

There are some in our day who suggest that Sunday worship is something that was entirely unknown among Christians until the time of Emperor Constantine (272 – 337 AD), and make the claim that its religious roots are entirely pagan. However, the facts of history disagree. Clearly, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the early Church moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday (the first day of the week), calling it “the Lord’s day.” Here are some quotations from the early Church:

The Didache – “But every Lord’s day . . . gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned.” (Didache 14 [approx. A.D. 70])

The Letter of Barnabas – “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” (Letter of Barnabas 15:6–8 [A.D. 74])

Ignatius of Antioch – “Those who were brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e. Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” (Letter to the Magnesians 8 [A.D. 110])

Justin Martyr – “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.” (First Apology 67 [A.D. 155])

The Didascalia – “The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the holy scriptures, and the oblation, because on the first day of the week [i.e., Sunday] our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven.” (Didascalia 2 [A.D. 225])

Athanasius – “The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation.” (On Sabbath and Circumcision 3 [A.D. 345])

“Never be absent from God’s house on Sundays, without good reason,—never to miss the Lord’s Supper when administered in our own congregation,—never to let our place be empty when means of grace are going on, this is one way to be a growing and prosperous Christian. The very sermon that we needlessly miss, may contain a precious word in season for our souls. The very assembly for prayer and praise from which we stay away, may be the very gathering that would have cheered, and established, and quickened our hearts.” – J. C. Ryle

Sunday Worship

sunday-the-lord-s-dayThis excerpt is taken from Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde.

From creation onward, the people of God worshiped on the seventh day of the week. This was a “creation ordinance” that the Creator Himself established by His example, with the intent that His creatures would follow it. He worked six days and called His image-bearers to work (Gen. 2:15); He rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:11; 31:17) and called His image-bearers to rest. He signified this with His benediction, setting apart the seventh day as “holy” (Gen. 2:3).

Later, when the Sabbath command was reiterated, we read: “In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Ex. 31:17). The word refreshed (Hebrew, naphash) is used only two other times in the Old Testament: once in reference to giving rest to animals, servants, and visitors within Israel (Ex. 23:12), and once in reference to David and his men (2 Sam. 16:14). After God worked to make everything, it was as if His rest refreshed Him. Yet God’s rest and refreshment mean so much more; they have to do with His joy and satisfaction. The psalmist writes, “May the LORD rejoice in his works” (Ps. 104:31). God’s rest and satisfaction was that of a King; having created the heavens and the earth to be His cosmic palace, He took His place on His throne, so to speak, on the seventh day.

After God brought His people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, the Sabbath day took on even more significance as a covenant sign that God sanctified His people (Ex. 31:13). On that day, the saints celebrated the reality that God had created them and that their rest was rooted in His rest: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (Ex. 20:8-11). As well, the Sabbath signified that God had redeemed His people (Deut. 5:12-15). Finally, the annual Day of Atonement fell on a Sabbath (Lev. 16:30-31), so the Sabbath also celebrated God’s forgiveness of His people.

Under the old covenant with Israel (Ex. 19; Heb. 8:6, 7, 13), the Sabbath day was extremely strict. Not only was no work to be done by the Israelites and their children, they also were to give rest to all in their households—servants, livestock, even sojourners (Ex. 20:10). God even gave regulatory laws over what could and could not be done. For example, if one even went out to gather sticks on the Sabbath in order to kindle a fire (Num. 15:32-36; Ex. 35:1-3), he was to be put to death (Ex. 31:14-15; 35:2). All this strictness was a part of the tutelage of the law, which was meant to lead Israel by the hand to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:24), who is the final sacrifice ending the old covenant (Heb. 7:11-12, 18-19; 8:7, 13).

When Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, things changed. Christ, the second Adam, “finished” (John 19:30) the work that the first Adam failed to do (Rom. 5:12-19). Because of that pivotal event, the church determined that for Christians under the new covenant, the day of worship and celebration of the Lord’s grace in Jesus Christ was to be the first day of the week, Sunday: “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, [the Sabbath] was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath” (WCF, 21:7). On this day, we are reminded of and participate in the glorious reality that we have already entered God’s rest (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:10) and that we await the experience of the fullness of this rest in eternity in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21-22). We now assemble corporately for worship and enjoy a foretaste of our eternal rest, then go out into the kingdom of this world to work for six days. So why do we worship on Sunday and not Saturday?

The first day of the week was the day on which our Lord rose from the dead (John 20:1; cf. Ps. 118:24).

The first day of the week is called “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10; cf. 1 Cor. 16:2).

The first day was the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church (Acts 2:1-36).

Just as on the first day of creation God made light and separated it from the darkness, we gather on the first day of the week to celebrate the light of the gospel in Jesus Christ, who has separated us from the world of the darkness of sin (John 1:5, 9; 3:19; 8:12; 2 Cor. 4:1-6).

From creation until Christ, the people of God worked six days and then rested on the seventh day. This was a picture of their looking forward to eternal rest; the seventh day of creation was not structured with an “evening and morning” as the previous six days (Gen. 2:1-3), which signified that the seventh day had no end and was thus a foretaste of eternity itself. On the other hand, from the work of Christ until the consummation, the people of God rest on the first day and work the next six, looking back on the finished work of Christ. Yet we too look forward to the full consummation of this rest.