The Lord’s Day/Sunday as Sabbath (Part 1)

This is a series of blog posts by pastor Andrew Vander Maas from Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship in St. Louis.  These posts were first written a few years ago on a blog that no longer exists, and we are resurrecting them at Worship Is Central.

To see the whole series, click on the Lord’s Day category link on the sidebar on this page, which is found here.  For more resources on the Lord’s Day (Sunday), see the Lord’s Day page at Worship Is Central.

I have been thinking a lot lately about The Sabbath, the idea of sabbath, limits, rest, etc.  I feel like I am beginning to piece some things together for my own life (though I still have a ways to go), and I am realizing that I/we have to do some work piecing things together for the church as a whole.  So I offer these reflections as a means of conversation, or at the very least a precursor to conversation.

Perhaps the place to start is just the idea of Sabbath as a continuing ordinance for Christians today.

Taking a look through Scripture, we see the importance of a Sabbath, and to do so we start not in the 10 Commandments, but in creation: Genesis 2:1-3.    This is an important text for us because we recognize that the Sabbath principle is a creation ordinance, along the lines of marriage, headship, work, image bearing, etc.  We also see that in our resting we image God who rested as well from his labors.  In future entries I will talk more about the nature of that rest, but note that it starts here.

Exodus 16:5 is another place where we pick up indications of the Sabbath Principle.  Here the Israelites are instructed not to pick up manna on the seventh day because it is a day holy to the Lord.  The interesting thing about this passage is that it is prior to the Ten Commandments, pointing again to the fact that the Sabbath principle is not simply culture bound in Israelite cultic society but an enduring principle.  In fact that is the language of Exodus 31:17 where God says that the Sabbath “is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”  Again, this places the impetus for the Sabbath in creation.

Of course we have the Ten Commandments that do place it within the theocracy of Israel.  We also have the outworking of the moral law in the ceremonial law that has specifics on how the Sabbath, and special Sabbaths, is to be observed within the theocracy (Exod 31:12–17; Lev 23, etc.).

Psalm 92 is a Psalm for the Sabbath day and among other things encapsulates the entire day as belonging to the Lord referring to both morning and evening sacrifices.

The prophets Jeremiah (17:21–27) and Isaiah (58) in particular speak of the Sabbath day.  Jeremiah speaking of covenantal blessings and curses associated with the keeping or failure to keep the Sabbath.  While Isaiah, in a wonderful chapter that calls for authenticity in our relationship with God and the righteousness and justice of believers loosing chains and breaking forth like the dawn, calls the Sabbath a delight for those that keep it in truth.

Moving to the NT we see Jesus in the gospels healing on the Sabbath in Matthew 12 stating that it is lawful for doing good.  We see Jesus in Mark 2 taking the Sabbath as his own when he says that “the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath, so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

We see Paul calling on the churches to organize and to bring their gifts on the first day of the week.  We see that this idea of believers setting aside time to get together for worship and fellowship in Acts as well as in places like first Corinthians 10 and 11.

We see Hebrews calling us for a renewed vision of the Sabbath day, both in the exhortation in Chapter 10 not to give up meeting together for encouragement and to stir one another on to love and good deeds, as well as the argument of chapter 4 that there remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people that both points us to Christ as the fulfillment of the OT Sabbath as well as the hope of the future.

John in Revelation 1:10 speaks then of the Lord’s Day being in the Spirit. Seeming once again to separate out a day of the week from the rest.  And indeed the whole book seems to be about the rest that is coming for those who have overcome (Rev. 14:13, 14; 21:4, etc.)

So from Genesis to Revelation we see the Sabbath principle developed and continuing perpetually until the Sabbath to end all Sabbaths, namely Heaven.

But what about those passages in places like Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 4:9-11, and Colossians 2:16, 17 that say things like don’t let anyone judge you with regards to a day, a festival a new moon or a Sabbath.  Colossians 2:17 says these are a shadow of the things to come, the substance of which is Christ.  In context these verses are talking about other cultic observances, such as festivals, cultic foods, etc…  No one would argue that we are to keep the Sabbath in the same way that Israel was.  But doing away with the mode in which the cult was called to observe the Sabbath does not touch the reality that the Sabbath principle is very much in effect for us as we have hopefully already demonstrated by its perpetual presence in Scripture.

One final thing that should be taken into consideration in light of the above Biblical survey is the transition from the Jewish Sabbath namely Saturday to the Christian Lord’s Day, which is Sunday.  Is there warrant for that Scripturally?  If you are looking for a specific command the answer is no.  If you are looking for grounded reason the answer is yes.

For one thing the Sabbath, as both Hebrews and Colossians 2 point out, anticipates Christ, so we are to look for fulfillment in Christ.  Which leads us to look on Christ’s life and the tremendous circumstances surrounding his death and resurrection and we see they all happened on the first day of the week:  resurrection, ascension, first appearance to disciple, Emmaus road, Great Commission, Jesus’ impartation of the Holy Spirit, the general impartation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, organization of the early church Acts 20:7 (Spirit to Paul), collection (1 Cor 16:2), John’s reception of Revelation on the Isle of Patmos on the Lord’s Day.  So while we accept the continuity of the Sabbath principle, we also observe that there is discontinuity as well and that there is a progression of days in Christ.  The Christian Lord’s Day reminds us that we are members of a new creation, perpetually in the first day of the week.

Now as I mentioned this is literally just the tip of the iceberg the it comes to thinking about the Sabbath.  But taking all this into consideration I think it is safe to say that the Sabbath is an enduring principle.

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