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The Sabbath, Old and New

 

Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 31:12-17; John 20: 19, 26; Revelation 1:10
July 5, 2015 • Big Springs Community Church • Download this sermon (PDF)

Congregation of Christ: Today is the Lord’s Day. The Bible commands believers not to neglect the assembling of the saints on this day for public worship, especially that the “Day” is near (Heb 10:24-25).

light over earthBut there are some who not only neglect the public worship on this day, but also believe that Christians must worship on the seventh day of the week, called the Sabbath in the Old Testament. In the first three Commandments of the Decalogue, the Lord tells us that we are to worship God alone, not idols, and to honor his name. Then the Fourth Commandment follows with honoring God when we honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exod 20:8-11).

This matter has been a point of contention in Christian churches for centuries now. If the Bible calls for a day of rest on the seventh day, why do we gather today, the first day of the week, for the public worship of God? Does this change mean that the Fourth Commandment is abrogated? And why do Christians call this day “the Lord’s Day”? We will answer these and several other thorny questions regarding the Sabbath Day.

Today, we will meditate on our text: “The Sabbath Old and New” in three headings: (1) The Seventh Day From Creation to Resurrection; (2) The First Day from Resurrection to Consummation; and (3) The Same Foundations from Old to New.

The Seventh Day from Creation to Resurrection

The word sabbath is an English transliteration of the Hebrew shabbat, which simply means rest or cessation. The first use of this word is in Genesis 2:2, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

So the first ground for observing or keeping the Sabbath day goes all the way back to the creation of the world. It is a creation ordinance. What is a creation ordinance? A creation ordinance is a requirement, not only for Christians, but for all humanity from the beginning to the end, in whatever nation or culture. Therefore, keeping one day rest every seven days has been in effect for all mankind since the days of creation. Also, Sabbath-keeping was required long before the Law of Moses was given.

Afterwards, God formally instituted Sabbath observance in the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue for Israel, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exo 20:8-10). This commandment is the only one out of the ten that includes ceremonial observances, such as during the seven national feasts of Israel (Lev 23:8, 21, 25, 28, 35-36). Sabbath-breaking meant penalties, including death, that became part of Israel’s civil laws. These civil laws have been abrogated with the coming of the new covenant.

The third foundation for the Sabbath commandment in the Old Testament is that it is a sign of the covenant that God made with Israel, “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever” (Exo 31:16). In all of God’s covenants with his people, he gave a sign as a memorial. In the covenant of works with Adam, the sign was the tree of life. In the covenant of grace with believers, the signs are water baptism and bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. In the Sabbath, God gives a sign of his special relationship with his people Israel: he redeemed them from Egypt, he constituted them as a nation, and he is their God and they are his special possession.

This leads us to the last foundation of the Old Testament Sabbath. It is rooted in the redemption of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, “On [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work… You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Slaves and aliens among them were included in this redemption (Deu 5:13-15; Exo 23:12).

This pattern of redemption applies not only to Sabbath days, but also to Sabbath years. Every seventh year, the land shall be left unsown with crops, “but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat” (Exo 23:10-11). Letting the land rest not only restores its fertility, but also provides food for the poor, the travelers, the aliens, and even the animals. Whatever sprouts by itself in the fields can be freely eaten by them (Lev 25:6-7).

God established the Sabbath day and the Sabbath year for Israel. But the culmination of these redemptive Sabbaths is the Jubilee, the year after seven Sabbath years, celebrated every 50 years. This is the year when all Israelites “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabi­tants.” On this Jubilee year, every one shall return to his homeland, including slaves who are to be released. All debts are to be forgiven, and the land has to be left unsown (Lev 25:10-12a).

But Israel did not honor the Sabbath as God had commanded them as soon as they escaped Egypt and were in the wilderness, “they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols” (Ezk 20:16). By the time of the prophets, God’s judgment of expulsion from the Promised Land and exile to a foreign land was being pronounced against Israel. What irony that God called the 70 years of their expulsion from their land as a Sabbath rest for the land, “the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chr 36:21).

With all these evidences of the importance of the Sabbath day in the Old Testament as the seventh day of the week, and if the Ten Commandments are not abrogated, why do we celebrate the Christian Sabbath on the first day in the New Testament?

The First Day from Resurrection to Consummation

cross_resurrection_morningNo single text in Scripture authorizes this change. The term “Lord’s Day” is found only in one verse, when the Apostle John was shown a vision of heaven by the Spirit, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10). Thus, the first day of the week later became universally known as “the Lord’s Day.” Still, both Scripture and early church writings offer overwhelming evidence.

First, on the first day of seven days, God began his work of creation. In six days, he completed his work, and on the seventh day, he ceased from all his work. Was he tired from his work, like us? Exodus 31:17 even says, “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” No, “rested” here does not mean that he was tired, but that he ceased from his work. Furthermore, he wanted to show man a pattern of six days of work followed by one day of rest.

Second, it is the day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as all four Gospels attest, “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week…” (see also Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). It was on the day of his resurrection that Christ appeared to His disciples (John 20:19, 26). Even more significant was that the Lord poured out his Spirit on the first day of the week, known today as Pentecost Sunday. This is why Justin Martyr wrote in the second century,

Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God… made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead… which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples… (First Apology 67).

Ignatius of Antioch, known as a close associate of the apostles, also wrote that Christians “no longer observing the seventh day, 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” (To the Magnesians 9).

After Christ’s resurrection, Christians started meeting together for worship on the first day of the week. They “broke bread” (Holy Communion) (Acts 20:7) and gathered offerings (1 Cor 16:2) on the first day of the week. Whenever they met, the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Since the breaking of bread and the “fellowship” (sharing things with one another) were done on the first day of the week, sitting at the apostles’ feet and praying must also have been part of their regular Lord’s Day worship assembly. This is exactly how Justin Martyr described their worship service on the Lord’s Day:

the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray… bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings… and the people assent, saying Amen… And they… give what each thinks fit… [for] orphans and widows and… all who are in need (First Apology 67).

This description fits Acts 2:42 like a glove. The assembly consists of the apostles’ teaching, sharing with the poor (fellowship), Lord’s Supper, and prayers. Curiously, Justin Martyr never mentions singing as part of the service.

The post-apostolic early church writers unanimously agreed on this significant change. If there was dissent, it would have come from the majority Jewish Christians, who would have insisted on keeping their own traditional Sabbath day of worship (Col 2:16). But we find no dissenting voice. The first century Didache commanded the church to gather together on the Lord’s Day, “On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.” Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in the 2nd century, “The duty of celebrating the mystery of the resurrection of our Lord may be done only on the day of the Lord.”

Why this universal assent to the change in the most important day of the week? It is because the first day of the week commemorates great redemptive historical events. If the first creation showed God’s almighty power, the new creation ushered in by Christ’s resurrection and the Spirit’s outpouring is still much greater. The Lord is not only Almighty, but is also abounding in grace and mercy. The first day of the week therefore signifies a new beginning.

The Same Foundations from Old to New

But even with the change in the day of commemoration, both days are built upon the same foundations. To summarize:

First, it is part of the Ten Commandments. And the Decalogue, the moral law, is not abrogated, but the rule of life, for Christians as well as all mankind.

Second, it is a sign of the covenant of grace. It looks backward to creation, to the present sanctification of God’s people, and to future eternal rest. This covenant will end only when the Sabbath day enters eternity.

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.Third, it is a creation ordinance. All mankind have to rest one day every seven days. This is necessary for refreshing the body from physical work. Gathering for worship on one special day of the week also nourishes the soul, comforts the downcast, strengthens the wavering faith.

And fourth, it is a sign of redemption. God rested from his work on the seventh day. The seventh day looks forward to an eternal Sabbath rest, which Christ obtained for us after he was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. And that God first poured out his Spirit on his people on the first day of the week, Pentecost Sunday.

Therefore, beloved friends, let us always be mindful that the Lord’s Day is holy to the Lord, and that the Lord’s Day worship is a foretaste of our eternal Sabbath rest. We are to delight in the Lord by delighting in the Sabbath.

Whenever we assemble together on the first day of the week, we look back to God’s might and wisdom in creation on the first to the sixth day of the week. But we also remember that we are all sinners in Adam, so we thank God for redeeming us through Christ who was raised from the grave on the first day of the week. He continues to save his people through the Spirit who was poured out to his disciples on the first day of the week. When we look at all these things that God has planned before the creation of the world, and is now accomplishing, all the way to the day when all things are consummated, we can only exclaim with Paul:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom 11:33)

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