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The Christian Sabbath

I wonder what comes into your mind when you think of the Sabbath. Do you think about the fourth commandment? Perhaps the thing you think about is Jesus's interactions with the Jews on the Sabbath. Whatever you think about, it is unlikely that you think about the Christian Sabbath, which is the Lord's day, Sunday. As we continue to look at the importance of Genesis in our understanding of Scripture as a whole, we need to talk about how it relates to how we live and worship. We have discussed understanding creation, sin, marriage, and other subjects. Most of what we have talked about is not surprising. Things like God creating the world or that we are created male and female are regularly taught in the church. Something that is often misunderstood is the seventh day of Creation. This is the first Sabbath.

Sabbath Before Moses

We need to state the obvious before we get too far into this. The Lord did not need to make the world in six days or to rest for a day. The Lord has all power and could have created everything with a single word. And yet he chose to create the world in six days and to rest on the seventh. This should tell us something important. As we go through the scriptures, we find out that the reason for the six days of creation is that it is the example for our week. We are to work for six days and rest on the seventh because this is what God did in creation (Exodus 20:9-11). But some will argue that the sabbath as a day of rest was not instituted until the Ten Commandments. The main thrust of this argument is that Adam is not commanded in Genesis to keep a sabbath. The problem here is that we see many things in Genesis that express commands that are not given until Moses. Things like sacrifices. Cain and Abel sacrifice to the Lord, and in fact, Cain does it incorrectly. This should tell us that there are things that God does not expressly command until later.

The Law and the Sabbath

As mentioned above, the Sabbath is a key part of the Law. It is the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (Exodus 20:8, ESV) It is a reminder of creation and the Lord who created everything. It is more than that, but we will not go too deep today. What we can look at is the seriousness with which the Lord takes the Sabbath. A couple of incidents should suffice. The first actually takes place before the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 16. Here, we have the account of the Lord providing manna for the people as they travel through the wilderness. They are to collect it for six days and collect double on the sixth day because it will not be there on the seventh. What is interesting about this event is the way that the Lord talks about it when people inevitably ignore the command. It says;

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:28–29)

He talks about it like it is something that they should have known for a while. It would be strange to talk about how long they refuse if it was a new command.

The second event takes place a little later in Numbers 15. Scripture records that a young man is stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath. Verse 35 states, "Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." I point this out to demonstrate that the Lord takes the Sabbath seriously.

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath

When we get to the New Testament, we see a variety of events involving Jesus and the Sabbath. In one, Jesus is walking through a field, and the disciples are picking heads of grain. In another, the Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus by asking him if it is lawful to heal a man's hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14). In both of these events, Jesus goes against the Pharisee's understanding of the Sabbath. Some have argued that this is Jesus demonstrating that he is able to break Sabbath laws because he is above the law. But this would be to say that Jesus did not entirely keep the law and, therefore, could not be our perfect fulfillment of the law. Jesus is not breaking the Sabbath laws, rather he is demonstrating that the Pharisees have misunderstood the purpose of the Sabbath and twisted it. He is the one who instituted the Sabbath, not someone who broke the Sabbath. Throughout Jesus' earthly ministry, he constantly points people back to the real purpose and a deeper understanding of the law.

What About Us Now

The question remains for us: are we, as New Testament Christians, to keep the Sabbath? Many today say we do not, but the witness of history is against them. The difference is that in the New Testament, Christians keep the Sabbath on the Lord's Day on Sunday, which is resurrection day. It is not arbitrary that we meet on Sunday; we do it because it is the Christian Sabbath. There are several examples in the NT of the saints meeting on the first day of the week. Few are more evident than John being in the Spirit on the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10). As we go through history, we see that many saints understood Sunday to be the new Sabbath. For instance, Spurgeon wrote, "Money gained on Sabbath-day is a loss, I dare to say. No blessing can come with that which comes to us, on the devil’s back, by our willful disobedience of God’s law. The loss of health by neglect of rest, and the loss of soul by neglect of hearing the gospel, soon turn all seeming profit into real loss."

Summing It Up

This has been only a brief glimpse at the idea of the Sabbath. But it should be enough to make it clear that the Lord takes the Sabbath seriously, and so should we. Though, we are not under the law, it does not follow that we are not to obey it. The Law does not save us, but every saved person should seek to obey all the commands of the Lord. This is part of the great commission to teach disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance and will continue to be in effect until Christ returns when we enter our final Sabbath rest with Christ. While we are yet on this earth, we get a taste of this rest when we gather together as Christ's body on Sunday for worship. It has become common in our day to treat Sunday like any other day, but as Christians, we should seek to know the will of God and not simply go along with the world. So let us remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Let us spend the first day of the week in worship of our resurrected savior.

Soli Deo Gloria

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