Many Christians around the world meet on Sunday and there’s a reason for that. It didn’t happen by accident. It’s not because Constantine or Roman Catholic Church or Mithraism changed it to Sunday. In fact, it goes back, and back, and back, and back, and back, and all the way back to the New Testament time. Christians, the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, have worshipped God daily, but they also have met and worshiped on the first day.
Now let’s kind of pick up where we left off last time in answering that question. Remember, Genesis 2 we were not commanded to rest. So there is no way any one should tell us how to observe that day. Neither were we commanded to set seventh day as a day of worship. In fact, God’s people are to worship God every day (Psalm 145:2). Hebrews 4 explains that we can enter God’s seventh day daily when we believe the work has been done, and Jews did not experience this God’s rest though they had the Mosaic Sabbath.
This was also the understanding of the mainstream Jews that no one observed a sabbath day in Genesis, neither was it commanded to Gentiles. The Jewish Talmud says, “The children of Noah…were given seven Laws only, the observance of the Sabbath not being among them” (Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:21 (Soncino edition, p. 23).
“A non-Jew who observes the Sabbath whilst he is uncircumcised incurs liability for the punishment of death. Why? Because non-Jews were not commanded concerning it…. The Sabbath is a reunion between Israel and God, as it is said, ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel’ (Exodus 31:17); therefore any non-Jew who, being uncircumcised, thrusts himself between them incurs the penalty of death…. The Gentiles have not been commanded to observe the Sabbath.” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 25:11 (Soncino edition, p. 314); ibid., p. 74.)
Early Christian fathers some of whom learned from the mouth of the apostles clearly saw what God’s Word said about a Sabbath day in Genesis.
Justin Martyr, who wrote only 44 years after the death of St. John, and who was well acquainted with the doctrine of the apostles, denied that the Sabbath originated at creation. Thus after name Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot and Melchizedek, he says: “Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned, though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God.”Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 19.
Irenaeus (AD.130) says: “Abraham believed God without circumcision and the Sabbath.” Adv. Hoeres, lib 4, c. 30.
Tertullian, A.D. 200, said: “Let them show me that Adam Sabbatized, or that Abel in presenting his holy offering to God pleased him by Sabbath observance, or that Enoch who was translated was an observer of the Sabbath.” Against the Jews, section 4.
Eusebius, A.D. 324, the father of church history, says: “They (the patriarchs) did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath, nor do we.” Eccl. Hist., book 1, chapter 4.
Later Christians and learned men of Scripture came to the same conclusion:
John Bunyan says: “Now as to the imposing of the seventh day Sabbath upon men from Adam to Moses, of that we find nothing in holy writ, either from precept or example.” Complete Works, page 892.
The first mention of Jewish Sabbath observance then is in Ex. 16, and the command was to rest. That’s how Sabbath is to be observed. Later the Sabbath law was codified in the covenant with Israel which is the Mosaic law, and when God ordained a sabbath day for the people to observe, He put restraints (cease from all activity, no cooking, no travelling, no buying and selling etc.) on them to remind them of that original seventh day rest, when God ceased from all activity. Again, complete rest from labor is the way Israel was to observe the Mosaic Sabbath day, not worship or synagogue attendance, although the latter was added via man’s traditions.
Now I will not go through all the details that show that sabbath is a ceremonial law. Evidence is overwhelming. Sabbath day was No. 1 in the list of God’s holy feast days given to Israel (Lev.16), which was also placed in the middle of Ten Commandment as a sign of that covenant with Israel, which Gentiles were not part of. All signs in the old testament ritual such as circumcision, Passover, weekly Sabbath dealt with external rituals, and were treated as such. Ask any mainstream Jew (former covenant people) and they will say that Sabbath is the only ritual law among the Ten Commandments. Notice, Jesus, who was born under the Jewish law, and how He treated the weekly Sabbath. Go to Matthew 12.
Mathew 12:1–2 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry andbegan to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”
Now Pharisees did add sabbath rules to God’s sabbath rules, but Pharisees are not simply accusing Jesus based on their rules. Remember God commanded Israel, “Stay in one place on the sabbath” (Exodus 16:29), no one was to go out and gather food on the seventh day (Exodus 16:24). The law required them to cease from all activity completely, “On it you shall not do any work” (Ex 20:10). Friday was to be a preparation day, and disciples and Jesus apparently had forgotten to prepare for sabbath on Friday or to observe the Sabbath according to the Law of God (Ex. 16: 24,29). That was the accusation. Now the Pharisees weren’t really observing the law either by following Jesus to accuse him. Reminds me of my days in Adventism, and when I claimed to observe the weekly Sabbath. It’s fascinating how modern day Sabbath keepers do not observe these sabbath laws, yet some accuse others of breaking the sabbath just like the Pharisees.
Now their hypocrisy is not the interesting part. It’s the way Jesus responds and defends His disciples Sabbath activity. Now you can expect a defense from Jesus that He and His disciples were actually not breaking the Sabbath. Jesus will surely put the Sabbath law above man, will He? Remember, Jesus elevated moral laws. He said, looking at a woman lustfully is as good as committing adultery (Matt. 5:28). That’s a moral law. Now how does Jesus treat the Sabbath and what does He compare the Sabbath law to?
Mathew 12:3-5 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
Pharisees accused Jesus of doing not lawful things on the Sabbath. What does Jesus do? Jesus defends by showing that David also did ‘not lawful’ things when it came to eating showbread sanctified only for the priests, and yet David was innocent. David didn’t sin by breaking a ritual law. Its gets more clearer. Jesus clarifies further.
Mathew 12:4 Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
On the Sabbath the priests break the Sabbath and are innocent? Wait a second? Sabbath can be broken? Here Jesus instead of defending the Sabbath law, He gives examples of people such as David breaking another ceremonial ritual law and priests breaking the ritual Sabbath without sin.
Please ask yourselves: What type of law was David breaking? Moral or ceremonial? It is obvious, it was ceremonial. David was never above the moral law. He had to pay dearly for his sin with Bathseba! In both of these scenarios given by Jesus Himself, what category is the Sabbath placed under? Moral or ceremonial? Its ceremonial.
Could a priest covet, murder, commit adultery in order to do his calling? No, never. Can he break the Sabbath to carry out his duties? Yes. These ceremonial laws such as Sabbath were never seen as being above the moral law! If David could break the ceremonial law, if priests could break the Sabbath without sin, then Jesus is over and above the ceremonial Sabbath law. Jesus is Matt 12:8 “Lord of the Sabbath.” He has authority and sovereignty over the Sabbath. He gave it, He can break it without sin, and He can set is aside. Jesus desires love and compassion, not rituals like sacrificial laws, and sabbath laws (Mathew 12:3-6), which are in the same category. Isaiah 1:13: “Bring no more futile sacrifice, incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the SABBATHS”.
No moral law is spoken in this manner. Jesus went on to say that man is not made to conform or serve the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). God gave Sabbath as a day in Ex. 16 not just for man, but even for asses to rest, “thine ox and thine ass may rest” (Ex 23:12). Man was not created to worship God by resting the Sabbath day; it was ordained as the day for men to let them and their asses rest (Mark 2:27). Jesus declared God did not make man for the Sabbath, thus limiting it to a mere aid for refreshment (Mark 2:27).
Go to Colossians 2 . We’re just going to follow through some scriptures and I’ll kind of let you draw the conclusion.
Colossians 2:16, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
The greek word for Sabbath in Col. 2:16 is the same word used in the new testament to refer to weekly Sabbath (Luke 4:16) that Jesus attended as a custom (ritual). If Sabbath in Col. 2:16 is ceremonial, so is the weekly Sabbath day Jesus observed. Jesus confirms Sabbath is ceremonial. Old testament confirms it. The New Testament does it. Jews did it. Early Christian church did it.
So, what about the Jewish sabbath day? It is gone, right? Let no one hold you on to the Sabbath. No one is to judge.
Hebrews 7:12 ‘For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also’
So whatever we’re talking about on Sunday, we’re not talking about the sabbath. The sabbath was the seventh day of the week. Not first day. It was instituted under the Mosaic law between the fall of man and Moses. There were no sabbath laws in Genesis. There was no sabbath observance in Genesis. That came in the Mosaic law. Centuries went by, none of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) had any kind of sabbath laws.
Colossians 2:16-17 said clearly “Don’t let anybody hold you to a sabbath day.” It’s gone. It is part of Judaism that has been replaced by the new covenant (Christianity).
Jesus said, man was not made for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Yes, God made many laws ‘for’ man including circumcision, Sabbath days, but man was not made to observe the Sabbath. So no one can make our salvation dependent on observing the Sabbath. Adventists can’t! God doesn’t!
On the seventh day, after creation, you remember God rested and God blessed that day. Why? Because He was utterly satisfied. And so that seventh day was always going to be a reminder of God as our Creator. How we remember it? And we worked through that in Genesis 2. How we enter that rest? Daily (Hebrews 4).
Besides the Jewish Sabbath was not a day of worship, it was a day of rest. No cooking, no travelling, no buying and selling. No fires or barbeques. It’s hypocritical to claim Sabbath observance today without observing all those sabbath laws God gave Israel. Jews later added synagogue gatherings out of tradition after Babylonian captivity, and it was Jesus’ custom or tradition to visit synagogues. There was no command to visit synagogues, the command was to rest (Ex. 20:10).
How did Jesus treat the Sabbath? Jesus was clear, the ceremonial Sabbath law could be broken without sin, set aside, and He defended breaking it, by comparing it to David breaking the law of showbread, and Priest profaning and breaking it every sabbath. Priesthood is gone, the ceremonial law is gone. The ceremonial seventh day Sabbath is gone. That covenant is obsolete, and we are under a new, and there is no command to observe the seventh for Christians (Hebrews 8,9). Neither a condemnation for not observing it.
But when you come to the new covenant, you have a new kind of meeting, not observing a day as a rest, but meeting together on account of our Savior.
Now let’s see how this kind of all kind of happened. Go to the end of the gospel of Matthew. Suffice it to say, the argument from history is that the church has taken this seriously since the New Testament times. (Of course there are some who still observe Saturday for the Lord, there are some Christians still observing circumcision for the Lord). Well, they are free to do so (Romans 14:5), but there is no command or example for new covenant Christians to do either.
Let’s pick it up from Matthew 28, it’s the day after the sabbath, that would be the first day, Sunday.
Matthew 28:1-10,“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet andworshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
It is dawn on Sunday morning, familiar scene, right? This is the Sunday when Jesus arose and appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Mary the mother of James. This is resurrection day.
Jesus said, “Go quickly and tell His disciples He has risen from the dead.” Tell them quickly because there’s a lot that’s going to happen in this day. This is right at daybreak, you remember. Once the Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the first day of the week would never be the same again because if you remember the first seventh day, and if you memorialize it (daily or weekly), as it were, you certainly want to memorialize the resurrection, don’t you? By the way Jews celebrated days in remembrance of victories God gave them over their enemies without a direct command from God (Esther 9:21). We can too. If you celebrate God as Creator, you certainly want to celebrate Him regularly and even more joyfully as Savior.
By the way, you have the first Sunday worship service in verse 9. “They came to Him, clasped his feet and worshiped him”. Small service, but a service of worship. What a day!
Turn in your Bible to Luke 24 and we’re just kind of constructing the scene, and I’m not going to go into all the detail. But the interesting thing to think of in that verse, verse 7, is “quickly,” get the message out because this day is going to be packed full.
Luke 24:1-12 “On the first day of the week, …They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus… 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened”
You remember Peter and John went to the tomb, as the other gospel writers tell us, and they realized the resurrection had taken place. Again, it is dawn on Sunday. The women are first. They go back, they report. And more come, and the Apostles come, and it becomes apparent very, very early in the morning that the Lord is risen and He is alive, which means that He has accomplished redemption on the cross. He has been raised for our justification. He has conquered sin, and death, and hell. He has borne our sins in His own body on the cross, been made sin for us, and He has risen from the dead in triumph.
And it’s still early. Again the same day, verse 13,
Luke 24:13-32 “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas,asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied…He [Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Quite a day. Quite a day. In the morning He appears to the apostles and the women. In the afternoon He appears to these two on the road to Emmaus, two disciples unnamed, except for Cleopas, the other one unnamed. But there’s more yet. There’s more yet. And they celebrate a blessed meal that Sunday.
Boy, this is some Sunday. And by the way, you had the first Sunday worship, and you also had the first Sunday sermon. It’s in verses 25-27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” The first sermon was an expository sermon on the first Sunday.
First worship service, the first Sunday, and it’s not over. It’s not over. They, having come to realize Jesus was alive, “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’” (Luke 24:33)
John’s chronicle is also quite interesting. Turn to John chapter 20, and again we’re not trying to cover details, but just give you the big picture.
Now we pick up the story in John 20:19-23: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors shut for fear of the Jewish leaders. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
So it is the first day of the week, and the doors were shut. Jesus came through the wall. He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He gives them a reiteration of the gospel commission. And then “He breathes on them and says to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”
What a day. What a day. All these happen on a first day.
By Friday night when Jesus is dead, their hopes are smashed, and crushed, and dashed. The best that they can imagine is that they can rest on the sabbath as per the Mosaic covenant because they can’t do any work or take any kind of trip, so even the women who were going to anoint His body have to wait till the Jewish ceremonial weekly sabbath is over and they’ll go and do it. It will be a nice thing to do, anoint the corpse of Jesus. That was the best that they could have hoped for was some act of kindness to the dead body of the one they had put their trust in. (hmmm, wonder why I didn’t observe the sabbath according to the commandment as those women did when I was an Adventist, yet I claimed! No work, no trips, no funerals that’s how old covenant sabbath was to be observed. After His resurrection, Sabbath ritual is no more!).
By the time that Sunday is over, they all know Jesus is alive from the dead. Peter knows it, John knows it, Mary Magdalene knows it, the other Mary’s, the other women know it, other disciples know it. And by Sunday evening, all the disciples know it with one exception, who was absent? Thomas. Thomas was absent.
Pick it up in John 20:21-24: “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
Such a doubter, was probably off in the corner saying, “I was right. I had every reason to doubt.” So the disciples told Thomas.
John 20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
This is fabulous.
John 20:26, “After eight days [a week later] His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!” ”
The expression eighth day or eight days later was used to refer to the day after the seventh day in early Christianity. What day would that be? Sunday. Nothing happened in the seven days in between. It is not until that eighth day that the disciples again are gathered together, and Jesus comes not on Saturday, but Sunday on inspired record.
Were they gathered together in the other days? You better believe they were. I mean, they were hiding. But when specifically does Jesus meet His disciples after the resurrection Sunday? He meets them on the following Sunday.
The point that I want you to notice is Sunday all of a sudden became a very, very special day. Jesus makes two miraculous post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, both of them on a Sunday, both of them on a Sunday. If you believe the Bible is inspired, then there are no accidents. It is on a Sunday that they know He is alive from the dead. It is on a Sunday that they know the Old Testament is being fulfilled. It is on a Sunday that they know the Father has affirmed His redemptive work on the cross. It is on a Sunday that He pledges to them that they will receive the Holy Spirit to be empowered for ministry in the future. It is on a Sunday that all the past of His ministry and His death comes to make sense, and what a Sunday.
Jesus rose from the dead on that Sunday. Appeared on that Sunday in the morning. Appeared on that Sunday in the afternoon. Appeared on that Sunday in the evening. Showed Himself alive to the women on that Sunday. They had thefirst worship service on that Sunday. Jesus preached the first sermon on that Sunday. Met two disciples on that Sunday. Broke bread with them and disclosed Himself to them and miraculously vanished, and appeared again not on a Saturday, but Sunday. What a day. What a day. And it was a Sunday, and prior to that, Sunday had absolutely no significance, none. But from that day on, Sunday took on a completely different meaning. Sundays would never be the same again.
Sunday became new covenant resurrection day in their minds. If that first seventh day reminds about God as Creator, here was another day. Lord’s resurrection Sunday. This was a day to celebrate salvation. Resurrection was the dawning of a new day, and so the new covenant has a new day. “A new and living way He has opened for us” Heb 10:20.
Now it doesn’t end there. Why eight days later? The Lord was saying something about Sundays, instituting a new covenant day of commemoration. Turn to Acts 2 and let me reinforce that a little bit, Acts 2.
Acts 2:1-4, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”
By the way, go back to Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” And the Spirit came, as we all know, to empower believers to fulfill the commission of proclaiming the glorious gospel, as well as to affirm their faith, to seal their faith, to give them assurance and confidence, to give them internal testimony to the validity of the gospel.
And fascinating, isn’t it, that it happens on the day of pentecost? This is when the new testament church was born. This is when the disciples were empowered. This is the first baptizing work of Christ as He baptizes believers by means of the Spirit into His body. This is the day when the kingdom comes to life. This is a glorious, marvelous day.
And you remember that in Acts 2:14 Peter stands up on that day, gives this great sermon concerning the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts2:37, “they’re pierced to the heart. He says, ‘Repent, be baptized for the forgiveness of sin; receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” Three thousand people are converted.
Why am I bringing this into the discussion? Did you ever wonder what day of the week it was on Pentecost? Do you know what day of the week it was? Just happened to be Sunday. It’s Sunday again.
Pentecost happens on a Sunday. As unique as this is, all these references are short of commanding us to observe the first day of the week as if it had some special sort of Mosaic significance. So far, we just have the very obvious fact that God deliberately filled that day with the most significant events in the founding of His church, namely the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the arrival of the Spirit of God. They happen on a Sunday and the Lord, then, has picked out His own day.
It is the worst thing possible for people who call themselves Christians to take restrictions intended for the Mosaic sabbath and try to impose them on Sunday. That’s opposite the intention of our Lord. Don’t let anybody hold you to a sabbath day. You’re not under the Mosaic law anymore. You’re not under the constraints, and ceremonies, and restrictions, and restraints of the Mosaic law. 1 Corinthians 9:20, “I myself am not under the law [of Moses]”. We are under the teachings and laws of Christ, and the apostles (1 Corinthians 9:20–21). Jesus has settled the ceremonial sabbath issue. He said man was not made to conform to it. The Sabbath ordinance has been abolished.
Eph 2:15 “By abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is (what?) the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace”.
What did the Ordinances include?
“I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and observe them. Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God” (Ezekiel 20:19-20)
We have a new day. We left Judaism behind. We left the old covenant behind. We left the sabbath behind. We left the leaders of Israel behind. We have a new covenant. We have new ministers of that new covenant and we have a new day. It’s not like the Mosaic sabbath, not at all.
Oh, you can still think of the seventh day, Saturday, in a sense as the day that reminds us that the Lord created everything in six days. I think that’s a wonderful thing to do. You can do it daily. You can do it weekly. You can do it yearly. But there’s nothing in the New Testament that takes old covenant restrictions and restraints from the Mosaic sabbath and imposes them on the first day of the week.
Keep in mind, please, that from Genesis 2 where God rested until giving the Mosaic law, there were no restraints on anyone’s behavior on Saturday. There were no restrictions and no restraints. That didn’t even come till Moses. It started with Moses and it ended with the abolishing of the old covenant and the establishing and the ratifying of the new covenant. That law was added 430 years after Abraham and that law was to last until Jesus came.
Galatians 3:19, “Why, then, was the law (including the Sabbath) given at all? It was added because of transgressions until [when?] the Seed [Jesus] to whom the promise referred had come”
New covenant Sunday, then, is kind of like the first seventh day from Genesis. There were no restrictions on how to observe that day. When God instituted a day of rest originally under Moses, it was a day of anything but rest. But the Lord’s Resurrection Day for us is to be a day of delight. It’s to be a day of blessing. It’s to be a day not fraught with external regulations.
In Galatians 4:9, “Now that you have come to know God, to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?”
You don’t want to go back to that. “You observe days and months and seasons and years.” (Galatians 4:10). Don’t do that. “I fear” God says “for you, perhaps I’ve labored over you for nothing.” I mean, have I wasted my time setting you free in Christ? Are you going to go back to observing days, weekly sabbath days, new moons sabbaths, yearly festivals? We’re not under any sabbath law at all.
Well, the Sunday of resurrection was a very special Sunday. The following Sunday was a very special Sunday. Pentecost was a very special Sunday. Certainly, after Pentecost, Sunday was very well established in the hearts of the people of God. Did they worship only on Sunday? No, no. They worshiped how often? Every day.
You know, they were experiencing that every single day, and that is what Sunday should be. It should be a day of coming together. It should be a day of devoting yourselves to the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer. It should be a day of taking meals together with gladness, sincerity of heart, praising God. It should be a happy, joyous day. It’s not a day of restraint like the Jewish Sabbath. It’s not a day of rest. Its not a holy day. It’s not a day when we come under the fearful threat of the law. It’s a day when we celebrate our redemption.
And so they met every day, but it didn’t take long before they landed again on a special day orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Turn to Acts 20. This is from Youngs Literal Translation. A translation of the original Greek word to word.
Acts 20: 7, “And on the first of the week, the disciples having been gathered together to break bread, Paul was discoursing to them, about to depart on the morrow, he was also continuing the discourse till midnight”
Did you notice that? The disciples at Troas “were gathered together” [passive voice in greek] upon “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). Now this is not a common meal but this the celebration of Lord’s supper or communion. The passive voice indicates that the assemblage was orchestrated by someone other than the disciples. It was of divine initiative. By the way Sabbatarians gives all kinds of excuses about this text, but their arguments don’t stand just like their claims to observe the old covenant Sabbath law.
Isn’t that interesting? No law has been given to establish this. But here we are well into the ministry of the apostle Paul. Years have passed since the resurrection of Jesus Christ and it’s remarkable. It’s matter of fact, “When we were gathered together to break bread on the first day of the week.” That’s what they did. They’re still meeting, Paul is preaching and it is orchestrated by the Spirit. And Paul tarried there several days waiting for the regular day of worship to come, the first day of the week. And by the way, they had an evening service. They met all day. How do you know it’s an evening service? Because he preached “until midnight.”
Turn to 1 Corinthians 16. Paul writes to the Corinthians, he’s writing about the offering, the collection.
1 Cor. 16:1-2 “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made”.
So Paul has this notion of collecting offerings for the saints in Jerusalem in the same way as he directed (how many?) all the churches in the region of Galatia to do it, he wanted the Corinthians to do it too. Remember there is no tithe law, you give moved by the Spirit. And here is the command for the first day offerings in worship. Is there a command to set aside offerings on Sundays for Christians? Yes there is. Inspired by the Spirit, it was commanded to Galatians. It was commanded to Corinthians. It is commanded to us. Paul is saying, I just want you to make it a matter of course in your Sunday worship. Offerings were taken on the first day of the week.
Again, it’s not a day when we’re more holy than others. It’s not a day when there are some restraints on how we are to behave. It’s a day when we celebrate our salvation, and give our offerings to the poor. It’s a day when we glorify God, when we focus on what Christ has done for us. That’s why we come together and pray. That’s why we come together and sing hymns. That’s why we come together and read Scripture. It’s a day when you look at the most important reality in your life, and that is your salvation. Now does that mean we can’t do these good things on other days? Or we can. But sunday was a special day for Christians after Jesus rose.
So on the first day of the week, God’s people: They assembled together. They had a sermon. They had the Lord’s supper. They gave for the poor. Well, eventually this first day became so precious to the church that it got its own name. Turn to Revelation chapter 1. Revelation 1:9, John, is on the isle of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus, because he’s been exiled there by the enemies of the gospel.
And he says in verse Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day”.
“On the Lord’s day.” Some people think this means “the Day of the Lord,” the eschatological day of judgment. Hardly, hardly. John did not experience the final Day of the Lord judgment on the island of Patmos. Besides, the Day of the Lord, tē hēmera tou kuriou is a distinct phrase, the Lord’s Day is tē kyriakē hēmera, completely different phrase used only here. This is not the eschatological Day of the Lord. This is a non-eschatological statement. This is also not the weekly sabbath days or annual sabbath days which God calls my holy days – these are abolished. This is the Lord’s Day and he doesn’t even give an explanation.
Now when is John writing? Well he’s writing 30-40 years after Paul. So at the end of the first century, (by the way the first day was never called Sunday at this time..it was always referred to as the first day or eight day, and now it is “The Lord’s Day.” A reference to Lord’s resurrection day. It doesn’t even need a further explanation.
It was on the Lord’s Day that John received his vision and he turns around and sees Christ ministering in the candlesticks, Christ ministering in His church. This is the Lord of the church serving His church, and he got the vision of the Lord moving in His church on Sunday.
There are all kinds of testimonies in the second century which was just a few years later since John’s writing in the first century, to the fact that in the second century this was the customary way to refer to the first day of the week. First day of the week was the Lord’s Day. This title for first day or Lord’s day or eight day is commonly found in many, many early Christian writings, has continued through all church history even down to the present. Christians in Africa, Asia, Europe, they all met on the first day after the manner of the apostles. This is what the early Christian leaders say about Lord’s day.
Ignatius of Antioch (AD 110): “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things 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(shorter) Chapter IX.—Let us live with Christ [A.D. 110]).
Justin Martyr (AD 155): “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.” (The First Apology of Justin, Chapter 67)
Bardesanes, Edessa (AD 180 – from Asia): “On first day of the week, we assemble ourselves together.” (Book of the Laws of Countries).
Clement of Alexandria (AD 194 from Egypt) wrote: “He does the commandment according to the Gospel and keeps the Lord’s day, whenever he puts away an evil mind . . . glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself. (Vii.xii.76.4)
Tertullian (AD 203): “Let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day . . . teach us that, for the time past, righteous men kept the Sabbath or practiced circumcision, and were thus rendered ‘friends of God.’ Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath..(An Answer to the Jews Chapter II.—The Law Anterior to Moses. [A.D. 203]).
Many early Church leaders and followers of Christ such as Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin Martyr, to name a few, suffered severe persecution and eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Romans for spreading the Gospel of Christ. They stood for the truth.
What about Christian meetings on Saturday? The New Testament does not give a single example of non-proselyte gentile Christians conducting their religious services on the Sabbath. Sabbatarians who read Sabbath verses in the book of ACTS often imagine a church service, where Christians assemble, and the offering plate is passed around and a lovely sermon about the Lord Jesus Christ being preached. However, none of these examples in Acts were Christian gatherings. Rather they were functions held by the Jews in their places of worship, either in synagogues or open places.
These synagogue services that took place were in accordance with the Torah. Those who gathered to the synagogues in each of the stories were not gathered to glorify Jesus Christ, nor knew Jesus neither were they worshiping within the parameters outlined for Christians. The worshipers in the synagogue never partook of the Lord’s supper or baptism. In fact the worshipers were not Christians at all. Rather their religion was Judaism! In each of these instances, Paul disrupts the normal ceremonies practiced by the Jews on the Sabbath in synagogues or outside places and introduces the gospel of Jesus Christ to them for the first time. Here’ an example
Acts 16:12-13, “And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
Philippi being a Roman colony, the Jews were not allowed to have a synagogue in it; wherefore Paul and his company, whether on the Jewish sabbath day, or on any other day of the week, took a walk out of the city; either for the sake of a walk, or rather to converse together, and and to look out for an opportunity to preach the Gospel; and they came to a place. These women in Acts 16 were gathered to the proseucha or “place for worship and prayer” to worship the God of Abraham.They were proselytes, a title given to gentile followers who converted to Judaism and observed the customs of Moses. They were not Christians. The women had their first contact with Christians that morning by the river. They didn’t even know about the gospel of Jesus, so the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message for the first time (Acts 16:13).
Being consistent with his convictions as stated in First Corinthians 9:20-22, Paul preached to the Jews or God worshippers (proselytes) in the synagogue or outside places on the Sabbath and worshiped with the Gentiles in the marketplace every other day of the week (Acts 17:17). There is no Sabbath ever involved with gentiles when Paul met them, for they were never asked to observe the Sabbath nor were they observing it. They worshiped God daily. Ceremonial Sabbath day is gone.
Did early Jewish Christians (Jewish converts to Christianity) observe the laws of Moses including the sabbaths and circumcision? Yes, they were observing not only the sabbath, but all the customs of Moses including sacrifices, and circumcision (Acts 21:20). It’s is also true that some them observed the sabbaths and met on first day in view of the Lord’s resurrection. Yes, the church was in transition, and it was not easy for Jews to let go of Moses. There have always been a minority who has held on to old covenant Sabbaths, circumcision etc. from the time of the apostles, and today the largest of them are the Seventh day Adventists.
Back to Lord’s day in the new covenant. What does the Lord expect of us on His day? That we would celebrate Him as Savior, that we would rejoice in His cross, that we rejoice in His resurrection, that we would pray together, fellowship together, break bread together around His table and that we would listen to the apostles’ doctrine, and hear the preaching of the Word, and embrace its glorious truth. I’m not talking about legalism. We’re not talking about some kind of old covenant sabbath laws imposed upon us. But grace certainly doesn’t require less than law, does it?
We want to make sure that we do not, according to Hebrews 10:25, “Forsake our assembling together, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” As we get closer to the return of Jesus Christ, we ought to ramp up our fellowship, not diminish it, right?
I guess the question is how much do you love Christ? How strong is your desire for worship? We’re not going to drop any external rules on you. Everything about the new covenant is better than the old covenant, everything, including the day. Because this day is not burdensome. It is joyous. We have the reality, the true rest in Christ daily (Col. 2:16, Heb 4).
So, rather than ask what shouldn’t I do on Sunday, ask what should I do? What is my love for Christ ask me to do? What does my heart for Him ask me to do? I’m not forbidden to work. I’m not forbidden to play. But the high ground is to say this is a day of all days in which I will find my greatest delight. And what is my greatest delight? My greatest delight is to worship and fellowship with God’s people.
Father, thank You again for Your Word, for the refreshment of it, the beauty of it, the simplicity of it, and the richness of it, the consistency of it really overwhelms us. And even though we study it week after week, year after year, it comes to us with a kind of freshness that brings joy to our hearts. We worship you every day, but on your resurrection day that you made is special, we want to fill it with all the things that focus on You, delighting on You, loving You, loving Your people, loving Your truth, setting our hearts aside from the things of the world, setting our affections on things above, to be determined, of course, not by what we don’t do, but what we do, to be determined by what we’re not allowed to do, but what our hearts long to do.
May all of our lives be filled with a special, special understanding of how wonderful is the weekly reminder of our eternal salvation built in to the Lord’s Day. Give us a love for it because there’s a love for you built into it. We thank You in Christ’s name. Amen.