Is the weekly Sabbath still for us?
To answer this question we must look to see what Jesus and the apostles did and taught about the Sabbath. If Jesus wants us to continue to keep the Sabbath, then as his followers, we should seek to do so. What the apostles did, as those chosen by Jesus to continue his teaching, also matters to us.
Many Christians today do not think we should keep a weekly Sabbath day, but if we look carefully, we will see that neither Jesus nor the apostles abrogated Sabbath obedience, rather, the Sabbath in the New Testament is upheld, transformed and kept.
The Sabbath Upheld by Jesus and Paul:
- Jesus: In order to understand Jesus' teachings on the Sabbath, we must keep his historical context in mind. In Jesus' day, the Sabbath was an abused teaching: many things were added to it by men that obscured God's purposes for the command. In seeking to correct wrong views of this commandment, Jesus emphasized three things in his teaching about the Sabbath. First, He asserted his authority as the Son of God to give commands concerning the Sabbath (Matt 12:8). Using his authority, Jesus reminded the people of God's over-all purpose of the Sabbath ("the sabbath was made for man" Mk 2:27) and also recognized that some extreme situations required one to "profane the Sabbath" and step outside of normal Sabbath-keeping (i.e. the importance of one's livelihood (Matt 12:11), religious duties for ordained ministers (Matt 12:5), and issues of life and death (Matt 12:3)). It was because of Jesus' recognition of these extreme situations, and because he opposed the traditions built up around the Sabbath, that He came into conflict with the teachers of his day. However, despite what Jesus' accusers said, He never broke the real Sabbath as God gave it, but only the rules men added to it over the years.
- Paul: Paul's teaching context was slightly different than Jesus. While Jesus primarily ministered among the Jews, Paul primarily ministered among the Gentiles. For Paul, both abuse of the Sabbath AND neglect were problems in his churches. For many of Paul's churches, abuse of the Sabbath came in the form of viewing obedience to the command as works righteousness. The false teachers called the Judaizers were doing with the Sabbath what they did with all the commandments: making them requirements by which to gain merit with God (Gal 4:8-11). Neglect of the Sabbath was rampant in the Gentile community, but this was largely because the weekly Sabbath was unknown to them. To these communities, Paul taught Lord's Day observance of Christian worship (1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7).
As we saw in the previous post, in the OT the Sabbath commandment changed slightly over time as God did more and more great works. In a similar way, we see in the NT a transformation of the Sabbath in light of God's new works of creation and redemption.
Up to this point in history, God had not created anything new nor had he done any greater work of redemption than the Exodus from Egypt. But that all changed with the coming of Jesus Christ. In the resurrection of Christ, God began a new work of creation. This work, which continues today in those who are in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), began on the first day of the week, called the Lord's Day by the earliest Christians (Rev 1:10). Not only did God do a greater work of creation on the Lord's Day, but He also accomplished a great work of redemption on the same day. The resurrection of Christ from the dead accomplished a work of redemption greater than the redeeming of God's people from slavery in Egypt. Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished redemption from the slavery of sin for all who have faith in Him.
In light of these new works of God, Christians seemed to have shifted their day of worship from Saturday, a day set apart for remembrance of God's older works, to the first day of the week, the day on which God did these new works. This kind of shift is not unusual in the New Testament. God always keep the categories from previous covenants, only to transform them in the New Covenant. For example, after the work of God in Christ, the Passover, the covenant meal, is transformed into the Lord's Supper. Circumcision, the covenant sign, is transformed into Baptism. And the Sabbath, the covenant community day of worship, is transformed into the Lord's Day. (See Col 2:11-17)
And though the Sabbath day is transformed, what we do on the Sabbath does not change, at least not in a broad sense. Christians still remember God's works on this day:
1. Remember: We celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday and revel is the fact of God's new creation in Christ as we marvel that God's redemption allows us to be a part of it.
2. Rest: We cease from all our works as much as we are able (I say "as much as we are able" because for centuries many Christians were slaves and could not rest on this day. And today, some of us have jobs that relate to Jesus' extreme situations listed above).
3. Worship: We gather with God's people each Sunday to worship, regardless of whether we're traveling, with company, or if other events are scheduled that day.
4. Anticipate: We set aside this day to anticipate Jesus' return, and we do so through every action of the day.
- In our rest anticipating the ultimate rest (Heb 4:1-13) of the New Heavens and New Earth.
- In our worship anticipating the great gathering of the saints in the heavenly temple.
- In our feasting with family that day anticipating the wedding feast of the Lamb.
So, in closing, I go back to my original question: Do you wish you had time for what matters most in life? Are you taking the time God has already given you on Sundays? Or are you filling it with fluff instead of drinking deep from what real life and real rest really is?