Why do we as Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and…well, almost everyone except Seven Day Adventists, excuse ourselves from observing the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week? God is pretty clear in Exodus 20:9-10–“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” What gives? Are we all disregarding a clear command of God?
What’s Law Got to Do with It?
It is popular to speak of dividing the Law into moral, ceremonial, and civil law, and then to claim that we as believers are still meant to keep the moral portions of the OT Law. If it is true that the moral law of the Mosaic covenant is still incumbent in its original state upon believers, then we cannot grant ourselves a hermeneutical permission slip to change “seventh day” to “first day.”
Some might argue that since Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, we move the Sabbath to Sunday in honor of Christ. This argument goes half-way because it does recognize that the law is subservient to Christ. However, I want to push all the way and say that the Law is not re-shaped by Christ. The law of Moses was tailored-fitted to the person of Jesus, not vice-versa. The whole Law was designed to describe perfectly how Jesus would live among us. The Law was made for Jesus, not Jesus for the Law.
When you realize this, you understand that Jesus does not set aside the Law, He is the fullest expression of it. Paul writes in Colossians, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16). When Jesus calls his disciples to “Follow me!”, He is establishing Himself as the fullness of the Law, as the perfect example and rule for morality, ceremony, and civility. It is not a setting aside of the Law to follow Christ, because the Law was made for Him.
‘Sabbatarian’ is not a Sign of the Zodiac
The Sabbath then, was made for the Lord Jesus. It was meant to point us to Him; it found its fullest expression and fulfillment in Jesus. In Matthew 12, Jesus declares himself “The Lord of the Sabbath.” He presides over it; He is its pinnacle. The rest God called his people to on the seventh day, in the seventh year, and on other occasions, was a sign of his covenant to bring the True Rest: Jesus their Messiah.
I am not arguing against Sabbatarianism. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is used for those Christians who still observe a Sabbath in the OT sense. Paul himself states that we have the freedom in Christ to continue to celebrate the Sabbath (Col. 2:16-17; Romans 14:5-6). [Note: I would question whether its truly “the Sabbath” if it is not celebrated on the seventh day.]
But I am arguing that the Lord’s Day is not the Sabbath. When we gather on Sunday morning as a church, we are not gathering on the Sabbath, but on the Lord’s Day. Let me then explain why I think it is beneficial for churches to gather on Sunday…
The Significance of the First Day
The apostles began to meet together as a church on the first day of the week because they were commemorating the absolute pinnacle of history. John, Matthew, and Luke all make it painstakingly plain that the resurrection of Jesus happened on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene encountered the risen Christ on the first day. The men on the road to Emmaus walked with the risen Jesus on that same first day of the week. Jesus’ disciples were gathered in the upper room on the evening of that first day, and in their midst the risen Savior Jesus Christ appeared, saying, “Peace be with you.”
Later, at the beginning of Pentecost, on the first day of week the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and led to the explosion of the Church. The first day of the week marked the two most essential events in the history of the Church: seeing the risen Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit.
The Lord’s Day is about Drama
Every time the apostles gathered together on the first day, they were reenacting that first time the risen Christ appeared in their midst. They established a pattern of expectation. As they gathered together, they expected to meet with the risen Christ. They expected the Holy Spirit to descend into their midst even as He first did at Pentecost. More than that, it was a symbol of hope: just as the risen Christ had appeared unexpectedly in their midst on that first day, each first day they gathered in the hope that He would return again in bodily form.
Thus, when we gather as a church on the first day of the week, we are following the pattern set by the apostles in the early church. We, too, gather with joy to celebrate and dramatize the events of Christ’s resurrection. Like the apostles on that Resurrection Day, we expect to encounter the Risen Jesus in God’s Word. Like the day of Pentecost, we expect the Holy Spirit to descend in our midst. Every Sunday. Our celebration centers around Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the victory we have together in Him through the Holy Spirit. We, too, meet with the hopeful expectation that the visible Christ will return and appear in our midst.
Is the Lord’s Day the Sabbath? No. But both the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath point to the same person: Jesus.