Volume. XXVII, No. 1
Keeping the Sabbath Holy - Part 1
There is nothing that so sets apart and distinguishes God’s people from the world as Sabbath observance. Factories, professional sports and retail stores are open seven days a week. Working on the Lord’s day is a mandatory condition for employment in many jobs. The Christian who desires to honour the Lord on His holy day faces constant pressure from the world to give up his Sabbath observance. Incredibly, he may face even more intense pressure from Christians who feel there is no longer any need today to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord. Should you keep the Sabbath? Consider the following teachings of God’s holy, infallible and inerrant Word.
Keeping one day in seven
Keeping one day in seven holy to the Lord is the requirement of the fourth commandment. As part of the moral law which was never abrogated, it remains binding until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17-18). It is a binding moral obligation upon all men and institutions. As such it is to be kept today. The fourth commandment reads in full, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11). The “remember” implies that God’s people were already aware of this moral duty. Thus, keeping the Sabbath is not exclusively a Jewish institution but a creation ordinance (Genesis 2:2-3). God Himself hallowed the Sabbath, so man, in imitation of God, is required to hallow it or keep it holy as well.
The Christian Sabbath
The church observes the first day of the week as the weekly Sabbath following the example of Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath. Every week of His life our Lord “went into the synagogue on the sabbath day” as “his custom was” (Luke 4:16). Two days before His passion He pronounced judgment upon the temple, saying, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple” (Matthew 23:38-24:1, cf. 26:1-2). It is highly significant that after His resurrection Jesus altered His life-long practice and never again participated in seventh-day Sabbath worship; instead, He met in a gathering with His disciples on the first and second occurrences of the now-inaugurated first-day Sabbath (John 20:19, 26). Again, after His ascension He met with His gathered disciples on the first day of the week, pouring out His Spirit upon them on the day of Pentecost (50 days inclusive, Acts 2:1), which was the seventh first-day Sabbath of the post-resurrection era. These meetings of Christ with His people establish the pattern for Sabbath-observance for the church in the present age. It is Christ Himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, who changed the day (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). This was recognized by His disciples, who continued this practice in the New Testament church (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Revelation 1:10). Contrary to what the Seventh-day Adventists teach, the church does not keep the first day of the week on the supposed basis that the church changed the day. Christ Himself changed the day!
Following their Lord’s example, the early disciples met on the first day of the week to observe the Lord’s Supper and hear the preaching of God’s Word (Acts 20:7). The Apostle Paul directed that the collection for the saints be taken on the first day of the week, when the church met for worship, so that there would be no need for a special collection when he came to visit the church: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:2). By the incomparable wisdom of God the language of the fourth commandment perfectly fits both the seventh-day and first-day Sabbath: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” (Exodus 20:9-10). The commandment does not read: “The seventh day of the week” but “the seventh day.” The pattern in every age is six days of labour and one day of rest unto the Lord. In observing the first day of the week as the Sabbath the church follows the example of her Lord and King (1 Peter 2:21).
The Shorter Catechism summarizes the Bible’s teaching on the change of the day as follows: “Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath? From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.”
Sabbath, an holy convocation
God has directed that a holy convocation of His people be called on the Sabbath day. A convocation is defined as “an assembly of persons called together to a meeting” (from the Latin com, together, plus vocare, to call). God instructed, “Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:3). The elders of the church are responsible for calling God’s people together for public worship.
Sabbath-keeping is connected with reverence for God’s sanctuary
God’s sanctuary is the place where He Himself dwells. The word of God says, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 26:2). In the New Testament the sanctuary is shown to be the gathered people of God. Paul wrote, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) Note that the plural “ye” is used, not the singular “thou.” Thus, the Sabbath is to be kept by gathering with God’s people for the purpose of meeting with the risen Christ who dwells in the midst of His church.
(to be continued)