Our Mission : To know Jesus and make Him known to the Glory of God!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Remember the Lord's Day - Is there a ‘Christian sabbath’? (Part 1)

The following is from "Remember the Lord's Day" by Dr. Peter Masters. You can purchase the book here


And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (Genesis 2.2-3).

Why was the sabbath day instituted by the Lord, and does it continue now as the Lord's Day? If so, in what way has it changed with the coming of Christ? How should it be kept? Is it true there was a conflict of views about the continuation of the sabbath between the early and later Reformers? This booklet responds to these and other questions, showing that the sabbath principle is still God’s will for believers today, and listing its purposes and blessings.

We begin at the obvious place – Genesis 2.2-3 – where we are told that God ended his creative work, then blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. This became a very special day by divine decree from the beginning, elevated to a unique place three millennia before the time of Moses. It was given to the human race at creation, firstly to commemorate God’s creative work, secondly to establish a day of rest and worship, and thirdly to provide (in future years) a picture of the eternal rest to be entered by all who ‘rest’ from their own works and trust in Christ. (This third purpose of the sabbath is taught in Hebrews 3 and 4.)


Some take the view that the fourth commandment of Exodus 20.8-11 (‘Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy...’) no longer applies, having been intended for the Jewish period only. However, it is clearly far greater than this as it was started by God at creation. It is a ‘creation ordinance’, and the people who lived between Adam and Moses would have known about it, and been required to keep it.

Some people, however, teach that sabbath-keeping started only at the time of Moses and the giving of the law. They think that although God provided the model of a sabbath day at creation, the people were not told to observe it. This viewpoint is based on the absence of any mention of the sabbath between Genesis 2 andExodus 16, but it does not explain the powerful statement of Genesis 2 that God very specifically blessed the seventh day and sanctified (or hallowed) it. These words can only refer to something truly momentous that God did for the obedience and benefit of the human race, and communicated to Adam and Eve, because God himself lives above time and days. The words mean that God gave to the human race a distinctive, special place to one day out of every seven, which was to be elevated above all other days, and reserved for spiritual pursuits.

Consider carefully that a day was blessed, whereas usually in the Bible it is peoplewho are blessed. Also, a day was distinguished above others and sanctified (which means declared holy), whereas usually it is people or places or objects which are sanctified. God’s sanctifying of a day means that he claimed one out of seven for spiritual purposes. The obvious message of God’s great act was that there would be blessing attached to the keeping of this day, which was to be set aside as a day for him, and for rest from work (the principle for this being that if God ‘rested’ on this day, so should man, who is made in his image).

Adam was given the task of dressing and keeping the land, and although he most probably rebelled well before the second sabbath, the knowledge of this special day and its obligations would continue with him after the Fall.

Those who deny that the sabbath day began in the Garden of Eden have no explanation for what God did when he blessed and sanctified this day. For them the Lord's immensely significant act becomes a mysterious irrelevance for many centuries, until the fourth commandment was given through Moses. Nor do they have any explanation for the words that introduce the fourth commandment – ‘remember the sabbath day’ (Exodus 20.8). The word ‘remember’ looks back to the sabbath inaugurated in the Garden of Eden, showing that they knew about it. This is clear because the fourth commandment says so, including these words: ‘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 20.11).

Having failed to explain these monumental texts, those who want to confine the sabbath to the covenant of Moses simply sweep it away, saying it was not previously there. However, God’s act in inaugurating the sabbath at creation was undoubtedly for the whole human race, and after the Fall it continued as a call to engage in worship, spiritual pleasure, and the proclamation of the Creator.

Interestingly, it has often been pointed out that sabbath observance is hinted at in the account of Noah’s Flood, where several events occurred at seven-day intervals, as though each new action in the ark waited until after a sabbath. The seven-day weekly cycle inaugurated in Eden is seen in Genesis 7.4 and 10; 8.10and 12. In Genesis 8.10 for example we read of Noah: ‘And he stayed yet other seven days,’ repeated in verse 12. The seven-day week given to Adam in the Garden certainly became a standard throughout the ancient world.

The record of Exodus 16 is of special importance in proving that the sabbath was in force from Adam to Moses (whether faithfully observed or not), because it is here mentioned before the giving of the commandments. We read about the giving of manna, and how the rules for collecting it involved the honouring of the sabbath. The people had to bring in a double portion of manna on the sixth day because the seventh was the sabbath of the Lord. Verse 23 reads – ‘This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord.’

We may well assume that the ‘godly seed’ of Adam and of Abraham had remembered the sabbath right up to this point, although it may well have needed reviving after the years of captivity and forced labour in Egypt. In Exodus 16 Moses certainly assumed the people already knew what the sabbath was.


John Flavel, an outstanding Puritan, notes several special marks of honour which God placed on the fourth commandment, and we have to ask – are these the marks of an ‘inferior’ commandment which may be treated lightly today?

(1) It is the longest of all the commandments.

(2) It has a solemn reminder and warning prefixed to it.

(3) It is delivered both positively and negatively, which the other commandments are not.

(4) It is enforced with more arguments to strengthen the command than any other.

To see the purposes we must note the words of introduction to the commandments in Exodus 20.2: ‘I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’ The commandments were given in the context of deliverance. We have already seen that the sabbath was inaugurated at creation to be (i) a memorial to creation, (ii) a day of rest and worship, and (iii) a symbol of eternal rest. But with the commandments came another purpose, namely, to honour God for deliverance. This is said specifically about the sabbath inDeuteronomy 5.15: ‘And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.’

Old Testament Jews were intended to add this dimension to the sabbath, and to commemorate and proclaim their redemption from Egypt. Since Christ, we obviously focus on the much greater deliverance of which theirs was a type – the deliverance secured by Christ on Calvary. The ‘Christian sabbath’, therefore, also has this purpose: it is a day for the worship and proclamation of Christ the Deliverer.

Returning to Exodus 20.8 we read: ‘Remember the sabbath day,’ indicating that the sabbath already existed, and was well known to them. That word ‘remember’ picks up the past, but it is also an ongoing command for God’s people in the future.

We naturally want to know how much of the sabbath commandment is binding for today: all or some of it? Under the law of Moses additional rules came in (for that covenant) that were extremely strict. For example, no food was to be prepared on the sabbath, no fire kindled, no sticks gathered, and there were ceremonial rules for shewbread and special sacrifices, with the severest of penalties for profaning the day. During the period from Moses to Christ, the sabbath acquired these ceremonial commitments because it also served as a sign of the special covenant that God had with the Jews (Exodus 31.12-17). The reason sabbath-breaking was severely punished was because it showed contempt for the special covenant relationship God had with that people. But when Christ came, that temporary covenant with the Jews came to an end, and the strict, inflexible extra regulations given to Moses for sabbath-keeping also ended. Also, once Christ came, all symbols that pointed to him were fulfilled, becoming obsolete. Not surprisingly the ‘sabbath’ was moved by God to the first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection, which signalled the success of his work on Calvary. This was obviously implemented by the apostles, who would have been moved by the Holy Spirit to do so, perhaps from the fact that Christ appeared to them on successive first days of the week, and also by revelation.

In Colossians 2.16-17, Paul tells Gentile converts that they must not let any Judaizer entice them back into cancelled Jewish ritual, or condemn them for ignoring it, including the keeping of the Jewish sabbath, for these were merely ‘a shadow of things to come’. Colossian believers had been taught to keep the new sabbath, the Lord's Day, just as churches at Corinth and Galatia did (according to 1 Corinthians 16.1-2). The new Lord's Day did not continue the extra duties and symbolic rites of worship given to Moses, but it preserved the vital essence of the fourth commandment, which included the following reasons and purposes:

(1) God’s reserving of one day out of every seven is a creation decree, and also one of the ten commandments, which are abiding moral law, written by the finger of God.

(2) There must, therefore, always be a day of commemoration of creation.

(3) There must continue to be a day for worship and instruction.

(4) There must continue to be a day for remembering and proclaiming redemption, now in Christ. Proclamation is a particular element of the day, for Christ displayedand explained the works of God on sabbaths, and so must we by the evangelisation of adults and children. One of the reasons that churches find it so hard to restart Sunday Schools for the young is that ease and recreation has invaded the Sundays of many believers.

(5) There must continue to be a day of rest for all workers, so that they also may benefit from (1) to (4). This precludes the -unnecessary use by Christians of Sunday trading industries, whether shops, restaurants, filling stations or recreational facilities. (Deuteronomy 5.14: ‘That thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou’.)

Two other purposes of the Lord's Day must be added to our list, these being of tremendous importance. They are:

(6) Like the sabbath, observance of the Lord's Day is a witness to the world.

(7) It is also a shaping, sanctifying practice, ordering the priorities of God’s people.

No comments:

Post a Comment