Q: Which day of the seven has God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A: 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.
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
Here we come to what is, but really shouldn't be, a hot-button for some concerning the Sabbath. What day of the week is the Christian Sabbath, and why did it change from the Old Testament? I think many of us are aware of particular sects or denominations inside of Christianity that claim that Saturday is still the Christian Sabbath, such as Seventh Day Adventists. There are even movements inside of Christianity labeling themselves "Hebraic Roots" movements. These movements seek to connect Christianity with its Jewish roots. They celebrate the Old Testament feast days, follow certain Jewish liturgical structures, and yes, view the Sabbath day as Saturday, the 7th day of the week. Now this, in and of itself, is not bad or wrong. But if it leads to an abandonment of Sunday being the Christian Sabbath, or the Lord's Day, these movements don't really connect us to first century Jewish Christianity, rather, it disconnects us from the distinctly Christian heritage of the Church.
Acts 20 clearly shows us that the early Christians gathered for worship on the first day of the week, which in our context is Sunday. Luke writes that they came together to "break bread", a statement that most likely meant celebrating the Lord's Supper, and to hear the Apostle Paul preach the Word. The gathering of believers on the first day of the week was done, as Justin Martyr would explain in his First Apology, written within 60 years of the death of the last Apostle, for several theological reasons. He writes,
"But 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 Saviour on the same day rose from the dead." (First Apology, chapter 67)
Notice the two reasons Justin gives us for why the early Christians gathered on Sunday. First, it is the first day of Creation. Now this in and of itself is not particularly compelling, particularly when you consider the order of creation in Genesis and how the Sabbath was very intentionally placed at the end of the week. However, it is it directly connected to Justin's second reason, that Sunday is the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The resurrection of Christ not only signified his victory over sin, death, and the devil, it not only signified that the Father accepted the Son's payment for sin as satisfactory, it not only signified that yes, truly, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh and the long promised Messiah, it also signified the beginning of God's recreation through Jesus Christ's kingship over all the earth. Do you see how this connects to the first day of Creation in the mind of Justin Martyr and the early Christians? The resurrection completed the inauguration of the kingdom of God on Earth, and while we await the final consummation of the Kingdom, the resurrection of Jesus Christ shows us that what Christ prayed in the Lord's Prayer was beginning to become reality, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven".
Jesus Christ, as he declares in Matthew 12, is Lord of the Sabbath. He is our holy rest, and he is the object of our worship. He is the temple, and he is the sacrifice. We live in a New Covenant reality where Jesus Christ brings all the threads of the Old Covenant together, uniting and giving understanding to all that came before him. This is why, theologically, we celebrate the Christian Sabbath on the first day of the week, and why we boldly declare that it is the "Lord's Day". I will end this week's blog with a quote from Starr Meade, who helps us understand this theological shift concerning the Sabbath in her book, "Training Hearts, Teaching Minds":
The Sabbath was a picture of the rest we would have in Christ. From the time of creation until the Savior came, people looked ahead to the rest the Lord Jesus would give them. The Sabbath Day was at the end of the week. All week long, God's people looked forward to the Sabbath, just as, all through Old Testament times, they looked forward to Christ's coming. Now Christ has come and we look back on what He has done for us. Now our Sabbath begins our week.