The Sabbath was a unique and important part of the Jewish religion. The Mosaic Code, given at Mt. Sinai, required that both man and beast cease from labor on the Sabbath (Exod. 20:8-11). In addition to being a day of physical rest and renewal, the Sabbath was also a day of spiritual devotion and worship (Lev. 23:1-3).
For the people of God, the Sabbath was a day of spiritual significance — looking back to the creation when God rested on the seventh day (Exod. 20:11); looking to the present, signifying God’s covenant with the nation of Israel (Exod. 31:12-18); looking to the future, anticipating the realization of His ultimate purpose (Heb. 4:1-11).
The command to properly observe the Sabbath was no trivial responsibility. Anyone who violated the Sabbath was subject to the severest of penalties (Exod. 31:14-15). For example, the Old Testament tells of a man who broke God’s law by gathering sticks on the Sabbath. The Lord commanded that the offender be stoned to death for his infraction (Num. 15:32-36).
Unfortunately, with the passing years, many Jews did not heed this lesson. The prophets repeatedly condemned the ancient Israelites for neglecting the Sabbath (Jer. 17:21-27; etc.). The length of the Babylonian captivity was determined by the extent of Israel’s greedy abuse of the sabbatical year (Lev. 25:1-7; 26:34-35; 2 Chron. 36:21).
Since the Law of Moses has been removed (Eph. 2:14-15), regulations regarding the Sabbath are no longer binding: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:13-14).
Now in the Christian age, Sunday has deep spiritual significance. Jesus Christ arose from the grave on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1). The Lord’s church was established on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1ff), the day when New Testament disciples regularly assembled (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Thus, it is not surprising that Sunday is called “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10).
While the first day of the week (Sunday) is not the “Christian Sabbath,” and the New Testament clearly indicates that we are not obligated to keep regulations regarding the cessation of work, or any other stipulation specific to the Law of Moses, we still recognize the necessity of honoring God in ways consistent with the New Covenant.
Today, we continue to emphasize the need for rest and renewal, reflection and remembrance, and a complete reliance upon the Word of God, but in ways that reflect our submission to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
By Mark Mayberry
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