I grew up in a family where my mother took us all to church on Sunday, and my father went to the office for a few hours. It seemed odd even then that he needed to or wanted to work on Sunday. It might surprise some of you to know the most commonly asked question in my mailbag. It’s about the Sabbath. People want to know why we set aside Sunday as the Sabbath day instead of the seventh day of the week which is Saturday. Of course this is an easy one for me, and in my smart alec way, I tell them we have a Saturday night service as well as Sunday so we have all the bases covered. (It’s 7:00pm and is identical to Sunday morning if anyone is interested.) That usually doesn’t win me any arguments but at least I get to have some fun with it. Then I tell them, “look, it really makes no difference to me since I always work on the Sabbath”. But then I only have to work an hour a week, right?
It’s actually a very good question, what in heaven’s name are we doing having church on SUNDAY? The historical explanation is simple. The disciples began meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) as it was the day of Christ’s resurrection. It also became known as the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10). But that doesn’t explain what happen to the seventh day, which God in His Ten Commandments declared as holy. That’s easy some will say, Christ abolished the Law (Eph 2:15).
So if the Law is ‘history’, so to speak, then we no longer need to worry about honoring our parents, stealing, murdering or adultery either. Party on dude! Not so fast, Jesus gave us the new commandment to love your neighbour which essentially covers the not killing them thing, and stealing from them, or lying to them etc. The Sabbath is a stickier issue, and what we really need to do is remember what the purpose for it was in the first place. When it comes to the Sabbath, Jesus was a trouble maker! He repeatedly healed the sick on the Sabbath. The Pharisees where so offended by it that they missed entirely the fact that Jesus was literally transforming the quality of life of some really sick people.
For me the key to the whole thing is found in Mark 2. Jesus disciples, also trouble makers, were picking grain to eat in the fields on… you guessed it; on Saturday. Jesus responded to His critics by saying, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath Mark 2:27
Most tall buildings in Jerusalem today have Sabbath elevators. They stop at every floor going up and down because an Orthodox Jew will not even push an elevator button on the Sabbath. I always wonder how we justify the poor slob that has to work on the Sabbath to keep to hydro running so that I can have an effort free ride up to my penthouse. Glaring hypocrisy is not hard to find in Israel, or in the church today. This kind of legalistic adherence to the Sabbath day has been going on since before Jesus day (Although I am pretty sure they had no elevators).
The main purpose of the Sabbath was to give man a break from his labours. A time to recharge his spirit and to worship God. The essence of that has never changed. The New Testament puts it this way. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. Rom 14:5&6
The way I read it, the actual day doesn’t matter so much as the spirit of the Sabbath which is to cease from ‘business as usual’ and focus on our Creator. In our culture, the days of the week are increasingly all starting to look the same. The malls are open, people are at work, kids’ sports are in full swing and many churches are sadly empty. We may have successfully extricated ourselves from the letter of the Law, but I fear we have forgotten the spirit of it as well.
So the question is, will we see you in church on Sunday…or Saturday?