A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ and follows His teachings. While today there are many denominations, often at odds with one another over doctrine or custom, none would disparage the example set by Christ Himself. His sinless life is the undisputed epitome of righteous existence. To emulate it is the obvious goal of all Christians. However, one practice of Christ’s is largely disregarded these days.
That practice is the observance of the Sabbath day. Only a very small percentage of Christians honor or keep the seventh day Sabbath, though many acknowledge that Christ and His disciples did. This fact is easily substantiated in the gospel accounts. After being baptized and driven into the wilderness to be tempted, Christ returned to the region of Galilee and began His ministry.
Luke 4:15-16 says, “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” (emphasis added throughout) Further on in the same chapter it says in verse 31, “And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the Sabbath days.” This was the custom, the habit, of our Lord on the day of rest and worship set aside at creation.
Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles and author of many New Testament books, is frequently quoted by those attempting to relegate the Sabbath or the law to antiquity. His own example, however, is at odds with that notion. Chapter 13 of the book of Acts features Paul and Barnabas in the synagogue on the Sabbath day for the reading of the law and the prophets. They were even invited to speak after the reading was finished.
Paul preached to them about Jesus Christ in the context of sacred history: the exodus, entering the promised land, the kingdom, and Christ as the promised savior, the seed of David. He preached the resurrection and the forgiveness of sins, verses 38 and 39, “From which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” All have transgressed the law. Attempting to keep it afterward cannot negate the fact that the penalty is owed.
No Christian would dispute that salvation is through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. Accepting it is integral to our faith, along with repentance (feeling true, deep sorrow and shame for our own deeds and forsaking them to live righteously as best we can), because we are sinners. John, the disciple Jesus loved, provides us a scriptural definition of what sin is in 1 John 3:4. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
Through Christ we can receive forgiveness because He has paid the penalty for us. It is important to remember that the penalty was paid, not that somehow, because you are a Christian, no penalty is due. Our Savior suffered and died a horrible death on account of our transgressions, not His. He alone has lived a human life free from sin, proving that with the Holy Spirit the temptations of the flesh can be overcome. The problem has never been the law, but with people keeping it. This justification from one’s own transgressions was extremely compelling to the people Paul was preaching to in Acts 13. In verses 42-44 “the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.”
If the Sabbath day had no significance, if all days were equal or if the first day of the week was the new day for Christian worship, why would they wait an entire week? Years had passed since Christ had died and been resurrected. Why would Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, miss this opportunity to showcase the differences between Christianity and Judaism when he had the interest of an entire city and instead publicly honor the Sabbath day, listen to the law and prophets read, and preach Christ by quoting from them? Neither Jesus Christ nor Paul preached a new religion. Their quarrels with the religious leaders of the day were over the traditions men had burdened one another with, like ceremonial hand washing, counting steps on the Sabbath, and straining beverages. Or they came from jealousy and fear on the part of the religious elites that their position or power or income would be lost. Paul’s success in Chapter 13 of Acts elicited just such a response and he and Barnabas were expelled from the region. Chapters 16, 17, and 18 prove that he was not deterred and each mentions him teaching on the Sabbath.
It is a mistake to think the Sabbath is “Jewish.” The day of rest was instituted at creation and was intended for all mankind. It was thousands of years later that God brought the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) out of Egypt and delivered the law through Moses. They were organized into the 12 tribes of Israel, as they are called, and each tribe went by the name of the son of Jacob from which they descended. They are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin, though Joseph is usually divided into two, one for each of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. It is from Judah we get the term Jew.
Obviously, the commandments were given to all the children of Israel, not just Judah. Further, the commandment says “Remember the Sabbath day,” hearkening back to its institution at creation. Exodus 31:16-17 reads “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”
An interesting aspect when comparing Old and New Testament scriptures is the identity of Jesus Christ before His human birth. John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” The Greek here translated “God” is Theos, a plural word implying more than one. This fits perfectly with “Let us make man in our image” from Genesis 1:26. The Hebrew translated “God” in the Old Testament is also a plural word.
The implications of these scriptures are enormous. The being we refer to as Jesus Christ is the “Word” of God, the spokesman, who said “let there be light,” who did the creating, who dealt personally with the patriarchs and the prophets, and who became flesh. How else can we understand the many scriptures where God speaks or appears and yet Christ says “the Father Himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape.”? He is God the son, working on behalf of God the father, representing Him to us. You could think of it as similar to how we use surnames, or last names, today which can accurately apply to you as well as members or your family. I am not the only Armstrong just as you are not the only one with your family name. Hebrews 1:1-2 further confirms His identity. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in the time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by His son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.”
Understanding this point opens a great many scriptures. When Christ said “before Abraham was, I AM” He testified to His existence prior to Abraham as well as identifying Himself as the I AM who spoke to Moses. He is the lawgiver, the one who codified ever extant good and true principles into a civil code for Israel. Has He changed His mind about the nature of righteousness? Or is He “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever,” as it says in Hebrews 13:8? “I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” He said in Malachi 3:6. He is the one who set aside the Sabbath at the very beginning, intending it to be a blessing to all mankind. As He told the Pharisees, “the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.” (Matthew 12:8)
In this context the full implications of scriptures such as John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commandments” become clear. When asked what may be done to have eternal life He replied “if thou will enter into life, keep the commandments.” in Matthew 19:17. Verse 18 leaves no doubt as to which commandments He was talking about.
Some would accuse those who observe the Sabbath or believe it is necessary to keep the commandments of “legalism” or attempting to earn salvation. This is certainly not the case as salvation cannot be earned. Being forgiven, receiving the mercy available to us through Jesus Christ, is a gift. It is undeserved. But if we ask for it, and are granted it, do we then continue to do the things which made us realize we needed it?
It says in Romans 6:1-4, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.” To walk in newness of life is to live in an upright manner, to “love the Lord with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you loved God you would obey Him, if you loved your neighbor you would not commit any of the deeds forbidden by the law.
The Sabbath is one of God’s commandments. Christ rested on the very first Sabbath day; He blessed it and sanctified it. If kept, it is a tremendous blessing, a needed rest from the labor of life. It has been observed by the righteous throughout history and was very much a part of the life of our Lord, His disciples, and the early New Testament church.
Why wouldn’t you want to keep it? Is it wrong to, as much as we are able, do as Christ has done? What better example has been set for us? This life is not easily overcome, but the reward is not small! Let us all strive to worship Him in truth and spirit and look forward to His return. As it says in Revelation 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”