One of the most divisive questions Christians face is which day we should assemble to worship. Saturday? Sunday? Wednesday? As in all things the answer is in Scripture. In the creation account we are given facts of God’s work during the six days of creation, and then we read:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 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 2:1-3).
That sounds pretty simple but is it really that simple? Did God really need to rest? No, but He gave us an example to follow and we need to pay attention. At that time in history there were only two humans…Adam and Eve. They were neither Jew nor Gentile, so this example of a day of rest is to all people.
The seventh day is sacred to the Jews and Scripture tells us that it is a sign between them and God.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 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” (Exodus 31:12-17).
The Sabbath is so important to God that He said that the Jews who did not keep it were to be put to death. These words were written on stone tablets by God’s own finger. Notice that it is a day of rest and that it is a sign between God and Israel.
This simple instruction that the Jews were to rest from work on the Sabbath was expanded into a list of rules—a list of 39 actions which define work. Then, those 39 actions were expanded upon so that observing the Sabbath by Jewish Law and tradition is quite an undertaking. Nobody was more meticulous about such things than the Pharisees.
The works required by the Law were vigorously enforced by them, but when Jesus—God incarnate—walked among men, He seems to have gone out of His way to challenge this Law as interpreted by the Pharisees. For instance, one day He and His disciples were hungry on the Sabbath:
“And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn” (Mark 2:23).
According to the oral law this act broke a number of laws: reaping, threshing, winnowing, and selecting for instance. Why would God, Jesus who gave the Law to Moses, break His own law? Jesus didn’t break any of the other laws such as stealing or committing adultery, so why pick on this one? He wasn’t breaking the Law but was making a strong point to the Pharisees, and to us.
“And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).
People need a day of rest and God approves of it, but turning it into religious works is not what God intended. Works cannot save anyone.
There were many instances when Jesus went against the Pharisees idea of keeping the Sabbath. Many times He healed people on the Sabbath, which was also prohibited. In fact, this is what angered the Pharisees enough to seek to destroy Him. One Sabbath Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand.
“And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him” (Mark 3:6).
If they had only understood who they were seeking to destroy they might have reconsidered their feelings. Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath is a day of rest given to man by God, not a day to prove how holy you are.
Eventually the Jews did have Jesus arrested and crucified, but instead of destroying Him like they intended, He was victorious. Because of His death, burial, and resurrection we who earnestly place our faith in Him will live eternally; Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus fulfilled the Law, but He did not destroy it.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18).
When Jesus did “work” on the Sabbath He was not breaking the Law; He was demonstrating that the Pharisees had missed the point of the Sabbath. It was not just another work of religion, but a day of rest.
After Jesus had ascended into Heaven the Apostles and other believers continued to share the Good News. Many Jews came to accept Christ as their Savior, but so did many Gentiles. This caused a problem. How could Gentiles be saved without first being under the Law?
“But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:23-25).
Paul, a self-described “Pharisee of Pharisees” recognized that the Law taught God’s “rules” and also the sacrifices required to atone for our inability to keep the Law. Christians are saved by grace through faith in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He paid our sin-debt in full. Works of the Law cannot save anyone, nor can any works of religion.
The question regarding Gentile believers was an important one and the Apostles came together to prayerfully decide what should be required of them. After much discussion Peter said:
“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:10-12).
Though the specific question being considered was whether Gentiles would have to be circumcised in order to be saved, Peter’s words bring into question the entire Law. After more discussion, James declared his thoughts:
“Wherefore my sentence is, that we not trouble them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20).
The Gentiles who turn to God – those who have earnestly accepted Christ as their Savior – need not first come under the Law. It is faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross that saves and not the Law or works.
Aside from having a day of rest it is important for Christians to have fellowship with other Christians. The writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to assemble together.
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
There is a strong need for Christians to meet together, but does this mean that if you sit in a pew for an hour or so one day a week you meet this need? Not really. Attending worship services, singing hymns of praise, and hearing a stirring sermon are important to Christian growth, but assembling together isn’t limited to one day a week. Everyday get-togethers with fellow Christians are important too.
This is one way we encourage each other and stay strong in our faith. Become a part of a home fellowship or host one, invite fellow Christians to your home for dinner and then talk about our Lord rather than the latest baseball scores, spend time with Christian friends and encourage each other to remain steady and true in following Christ. These are all ways to assemble together in addition to formal worship services.
So, the question remains, when to we worship? Do we worship on the Sabbath (sundown Friday through sundown Saturday)? Do we worship on Sunday (the first day of the week recognizing that Jesus arose from the grave on that day)? Paul wrote:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
If you are a doctor and are busy healing people from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday, or even on Sunday, are you going against God? If you work in a restaurant and feed people on the Sabbath or on Sunday, should you change jobs? Christians look to Jesus, the Creator of all things, for our example of rest. Don’t get tangled up in works by setting rules as to what you do on a certain day of the week, but do take one day to rest.
Turn off the alarm clock, spend time with your family, and relax. Are you breaking God’s Law if you work on the Sabbath or on Sunday? Jesus (the Author of the Law given to Moses) did “work” on the Sabbath. Following Christ’s example we can harvest grain, prepare meals, etc. any day, but we need a day to rest.
Still the question is when do we worship? The answer is every hour of every day.
“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Assemble together often with fellow believers and encourage each other to walk in the ways of the Lord. Take a day and rest, but praise and worship Him always.
God bless you all,