Most Christians today recognize Sunday as the Lord’s day, a day to attend church and worship God. However, since World War II, the significance of observing Sunday as a “holy” day has dropped dramatically. Yes, church bells still ring and people attend church on Sunday morning, but Sunday afternoon is considered a holiday instead of a holy day. The Bible teaches that God Himself, blessed the Lord’s day, called it holy and rested from His work the entire day. If God rested the entire day, then shouldn’t we observe the Lord’s day all day? Has our society become so degraded that we no longer know what holy and sacred means? Does worshipping God on His holy day include shopping, conducting business, washing the car, watching TV, mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, attending ball games or skiing? Many Christians believe it does. But, what was God’s intention for His holy day? Answers to these and other questions about the Lord’s day are found only in the Bible.
The Lord’s Day Created
At Creation, the Lord set aside one day of the week that belongs to Him. He included a seventh-day in the weekly cycle at the time of Creation for the benefit of man. So, the Lord’s day is as old as our world and God designated it to be special. He did not make the first six days of the week holy. Notice this verse:“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”(Genesis 2:2-3) This verse states that the Lord only made one day of the week holy at the time of Creation. Webster says the word holy means “to set apart” or “to make unique.” For example, when a couple marries, God makes their relationship holy and they are “set apart” from the dating crowd. In like manner, God “set apart” the seventh-day of the week from the other six days of the week. God rested on the seventh day from His work of creating our world, He blessed the seventh day and then declared it holy. If God Himself rested from His labors on the seventh-day, what do you think He required Adam and Eve to do each week? Consider this profound point: There is a direct link between observing the Lord’s day and honoring the Lord. If His people do not carefully observe the Lord’s day, they will eventually forget the Lord. Two Biblical examples illustrate this point. First, the antediluvians forgot God and His laws governing the universe, which include His weekly day of rest; and second, the nation of Israel also forgot God and His holy day. (See Genesis 6:5-6, 2 Peter 3 and Ezekiel 28.) If history proves anything, it proves that it does not take long for succeeding generations to forget the Lord. The time period from Adam's creation until the flood is a mere ten generations. In that short span of time, mankind became so wicked that God grieved that He had created man. By the time of Noah’s birth, the world had forgotten God. Is it fair to conclude that Adam’s descendants eventually neglected the Lord’s day? Is it any wonder that the antediluvians doubted the Lord’s promise to destroy the world with a flood?
Lord’s Day Renewed
Eight hundred years after the flood, God called Moses to lead Abraham's descendants from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. However, before God delivered Israel, He required the slaves to rest from their weekly labor on the seventh day of the week as a condition to obtain freedom. God’s demand was bitter-sweet. Naturally, every slave welcomed a day of rest. Every Hebrew also wanted to be delivered from Egyptian bondage. But, after Israel kept their first Sabbath, Pharaoh sensed he was losing control of the Hebrews. So, he required the slaves to produce the same quota of bricks in six days as they had produced in seven. In addition, he required them to also gather straw for the bricks as well! This unreasonable demand pushed the Hebrews beyond their physical ability and stamina. Their failure provided Pharaoh the “license” he needed to beat the Hebrew slaves unmercifully since they could not meet his demand for bricks. (See Exodus 5.)
Note:Scholars debate whether Moses and Aaron called for God’s seventh-day Sabbath to be observed, thereby causing a work stoppage. Even though the Bible does not specifically say that the slaves observed the seventh-day Sabbath, this question can be resolved in four texts:
- The language Pharaoh used supports the claim that Moses and Aaron had called upon Israel to rest from their usual labor. Pharaoh's words in Exodus 5:5,“...You make them rest from their labor”(KJV) or“...You are stopping them from working"(NIV) identify two points. First, Pharaoh blamed Moses and Aaron for leading the slaves to rest from their labor by emphasizing "You..." Second, the word for rest Pharaoh used was shabath (Strong's #7673). This is the same word and idea expressed in Genesis 2:2 when God "rested" or ceased His creative work on the seventh day. To suggest that God, through Moses and Aaron, told the Hebrews to rest from their labors on any day of the week other than His holy day is inconsistent with the events that soon followed in the wilderness.
- The Bible identifies only one holy day between Creation and the Exodus, the seventh day of the week. (Genesis 2:2,3)
- The Bible reveals that God tested Israel on their observance of His seventh-day rest before He spoke the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai. (See Exodus 16.) For example, God’s provision of manna proves two interesting things: First, Israel knew about God's seventh-day rest before He gave the Ten Commandments. Second, the holiness of the seventh-day was important to God before He spoke the Ten Commandments. God's intention for the seventh-day — that it was set apart and special — did not change between Creation and the Exodus.
- When the Lord spoke the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai, He expressly required observing the seventh-day as a day of rest. The fourth commandment begins with,“Remember the Sabbath day....”(Exodus 20:8) If Sabbath observance was a new concept of worship codified in the Ten Commandments at Sinai for the Hebrews, as some scholars maintain, why would the fourth commandment begin with the word"Remember?"The wording of the fourth commandment makes it clear, the holiness of the seventh day of the week did not suddenly begin at Mount Sinai. The holiness of the Lord's day, God's Sabbath rest, began at Creation and the patriarchs who walked and talked with God knew of the Creator's holy day. Also, the word "Sabbath" (Strong's #7676), in the fourth commandment, is a derivative of shabath — the word Pharaoh used when he accused Moses and Aaron of making the Hebrews rest from their labor. Further, God's caution to"Remember"His holy day is necessary for when it is neglected, people soon forget the Lord! Therefore, if we honor the Lord by keeping the Lord's day holy, we shall not forget the Lord!
As we carefully analyze these four points, it is obvious that the work stoppage caused by Moses and Aaron came because Israel elected to honor God and His Sabbath rather than submit to Pharaoh’s demands. Obedience to God and deliverance by God are inseparable. It is impossible for a person to knowingly disobey God and at the same time receive His favor. Moses told the Hebrew elders that deliverance from bondage was based on Israel’s submission to the God of Abraham. Israel’s faith in the Most High God was to be tested by observing God’s higher law and disobeying Pharaoh’s lower law. Further, when Moses explained to Israel’s leaders the corporate guilt of Israel, they earnestly sought reconciliation with God by asking Pharaoh for a three-day pass to offer sacrifices for atonement,“... or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.”(Exodus 5:3)
How Do We Observe the Lord’s Day?
Since I emphasize in my books and seminars the sacredness of the Lord’s Day, people often ask me how a person in today’s society can observe the Sabbath in an appropriate manner. To answer this question, we need to investigate this topic from two perspectives. First, we need to examine God’s law. Then, we need to investigate the intent of the law and the principles that surround the fulfilling of the law. Fortunately, the Bible explains how to observe the Lord’s day so we are not left to humanly devised schemes.
The Ten Commandments
The fourth commandment is the only commandment that requires man to do nothing at the right time each week! Here is the law:“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”(Exodus 20:8-11)
This command states four principles that should be carefully considered:
- Do not forget to set the seventh-day of the week apart from the other six.
- Do not work on the seventh-day.
- Do not allow others who are under your authority to work on the seventh-day, whether man or animal.
- The seventh-day belongs to God. It is the Lord’s Day because He rested on the seventh-day, blessed the seventh-day and made it holy.
God was very specific when He said, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Amazingly, some people say, “It does not matter which day of the week I worship on as long as I worship God.” God's law refutes this. Some people say, “I worship God every day of the week. Therefore, one day is just like any other — every day is the same.” God's law refutes this. Some people say, “The Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross and the observance of the seventh-day is a Jewish requirement — not for Christians. If the Sabbath commandment is so important, why is it not mentioned in the New Testament?” These statements are untrue. Jesus said,“...The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”(Mark 2:27,28) If Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (has dominion over the Sabbath), then He can tell us how and when to observe the Sabbath. If the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross, then God’s grace is no longer needed and we are not sinners. Sin is the violation of law. If there is no law, there can be no sin. (Romans 4:15) If the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross, then God has no law against adultery (and judging by what goes on today, many people really believe the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross). So, if there is no law, who needs grace from the penalty of a law that does not exist? The fourth commandment is mentioned in numerous places within the New Testament, including Hebrews 4. Paul clearly says:“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God, for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”(Hebrews 4:9,10)
Note:Many Christians believe the duties and sacredness of the seventh-day Sabbath were transferred to the first day of the week when Christ was resurrected. The Bible does not explicitly place man under any obligation pertaining to Sunday observance. Part II includes a presentation on the change from Sabbath to Sunday.
The law says,“You shall not do any work on the seventh-day...”This principle raises several questions. Primarily, what is meant by “work”? Work is defined as something we do for gain, something we do for survival, or something that we have to do. Does this “no work” commandment mean that we should stay in bed on the Lord’s Day? No. Instead, the fourth commandment means we should not do the work that we do during the week on the Sabbath.
How can a dairy farmer observe this commandment without causing injury to the cattle? How can a nurse keep the Lord’s Day when patients need his or her service in a hospital? How can a police officer keep the Lord’s Day when criminals (law-breakers) are at work every day of the week? How can a mechanic, responsible for generators that provide electricity to thousands of homes, take the Lord’s Day off? How can a cook in a nursing home observe the Lord’s Day when the elderly need food seven days a week? When God gave the fourth commandment, didn’t He anticipate the problems we would face in the twentieth century? Yes, of course. So, how can these situations be reconciled?
For a balanced perspective regarding this aspect of the fourth commandment, we need to look at how Jesus regarded the Lord’s Day. This is the first of three important texts:“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread - which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”(Matthew 12:1-8)
In this text, Jesus makes four points. First, gathering food to eat “on the way” is not necessarily a defiant violation of the Sabbath. In other words, there are some instances when one cannot prepare food for the Lord’s Day of rest. (See Exodus 16:23,24 for the basis of the Pharisee’s complaint.) Second, motive appears to be an important issue. Jesus illustrated this point by sharing how David and his men ate the “holy” bread that was in the tabernacle without offending God. Third, certain tasks may be performed on the Sabbath. Jesus used the work the temple priests did on the Sabbath (which desecrated the day) as an example. Even though the Sabbath was a busy work day for them, they were not guilty of contempt for God’s law. (Note: The priests rotated assignments so that no priest was continuously desecrating the Sabbath — see Luke 1:8.) Last, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because as Lord of Sabbath, He — not they — was in a position to interpret how man should observe the Sabbath.
The next text brings more understanding to the subject of Sabbath observance:“Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.”(Matthew 12:9-16)
From this text we glean two important points: First, Jesus did good for others on the Sabbath. He did not sleep the Sabbath away and pass the Lord’s Day in a hangover from having overworked on the previous six days. No, He used the Sabbath to minister to others. Second, Jesus affirmed again that there are certain matters that do not violate the intent of the Sabbath. If rescuing an animal is not a violation of the intent of the law, then rescuing a human being certainly is not offensive to God and not improper behavior in light of the fourth commandment.
This last text reveals two key issues dealing with the observation of the Lord’s Day. The setting is the rebuilding of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. He writes,“In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing - desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.”(Nehemiah 13:15-22)
These verses illustrate that conducting business on the Lord’s Day is offensive to God — whether it be for food or merchandise is immaterial. Like the Levites of old, we should “guard” the gates of our house in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Did you notice that Nehemiah clearly associates the wrath of God (the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzr) with the desecration of the Sabbath? Just as in Nehemiah’s day, I believe the basis of God’s coming wrath upon the world is due, in part, to the lack of respect for His holy day. When the Great Tribulation begins worldwide, then God’s authority will be placed in its proper perspective.
We honor God by resting on the Sabbath hours from our work. If we honor God, He will bless us. The Lord told Isaiah,“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”(Isaiah 58:13,14)
Observing the Lord’s Day
So, how do we solve the problems represented by the dairy farmer, the nurse, the cook, the police officer, etc.? What principles do we apply to these types of situations? Here is my view on the matter: The Lord’s Day is the Lord’s Day — all day long — from Friday’s sunset to Saturday’s sunset. (Genesis 1; Leviticus 23:32) The Sabbath was made for man. It was to be a day of rest and renewal each week, both physically and spiritually. Preparation for the observance of the Lord’s Day, as far as possible, will help us recognize God’s intended blessing. The weekly Sabbath is not for God’s benefit, but ours!
The Bible reveals that preparation for the Lord’s Day is important. In ancient times, the Jews did not have names for the days of the week. Instead, they used numbers, such as “the first”, or “the third day of the week.” After the Babylonian captivity, the sixth day of the week became known as “The Preparation” as it summarized the urgent importance of being prepared for the Lord’s Day. (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54)
So, the second principle mentioned in the fourth commandment is that any activity bringing the blessing of Sabbath to others is permissible on Sabbath. Sharing the blessing of Sabbath can be a good meal for a patient or helping victims from a tornado. Yes, the dairy farmer has to milk cows and the doctor must respond to an emergency. The nurse may need to render care and the preacher may work harder on the Lord’s Day than any other. BUT, the primary issue each of us must consider when trying to resolve this matter for ourselves is this: How can I best honor the Lord on His holy day? Yes, the dairy farmer should milk the cows, but should the barn be cleaned on the Lord’s Day? Yes, the doctor should rush to the hospital to care for a patient in an emergency situation, but should usual and customary services be provided on the Lord’s Day? The nurse can provide care for patients, but must he or she serve others on every Lord’s Day? The preacher has to serve people on the Lord’s Day, but does he or she have to preach every week? As a general statement, there are two basic principles for rendering service on the Lord’s Day: First, do not ruin God’s purpose for the Lord’s day with continual desecration. It is permissible to serve as emergencies warrant, but do not make it a customary process. Second, neither charge nor receive compensation for services rendered on the Lord’s day. When financial gain is taken out of the picture, “work” scheduling becomes quite clear. If, by law, you must be paid for services rendered on the Lord’s day, donate it to the Lord’s work since you used His day to earn that income. Third, Nehemiah’s actions clearly indicate that commerce on the Lord’s Day is offensive to God. As far as possible, do not buy and sell on the Lord’s Day. Conduct business at other times. Look at the big picture, we have six days — God has one. Live accordingly.
Therefore, spend the Lord’s day in activities that are physically, mentally and spiritually renewing. Worshipping God on His holy day is an invigorating and spiritually renewing exercise. We can make the Sabbath a delight for others by visiting the sick and the elderly, visiting those in prison, sharing music with nursing home residents, holding Bible studies in our home, or reading a Bible or character building story to a child. Emotional, physical and spiritual renewal can be enhanced by a hike in the woods or a drive to a scenic overlook. Each of these activities can promote re-creation in all three dimensions: physical, mental and spiritual. In His wisdom, the Lord does not mandate how His holy day is to be spent except to say that one must not work. Your relationship with the Lord will determine, to a great extent, how you spend His day and the benefit you will receive.
The fourth commandment says “Do not work others under your dominion whether man or animal on the seventh-day.” This concept raises some interesting questions. For instance, would it be fair of God to require His dominion (you and me) to work on the Lord’s Day while He rested? No, of course not. Instead, God’s Kingdom works this way: If God, the Ruler of all the Universe, gives rest to His servants each week, then it is altogether fitting that you, His Earthly servants, give your dominion rest as well.
Perhaps the most often asked question regarding this element of the fourth commandment is the question of “eating out” on the Lord’s Day. Does “eating out” violate the intent of the fourth commandment? Yes and No. Yes, if you allow yourself to become too busy and neglect to prepare for the Sabbath. No, if circumstances (such as travel or emergency) prohibit you from preparing food for the Sabbath. The underlying principle is this: God has one day, we have six. Live accordingly.
The seventh-day belongs to God. It is called the Lord’s Day because He rested on the seventh-day and blessed the seventh-day and made it holy. A wonderful experience awaits those individuals who are willing to take God at His word and honor Him by keeping the Lord’s Day. Here is how it works:
To properly observe the Lord’s Day is a challenge and according to the prophecies of Revelation, it will become increasingly difficult as time draws to an end. For some people, the commitment to keep the Lord’s Day holy has meant the loss of income, job or career. Other people have faced rejection and ridicule by family members and friends. Keeping the Lord’s Day always puts a person at odds with the pace or activities of the world. When you personally experience this kind of conflict, it is often difficult to believe that God has a purpose behind all the struggles you face regarding His holy day. Yet, from the very beginning of time, God’s purpose for creating a day for Himself, included a PLAN which is far more encompassing than most people realize. Not only does it bring rest to the faith-full who are weary from their weekly labors, the Lord’s Day will become the definitive test of faith to determine who trusts God implicitly during the Great Tribulation. The command to rest sounds so easy, but in fact, it becomes hard because it is a test of faith. The devil has made sure that the seventh-day, the Lord’s Day, has been forgotten by most of the world. In its place, he has developed two spurious days — one for the East (Friday) and one for the West (Sunday). But, there is still no rest on this planet! However, there is a wonderful experience behind the command to keep the Lord’s Day holy: If we rest according to the commandment of God on His holy day, He sustains all that we laid down for 24 hours so that when resume our activities, not one thing will be lost or hurt. If it is the charge of every faithful steward to see that the King suffers no loss when He arrives, what can be said of the Faithful King who personally sees to it that every faithful steward is rewarded for his faithfulness?
Those who honor the Lord’s Day, know God. Those who enter into God’s rest each week are His true Israel. (Galatians 3:28,29) This is why He said:“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.’”(Exodus 31:16,17)
The obligation to observe the Lord’s Day is both timeless and universal. Many individuals do not regard the Lord’s Day as they should. The race to make more money and capture market share are powerful economic forces that push God out of our weekly cycle. Overextended people use what available free time they have for pleasure and entertainment. This leaves very little time for God. A nation without God is a nation in moral darkness. Further, most people are not aware of the requirements in the Ten Commandments. They do not concern themselves with the law of Almighty God. This point is self-evident each time we hear the news. We have become a lawless society. Why? “If I were called upon to identify the principal trait of the entire 20th century, I would be unable to find anything more precise than to reflect once again on how we have lost touch with our Creator.... Men have forgotten God” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Reader’s Digest, September 1986).
Think about this: If a person is caught breaking the law, even though he innocently thinks that he is “within the law,” the arresting officer will tell him or her that ignorance of the law is no excuse. If this is true of man-made laws, what can be said of the law of God? When the Great Tribulation begins, billions of people will be surprised at God’s response to our world’s corporate ignorance and disobedience. So, why not begin exercising your faith and honor the Lord on His holy day. Enter into an experiment with God and watch what He will to do to honor your faith!