The Christian Day of Worship
February 13th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
Law, Lord's Day, Sabbath, Sunday, Worship, Great Doctrines of the Bible: Practical Theology, 1983, Romans
THE CHRISTIAN DAY OF WORSHIP
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-13-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And we welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing the hour with us on radio and on television. Now today, the closing message on the Christian life. It concerns The Christian Day of Worship. And, as a background text, Paul wrote in Romans 14:5-6, Romans 14:5-6:
One man esteemeth one day above another; another man esteemeth every day alike. Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind.
He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.
That is an amazing pronouncement, when you consider the tremendous emphasis of the Jewish faith upon the Sabbath days [Exodus 31:13-14]. The first-century Christians, Peter and Paul and James, the Lord’s brother, who was pastor of the church in Jerusalem, and the early disciples, they were engaged in a fierce controversy concerning the relationship of the new Christian faith to the old Judaistic religion. Just exactly what does circumcision, and all of the feast days, and the Sabbath days, and the ordinances and the ceremonies and the institutions and the traditions of Judaism have to do with Christianity?
The bitterness of that controversy is illustrated in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 15]. So violent and divisive was the confrontation, that they called an assembly, a council of all the leaders of Christendom in Jerusalem, and addressed themselves to that task: what shall the Christian do with Judaistic institutions and ceremonies and rites and observances? And in the tenth verse of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Simon Peter is quoted as saying:
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of these new Christians, 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.
The apostle is avowing that, if a man trusts Christ, gives his life and heart to Christ, he doesn’t need any of the works, or ceremonies, or institutions, or traditions, or observances of Judaism. You don’t need to be circumcised. You don’t need to keep all of the ceremonies and rites and rituals. You are saved through Jesus our Lord, and Him alone. And the apostle Peter refers to all of those Judaistic practices as a “yoke which neither our fathers nor we are able to bear” [Acts 15:10].
One of the traditions and laws of the Judaistic faith concerned Sabbath days. For example, the apostle Paul will write to the churches of Galatia, who were being pressed by Judaizers to add to their Christian faith all of the rites of Judaism. He says to them:
After that ye have known God . . . how turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.
Not only does Simon Peter refer to those rites and rituals and observances of Judaism as a “yoke” [Acts 15:10], but the apostle Paul refers to them as “to be again in bondage” [Galatians 4:9], in slavery. Then Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-17, the passage of our text last Sunday morning:
Let no man therefore judge you—
krinō, “sit in judgment upon you, impose his opinion upon you”—
with regard to what you eat, clean and unclean, what you drink, a holiday, a holyday, or a new moon, or of the Sabbath days;
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the reality is Christ.
Well, I could easily understand, as you can, the lack of knowing what to do about all of the laws and institutions of the Old Testament, which was the only Bible that they had. Now that Sabbath day is precisely and exactly, by the voice of the Lord, a sign given to the children of Israel, and just to them, as a sign between Jehovah God and His people, Israel. In the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Exodus:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying . . .
Verily ye shall keep My Sabbath: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations . . .
And every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death.
And he repeats that in the next verse: “Whosoever shall do any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” [Exodus 31:15].
And in Numbers 15:32-36, there is the story of a Jewish execution which was by stoning. They executed a man who had gathered sticks to light a fire on the Sabbath day. Then the passage closes, “The Sabbath is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever” [Exodus 31:17]. If you are a Jew, you are under commandment to keep the Sabbath day. It is a sign that you are a Jew and that the law of God has been given to you, to the Jew.
Well, the implementation of that law of the Sabbath was endless in its casuistry, in its legal ramifications: what you could do and what you couldn’t do on the Sabbath day. Peter referred to it as a yoke [Acts 15:10]. Paul referred to it as a bondage, as slavery [Galatians 4:9]. And our Lord was crucified, rejected first by His people [John 1:11], and then put to death [Mark 15:27], because He broke the Sabbath day [John 9:14, 16].
In the second chapter of the Book of Mark, you have an introduction of our Lord’s attitude toward that Sabbath day: “And Jesus 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]. Now I haven’t time—though I prepared it in my sermon—to illustrate that, in what the Lord did on the Sabbath day, that created such a furor and such a bitterness of opposition on the part of Judaistic leaders. Well, when Peter and Paul refer to the bondage into slavery of the Sabbath day [Acts 15:10; Galatians 4:9], we who are liberated from it have no idea what it was like.
For example, I have copied out of the Palestinian Talmud. There were two Talmuds. There is a Babylonian Talmud, which was made up of the Mishnah and the Babylonian Gemara, the discussions and commentaries on the laws of the Jewish people called the Mishnah. Then, there is the Mishnah and the Palestinian, the Jerusalem Gemara, the discussions of the rabbis through the generations and the generations, first oral and now written down concerning what the rabbis thought about the laws of God, created there in the Mishnah.
Now there are two tractates in the Mishnah on the Sabbath day. There was no institution more important or significant in Judaism than keeping a Sabbath day. So in the Gemara, in the Palestinian Talmud, why, they write these things. I don’t have time to read all of these. But, I’m going to pick out just some of them, for you to see why it is that they call the Sabbath day a yoke and a bondage and servitude.
Here are the ramifications of the application of the Sabbath law:
- If an object is thrown into the air and caught with the same hand, this is not sin. But, if the object is tossed into the air and caught with a mouth, that involves sin.
- If a man carries rainwater, which he caught as it fell from the sky, that’s not sin. But if the rainwater was caught as it ran down a wall—to carry that is sin.
- If a person were in one place and his hand filled with fruit stretched into another and the Sabbath overtook him in this stance, he must drop the fruit, since, if he withdrew his full hand from one locality into another, he would be carrying a burden on the Sabbath day.
- Again, if, on the Sabbath, a flea of any kind gets on a man, it must not be removed, for that is the same as hunting on the Sabbath day.
- Unless a lamp light is extinguished for fear of the Gentiles or robbers or evil spirits, it may not be blown out on the Sabbath day.
For you beautiful women:
- Women are forbidden to look in a mirror on the Sabbath day, because they might discover a gray hair and attempt to pull it out, which is a grievous sin.
- A person may go about on the Sabbath day with wadding in his ear. But, he cannot go about on the Sabbath day with false teeth. If he goes around on the Sabbath day with false teeth, they might fall out and the wearer might then lift and carry them, which would be sinful on the Sabbath day.
- If a hen lays an egg on the Sabbath day, the egg is forbidden. You can’t eat it. If, however, the hen had been kept not for laying, but for fattening, the egg can be eaten, as forming a part of a hen that has fallen off.
- No wound may be dressed nor any medical application be made to a wound on the Sabbath day.
- The throat may not be gargled on the Sabbath.
- Bones may not be set nor any medical or surgical operation performed on the Sabbath day.
- Again, if a wall falls on a man and it is ascertained that he is dead, the ruins and rubbish of the wall cannot be removed, to extricate the body, on the Sabbath day.
- And, again, the eyes of the dying and the dead cannot be closed on the Sabbath day.
And there are thousands of those rules. That’s why Peter referred to it as a yoke [Acts 15:10], and that’s why Paul referred to it as a bondage [Galatians 4:9].
Now do you notice that he uses the word “Sabbath” in the plural? “Let no man sit in judgment upon you”—impose an opinion on you—”regarding clean and unclean and new moons and holy days and Sabbath days” [Colossians 2:16], plural.
Now I want you to look at what some Christian denominations do, who pick out the Sabbath law in the Old Testament and say, “You are to keep it.” But they ignore all of the other Sabbath laws that are in the same commandments of God.
Now you look at this:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of this month, shall be a Sabbath . . .
Ye shall do servile work, but make an offering . . . to the Lord.
Now in the thirty-ninth verse: “In the fifteenth day of the seventh month . . . ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a Sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a Sabbath” [Leviticus 23:39]. The first day of the seventh month is a Sabbath. The eighth day of the seventh month is a Sabbath. And the fifteenth day of the seventh month is a Sabbath. But not only that. I turn the page to the next chapter, the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Leviticus:
And the Lord spake unto Moses . . . saying . . . Six years thou shalt sow thy field . . .
But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the Lord.
[Leviticus 25: 1, 3-4]
Every seventh year is a Sabbath. And you are to do no work in that seventh year [Leviticus 25:4]. And not only that, but as I read on down in the eighth verse of that twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus:
Thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seventh sabbath of years shall be unto you forty and nine years . . .
And the fiftieth year shall be a Sabbath year called the Year of Jubilee.
[Leviticus 25:8, 11, 13]
Now what I cannot understand about certain religionists is this. Why do you read the Old Testament law and pick out this Sabbath to keep, but you don’t propose to keep the same Lord God in His law concerning the first day of the seventh month, the eighth day of the seventh month, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the seventh year of every seven years, and the fiftieth year of every seven sabbatical years, seven times seven? Why do you choose one and not the other?
And may I go further and say, if you are to regulate your life by the Old Testament law, what about circumcision? What about all of the institutions and traditions and laws and rites and ceremonies of the whole Old Testament? Why pick out just one and say, “You are to observe that one”—namely, in this instance, as we’re speaking this morning, a Sabbath day? Why do you pick out just one, when there are other Sabbath days just as holy and just as consecrated, and besides that, rites and rituals and ceremonies, world without number, that are in these institutions of God? That’s why the apostle Peter called it “a yoke that neither their fathers nor they could bear” [Acts 15:10]. And that’s why Paul referred to it as a bondage [Galatians 4:9].
Now the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week: there is no such thing in the Bible, and no such thing from God, as changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. The Sabbath day is an institution of the Lord God given to Israel alone as a sign between Him, Jehovah God, and His chosen people, Israel [Exodus 31:12-13, 17; Ezekiel 20:11-12, 20]. That is the first time the world ever saw a seven-week period, and the first time the world ever saw or heard of a Sabbath day, was when God gave it to Moses on Mount Sinai [Exodus 20:9-11, 31:13, 16-17].
There is no—I repeat—such thing in the Bible as the transference of a Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday. Sunday is another day. It’s a new day. It’s the first day of the week. It’s a resurrection day. It’s a triumphant day. It’s a victorious day. It’s a day of liberty. It’s a day of freedom. It’s a day of triumph.
And it is observed not by any commandment. There is no commandment to keep a Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, Sunday’s day. It is kept simply out of the overflowing gratitude of the heart for what Jesus has done for us in conquering sin and Death and the Grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57] and promising us everlasting, eternal, unending life with Him, both here and in heaven [John 10:27-30]. You don’t have any reason to observe the first day of the week, except it’s just something in our hearts to do for the love of Jesus.
I’m not exaggerating anything when I say to you we can have as fine a service here Tuesday night, Tuesday night with Bailey Smith, as we can Sunday night with me. Or, we can meet on Wednesday night, for our midweek prayer service, and have just as fine and moving a convocation of God’s people as on any Sunday.
There is no commandment to observe the Lord’s Day, none at all. We just do it out of the love of Jesus. We’re like sunflowers. It follows the sun, faces the sun, the east in the morning and will follow that sun all the way over until, as the sun sets in the west, the sunflowers are facing the west. They’re facing the sun; so with the Christian. It is just our loving the Lord Jesus, facing Him, wherever He is.
And Sunday is our day of jubilee. It’s our day of hallelujah. It’s our day of praise. It’s a day of song. It’s a day of prayer. It’s a day when we gather together to praise God and to thank the Lord for our wonderful Savior and what He is done for us. And, it arises out of the fullness of the heart. There’s no yoke. There’s no commandment. There’s no bondage in it. It’s just praise and gladness and hallelujah and thanksgiving to the Lord. That’s all that it is.
There are three tremendous memorials of our blessed Savior. One is baptism, that you saw a moment ago. That is His burial and His resurrection: baptism. The sixth chapter of the Book of Romans, we are buried with the Lord as He was buried. We are raised with the Lord as He was raised. It is a resurrection life, a new life, a regenerated life, a recreated life, that the Christian lives: a memorial in baptism [Romans 6:3-5].
The second memorial is a recurring ordinance of the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-26], where, “as oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye show forth the Lord’s death in remembrance of Him, until He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].
And the third memorial is the Lord’s Day. The sainted apostle John, on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], exiled to die of starvation and exposure—he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” [Revelation 1:10], though he is by himself. He was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” God’s day.
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the disciples of the Lord in Troas are gathered together to break bread together, and Paul preached to them until midnight [Acts 20:7]. Man, I like that: preached to them till midnight—that’s the Lord’s Day, the memorial of our Lord on the first day of the week.
Now may I speak for a moment? Is there any intimation, is there any figure or any type in the Old Testament, concerning this new day of worship, the first day of the week, Sunday’s day?
Oh yes, and beautiful they are: in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Leviticus [Leviticus 23], if we had time—I’d just give both of my arms and my life if we had time to expound the Word of God, just to look at it real good. These little brief moments we have are so transitory and ephemeral—in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Leviticus, there is given to us—in those first verses there is given to us a marvelous, wonderful, wonderful figure of our Lord. It says on the morrow after the Sabbath, after the Passover, on the morrow after the Sabbath, the priest is to appear before the Lord with the firstfruits of sheaves, and he is to wave it before the Lord [Leviticus 23:10-11].
That’s the first of the harvest, the barley harvest. And the first sheaf of the barley harvest is brought to the house of the Lord. And in the hands of the priest, and all the people gathered around in great convocation, he waves that firstfruits, it is called; he waves it before the Lord [Leviticus 23:11]. That is the sign and the hope that God is going to give us a great harvest. This is the firstfruits. And then the rest of the harvest will follow after. But this is the festival of the firstfruits, on the morrow after the Sabbath on Sunday [Leviticus 23:11].
And the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:23, he says that Christ is the firstfruits, He is the earnest and the harbinger of all of those who will follow after in their day and in their time. On Sunday, on the morrow after the Sabbath, our Savior is the first one who rose from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. He is the firstfruit, Paul said. And after Him and beyond Him will be all of those who have found faith and trust in Him [1 Corinthians 15:23]. He, the firstfruit; and afterward, we, in our day, in our time, and in our coming; one of the most beautiful figures and one of the most beautiful types in the Bible: Christ, the firstfruits; and, then, we, in our day, in our coming.
Then there’s another one: in the Bible, in the law of Moses, in Exodus 34, there is seven times seven Sabbaths [Exodus 34:22]. There are seven Sabbaths, and then the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath, the fiftieth day after Passover [Leviticus 23:10-21]. And there is a great word for it: pentekoste, the Greek word for “fifty,” on the fiftieth day [Acts 2:1].
And on that day there was a sheaf waved before the Lord signifying the ingathering of the harvest [Leviticus 23:17]. And on Pentecost the Holy Spirit of God came down and we had our first great ingathering [Acts 2:1-4]. There were three thousand souls added to the family of God that day [Acts 2:41]. What a beautiful and precious type and figure is Pentecost: the waving of the sheaf before the Lord, signifying the harvest of ingathering. That’s God. The Lord did that.
How beautiful it is in the Christian church. And it’s so ancient that nobody knows where it started. Seven times seven of those Sundays after Easter is Whitsunday, White Sunday, called Whitsunday because, on that Sunday, Whitsunday, the fiftieth day after Easter—on that Sunday, the catechumens, the candidates for baptism, were all dressed in white. They were to follow the Lord in baptism on that fiftieth day: Pentecost. So, they call it Whitsunday, white Sunday, because they all dressed in white.
Coming into the family, the ingathering, the harvest of the ingathering. God’s people brought in. I say, to me, it is beautiful indeed.
Christ sanctified the first Sunday by His triumph over death [Mark 16:2, 6]. And the Holy Spirit sanctified the first Sunday when He came down in power from heaven [Acts 2:1-4], the Promise of the Father [Luke 24:49], and we had our first great ingathering; the beauty and the festival of the harvest [Acts 2:41]. That’s the first day of the week. That’s Sunday. Not by commandment, but just out of an overflowing heart, waving the sheaf before the Lord, thanking God for the ingathering.
Now I have to close. There is a great, beautiful necessity for our observing the Lord’s Day. That week of seven days, a week of seven days God gave to Moses on Horeb [Leviticus 23:3], that’s where it came from. And that day of rest came from God in the beginning [Genesis 2:2, Exodus 20:8-11].
The Lord is still in His rest. He completed all of His creative works in six days [Genesis 2:1-3]. We also need a day of rest, a day of spiritual relaxation. And we need it for our souls’ sake. We gather in God’s house on the Lord’s Day, and we eat manna from heaven, angels’ food. We listen to an exposition of the Word of God and it is food for our souls, coming together, worshipping the Lord, praying, singing, making appeal, gathering our harvest. We need it.
Benjamin Disraeli was a Jewish Christian. He was the tremendously gifted and loved prime minister under Queen Victoria. She made him the first Earl of Beaconsfield. Benjamin Disraeli, this tremendous man, said, “Of all divine institutions, I maintain the most divine is that which secures a day of rest for man. I hold Sunday to be the most valuable blessing conceded to mankind. It is a cornerstone of all civilization.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica said, “Next to the Bible and the church, the Lord’s Day is the chief pillar of Christian society.” Blackstone, the incomparable legal mind who wrote the book that all lawyers study—Blackstone said, “A corruption of morals usually follows the profanation of the Lord’s Day.”
In 1776, General George Washington issued the following order, I quote it, “That the troops may have an opportunity of attending public worship,” the general excuses them from fatigue duty on Sundays. “We can have little hope of the blessings of heaven on our arms if we insult Sunday by our impiety and folly.” And Lincoln—I heard a man say, “I have never read anything about Lincoln but that I admired him the more for it”—Lincoln said, “The President, who is Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of” Sunday, the Lord’s Day [“Executive Order – General Order Respecting the Observance of the Sabbath Day in the Army and Navy,” November 15, 1862]. We need it, as a people, as a church, as a nation, and as a civilization.
First among all of the books of human literature is the Bible. First among all mankind is Jesus, our Lord. First among all of the institutions of human civilization is the church, the body of Christ [Colossians 1:18]. First among all the dollars God shall ever give us is the tithe that is holy unto the Lord [Leviticus 27:30, 32]. And first among the days of every week is the Lord’s day, Sunday’s day, God’s day, the day of the resurrection of our living Lord [Matthew 28:1-7] and the day of the ingathering of God’s people [Acts 2:1, 41].
Ah, sweet, precious friends in Christ, to have Sunday sacred for Jesus is one of the most enriching of all the endowments God could ever bestow upon us. That’s the reason I had you read Psalm 122: “I was glad, I was glad,” not burdened or in servitude or bondage, but out of the fullness of heart, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. May we stand together?
Our victorious and living Lord, the firstfruits of them that sleep, the first in triumph and victory to rise from the grave, immortalized, glorified; O wonderful Savior, what a promise God hath given to us. Precious Jesus, bless Thou the truth of the exposition of Thy Word by Thy servant this day. And our Master, may it be our joy to see a Pentecostal ingathering, the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of families and couples, and souls, bringing them to Thee and to us. And we thank Thee for it, dear, wonderful Savior, in Thy marvelous name, amen.
While we sing our song, in the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, down one of these stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand.” A thousand times welcome as you come, while we sing our song.