The Old Sabbath and the New Lord’s Day

The Old Sabbath and the New Lord’s Day

January 30th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM

Colossians 2:16-17

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.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Colossians 2:16-17

1-30-83    10:50 a.m.



This is the pastor of the First Baptist church in Dallas delivering the message entitled, The Old Sabbath and the New Lord’s Day.  It is a doctrinal sermon in that series on the Christian Life.  The text is in Colossians 2:16-17.

Colossians, the letter of Paul to the church at Colosse, chapter 2, 16 and 17 [Colossians 2:16-17], “Let no man therefore”—the “therefore” refers to what he said before, that we are not going to be saved by dead rituals and rites and ceremonies, but we are going to be saved by the life, the resurrected life of Jesus Christ [Colossians 2:9-14]; “Therefore let no man judge you,” krinō, “to sit in judgment,” to impose an opinion on somebody else.  “Let no man judge you” [Colossians 2:16].  We have an English word of that: “crisis.”  It is an exact spelling in English as it is in Greek, krisis, “a judgment,” a condemnation.  “Let no man therefore judge you,” sit in judgment upon you, impose an opinion upon you, “concerning meat” [Colossians 2:16].  [It] doesn’t matter what you eat; if the doctor says it is all right, eat it.  “Drink,” there is no special libations that are sanctified more than any other, “or a holyday or a new moon, or of a Sabbath: which are a shadow of things to come, but the reality, the body,” the life, the light, the hope, to heaven, the salvation, the everything, “is Christ our Lord” [Colossians 2:16-17]

The old Sabbath, the seventh day of the week; there are three memorials in the Bible to which the Sabbath is a part and a dedication.  Number one: the Sabbath day is a memorial of the cessation of the Lord God Creator from His work of creation.  Genesis chapter 2:

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]


Now  you would think God was tired; the seventh day, the Sabbath day, to man is a day of refreshment and rest.  So you think, God got tired; and after six days of labor, He refreshed Himself, He rested.  Oh, there is no such thought of that in the passage!  God does not get tired and He does not need to rest.  Do you remember the passage in Isaiah 40:28? “Hast thou not heard?  Hast thou not known, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary?”  He does not get tired and He does not need any rest, such as the Sabbath day became a day of rest. 

What it says here is that on the seventh day God ceased from His labor;  He finished all of creation, and He is now in His Sabbath day.  He has ceased from His labors [Genesis 2:2].  Everything that was made is here now and forever, and nothing is added,  nothing is taken away.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:7, “We brought nothing into this world, and we shall certainly take nothing out of it.”  God finished the creation of all substance and of all matter in six days.  Now they could be twenty-four hours, or they could be, as some think, great time periods; but in any event, God made it, and on the seventh day He ceased making anything else.  And everything that is made is here forever.  When you burn something up, you don’t destroy it, you just turn it into vapor and smoke and ash.  We cannot destroy anything, nor can we add to God’s created matter or substance.  That’s the memorial of the Sabbath day; it is to bring to our minds that God created this world and finished it, and He is now in cessation, in rest.  He does not create anything else; it is all done and finished. 

Number two: the Sabbath day is a memorial of the deliverance of God’s people from Egyptian bondage.  In the fifth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy there is listed  the Ten Commandments.  Twice are they listed: in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and the fifth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 5:7-21].  And in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 5 [Deuteronomy 5:15], God says, “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it” [Deuteronomy 5:12].  Then He gives a reason for it: “Remember,” verse 15, Deuteronomy 5, “that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence, through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm” therefore the Lord thy God commandeth thee to keep the Sabbath day” [Deuteronomy 5:15].  The Sabbath day is a memorial for the people of Israel to remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt, and God delivered them.  That is the second reason for the institution of the Sabbath day. 

The third reason for the institution of the Sabbath day: it is a memorial that God has chosen Israel to be His people.  It is an everlasting sign of the everlasting covenant between God and the Jew, Exodus 31:12:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

Speak thou 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 you may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you—

verse 16—

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—the Lord God—and the children of Israel forever.

[Exodus 31:12-13, 16-17]


Ezekiel, in chapter 20 repeats that covenant sign, that memorial of the Sabbath between God and Israel.  In Ezekiel chapter 20, verses 11 and 12: [Ezekiel 20:11-12].

I gave them My statutes, and showed them My judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them. 

Moreover also I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them—

verses 19 and 20, it is repeated again—

I am the Lord your God; walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments, and do them: 

And hallow My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God

[Ezekiel 20:11-12, 19-20]


The Sabbath is a sign, a covenant between God and His chosen people, the Jew.  It is the same thing as a woman wearing an engagement ring.  It is God’s engagement ring, the Sabbath, between Him and His people.  It is not given to the Gentiles.  It is given to Israel, the people chosen of the Lord.  And it is a sign of an everlasting covenant between God in heaven and His chosen people, Israel [Exodus 31:13, 16-17].  The Sabbath belongs to Israel alone.  In nowise is the engagement given to the Gentiles.  It is a sign between God and Israel. 

When we look at the nation of Israel, and when we look at the history of the people of the Lord, and especially in the Old Covenant—in the Old Testament, there are three institutions that were especially important and dear to the Jewish nation.  One was the temple.  That is why the Western Wall in Jerusalem is the most sacred place in the world to the Jew.  It is because that’s the closest he can get to the old temple.  Number two: dear to the Jew, a characterization of the Jew, is the distinction between clean and unclean.  It is a very prominent characteristic of the nation of Israel.  For example, if you go to Israel today and you stay in a hotel there, there will be a kitchen with dishes and utensils that are dedicated to dairy products, to milk.  There will be another kitchen and other dishes and other utensils dedicated to the use of meat.  The distinction between clean and unclean, between how you eat and what you eat is very much a characteristic of the Jewish nation. 

The third distinct characteristic of the Jewish nation, and the most distinctive of all, is the Sabbath.  There could not be anything in Jewish life more important than the keeping of the Sabbath.  In the Mishnah there are two long tractates on the Sabbath.  And the Mishnah with the Babylonian Gemara make the Babylonian Talmud.  And the Mishnah, with its Gemara, is long and involved discussions concerning the Sabbath day.  The Mishnah and the Palestinian Gemara make the Palestinian Talmud.  And here again, in the Gemara are long and involved discussions by the rabbis concerning the tractate of the Sabbath in the Mishnah.  There is not anything more emphasized, more important in Jewish life, in the Jewish nation than Shabbat, than the Sabbath.  Not only is that true with regard to the Jew and himself, the Sabbath day, but it is by far the most distinctive badge of Judaism, keeping a Sabbath day.  There are other nations that had temples and priests and altars and sacrifices and even circumcision, but no other nation and no other people and no other religion ever had a Sabbath day, just the Jew.  And wherever he went in the world, it was very distinct, his keeping a Sabbath day.  In the Maccabean revolt described in 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha, Antiochus Epiphanes found that the Jew would not fight on the Sabbath day, and he nearly decimated them.  And they made a new rule, that if they were attacked, the Jew could defend himself on the Sabbath day.  In the Roman Empire, the Jew was exempt from military service because he would not go to war on the Sabbath day.  Wherever he went, the most distinct badge and characteristic of the Jew was his keeping a Sabbath day. 

Now the Sabbath originated with the Jew; and in the history of the Jew, the Sabbath originated on Mount Sinai with Moses [Exodus 20:8, 31:13].  Before Moses and before Mount Sinai, there was no such thing as a Sabbath for men.  It was a day set apart as a sign between God and the Jewish people, and it was given to the Jew.  And the first time the world ever heard about it was by Moses on Mount Sinai.  Let me give you an instance: when you read about the Sabbath in encyclopedias and theological tomes, why, you will find certain men who will try to find an origin of a Sabbath day in the ancient cultures, of say, the Sumerians, or the Akkadians, or the Chaldeans, or the Babylonians, or the Assyrians, or the Egyptians.  They are foolish, and their efforts are bankrupt and sterile.  There is no such thing as a Sabbath in any national life, in any culture, in any religion, in any ancient nation, in all human history.  It did not exist.  There is not a hint in any culture that it ever existed.  It was instituted by Moses on Mount Sinai in the Sinaitic Desert.  That is where it came from [Exodus 20:8, 31:13]

Many nations had many things shared by the Jewish religious offerings before God: they also had temples; they also had altars; they also had offerings, and sacrifices, and priests; they even had circumcision.  But the only nation in the world that has ever had a Sabbath is the Jewish nation.  And it began, I say, according to the Word of God, on Mount Sinai.  In Deuteronomy 5, in which I say is listed the Ten Commandments, verses 2 and 3 read:


The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb—

in Sinai—

The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers,

but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive and present today.

 [Deuteronomy 5:2, 3]


From Adam to Moses there was no Sabbath, nor a hint of one.  They had tithes, they had circumcision, they had altars and sacrifices, but they never had a Sabbath.  Moses says between Adam and that covenant day there was no Sabbath.  It was unique to Moses on Mount Sinai in that day that God gave to Israel that sign between Himself and the people of Israel [Exodus 20:8, 31:13]

Well, one of the oldest books in the world is Job.  And in Job you will read about the creation, you will read about the flood, you will read about many human obligations we have to God, but you will never read about a Sabbath.  A Sabbath day was instituted by Moses on Mount Sinai as a sign and a covenant between the Lord God and His people, Israel. 

And it carried with it the penalty of death upon its infringement.  In Exodus 35:3, “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.”  Then in Numbers chapter 15, beginning in verse 32:


And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.

He’s going to build a fire.

And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 

And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. 

[Numbers 15:32-34]


God said, “You are not to light a fire on the Sabbath day” [Exodus 35:3], and this man was gathering sticks to build a fire.  “What should we do with him?”

And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. 

And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

[Numbers 15:35-36]


This is the Sabbath day.  It belongs alone and peculiarly to Israel, and it carried with it a heavy penalty for infringement, for breaking it, for disobedience.  That is the old Sabbath.  If you are a Jew, you are to keep the Sabbath day.  It is a command of God [Exodus 20:8-11], and it is a sign of God’s covenant with you, the Jew, an everlasting covenant [Exodus 31:13, 16-17].  That is the old Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. 

Now the Christian and his relationship to the Sabbath day: if you are a Jew and a practicing Jew, you owe it to God to keep the Sabbath day; but if you are a Christian, you are interdicted from keeping the Sabbath day.  This is my text, “Let no man judge you,” impose an opinion upon you, “regarding what you eat” [Colossians 2:16].  If you want to eat pork and the doctor says it is all right, there is nothing religiously wrong with a Christian eating pork.  The more you eat, the quicker you will get to heaven, but that is all right, nothing wrong with getting to heaven.  “Or a new moon, or a Sabbath day” [Colossians 2:16].  There is no such thing as a Christian Sabbath, you might as well say, “he is a white black man.”  They are contradictory in terms; a Christian Sabbath is an idiotic expression; the Sabbath refers to the Jew, the sign of the covenant of God with the Jew forever.  The first day of the week is the Christian Lord’s Day, and it moves in another world. 

That, therefore, Paul is writing in his text: the Sabbath is a memorial of the old legal system, of the Old Testament, [Colossians 2:16-17], “Do this and thou shalt live” [Luke 10:27-28].  The first day of the week, the Christian’s day of worship is a memorial of the system of grace, “Believe this, trust in this and thou shalt live” [Romans 10:8-13].  They move in two different worlds. 

Now why would Paul write so vigorously concerning an interdiction of keeping a Sabbath day? [Colossians 2:16-17].  When you think of it carefully, there is something that you will remember: on the Sabbath day, you look upon a dead Christ.  He is in the tomb on the Sabbath day.  The silence and the cerements of the grave have encompassed Him; He is dead.  And if we observe a Sabbath day, we are joining hands with the Roman guard to keep Him in the cerecloth, and in the cerements, and in the tomb of the dead; the Sabbath day, Jesus was dead! [Luke 23:52-56].  There is a Sabbath day between the old dispensation of the law and the new dispensation of grace; there is a dead Christ in the tomb, in silence, in death.  Not only that, but in the presentation of this glorious faith of the New Testament, all of the moral law is included.  All of it is included, and reiterated, and exhorted in the New Testament, all of it.  The first commandment [Exodus 20:3], is found in 1 Timothy 2:5. The second commandment [Exodus 20:4-6], is found in 1 Corinthians 10:7.  The third commandment [Exodus 20:7], is found in James 5:12.  The fifth commandment [Exodus 20:12], in Ephesians 6:2.  The sixth commandment [Exodus 20:13], 1 John 3:15.  The seventh commandment [Exodus 20:14], in Hebrews 13:4.  The eighth commandment [Exodus 20:15], in Ephesians 4:28.  The ninth commandment [Exodus 20:16], in Colossians 3:9.  The tenth commandment [Exodus 20:17], in Ephesians 5:3 and 5.  But you will never find any reference to any exhortation concerning the fourth commandment [Exodus 20:8]—the Sabbath day.  It lies in another world, in another dispensation.  The Christian keeping a Sabbath day is an anomaly; it is unthinkable, it isn’t in the Bible. 

Well, what is this first day of the week, the Christian’s day of love and worship?  This is the celebration and the memorial of a new creation.  “Behold!”  God says, “I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5].  Going to have a new life, a new love, a new hope, a new persuasion; going to have a new heaven and a new earth someday; going to have a new home, a New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-3].  The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day, the Christian’s day of triumph and glory.  Its morning opens with the song of the angels, with an empty tomb, with a resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7].  That is the Lord’s Day. 

Ah, what a glory when the sun shown on that empty tomb and the angel said, “He is not here: for He is risen, as He said… and He goes before you into Galilee; there shall you see Him” [Matthew 28:6, 7].  And the Christian, out of deepest love and affection, gives the day to our Lord.  There are no tractates concerning the observance of the Lord’s Day.  It is given to Christ out of the fullness of our souls and out of the love of our hearts.  Our souls can hear the music of the angels as they sing over the triumph of our risen Lord.  And our hearts can see the expanding horizons of the Christian faith and the glories of a new heaven.  And out of the fullness of our souls and lives and the love of our deepest being, we give the day to the Lord Jesus. 

On the first day of the week, on Sunday, He appeared to Mary Magdalene [Matthew 28:1]; on the first day of the week, on Sunday, He appeared to all of those holy and sanctified and godly women [Matthew 28:9-10].  On the first day of the week, He appeared on Sunday to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34].  On the first day of the week, He appeared to Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-32].  On the first day of the week, He appeared to the ten disciples [Luke 24:36-43], on Sunday, the first day of the week.  On a following Sunday He appeared to the eleven, Thomas being present [John 20:26-31].  On the first day of the week, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the church met together to break bread, to observe the Lord’s Supper [Acts 20:7].  On the first day of the week, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, the people of Christ came and brought their offerings for the work of the Lord.  On the first day of the week, on Sunday, the apostle John in about 95 to 98 AD “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.”  Even though he was alone, by himself in exile, there to die of exposure and starvation, “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” [Revelation 1:10], he saw Jesus glorified [Revelation 1:10-18]. 

In about a 110 AD, Pliny the Younger, the governor, the Roman governor of Bithynia, the province just south of the Black Sea—Pliny the Younger wrote Trajan, the Roman emperor at Rome saying, “I need a directive on what to do.  For the temples in Bithynia are emptied, and the people are worshiping the Lord Christ.”  And Pliny in the letter says, “They gather on Sunday, the first day of the week, to sing praises to the Lord Jesus.”  I only have one objection to that letter.  Why didn’t he say they gathered on the first day of the week to hear the pastor preach for hours and hours?  But all he says in his letter to Trajan is that the Christians gathered together on the first day of the week in order to sing praises to the Lord Jesus.  And they had literally emptied, he says, the Greek temples. 

On the first day of the week in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the people are gathered together, and Paul is preaching to them.  And he preaches until past midnight [Acts 20:7].  Now, you remember that?  Now when I preach I don’t want anybody to come up to me, and say, “Pastor, I tell you, you are getting longer and longer and longer and more verbose.”  Man, alive!  You be grateful you are out at 12:30 or 12:45; Paul preached till past midnight!  That’s the Christian day of praise and it is a glorious day; it belongs to our risen Lord.  And we shouldn’t secularize it.  We shouldn’t defame it, or deface it, or disgrace it, or disregard it: it belongs to Jesus.  It is a time of remembering Him, especially and particularly in our pilgrimage from earth to heaven.  It is a prototype of glory; that is what we’re going to do forever, to sing His praises and to rejoice in the Lord. 

And I cannot think how it would be without a Lord’s Day, without Sunday.  It is like thinking of a world without music, without flowers, without love, without light, without hope; a Lord’s Day.  Far back as I can remember, we dressed up, even though we were as poor as any family you could ever know.  We dressed up in the best clothes we had and went to the house of the Lord; far back as I can remember.  I still have special clothes that I wear just on Sunday.  I just feel good that way.  These shoes you see I have on, they are my preaching shoes.  I don’t wear them any other time.  They are my preaching shoes. I dress up best I know how and go to church on Sunday.  I just love the thought of it.

When I was in India, the thing I missed the most in India was they don’t have a Lord’s Day; all seven days are just alike, seven of them.  I miss most the Lord’s Day. And to keep it sacred for Jesus, and to give it to our Lord, and to come together and sing, and pray, and listen to the reading of the Word; and I pray God to bless my heart and mind as I try to expound it.  O God, what a preciousness!  What does the psalmist say?  “This is the day the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it” [Psalm 118:24].

And this is the day when we give appeal—especially, particularly, unusually, prayerfully, emphatically, lovingly, tenderly, preciously—this is the day when we make appeal for these to whom we have witnessed, that they come before the congregation and avow openly and publicly their love for our Lord and their commitment to Him.

And every Lord’s Day you see here, in all three services, the beautiful response of those whom we have loved and prayed for during the days of the week, before men and before angels standing to confess our love and faith in the Lord Jesus, and that time is now.

A family, a couple, a one somebody you, a one anybody you, giving your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], or following our blessed Savior in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], or coming into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], or answering the appeal of the Holy Spirit in your heart: “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and we are on the way.”  May angels attend you and the Spirit of God bless you as you come.  Now may we stand in prayer?

Our Father, what a beautiful gift when Jesus came to deliver us from the bondage and the yoke of a thousand empty ceremonies and rituals, the keeping of ordinances that could never save us.  He took them all and nailed them to the cross [Colossians 2:14].  And He raised us from the dead [Colossians 2:13].  O God, praise the name of Him who quickened us and made us alive; loving Jesus, resurrected with Him [Ephesians 2:1, 4-8].  O God how could we praise Thee enough?  Where is the song that adequately could sing it?  Where is the word that could adequately describe it?  Where is the sermon that could commensurately preach it?  Our hearts overflow.  Lord, Lord, You are so aboundingly good to us.

And in this precious moment, on the Lord’s Day, when God’s people are gathered together in His wonderful name, “Pastor, we are coming.  Extend your hand, welcome us, we are on the way.”  And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy saving, and keeping, and wonderful name, amen.  While we sing our song, a thousand times welcome; come.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          The meaning of the old Sabbath

A.  Memorial
of the cessation of God from His work of creation (Genesis

It was not because He was tired (Isaiah 40:28)

He finished all of creation; nothing is added or taken away (1 Timothy 6:7)

B.  Memorial
of the deliverance of God’s people from Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 5:12, 15)

Memorial that God has chosen Israel to be His people (Exodus 31:12-17, Ezekiel 20:11-20)

Covenant sign to Israel, not to the Gentiles

II.         The Sabbath a Jewish institution

A.   Three institutions
especially important to the Jewish nation

B.   The most distinctive
badge and characteristic of Judaism

C.   Instituted on Mount
Sinai with Moses (Deuteronomy 5:1-3)

1.    Carried with it
the penalty of death upon its infringement (Exodus
35:3, Numbers 15:32-36)

III.        The Christian and the Jewish Sabbath

A.   We are never to
confuse the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day

1.    Positively
interdicted (Colossians 2:16-17)

a.    Sabbath, the
seventh day, a part of the old legal system

b.    Christian Lord’s
Daya memorial of the system of grace

2.    The Sabbath the
day of a dead Christ – He is in the tomb

3.    All the moral
law is included in the New Testament, except Sabbath (1 Timothy 2:5, 1 Corinthians 10:7, James 5:12, Ephesians 6:2, 1 John
3:15, Hebrews 13:4, Ephesians 4:28, Colossians 3:9, Ephesians 5:3, 5)

B.   First day of the week
the celebration and memorial of a new creation (2
Corinthians 5:17, Matthew 28:6-7)

1.No tractates; it is
given out of the fullness of our souls and lives

2.  Early
Christians eager to give it to Christ(Acts 20:7,
1 Corinthians 16:2, Revelation 1:10, Psalm 118:24)