Can you imagine the confusion, though, if one day as people walk up to the towering Washington Monument they see a sign on it that says "Lincoln Monument" or "Jefferson Monument"? They would demand to know what happened, and they wouldn't take a simple "It was changed" for an answer. They would want to know when, and by whom, and they would demand to see an official act of Congress making the change. Nothing else would suffice.
So it is with the Sabbath that we have been discussing for the last three broadcasts. Some people claim that it has been changed to Sunday. But we have a right to demand to see where and when the change was made. And if the change was made by any less than Jesus Himself, or at least by His immediate followers, the New Testament Bible writers, we would rightly consider it invalid. So what does the Bible say about Sunday, the first day of the week? Is there any spiritual significance attached to it in God's Word? Let us see.
We discussed in our last broadcast that Christ's example from the beginning to the end of His ministry was a Sabbathkeeping example. As we would walk down the street there in Nazareth on a Friday afternoon, we would have seen Jesus and Joseph scurrying about the carpenter shop putting things in order and then closing the door as the sun sank low in the west, for Christ's example was a Sabbathkeeping example. We read that in Luke 4:16, you remember. We discovered a couple of other things that I want us to review for just a moment before we launch into our study. We discovered first of all that the Sabbath was given to man, not just to the Jews, but to man, way back there in the Garden of Eden, because it was part of creation week. While we believe that God is the Creator, we discovered that it was Jesus Christ who was the active agent of creation. Then we read from the Ten Commandments and we discovered there that the very commandment that men forgot is the one that God said to remember. We discovered also that the Ten Commandments is the only part of the Bible written by God's own finger.
Now, the dilemma that we face is that with the counsel of Scripture so crystal clear that we could not misunderstand, why is it that we have two camps in the Christian world, one that believes the first day of the week is the day that Christians ought to observe, the other that believes the seventh day is the Sabbath of Christians, even in post-resurrection time? How can we know which is right?
We have already discovered that we are not concerned with what any church teaches. We are concerned only about what the Word of God says. That is our authority, friend. That is the only place we can turn for help, for security, for a foundation for our faith. We must have a "Thus saith the Lord" and "It is written" for every practice in our Christian experience.
The first day of the week as a day of worship has been quite widely accepted in the Christian world, as you know. But the question which confronts us is, Why? Surely there must be a reason. Why is it that the majority of Christians admittedly observe a day other than the seventh day of the week? If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then it goes without saying that we are going to take as authority for our belief the Word of God. If that is true, then it is only logical to conclude that we must find a Bible reason for setting aside a day that is so plainly spoken of in Scripture. And so the thing we want to do is to examine for just a few moments the basis on which Sunday finds its way into the Christian church. We are going to examine what the Bible has to say about the first day of the week.
We will not find the word "Sunday" there, since, with the exception of "Sabbath" and "the preparation," the Bible uses only numbers to designate the days of the week. We need to start back in the book of beginnings. We are going to see if we can discover the foundation upon which Sunday observance rests. Our first pillar is Genesis 1:5. This, of course, is the account of creation week. Notice carefully, "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night, And the evening and the morning were the first day." Now, it says nothing here about the day being holy, being sacred, being set aside as a day of worship. It says nothing about it other than listing it in the creation narrative. It does tell us one important thing, and that is that "the evening and the morning were the first day."
You see, the Bible day begins at evening, or at sundown. As we go on through Genesis 1, we discover that the evening and the morning were the second day, and so on. The Bible day begins at sunset. We haven't discovered anything here that would give us any sanction for the first day of the week as a day of worship, or any other day, for that matter. So let's turn now to the texts that are in the New Testament concerning the life of our Lord that mention the first day of the week.
We have come to the experience of our Lord to see just what the New Testament tells us about the first day of the week, because we must have a "Thus saith the Lord" for this Christian practice. You see in Matthew 28:1, 2: "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre." You will recognize this immediately as the account of the crucifixion, the resurrection weekend of our Lord. This is simply Matthew's account of the events that took place. Here again, this text doesn't tell us much, but notice it says, "in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week." You see, it makes a distinction between the Sabbath and the first day of the week. This is the first mention of the first day of the week in the New Testament, but it doesn't give us much help. All right, let's go on.
We go to the Gospel according to Mark. You will find these next few references are parallel accounts of this same crucifixion-resurrection weekend. Mark 16:1, 2: "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun." This doesn't tell us much, just a simple narrating of the events. Notice now in verse 9 in this same chapter, Mark 16:9, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils." Here again we have just an historical account, nothing setting one day apart above another, simply telling us that this was the day on which Jesus arose.
Now to the next Gospel account, Luke 23 and 24. Let's begin with Luke 23:54-56. "That day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on." (This was the day on which Jesus was crucified, the sixth day of the week, or the day we commonly call Friday. The Christian world, of course, calls this day Good Friday.) "That day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment."
Our next text, Luke 24:1, reads: "Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them." Here again, we find nothing about the first day of the week being sacred, and notice this is the Sabbath when Jesus was in the tomb. It would seem logical that if ever there was an excuse for the disciples to treat a bit lightly the seventh day of the week, they might have had excuse here. Christ had been crucified. He was now in the tomb; His body needed to be prepared for burial. Apparently they were still concerned about Sabbath observance, because as the Sabbath drew on they returned to their homes and "rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment," after the death of our Lord. We have discovered nothing there about the first day of the week being holy, either.
Now we go to John's account. This is the last of the Gospel narratives. John 20:1 reads: "The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre." Nothing here that will help us, either; but just across the page we find another text, verse 19. Notice, please, what it says: "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you." Now here is a record of a first-day-of-the-week meeting in the New Testament, after the resurrection of our Lord. There is no question about it. But, I would like to ask you a question here: Were the disciples here in honor of the resurrected Lord? "Well," you say, "Absolutely! It says so right in that verse, â€˜The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled in honor of the resurrection.'" No it doesn't say that. It says, "where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews." Were they celebrating the resurrection here? Absolutely not! Why, they didn't even believe that Christ had risen from the grave. They weren't setting aside the new day of worship; they weren't meeting in honor of the resurrection; they weren't meeting in honor of anything. They were scared to death, that is what it says. Their Master had just been crucified; they didn't know but that as His followers, the same fate might befall them. So, they were meeting in the upper room, not in honor of the resurrection, but "for fear of the Jews." They were talking over their plight, Where do we go from here?, What happens now? And as we read on in this chapter we notice that Jesus came and spoke to them and convinced them that He had risen from the grave, and they were startled. They thought they had seen a ghost, because they had not yet believed that Jesus had risen from the grave. So, we certainly cannot discover from this text that this has anything to do with Sunday sacredness, or with anyone keeping a day holy.