THE OLD SABBATH AND THE NEW LORD’S DAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Text: Colossians 2:16-17
On the radio God bless the thousands uncounted of you who are sharing the hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Old Sabbath and the New Lord’s Day. It is one in a series of messages, doctrinal messages, on the Christian life. Now our text is Colossians chapter 2, verses 16 and 17; Colossians chapter 2, verses 16 and 17. Paul writes to the church at Colosse and says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is Christ”; the real thing is our Lord.
“Let no man therefore,” therefore of course refers to what he said before, namely, that we are saved by the Lord and not by all kinds of rites, and rituals, and ceremonies, and ordinances. “Let no man therefore judge you,” krinó; krinó means “to sit in judgment, to impose an opinion.” Our word “crisis,” the Greek word krisis is taken letter by letter into our language. In Greek, of course, krisis means “a judgment, a condemnation.” “Let no man there[fore] sit in judgment,” impose an opinion upon you, regarding Sabbath. Now the meaning of the old Sabbath is threefold; the Sabbath day of the Old Testament, the seventh day of the week, a Sabbath day. The first meaning is found in Genesis 2, beginning at verse 1:
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.
So the first memorial reason for the Sabbath day is, it is a memorial of the rest of God from His creation; the Sabbath day of cessation from God’s creative work. Now, that doesn’t mean God was tired or He was weary. In Isaiah 40:28, “Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” So God rested on the seventh day from His work, not because He was tired, not because He was weary, not because He needed a time of refreshment and rejuvenation; but He sanctified that seventh day as a memorial that the work was finished, and the Lord ceased from His labors.
And He is still in that Sabbath day. All of creation was created when God created it: there is nothing added to it since. There is nothing added to it, there is nothing taken away from matter, substance, God’s creation. He ceased from His creative work on the seventh day, and He still is in that Sabbath day; nothing is being created or uncreated. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy chapter 6, “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” We don’t change, we don’t destroy matter. If you take something and burn it up, you say, “Well, it’s destroyed.” No, you just turned it into vapor and smoke and ash. It is not possible to destroy anything in God’s universe. Nor is it possible to add to anything in God’s universe. The Sabbath of God is a memorial of the cessation of His creative work.
The second memorial meaning of the Sabbath day is found in Deuteronomy chapter 5. There are two places in the Bible where the Ten Commandments are listed: Exodus chapter 20 and Deuteronomy chapter 5. Now in chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, the Lord says:
Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it…Remember that thou wast a servant 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 commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.
That’s the second memorial reason for the Sabbath day: it is a memorial of the deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt.
Now the third and the tremendous reason for the memorial of the Sabbath day is it is a sign established by God between Him and Israel that they are His people. Exodus 31, beginning at verse 12:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak thou unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily, truly, My Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations—verses 16 and 17 of that thirty-first chapter of Exodus—
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.
That’s the third memorial reason for the Sabbath: it is a sign between God and His people Israel. Now Ezekiel chapter 20 repeats that. In verse 12—11 and 12, Ezekiel writes, speaking from the Lord:
I gave them My statutes, and showed them My judgments, which if a man do, he shall even 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.
Now verses 19 and 20:
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.
The great, tremendous memorial of the Sabbath day is a sign between God and Israel. “These are My people,” says the Lord, “and the sign of that everlasting covenant is this Sabbath day.”
Well, we’re going to look at the Jewish nation, the Jewish people, and their Sabbath. There are three institutions in Jewish nationalism that were important and impressive, hallowed, sanctified above everything else. One was the temple. Today the most sacred place in the earth is the Western Wall, to the Jew, because that’s the closest he can get to his temple; the temple. The second distinctive national mark of the Jewish people is the distinction between clean and unclean. They even have different dishes for, say, if you eat something that is animal, like meat, or milk, and then something that is not animal; the distinction between clean and unclean. If you go to Israel and stay in a hotel, they’ll have two kitchens there: one for this kind of food, one for that kind of food. The third great distinction of the Jewish nation is its Sabbath day. And out of all of the badges that identify the Jew, none has been so impressive and so distinct as their keeping of the seventh day, the Sabbath day of the week.
Many institutions did other nations have that were congruent with what the Jewish people had: temples, even the rite of circumcision, altars, sacrifices, priests, just everything. But one thing Israel had that no other nation had ever, and that was the institution of their Sabbath day. That was peculiar to the Jew. And wherever he went, there did he find himself noticeable, set apart, different because he kept a Sabbath day.
When you read the story of the Maccabees, the Maccabean War between Israel and Antiochus Epiphanes, the Jew refused to fight on the Sabbath day. And Antiochus Epiphanes found it out, so he slaughtered the people of God, he attacked them on the Sabbath day. And then there was one little change made in the Maccabean revolt: they would not go to war, but they allowed themselves to defend their lives on the Sabbath day. In the Roman Empire, the Jew was exempted from military service because he would not go to war on the Sabbath day. It was a distinctive thing in the life of the Jewish nation.
Now, listen: the origin of the Sabbath is altogether in Israel. The beginning of the Sabbath day observed by men is in Moses on Mount Sinai. In the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy from which we read, before he gave those Ten Commandments, Moses writes, “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 today” [Deuteronomy 5:2-3]. The covenant of the Sabbath day was not made before Moses. It was never known, it was never hinted at, it was never observed; not until Moses was there a Sabbath for men. It was born, its origin is found in Moses on Mount Sinai, when God said, “This Sabbath is a covenant between Me and My people Israel.”
When you read about the Sabbath—and it’s easy to do it in any encyclopedia—you will find all kinds of aberrationists that will try to discover the origin of the Sabbath in the ancient Chaldeans, or the Sumerians, or the Babylonians, or the Assyrians, or the Egyptians, and it is a bankrupt, sterile, profitless seeking. There is no such thing, ever, as a Sabbath day to be found in any ancient civilization. Nor was there any hint of any Sabbath day from Adam to Moses. In that long period of time in the centuries and the centuries between Adam and Moses, you have the rite of circumcision, you have tithes and offerings, you have sacrifices and altars, but you will never have a Sabbath day, never! Job is possibly the most ancient of all of the books in the world, but in Job, speaking of creation, speaking of the flood, speaking of many obligations that man has to God, he never mentions a Sabbath day. The first time in the history of the world, in the history of nations that any people was ever given a Sabbath day was when Moses did it on Mount Sinai, on Mount Horeb, as a sign between God and Israel that they were a people who belonged to Him. The Sabbath began in the covenant God made with Israel on Mount Sinai. And it is a sign between God and Israel that these are His people. It was never given to the Gentiles, never. It was given to Israel and to Israel alone.
Now, there are stringent things that accompany that covenant sign. It carries with it in infringement the penalty of death. Exodus 35:3, “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.” Now Numbers 15, beginning at verse 32, “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day,” going to light a fire:
And they found him gathering sticks, brought him to Moses and Aaron, and all the congregation. They put him under guard, they put him in prison, because it was declared, because they didn’t know what to do with him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord had commanded.
You see, that was a sacred sign. Isn’t that what God said to Moses? “It is a sacred sign between Me and the people that they belong to Me.” And the infringement of it, the interdiction of it, the breaking of it carries with it the penalty of death. Now, that’s the Sabbath day. And in all of the literature of Israel there is no more important law to be observed than the law of the Sabbath day.
In the Mishnah there are two tractates on the Sabbath; it’s the most important of all of the laws the Jew keeps. And in the two Talmuds—the Babylonian Talmud is the Mishnah with the Gemara from Babylon; the Palestinian Talmud is the Mishnah with the Gemara written in Palestine. Not only in the Mishnah are the two long tracts on the Sabbath day, but also the two Gemaras: the one, the commentary, the discussions, what the rabbis said in Babylon and in Palestine. They are extensive in the Talmud. The Sabbath day is a sign of the Jew; this is a Jew, this is God’s chosen and elect people, and the sign of it is the Sabbath day.
Now, what of the Christian and the Sabbath day? We have a mixed up head when we refer to a Christian Sabbath, there is no such thing. A Sabbath belongs to the Old Testament legalistic system. And the Lord’s Day belongs to the system of grace in the Christian dispensation. There is a difference between night and day of the seventh day and the first day; they are in no wise to be confused.
Paul writes in the text with which we began this doctrinal study, “Therefore,” referring to the fact that we’re not saved by legalist ceremonies and rites and rituals, “Therefore, let no one sit in judgment upon you, impose an opinion upon you with regard to a Sabbath day, which is a shadow of the things to come; but the body of Christ” [Colossians 2:16-17]. We are interdicted from observing a Sabbath day. Well, when you look at that, it will become very apparent. A Sabbath day is a day, a memorial, for a dead Christ. He is silent. He is in the tomb. This is the Sabbath day. He has been crucified. He has been slain. He has been executed. He has been put to death, and He lies in death and in silence in the grave. And when we observe a Sabbath day, we join hands with that Roman guard to see to it that the cerecloth in which He was bound and the cerements of the grave hold Him captive; He is dead. And when we observe a Sabbath day, we are saying to the world, “He is dead. There He is. He is dead. He has not risen; come and look at His shrouded body; the Sabbath day is the day of a dead Christ.”
There is a Sabbath day between the old dispensation of the law that condemns us and judges us and the Lord’s Day with its hope, and its light, and its angel songs, and its resurrection. It is an unusual thing how the New Testament, the system of grace, the dispensation in which we live, takes every moral principle of the Old Testament and rewrites it, emphasizes it in the New Testament, all except—now in the commandments—all except the fourth, the one concerning the Sabbath: The first commandment is found in 1 Timothy 2:5. The second commandment is found in 1 Corinthians 10:7. The third commandment is found in James 5:12. The fifth commandment is found in Ephesians 6:2. The sixth commandment is found in 1 John 3:15. The seventh commandment is found in Hebrews 13:4. The eighth commandment is found in Ephesians 4:28. The ninth commandment is found in Colossians 3:9. The tenth commandment is found in Ephesians 5:3 and 5. But not anywhere in the New Testament will you find any thing even bordering on a repetition of the fourth commandment concerning a Sabbath in the life of the Christian church.
Well, what is this thing of the first day of the week? The first day of the week, the Lord’s Day as the New Testament calls it, is the memorial and the celebration of a new creation: “Behold, I make all things new!” New men, new people, new homes, new families, new children, new youngsters, new life, new hope, new everything, and finally a new heaven and a new earth, “For the old heaven and the old earth, with their sorrow and pain and sin and death, all have passed away; behold, all things are become new!” [Revelation 21:1-5]. And the first day of the week is the memorial of the new creation. It begins with a glorious morning of hope and announcement. It’s a resurrection day! It’s a day of victory and triumph over the grave! It’s the day when the angels sing and we hear the music of hope and light in our souls. The first day of the week is resurrection day, it’s life day, it’s light day, it’s Jesus’ day, it’s God’s triumphant day, it’s the new day, the first day of the week, the Lord’s day. And in the New Testament, the disciples and the apostles and the servants of Christ were happy to give that day to Him. There are no tractates concerning it: it arises out of fullness of the heart, in love and adoration for our blessed Lord, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the day after the dead Christ in the Sabbath tomb.
On the first day of the week, our Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene [John 20:11-13]. On the first day of the week, the Lord appeared to all of those holy and saintly women [Matthew 28:9-10]. On the first day of the week, the Lord appeared to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34]. On the first day of the week, the Lord appeared to Cleopas and another unnamed disciples on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-32]. On the first day of the week, on Sunday, the Lord appeared to the ten apostles [John 20:19-20]. The following Sunday, Thomas being present, the Lord appeared to the apostles again, the first day of the week, resurrection day [John 20:26-31].
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the church, the people of God met together on the first day of the week to break bread, to observe the Lord’s Supper. On the first day of the week, in 1 Corinthians 16, verse 2, the people brought their offerings to our dear Lord. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, on the first day of the week, Paul met with the church and preached to them all day long and until after midnight [Acts 20:7]. Bless God, that’s the best thing I’ve ever read in my life in the Bible! Just think of that, think of that, think of the people! Oh man! Wouldn’t that be great? Just the whole day long, we just don’t do anything but listen to the preacher expound the Word of God. Oh, no clocks! They hadn’t invented clocks. That’s the worst invention mankind ever brought to the earth is a clock. I have sworn to myself I’m going to quit at 9:00, and it’s already 9:00. I hate a clock. “Preached until past midnight. “
On the first day of the week, John—sainted John on the isle of Patmos was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, loving Jesus, giving the day to Him. Pliny the Younger, who was the governor, the Roman governor of Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan, saying, “I don’t know where to turn, and I don’t know what to do because all of our temples are empty. And the people are Christian here, and they gather together on Sunday, the first day of the week, to sing praises,” that’s what Pliny says, “They’re singing praises to Jesus.” That’s another thing I don’t understand: Pliny never referred to anybody preaching on the Lord’s Day, but he says the Christians gathered together and sing praises to Jesus on the Lord’s Day. Now John wrote his, “I was in the Spirit, on the Lord’s Day” about 95 AD [Revelation 1:10]. Pliny wrote to Trajan in about 110 AD. They’re just giving the day to Jesus.
Jesus has a day. It’s His day, resurrection day; and we ought not to deface it, or to desecrate it, or defame it, or disregard it. This is Jesus’ day, Sunday’s day; this is the day when we have a pause in our pilgrimage from this world to the world to come; this is a little prototype of heaven. When we get in there to heaven, we’re going to praise the Lord, and sing, and shout, and be glad in Him. Can you imagine how it’d be without our Christian Lord’s Day? It’d be like a world without light, and without flowers, without music, and without hope, and without love; the first day of the week. When I was in India, what I missed above everything else was the Lord’s Day. Every day there—seven days a week, just the same; I missed Sunday.
O Lord, as far back as I can remember, God’s day, the Lord’s Day was a beautiful day for us. We dressed up, best we had, poor as we were, we dressed up; we went to church. We sang hymns. We listened to the preacher expound the Word of God. We praised the Lord when somebody was saved. It was God’s day. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!” [Psalm 118:24].
God love you, and the Lord bless you; we’re going to sing us a song now. And that family you, that dear couple you, that one somebody you, give your heart to Jesus. Some into the fellowship of this precious church, “I want to be baptized, pastor, just like God said in His Book.” “I want to put my letter and life here; I want to come under watchcare of the church.” “I want to accept Jesus as my Savior.” As the Holy Spirit presses the appeal to your heart, come. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing. While we stand, amen. Amen.