By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
Taking a break from our work one day each week for rest and renewal can be helpful for us all. The Sabbath day tradition gives us a weekly opportunity to slow down the pace of our busy lives and focus on enjoying that extra time with God in worship. But is the Sabbath Saturday or Sunday? Does it matter which day we observe the Sabbath? Let’s explore what the Bible says about the Sabbath, so we can celebrate the Sabbath well and enjoy its benefits fully.
What Is the Sabbath?
The Sabbath is a special day of rest and worship that has been observed by Christians and Jews since biblical times. As outlined in the Bible, the Sabbath is a 24-hour period to set aside worldly pursuits and focus on honoring God. The importance of the Sabbath was established at creation and later reinforced with additional laws given to Moses. Understanding what constitutes the Sabbath provides an important framework for us as we seek to honor God through our practices today.
Genesis 2:2-3 describes how God himself started the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day of creation: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” God modeled observance of the Sabbath day, which he would later call human beings to observe.
In Exodus 20:8-11, God gives Moses instructions about how to keep a holy Sabbath day: “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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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.”
God also calls the Israelites to observe the Sabbath as a lasting covenant in their relationships with him. He declares in Exodus 31:16-17: “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 rested and was refreshed.” Not only is the Sabbath a sign to remind people of creation, but it is also a reminder of the freedom and deliverance God has given people. Moses exhorts the Israelites in Deuteronomy 5:15: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
Deuteronomy 5:12-14 describes how people can’t work themselves on the Sabbath, and they can’t cause other people or animals to work on the Sabbath, either: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 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 male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.” After God miraculously provides food called mana for the Israelites in the wilderness, God commands them in Exodus chapter 16 to gather the manna in advance of the weekly Sabbath day so they can rest rather than work to gather it on the Sabbath.
On the Sabbath, people should gather in a sacred assembly for worship while they’re abstaining from work. Leviticus 23:3 says: “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.”
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/petrenkod
Is the Sabbath Saturday or Sunday?
There is no one definitive answer to this question. The Bible does not explicitly state which day of the week is considered to be the Sabbath day. Also, there are many different Christian denominations with different beliefs about the Sabbath.
Some denominations – such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Messianic Jewish churches, and Primitive Baptist churches – observe the Sabbath day on Saturday. People who celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday observe it from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. They believe that this is the day that God commanded the Israelites to keep holy in the Old Testament, and they see it as a sign of their obedience to God. They follow the example of the Jewish people, who have observed the Sabbath on Saturday for centuries.
However, the majority of Christians today observe Sunday as the Sabbath day. That is because the early church began meeting on Sunday – the first day of the week – to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All four Gospels mention that Jesus’ resurrection happened on the first day of the week (Matthew chapter 28, Mark chapter 16, Luke chapter 24, and John chapter 20). So, the practice of celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday was eventually adopted by most Christian denominations, and Sunday is now the most common day for Christian worship.
While observing the Sabbath is a helpful spiritual practice, it’s no longer a requirement. That’s because Jesus “canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14). Thanks to Jesus’ redemptive work, we’re no longer obligated to follow the Old Testament law in order to connect with God. Romans 6:14 reveals: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
So, we don’t need to worry about which day to choose for celebrating the Sabbath, or feel guilty when we miss observing it. The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 2:16-17: “… do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
Ultimately, the decision of whether to observe the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday is a personal one that we each must make for ourselves. There is no right or wrong answer, and each person should follow their own conscience. So, how we choose to observe the Sabbath depends on our personal preferences and spiritual convictions. Whether we choose Saturday or Sunday for our time of rest and worship is up to us, according to what works best in our relationships with God.
How Do We Honor the Sabbath Day?
We can honor the Sabbath day in many ways, such as:
- Attending church services
- Reading the Bible
- Praying and meditating
- Spending time with family and friends
- Doing creative activities
- Helping others
- Enjoying nature
What’s most important is to find ways to honor the Sabbath day that are meaningful to us, and that help us connect with God and other believers. There is no one right way to do so. We can experiment and find what works best.
In my book Wake Up to Wonder, I describe how celebrating the Sabbath can lead us to experience awe-inspiring moments with God. The Sabbath isn’t an obligation; it’s actually a gift from God. Observing a weekly Sabbath day clears away stress so we can experience much more of God’s wonder than we can otherwise. Celebrating the Sabbath is one way we can answer Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28 to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
It’s a blessing to take a weekly break to relax and focus on worship – whenever and however we do so.
We’re free to enjoy a weekly Sabbath day on Saturday, Sunday, or even another day of the week. The Sabbath is a gift from God. He no longer requires us to observe it because we’re under grace rather than law. However, celebrating the Sabbath remains a good idea. It can strengthen both our well-being and our relationship with God to take a weekly break from our work to focus on rest and spiritual renewal.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/miwa_in_oz
Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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