by Jon English Lee
*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, and an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.
Jesus and the Sabbath
There exists a lot of interpretive controversy around the Sabbath claims in the New Testament. Much of that controversy is centered upon a select number of texts that could indicate the abrogation of the Sabbath command. Therefore the next few posts will look at how Jesus and Paul handled the Sabbath, and how the Sabbath plays a role in biblical typology.
Several comments can be made regarding the way Jesus handled the Sabbath in Mk 2:27-28. First, it is noteworthy that Jesus takes the Sabbath back to creation, not to Sinai; this is another evidence of the Sabbath as a creation ordinance. Second, Jesus’ claim of Lordship over the Sabbath gives us an expectation that the Sabbath will continue in the New Covenant. John Murray explains:
What the Lord is affirming is that the Sabbath has its place within the sphere of his messianic lordship and that he exercises lordship over the Sabbath because the Sabbath was made for man. Since he is Lord of the Sabbath it is his to guard it against those distortions and perversions with which Pharisaism had surrounded it and by which its truly beneficent purpose has been defeated. But he is also its Lord to guard and vindicate its permanent place within that messianic lordship which he exercises over all things - he is Lord of the Sabbath, too. And he is Lord of it, not for the purpose of depriving men of that inestimable benefit which the Sabbath bestows, but for the purpose of bringing to the fullest realization on behalf of men that beneficent design for which the Sabbath was instituted. If the Sabbath was made for man, and if Jesus is the Son of man to save man, surely the lordship which he exercises to that end is not to deprive man of that which was made for his good, but to seal to man of that which the Sabbath institution involves. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath - we dare not tamper with his authority and we dare not misconstrue the intent of his words.
Jesus is not abrogating the Sabbath when he claims his authority over it. Rather, by giving a divine interpretation of the Sabbath command, Jesus displays His own authority over His creation. Regarding our Lord’s authority over the Sabbath, Warfield comments, “It is in the power of no man to unmake the Sabbath, or to remake it—diverting it from, or, as we might fondly hope, adjusting it better to, its divinely appointed function.”
Similarly, Jesus in Matthew 12:1-14 did not abrogate the Sabbath, and He certainly did not break any Sabbath command. Rather, Jesus gives the proper interpretation of the Sabbath command, over and against the interpretation of the Pharisees: He advocated works of necessity (Matt 12:1-8; Mk 2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5), mercy (Matt 12:9-14; Lk 4:31-41; 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Jn 5:8-10; 7:23; 9:13-16), and piety (Matt 12:9; Mk 6:2; Lk 4:16; 6:6; Jn 7:22-23). Christ never explains or intimates that the Sabbath would not be ongoing. Rather, by him claiming Lordship over the Sabbath, Christ not only demonstrates the Sabbath was currently under his reign, but that also, “as Son of man at the Father’s right hand he retains that same lordship. And Jesus’ lordship was shown in his declaring the full meaning and intent of the Sabbath—not in abrogating it.”
The coming posts will examine how Paul viewed the Sabbath, the nature of Sabbath typology, and practical implications for the Sabbath and ecclesiology.
 Both the sabbath and man are singular and articular. Barcellos argues, “Jesus did not say ‘The Sabbath was made for the Jews’ or ‘the Sabbaths were made for the Jews.’ He said ‘the Sabbath’ was made for ‘the man.’ ‘The man’ refers either to Adam as the head of the human race or, more likely, to mankind. Either way, Christ goes back to the creation account and sees both man and the Sabbath as being made then.” Barcellos, The Old Testament Theology of the Sabbath, RBTR, Vol 3, No 2, 33.
 John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 1:208.
 B.B. Warfield, The Foundations of the Sabbath in the Word of God, http://www.the-highway.com/Sabbath_Warfield.html. (Accessed 4/30/2013).
 “Report of the Committee on Sabbath Matters,” Minutes of the Fortieth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1973), available at http://www.opc.org/GA/sabbath.html (Accessed 5/2/2013).
*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: Jesus and the Sabbath, The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.
Throughout the New Testament the Sabbath principle retains its binding status. However, Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 4:9-11, and Colossians 2:16-17 are all often cited as evidence that the Sabbath is no longer binding. These texts pose perhaps the most persuasive arguments against the Sabbatarian position, therefore several brief points need to be made regarding their interpretation. While a full Pauline theology of the Law and Sabbath is well beyond the capabilities of a single blog post, I do hope to show that these passages are not as iron-clad as the anti-sabbatarians might argue.
Romans 14:5-6 is in the middle of an argument Paul is building against passing judgment upon weaker brothers, specifically regarding Jewish ceremonial laws. Lloyd-Jones explains regarding these ‘Sabbath days’:
“Jewish religious authorities themselves decided that when a certain great festival was coming, it would be good if the people prepared for it. So they appointed a ‘sabbath’, the day before the festival, as a means of preparation. So quite literally, from their standpoint, they did have Sabbath ‘days’; not only the seventh day of every week, but other holy days that they themselves had introduced in order that their observance of the fast or the festival might be more effective.”1
Paul is dealing with the ceremonial and cultic attachments to certain days; he is not abrogating the Sabbath command. Just as people today attach significance to certain days (e.g., Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Lent…), these believers were doing the same. Paul is addressing, “not the Sabbath as such, but certain fast days, certain feast days, certain festival days, that had now become a part of the life of the Jews.”2 Paul concludes regarding these matters, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5b). Regarding the observance of special days, there is to be charity shown in discussing diverse views. But regarding the ongoing Sabbath command, Paul is not here speaking.
In Galatians 4:9-11, Paul is writing against the keeping of days as a necessity for justification. The entire letter is an argument not to return to Jewish practices, namely circumcision, as a means necessary for salvation. Even though the letter speaks of those who “observe days, months, seasons, and years” (v 10), because of the context of the passage and the letter this does not constitute an argument against keeping a Sabbath for non-salvific purposes.
Colossians 2:16-17 is the more difficult passage of the three because it actually contains the word “Sabbath” (v 16). In the letter Paul is urging the Colossians not to be led astray by those who are ‘judging’ their salvation based on their observances of dietary restrictions and special days. The dietary restrictions can be understood, “in light of both the discussion of ethnic identity of Jewish Christians and the preparatory rites for visionary experiences.”3 This combination of abrogated Mosaic ceremonial law plus a Jewish cultism was leading the Colossians astray. The reference to a “festival, new moon, or a Sabbath,” clearly indicates some Jewish background to this heresy. These terms are found together in several Old Testament passages.4 Significantly, “when these terms are listed together in the OT, it often refers to cultic rituals linked with these festal days. If so, Paul is not opposed to the Jewish calendar per se but to the imposition of practices related to these feasts”5 Similar to the Romans passage discussed above, Paul is not removing the command for one Sabbath day of rest per week. He is addressing the ceremonial and cultic patterns that the Colossians were using to “pass judgment” upon believers.
While a full exploration of Paul’s theology of the Law and the Sabbath is way beyond what a blog post could attempt to accomplish, I hope to have shown some introductory arguments to defend against anti-sabbatarians, many of whom like to cite these verses as the final word against any New Covenant sabbatarian notions.
In the coming posts I hope to look at the typology of the Sabbath, historical teachings on the Sabbath, and the impact of Sabbath rest upon theology, particularly on ecclesiology.
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 14:1-17 : Liberty and Conscience (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 88.
 David W. Pao, Colossians & Philemon: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament v. 12 (2012), 185.
 Pao, Colossians, 185. See also: H. Ross Cole, “The Christian and Time-Keeping in Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10,” AUSS 39 (2001): 273-82.
Over the past few weeks, members of the congregation I pastor have been proclaiming the Gospel in the neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Executing door-to-door, “cold call” evangelism is not without its challenges in the modern context. Rejections of the Gospel run the gamut from angry to flaky: One man told me that he hated religion, religious “zealots” and believed hell was made especially for those of our ilk; another woman said that she adhered to Jewish religion in which her father taught her that faith in any object, “even a rock,” would punch her ticket to heaven. None of my questions about the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping idols made any difference. I even told her that the Scripture called Jesus the Rock, but she at last politely said goodbye and returned inside the door to her cats. Still, God’s Gospel is able to subdue both the rebellious heart be it seething or silly. I pray that God used us to plant a seed in these two individuals as well as in others whom we have and will visit.
One question some of our members have posed during our community outreach is a good one, but it is a question which makes many of us of a certain theological tribe a bit squeamish: Is there a good outline we may use to help us recall the Gospel when we are witnessing to lost people? There are many such outlines that are thoughtful, careful, and biblical which have been used effectively—“Two Ways to Live” and “Evangelism Explosion” (both arise from sound biblical/theological perspectives) come immediately to mind and I am certain there are others. But recently, in my regular reading of Spurgeon’s sermons, I have discovered an excellent and pithy approach to the Gospel, one that is fully biblical and establishes well both man’s universal dilemma and God’s antidote in Christ: Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” Ruin, Redemption, and Regeneration. This past weekend, I taught this to my people to help them understand the entire scope of the biblical story of God’s redeeming love for sinners in Christ. I commend it to our readers for evangelism and to fellow pastors as realities that must permeate their preaching.
Spurgeon called them “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and he drew as his text for them “Three third chapters (of Scripture) which deal with the things in the fullest manner”: Genesis 3:14-15 (Ruin), Romans 3:21-26 (Redemption), John 3:1-8 (Regeneration). Why do I think it makes a good evangelism method? Because each of Spurgeon’s three words begin with “R,” making it easy to recall to memory and each text is a key chapter 3 in the Bible, making the references easy to remember, especially in the nerve-busting throes of personal, face-to-face evangelism. Spurgeon’s three R’s:
Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” whether you use this scheme or not, should undergird all our evangelism. And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make certain that these three doctrines find a regular appearance in the diet of biblical exposition which they feed to their hungry sheep.
Many years ago, while serving in a traditional church in the Deep South, a lady just a few years older than me approached me after the morning worship with concern written on her face. She had always been supportive of my ministry. Her husband served on the pastor search committee that presented me to that church. I never knew her to gossip or meddle in situations at church. So her intense facial expression caught my attention. What could so viscerally bother her?
She told me, “When I come to church I want to feel good about myself. But I when I leave each Sunday, I don’t.” She then suggested that I make some changes so that she would no longer have that kind of feeling when leaving. Of course, she intimated that the place to start would be with my preaching.
Now, I do not doubt that she heard some poor sermons from me. Some of those sermons made me feel pretty badly, too! But not in the same way! Yet as I thought on what she said, I realized that it went much deeper than the sermons. Having earlier grown accustomed to church services that revolved around the “hip, hip, hooray,” “it’s fun being saved” mentality, to press the issues of God’s Word to the conscience was new to her. She thought it the duty of the pastor and those leading the worship service to keep things light, on the surface, non-intense, avoiding conviction, and certainly not cross-focused. Don’t pinpoint the issues of life and the reality of the gospel’s application. Don’t get too close to the truth about my life. Don’t make approaching God a big thing.
While she spoke for herself, this lady probably expressed the sentiments of many in that church—and in other churches. They view a Christian worship service as therapy for the emotions instead of an encounter with the living God. Ironically, she exposed her heart. She did not want to meet the God who left Isaiah crying, “Woe is me!” Nor the Christ who left Peter moaning, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” She really wanted the worship service to be all about her.
Not About Us
What is the antidote to that kind of thinking? While we can identify numerous elements, e.g. corporate Scripture reading, theologically-rich hymnody, passionate prayers rooted in the revelation of God, and faithful expositional preaching, one aspect of worship that must not be left out is corporate confession of sin. The act of corporate confession brings the congregation into focus: worship is not about us but about the living God. Confession brings us into humility before the Lord and one another, seeing ourselves as we are, as we express our utter dependence upon the grace of God in the cross of Christ. Confession moves us to a place of humility, which is necessary as we seek to enter the presence of the Lord. Such corporate sense of humility and contrition before the Lord enables the congregation to better understand its organic unity in the redemptive work of Christ.
Our practice has been to call the congregation to worship by the reading of God’s infallible Word. Confession follows as we reflect in confession upon the text of Scripture together. God’s revelation exposes both His majesty and our sinfulness. It urges us to rely upon Jesus Christ’s death for us in a fresh way. We’re united in seeking the Lord, confessing together both the affirmations in Scripture concerning God’s character, work, and ways, and how it exposes our sinful ways. Each act of confession ends with the consciousness of sins forgiven by the gracious gift of God through Christ. Below is an example of how we most recently approached the corporate confession after the reading of 1 Corinthians 1:1–9.
An Example of Corporate Confession
How overwhelming, our Father, that You would show such care,
such love and kindness,
to bring us not only into relationship with Yourself through Christ,
but also into relationship with the local church!
Your corporate focus on us—
sanctifying us in Christ Jesus,
calling us “holy ones,”
and uniting us with the larger body of Christ,
reminds us that Your will for us intertwines with
all of those that Jesus has redeemed,
so that united together in the Body
we discover immeasurable joy and purpose.
So in the church, joined together in union with Christ,
we experience grace to walk faithfully,
enrichment to our speaking and understanding concerning Christ,
confirmation that we belong to You,
gifts for service until Christ returns to present us blameless in His presence,
and fellowship with the Lord Jesus.
Consequently, we realize that our treating lightly the body of Christ
corresponds to neglecting Your choicest gifts.
Living with a focus on our individualism
instead of our relationship with the body of Christ,
shows how far we’ve strayed from Your purposes in the redeemed.
Having that “go-it-alone” attitude when facing difficulties and temptations,
neglects the very means You have given
to build us up in a most holy faith.
Forgive us of these sins of neglect and self-centeredness.
Enable us to know great joy as forgiven people,
united as followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Founders Ministries exists to work for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical re-formation of local churches. They have a myriad of ministries that are given to that two-pronged effort, including a church planting network, an online study center, a publishing house, a quarterly journal, regional conferences and events, minister search list, friends list, and church list. In addition to this their website is populated with loads of resources for pastors, students, church leaders and serious Christians.
Contributers to the blog:
Dr. Tom Ascol, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Tom Hicks, Pastor of Discipleship, Morningview Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL (Tom is the team leader of the blog).
Dr. Fred Malone, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Clinton, LA
Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
Dr. Phil Newton, Pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN
Dr. Kenneth Puls, Director of Publications and the Study Center for Founders Ministries, Cape Coral, FL
Dr. Jeff Robinson, Pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Jon English Lee, Ph.D. Student, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY