Acts 20:7-16 – A Sunday Sabbath?
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 20:7-16
1) A SUNDAY SABBATH?
In our text today, we have the subtle introduction of Christians observing and Paul’s endorsement of a Sunday Sabbath.
Verses 7 and 11 reveal them partaking in the Lord’s Supper and Paul preaching and teaching the Word of God.
This change flies in the face of well over 1000 years of Jewish tradition.
And this change raises a question about Paul.
Namely, why would Paul, who compromised for the good of the Gospel on behalf of the Christian Pharisees, and who had Timothy circumcised, observe the Sabbath on Sunday?
Also, Sabbath is used 57 times in the Gospels, 9 times in Acts and only 2 times in the remainder of 32 books of the NT!
The 9 times in Acts are mostly used in conjunction with Paul speaking the Gospel at a synagogue on the Sabbath.
This absence of the presence of the word Sabbath also raises a question.
Did Paul and the NT Christians’ view the observance of the Sabbath as unimportant?
In order for us to get a handle on these questions, we need to examine what the Sabbath is and Jesus’ view of the Sabbath.
What’s the Sabbath what was God’s intent for the Sabbath?
Genesis 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
It is the day God “rested” after creation.
And because he chose it and “rested” on it, it was set apart as holy.
“Rested” denotes not a God who was worn out and needed a nap.
But it denotes a God who, through His spoken Word, completed His purpose to create “the heavens and the earth” and was satisfied and lodging in this fact. (Satisfied & Lodging are both translations of the Hebrew sabbat.)
In fact the word “rested” can be defined as to “be in a state of favorable circumstances.”
God’s resting = God’s purpose (creation) was accomplished and he was satisfied!
Exodus 20:8-11 – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The Sabbath is the 4th commandment.
We are to remember it which means to “to recall it, with a focus on responding in an appropriate manner”.
In other words, we are to recognize God’s accomplished purpose and respond in thanksgiving and worship.
And as we will see, JESUS is part of that purpose!
Isaiah 58:13-14 – “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The Sabbath day is not to be about us but God.
We will be blessed when we observe the Sabbath.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the Sabbath, we now need to examine Jesus and the Sabbath to get an idea of what he said it was and what man had made it.
Jesus and the Sabbath:
Matthew 12:6-8 – I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
(Hosea 6:6 – For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings).
Matthew 12:11-12 – He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:27-28 – And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is God’s day and because Christ is God it is also Christ’s day.
The Sabbath is more about the “Internals” than the “Externals”.
The Sabbath and common sense are not mutually exclusive.
The Sabbath is a day for man to use for God’s purpose, not a day for man to serve himself.
Mark 3:1-5 – Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart,
A Sabbath focused on the externals, like that of the Pharisees, corrupts the Sabbath and hardens the heart.
Luke 13:13-17 – And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
A Sabbath focused on the externals, like that of the Pharisees, leads to hypocrisy or is a result of hypocrisy.
John 7:21-24 – Jesus answered them, “ I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses 22 gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
A Sabbath focused on the externals, like that of the Pharisees, no longer finds its meaning and fulfillment in the work and purpose of God but in the misguided puporses of man.
Summary – from Jesus we learn:
The Sabbath had been corrupted and had lost its purpose with the Pharisees.
It became man-centered and about them – Jewish law had over 39 classes of forbidden work on the Sabbath.
There can be no observance of the Sabbath with a hard heart (Internals) no matter the work rules followed (Externals).
Proper Sabbath remembrance involves not just the absence of man-centered action but also the presence of a right heart!
So now I think we can answer the 2 questions posed at the beginning.
Why would Paul observe the Sabbath on Sunday & not Saturday?:
We learned what the Sabbath was, what it was made for and what it had become.
We know enough about Paul to know that Jesus and the Gospel were to be elevated in all he did.
John 20:1 – Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
We know that Christ rose from the dead on Sunday.
1 Corinthians 15:13-14 – But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
We know that for Paul Christ’s resurrection is a if not the foundation of our faith.
Colossians 2:16-17 – Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
We know that for Paul it was not the day, but the God and His purposes behind the day that are the thing.
And the purpose for the all the diets, festivals and the Sabbath pointed to and have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
So an answer to this first question is Paul observed the Sabbath on Sunday because God’s intent for the Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus Christ on a Sunday with His resurrection.
To do otherwise would be a failure to recognize that Christ was the point from the very beginning.
J.V. McGee puts it as follows: Under the old creation the seventh day was the important day, the Sabbath day. That belongs to the old creation. On the Sabbath day Jesus was dead, inside the tomb. On the first day of the week He came forth. We meet on that day because we are now joined to a living Christ. That is the testimony of the first day of the week.
Christ is the sinners new creation and that is a “favorable circumstance” to rest in!
Did Paul and the NT Christians’ view the observance of the Sabbath as unimportant?:
We learned from Paul that it was Christ, the Messiah, and His resurrection that gives the Christian Sabbath meaning.
Hebrews 4:9-13 – So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
We know that NT Christians saw Christ as The Sabbath Rest.
In other words, Christ’s resurrection enabled us to be “in a state of favorable circumstances” – SALVATION.
So quite the contrary, the observance of the Sabbath is all the more important for Paul and the NT Christians.
For the Christian, to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” is done through the “rememberance” and worship of Jesus Christ!
And knowing that Christ is our Sabbath rest, we see that in fact that this “Sabbath” (Jesus) appears in the NT 531 times.
As we look back our text we see this about Paul’s Sunday Sabbath Service:
Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was celebrated through partaking in the Lord’s Supper.
Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was celebrated through the preaching and teaching of His word.
Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection was celebrated by Paul’s demonstrating that death has been overcome because Christ had overcome it.
And so this is what we do today.
And this is why the writer of Hebrews exhorts us not to forsake gathering together for this very purpose!