Exodus 20:8-11 says: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.
In fact, the first mention of the Sabbath occurs in Exodus 16:23, And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. It is therefore understood that the Sabbath was instituted some time before the law was given in Exodus chapter 20, in fact it was just as creation finished in Genesis where we read, “On the seventh day He rested”.
Much emphasis has been placed on the first part of the command, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” And not enough emphasis on what else the Lord said, “…and rested the seventh day.” This law of rest on the seventh day spells out the moral duty of man to worship the Lord, but also the basic need of man for a day of rest. He needs to look after himself and rest from his labour. Failure to do this has led to the many stresses of modern day life, where not only has man forgotten his Creator, but also his need to rest.
The Sabbath was part of the covenant between God and Israel. Strict regulations at the time were laid down under Mosaic Law regarding the keeping of the Sabbath. Many things could not be done yet the priests carried on all their duties and the Temple was full of activities. Even circumcision was performed on the Sabbath if it was the 8th day after birth. Later we find that that the Sabbath was abused by the introduction of many traditions. Many prophets spoke out and protested against the hypocrisy and abuse of the Sabbath.
The meaning of the Sabbath was lost over time by the many man-made restrictions relating to its observance, which to a large extent had become ritualistic and formal. Ironically, as the restrictions multiplied, so did the escape clauses to avoid keeping them. The Lord Jesus Christ often came into conflict with the Jewish leaders about the Sabbath. He clarified the true meaning of the Sabbath was when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
The truth is that devotion could never be enforced by the law. The Lord wanted man to take time out and spend it with Him, meditating and resting. Man’s spiritual ingenuity found ways to take what God intended as beautiful time spent with Him, to sanitize, formalize and destroy it.
In New Testament writings we are told that the law was like a yoke of bondage from which Christians had been set free. Ceremonial Law was part of the old covenant which was done away with when Christ was crucified to the cross. Subsequently we do not have any grounds from which we can impose the Sabbath on Christians. Quite the opposite. We are told that that the Sabbath among other things was declared as a shadow of things to come (Colossians 2:17): “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
Many Christians now keep the first day of the week as the day they get together to worship with other believers. Jesus appeared to His disciples a number of times on Sunday, the first day of the week. The first Christians would meet on the first day of the week. Furthermore, we have been given freedom in this matter (Romans 14:5), “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Most Christians choose to use Sunday as the day of rest and going to the Lord’s house.