For all the New Testament’s discussion of the Sabbath, not once does Jesus demand we “go to church on Sunday.”
Jesus in fact constantly nettles the Pharisees by undermining Sabbath protocols. When they rebuke Him, Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, humiliating them with his plain-spoken, irrefutable arguments.
Most egregiously, Jesus tells the Pharisees that He himself is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). The clearer it becomes to the Jewish leaders that Jesus is telling them He is the promised Messiah (John 5:18), the nearer He approaches the cross and crucifixion.
Everyone knows that the Jewish Sabbath is the seventh day – well, Friday sundown to Saturday sundown – commemorating God’s rest after the six days of Creation. Christians celebrate “Lord’s Day,” marking Jesus’s resurrection on Sunday. Over time Christians adapted the Old Testament commandment “to keep the Sabbath holy” as an instruction for worship and rest on Sunday. And many people do rest on Sunday … sleeping in instead of attending church.
But, to the original question: “Why am I doing this?” i.e., going to church.
In breaking Sabbath rules, Jesus is telling Jewish leaders that their rest, their peace, the proper object of their worship, is standing right in front of them; that He is God in humanity, the Messiah, the salvation of the world. The Jews had come to a point – and too many Christians today are depressingly like this – that their worship was more about things and calendars and rules than about the perfect divine love of God and the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said “I am Lord of the Sabbath” because He in fact is the Sabbath. In Jesus we have the perfect rest and peace that God enjoyed on the seventh day. Jesus actually is that rest, not merely a symbol or a promise of it.
Church reminds us of that.
Bible expositors explain that our Christian Sabbath is about “Creation” and “Redemption” as ordered in the Old Testament. True enough, but woefully incomplete. Our Sabbath – our rest, redemption, salvation, peace and hope – is Jesus and the Good News of the New Testament. It’s not limited to a day, a place or a set of rules. Our rest is celebrating the glory and enormity of the Creator God and the Redeeming Christ, and doing it for Their glory, not ours.
So why do I go to church on Sunday? Because that’s when it meets.
But Jesus our Lord is alive and with us all the time.
Walters’ (firstname.lastname@example.org) son Eric, the one who asked about going to church, was married this past weekend in Galveston, TX. He met Lindsey in a prayer group in Dallas, where they live and work. Blessings to them!