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Why Sunday Is the Lord’s Day

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
May 24, 2023 4:00 am

Why Sunday Is the Lord’s Day

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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May 24, 2023 4:00 am

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The great New Covenant had been ratified.

Forgiveness of sins for all sinners of all ages who came to God was accomplished. What a day. And it was a Sunday and prior to that Sunday had absolutely no significance. But from that day on, Sunday took on a completely different meaning.

With John MacArthur, I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Now, perhaps you've seen the movie Chariots of Fire or you've heard Eric Little's story. During the 1924 Olympics, he dropped out of the 100 meter sprint, his best event, because the race was being held on a Sunday. And the question is, was Little's decision made merely out of personal conviction, or was that a matter of obedience to Scripture, the decision that all believers would have to make if they were literally in Little's shoes? Bottom line, is working and traveling and enjoying recreational activities on Sunday forbidden in the Bible? John helps answer that question today as he continues his series, The Sabbath and Why We Worship on Sunday.

And now here's John MacArthur. They continue today to worship on Sunday. I've been many times to the U.K., to England, Ireland, Scotland and the believers there worship on Sunday.

I've been to Belarus. Believers there meet on Sunday. And other countries in the former Soviet Union, Russia, the Ukraine, believers meet on Sunday. They meet on Sunday in India. They meet on Sunday in China. They meet on Sunday in the Philippines. They meet on Sunday in New Zealand, Australia. They meet on Sunday all throughout South America. They meet on Sunday even in Israel.

How did this happen? Why don't they all meet on different days? Why don't some of them meet on Thursday and some of them on Tuesday and some on Wednesday and others on Saturday? It's always been this way. And it's always been this way across the length and breadth of the whole of the Christian church historically. And I remember this was a bit of a burden to me in my childhood because there were people who put all kinds of strictures on Sunday.

Everybody met on Sunday. And when I was a little kid, they dressed me up in this little suit and put a little white shirt on me and clipped a little bow tie and made me stay that way the whole day, all of Sunday. And I remember there were very strong restrictions put upon what I could do. I couldn't go out of the house. I couldn't play catch in the yard. I couldn't play ball.

When we lived in Philadelphia, I couldn't play step ball which was the big thing to do on the steps of the row houses there. We just had to sit there. The one sin we could commit and we could commit that like crazy was gluttony. It was one long meal. We got out of church at about twelve-thirty and we went home and ate until we went back at night. But it was supposed to be a day when everything sort of came to a grinding halt and we set it aside for contemplation of the Lord, reading of Scripture, reading of Bible stories, reading of Christian books or theology, talking about the things of the Lord, and most importantly, bracketing the day and the morning and the evening with the worship at the church and throw in Sunday school and maybe youth group before Sunday night and it filled up the day.

It was pretty much the way it was across the nation, across the United States of America. I remember when I came to Grace Community Church in 1969, there was only one mall in the San Fernando Valley and it was never open on Sunday...never open on Sunday. Neither was anything else open on Sunday. Stores were all closed. There were no organized events on Sunday. There were no sports for kids on Sunday. There were no planned activities in the community on Sunday.

There actually were laws against that, laws passed by states and by governments. Sunday was always very different from Saturday. Stores were open on Saturday.

People were in motion on Saturday. All the events, all the sporting occasions were scheduled on Saturday, trips, recreation, work around the house. Sunday was a very, very different day and it was recognized that way here, it was recognized that way by our forefathers in the U.K. and in Europe, going all the way back to the time of the Reformation and even back behind that. I remember the year the local laws here in the San Fernando Valley were changed to allow stores to open on Sunday. Then eventually Sunday became like Saturday with very little difference. But for literally centuries, Sunday worship and fellowship among Christians worldwide was the habit of the church. And you could ask the question, is this simply arbitrary? Did it just kind of happen that way?

It would be pretty hard to sell somebody on that idea. Since you have all these different countries, all these different languages and all these different centuries and it's an unbroken pattern. How did it get started? Who started it? And why are we still conducting services on Sunday? And why do we still have a kind of a deference to Sunday in a five-day work week that ends on Friday?

Did this just happen by accident? Well, many churches have begun to whittle away at Sunday, this in the last twenty-five years or so. They have reduced Sunday to a one-hour non-intrusive experience you can have on your way to the beach in your bathing suit, if you want. They have minimized Sunday down to this one hour that you can get out of the way. And in order to accommodate people who don't even want to dent Sunday with that, they accommodate that with a Saturday night service. You can go to the Saturday night service and you don't have to pay any attention to Sunday whatsoever. So you can have the whole day at the beach and you can do the Saturday night service at night when it's dark and you can't go outside and play anyway.

This is typical of the contemporary trend. And people seem to make very little difference between whether people gather on a Saturday or a Sunday, it doesn't seem to be an issue. There are lots of folks who would like to leave Sunday completely free for games, recreation and going to the mall or wherever else they want to go. And throwing in a Saturday night service that just takes a little while seems to accommodate them readily.

Well does it really matter? Is it important for us to do this on Sunday? Couldn't we just as well do it any other day, or every other day? Go to Colossians 2 for a minute. We're just going to follow through some Scriptures and I'll kind of let you draw the conclusion. Colossians 2 16, Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day, things which are a mere shadow of what is to come but the substance belongs to Christ. Remember what I told you last time about the Sabbath day, it is gone, right?

It is gone. So whatever we're talking about on Sunday, we're not talking about the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day of the week. It was instituted under the Mosaic Law between the fall of man and Moses. There were no Sabbath laws. There was no Sabbath observance. That came in the Mosaic Law.

Centuries went by. None of the patriarchs had any kind of Sabbath laws. On the seventh day after creation, you remember, God rested and God blessed that day.

Why? As a day that would always be a memorial to the fact that God had created the universe in six days, so the seventh day was always going to be a reminder of God as our Creator. Every Saturday that comes along, which is the seventh day of the week, Sunday being the first day of the week, every Saturday that comes along is a good day for us to remember, first of all, God as Creator.

And we have that in our heritage. That's why people didn't work on the weekend because Saturday could be a day when you could enjoy the creation, when you could have recreation. You didn't have to go to work. This was all a Christian kind of structure. You could go out and take your family and have a picnic, or play a ball game, or enjoy the outside, enjoy the creation of God. That was part and parcel of remembering God as Creator. But the Sabbath is gone. Colossians 2, 16 and 17, don't let anybody hold you to a Sabbath day.

It's gone. It is part of Judaism that has been replaced by the New Covenant. And the New Covenant has a completely different day. Saturday, as I said, reminds us of God as Creator and God as Lawgiver and reminds us of the beauty of God's creation, the magnificence of His creation and the sinfulness of our own hearts. But when you come to the New Covenant, you have a new kind of observation, not observing God as Creator, not observing God as Lawgiver, but into the New Covenant, God is defining Himself as...what?...a Savior. So the New Covenant has its own day, a day in which we focus on God as our Savior.

Let's see how this kind of all happened. So go to the end of the gospel of Matthew...end of the gospel of Matthew. Suffice it to say, the argument from history is that the church has taken this seriously, that the church has made an issue out of Sunday since the New Testament times. Here we are two thousand years later and the church is still meeting on Sunday.

I would say it's pretty deeply embedded. But in Matthew 28, it's the day after the Sabbath, that would be Sunday, Sabbath on Saturday. As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave and behold, a severe earthquake had occurred for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, His clothing as white as snow.

The guards shook for fear of Him, became like dead men. The angel said to the women, do not be afraid for I know that you're looking for Jesus who's been crucified. He's not here for He has risen. Just as He said, come see the place where He was lying, go quickly, tell His disciples He has risen from the dead and behold, He's going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him.

Behold, I have told you. Then they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them and they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. And Jesus said to them, don't be afraid, go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee and there they will see Me. It is dawn on Sunday morning.

Familiar scene, right? This is the Sunday when Jesus arose and appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Mary the mother of James. This is resurrection day. Verse 7, go quickly and tell His disciples He has risen from the dead.

Tell them quickly because there's a lot that's going to happen in this day. This is right at daybreak, you remember? Before this event, Sunday had no place in a Jewish calendar, no important place, none. It was not identified as a special day in any sense, religiously or socially.

It was like every other day. But once the Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the first day of the week would never be the same again. Because if you memorialize the creation on the seventh day, and if you memorialize as it were the Law on the seventh day, you certainly want to memorialize the resurrection, don't you?

If you celebrate God as Creator and God as Lawgiver, you certainly want to celebrate Him regularly and even more joyfully as Savior. By the way, you have the first Sunday worship service in verse 9. They came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.

Small service, but a service of worship. Turn in your Bible to Luke 23, 55, the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, saw the tomb, how His body was laid, returned, prepared spices, perfumes. On the Sabbath day they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, Luke 24, 1, at early dawn they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb and they entered, they didn't find the body of Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing.

The women were terrified, bowed their faces to the ground. The men said to them, why do you seek the living one among the dead? He's not here. He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee saying the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and the third day rise again. They remembered His words and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. They were Mary Magdalene, Joanna Mary, the mother of James, other women with them telling these things to the Apostles.

These words appeared to them as nonsense, they wouldn't believe them. Peter got up, ran to the tomb, stooping, looking in, saw the linen wrappings only, went away to his home marveling what had happened. You remember Peter and John went to the tomb, as the other gospel writers tell us, and they realized the resurrection had taken place. Again it is dawn on Sunday, the women are first, they go back, they report and more come and the Apostles come and it becomes apparent very, very early in the morning that the Lord is risen and He is alive, which means that He has accomplished redemption on the cross, He has been raised for our justification, He has conquered sin and death and hell, He has borne our sins in His own body on the cross, been made sin for us and He has risen from the dead in triumph.

And it's still early. Again the same day, verse 13, two of them are going that very day, it's still first day, still a Sunday, to a village named Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem and talking to each other about all these things that had taken place. And while these two disciples were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him and He said to them, what are these words you're exchanging with one another as you're walking? And they stood still looking sad, one of them named Cleopas answered and said to him, are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here these days?

How can you not know what's going on? He said, what things? And they said to Him the things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in word...deed in word in the sight of God and all the people and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death and crucified Him and we were hoping that it was He who was going to be the Redeemer of Israel. Besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. And that mattered, of course, remember because He said He would rise on the third day and they didn't have that information yet. Well at least they didn't believe it yet. Some women amazed us when they were at the tomb early in the morning and didn't find His body. They came saying that they had a vision of angels who said He was alive.

They hadn't really owned that...they hadn't believed that. He said, O foolish men and slow of heart, verse 25, to believe in all the prophets have spoken, was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things, enter into His glory beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them things concerning Himself and all the Scriptures, they approached the village where they were going and He acted as though He was going to go further, they urged Him saying, stay with us, it's getting toward evening, the day is now nearly over. So He went in to stay with them when He had reclined a table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, breaking it, He began giving it to them, their eyes were opened, they recognized Him and He vanished from their sight.

Quite a day...quite a day. In the morning He appears to the Apostles and the women. In the afternoon He appears to these two on the road to Emmaus, two disciples unnamed except for Cleopas, the other one unnamed.

But there's more yet...there's more yet. According to verse 32, they said to one another, Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road while He was explaining the Scripture to us? And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them saying, The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon. And they began to relate their experience on the road and how He was recognized by them here in the breaking of the bread.

Boy, this is some Sunday. And by the way, you had the first Sunday worship and you also had the first Sunday sermon. It's in verses 25 to 27, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all the prophets have spoken.

Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things, enter into His glory? And He began with Moses and all the prophets, expounding to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. The first sermon was an expository sermon on the first Sunday.

Well, the first worship service, the first Sunday and it's not's not over. They having come to realize Jesus was alive, run back to Jerusalem, the seven miles, and they found the eleven and those who were gathered with them and told them the Lord had really risen. Then it got really interesting, verse 36, while they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, peace be to you. They were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet that I desire Myself, touch Me and see, spirit doesn't have flesh and bones as you see that I have. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet and while they couldn't believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, have you anything here to eat? He took it and boiled fish, took it and ate it with them.

And now they know. They know that all the things written about Me and the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms are being fulfilled. John's chronicle is also quite interesting. Turn to John chapter 20, now we pick up the story in chapter 20 verse 19 that we left off in Luke 24 when it was evening on that day.

The two from Emmaus have come back to the upper room where the eleven are. It's the first day of the week. Note that, would you? Verse 19, when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week. No wonder Jesus said, go quickly and tell everybody because by all the running back and forth time is elapsing, it's important that all these occasions of the visible Christ manifesting Himself be able to happen on that first day. So it is the first day of the week and the doors were shut. You remember that Luke said they were afraid and startled when He arrived?

Of course, because the door was shut. He came through the wall. He came and stood in their midst and said to them, peace be with you. And He said, peace be with you because they were no doubt in a state of panic when He appeared.

Panic because they thought He was dead and panic because the door was locked. He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, peace be with you as the Father has sent Me, I also send you. He gives them a reiteration of the commission and then He breathes on them and says to them, receive the Holy Spirit. And this is a preview, promise of the reception of the Holy Spirit.

What a day...what a day. By Friday night when Jesus is dead, their hopes are smashed and crushed and dashed. The best that they can imagine is that they can rest on the Sabbath because He can't do any work or take any kind of trip, so even the women who were going to anoint His body have to wait till the Sabbath is over and they'll go and do what will be a nice thing to do, anoint the corpse of Jesus.

That was the best they could have hoped for was some act of kindness to the dead body of the one they had put their trust in. By the time that Sunday is over, they all know Jesus is alive from the dead. Peter knows it, John knows it, Mary Magdalene knows it, the other Marys, the other women know it, other disciples know it. And by Sunday evening, all the disciples know it with one exception. Who was absent?

Thomas...Thomas was absent. Pick it up in John 20, 21, Jesus said to them, "'Peace be with you as the Father has sent Me, I send you, breathed on them, said, receive the Holy Spirit.' Verse 24, "'But Thomas, one of the Twelve called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.'" Such a doubter, probably was off in a corner saying, I was right, I had every reason to doubt. So the other disciples were saying to Him, "'We've seen the Lord.'

But He said to them, "'Unless I see in His hand the imprint of the nails, put My finger in the place of the nails, put My hand into His side, I won't believe.'" This is fabulous, verse 26, after eight days His disciples were again inside. What day would that be? Sunday.

Nothing happened in the seven days in between. It is not until that eighth day that the disciples again are gathered together. Before they gathered together in the other days, you better believe they were.

I mean, they were hiding. Jesus came, the doors having been shut again, stood in their midst and said, "'Peace be with you.' He said to Thomas, "'Reach here with your finger and see My hands, reach here with your hand and put it into My side, do not be unbelieving but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, "'My Lord and my God.' Jesus said to him, "'Because you have seen Me, have you believed?

What are they who did not see and yet believed?'" Many other signs than the ones written here, John says, could be written about the work of Christ. But the point that I want you to notice is Sunday all of a sudden became a very, very special day. Jesus makes two miraculous post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, both of them on a Sunday...both of them on a Sunday. It is on a Sunday that they know He is alive from the dead. It is on a Sunday that they know the Old Testament is being fulfilled. It is on a Sunday that they know the Father has affirmed His redemptive work on the cross. It is on a Sunday that He pledges to them that they will receive the Holy Spirit to be empowered for ministry in the future. It is on a Sunday that all the past of His ministry and His death comes to make sense.

And what a Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead on that Sunday, appeared on that Sunday in the morning, appeared on that Sunday in the afternoon, appeared on that Sunday in the evening, showed Himself alive to the women on that Sunday. They had the first worship service on that Sunday. Jesus preached the first sermon on that Sunday, met two disciples on that Sunday, broke bread with them and disclosed Himself to them and then miraculously vanished.

He met that night with the eleven minus Thomas on that Sunday and twice pronounced peace on them and ate with them. He must have taught several times on that Sunday, not only on the road to Emmaus but no doubt in the Upper Room again as He told them that He had indeed come to fulfill all the Old Testament promises. On that Sunday He told His disciples that forgiveness of sins was now available through what He had accomplished and it was available to all who would repent and believe. On that Sunday He stated the Great Commission that they were to go out and proclaim the gospel, He launched, as it were, the unlimited worldwide mission of evangelism by commissioning His disciples and Apostles to take the gospel and proclaim it to the ends of the world. And on that Sunday, as I said, He pledged to them that they would have the power of the Holy Spirit. The great New Covenant had been ratified.

Forgiveness of sins for all sinners of all ages who came to God was accomplished. What a day...what a day. And it was a Sunday and prior to that Sunday had absolutely no significance...none. But from that day on, Sunday took on a completely different meaning.

Sundays would never be the same again. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, continuing his study titled The Sabbath and Why We Worship on Sunday, here on Grace to You. Well, as John pointed out today, the Old Testament Sabbath rules are, as Paul says in Colossians 2, only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. So we observe the Sabbath differently than they did in the Old Testament, and also Paul says we're not under the law, but under grace. So John, how do we know which laws in the Old Testament are binding on Christians and which ones aren't?

Well, that's a question that comes up a lot, and there are some specific answers to that, but there's no real blanket answer to it. You have to take each Old Testament law on its own merit. For example, in the Old Testament, there are dietary laws. There are laws regarding the people of Israel as to what they could eat and what they should not eat. But all of those laws have been nullified.

All of those laws have been abrogated, specifically in the 10th chapter of Acts. Basically, Peter has a vision, and in the vision, the Lord says to him, rise, Peter, kill and eat. There's nothing unclean. And then the Apostle Paul says, don't let anybody mess around with you with regard to food.

God has sanctified all food. So you have in those two passages essentially the abrogation of dietary laws from the Old Testament. You also have the abrogation of the Sabbaths. In the book of Colossians, Paul says, don't let anybody hold you to a Sabbath day, a festival, a new moon, all those kinds of things that were sort of isolated to Israel's behavior in a way to separate them from the world around them. There were laws about cooking. There were laws about clothing.

All of those things were designed to set Israel apart, to make it difficult for them to interact with other nations so that they didn't get polluted by idolatry. On the other hand, you have laws regarding marriage. Well, marriage is a permanent reality for mankind, and so God's orders for marriage stretch across all the Bible. That's why when Jesus talks about divorce, he goes all the way back to the Old Testament and draws instruction from that. So you have to take all of the issues of the Old Testament and look to the New Testament and see what the New Testament says about them, whether it sustains them or whether it abrogates them. Thank you, John, for that helpful insight.

And now, friend, if you want to understand Scripture better so that you can find out on your own the answers to hard questions like the one John just answered, let me suggest the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series. You can start with a single volume, or you can order all 34 volumes at once. To place your order, get in touch with us today.

Individual volumes are available for $19 apiece, or you can enjoy a substantial discount by ordering the whole set at once, and shipping is free on both options. To get the MacArthur Commentary Series, call toll-free, 800-554-7223, and that number is easy to remember as 855-GRACE. Or you can shop online at And when you visit, make sure you take advantage of the thousands of free resources you will find there, including Grace Stream. Grace Stream is a continuous loop of John MacArthur sermons from Matthew through Revelation, covering every verse in the New Testament. It takes a couple of months to get through all of those sermons, and then the sermons repeat. So whether you have 15 minutes to listen or a couple of hours, just jump into the Grace Stream today and anytime for verse-by-verse encouragement from the New Testament. You will find Grace Stream at Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, reminding you to watch Grace To You television this Sunday, and be back tomorrow as John shows you why starting your week with corporate worship is so important for you and for the body of Christ. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-24 05:35:08 / 2023-05-24 05:46:54 / 12

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