Why do many Christians observe a Sunday Sabbath?

Most Christians traditionally honor a Sunday Sabbath in observance of the resurrection day of Christ, the day after the Jewish Sabbath (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1, John 20:1), or "The Lord's Day" as mentioned in Revelation 1:10, which was presumed to be on a Sunday. It is also Sunday that is believed to have been the day of Pentacost when the Holy Spirit was given to the first believers (Acts 2:1-4), as well as a day of tithing (1 Corinthians 16:1-3), breaking of bread (Acts 20:7), and hymnals, teaching, revelation, and speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26). Constantine's Edict of Milan in A.D. 313 not only granted freedom of Religion in the Roman Empire, but established Sunday as a day of worship. In the same century, Roman law adopted the practice of abstaining from servile work on the Lord's day. Roman Catholic canon law later added the obligation of attending Mass.

        "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Jews have traditionally observed the Sabbath on Saturday. According to Genesis 1:14-19, God established the sun and the moon to govern the day and night and to serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years. (This is to point out that the Israelites had a calendar when they left Egypt.) The original Jewish calendar was lunar, with days beginning and ending at sundown, and festivals and celebrations were based on the new moon (Numbers 10:10, 28:14, 2 Chronicles 31:3). In Leviticus 23 (also Numbers 28:9-29:40), God establishes the dates of the appointed feasts. According to Exodus 16, during the Israelite's forty year exodus, manna fell six days of the week but did not fall on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:21-26), which was Saturday for the Jews, and therefore the establishment of the Saturday Sabbath and Friday as Preparation Day to prepare all meals for the Sabbath, which begins Friday evening at sundown. The Sabbath was then put into law according to Exodus 31:12-17, both as a reminder of God's work of creation and rest on the seventh day and as a reminder of his deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

        Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much -- two omers for each person -- and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, "This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.' " So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. "Eat it today," Moses said, "because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any." (Exodus 16:21-26)

Regular Sabbath activities were to include burnt offerings of two lambs, along with drink offerings and grain offerings (Numbers 28:9-10), priestly loaves of bread (Leviticus 24:5-9), and abstinance from all regular work (Leviticus 23:3), including simple tasks like gathering wood (Numbers 15:32-36), lighting a fire for the home (Exodus 35:3), buying and selling merchandise (Nehemiah 10:31, 13:15-22), carrying a load (Jeremiah 17:21-27), or "doing as you please or speaking idle words" (Isaiah 58:13). This pertained to everyone, not just the Israelites, but to their entire household, servants, animals, and aliens within the gates (Deuteronomy 5:14). Certain celebrations were considered special sabbaths, such as the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:4-8, Numbers 28:16-25), Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-22, Numbers 28:26-31), Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1-6), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36, Numbers 29:12-35). God decreed that each year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, there was to be a sabbath of rest as a Day of Atonement for all the sins of the Israelites (Leviticus 16:29-34, 23:26-32, Numbers 29:7-11). There was also to be a sabbath year every seventh year, when the land rested from cultivation (Leviticus 25:1-7).

        Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.' " (Exodus 31:12-17)

      To argue God's commands is frivolous, especially since Jesus was the fulfillment of the law (Matthew 5:17-20, 12:3-8), but to force the observance of the Saturday Sabbath on believing Christians is just as frivolous. The Sabbath was, biblically, simply a seventh day of rest after six days of work (Exodus 20:8-11, Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:13), not necessarily the last day of our calendar week. Among Christians, this point of a specific Sabbath day observance should be a minor and personal one, though it has become a major point of faction for many believers. The fact of the matter is, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), Jesus' point being that the Sabbath was made for our benefit. It is this revelation of the law that Paul spoke of as freedom from slavery under the law, which Christians should not quarrel about (Galations 5:1-15). For those who remain under the law, strictly adhere to a Saturday Sabbath, and promote this as doctrine, then it should be pointed out that there are other qualifications for fulfilling this duty, including the practice of animal sacrifice and adherence to the lunar calendar.

        "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)

      The Sabbath was a command specifically to the people of Israel (Exodus 31:12-17). It was made not to their ancestors, but to Moses' generation (Deuteronomy 5:2-3), not only as a day of rest as a sign of God's rest from the work of creation, but also as a sign of God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15, Ezekiel 20:9-12). Of the laws and traditions required of the Gentile believers by the early church (all three of them: abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, the blood of strangled animals, and sexual immorality -- Acts 15:19-20, 15:28-29), the Sabbath was not one of them. As Christians, however, we observe the Sabbath because it is a command that extends to everyone for their benefit (Isaiah 56:6-7), as well as for the tradition of gathering together in sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:3). Sacred assembly for the Christian includes devotion to the apostles' teachings, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, miraculous signs (Acts 2:42), for singing praises to God (2 Chronicles 5:12-13, Psalm 30:4, 47:6, 92, 95:1-2, 135:3, 147:1, Isaiah 38:20, Romans 15:8-11, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 2:12), for the public reading of Scripture (Luke 4:16, Acts 13:44, 17:2), and for remembering the sacrifice of Christ's body on the cross (Luke 22:19-20, Acts 20:7).

        Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was the Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, the law forbids you to carry your mat." But he replied, "The man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.' " ...So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:8-18)

      Bear in mind that the Sabbath is a command, and if anyone observes it they are under the the law, and they will live and die by that law (Galations 3:10-14). This is the major theme of the letter from Paul to the Galations, in which Paul reminded them that they were not justified by the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:39, Galations 2:15-16). Jesus himself is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5), and it is he who has set us free from the law (Romans 8:1-4). Even so, we are not to let anyone judge us by our Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17).

        "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." (Galations 2:15-16)
        Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religous festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)