Evangelical Christians will often point out Jesus’ opposition to the legalism of the way the Pharisees observed the Sabbath. Less attention, however, is sometimes given to the way that Jesus actually kept the Sabbath in the Gospels. He taught in synagogues on that day (Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 6:6; 13:10). These are concrete instances of the habitual practice that we are told about in Luke 4:16: “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”
We certainly need to be mindful of the limitations of asking the question, What would Jesus do? Jesus does many things uniquely and unrepeatably as the Messiah (including dying for the sins of His people). But the question is not completely illegitimate. We are to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We should then ask this question. And when we ask it, one of the many answers the Bible gives to us is this: Jesus would go to church on the Sabbath.
Israel’s week was punctuated by gathering in holy convocation on the Sabbath in obedience to God’s command (Lev. 23:3). Christ structured the rhythm of the weeks of His own life according to this pattern of corporate worship. It is wholly unsurprising, then, to find that the early church followed suit.
The New Testament contains wide-ranging evidence that the first Christians assembled regularly for worship (Acts 11:26; 13:1–2; 1 Cor. 11:18–22; 14:19; Heb. 10:25; James 2:2–7). The question is, When?
It is interesting that there is no explicit example in the New Testament of Christian Jews’ and gentiles’ gathering together for worship on the Jewish Sabbath. It is certainly not impossible that they would have assembled on varying days throughout the week. Yet there is evidence in the Bible that there was a special day of corporate worship for Jewish and gentile Christians.
In Acts 20, Luke tells a story of Paul’s preaching what seems to be an interminably long sermon and a poor sleepy fellow named Eutychus dozes off and falls out a third-story window to his death. Good thing for Eutychus, Paul had the authority to raise him from the dead.
What might be easy to overlook is the timing of this spectacular episode. Luke tells us that it happened “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). The fact that he specifies the day of the week is unusual. Furthermore, his wording implies that such a gathering was a standing practice.
Apart from when the Apostles did something on the Sabbath, this is the only other instance in Acts when we are told the specific day of the week that an event happens. There is clearly something notable about the fact that this gathering of the church for Word and sacrament in Troas happened on the first day of the week.
In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructs the church to gather a diaconal collection for Jerusalem on the first day of the week. In Revelation, we are told that John received his visions on a specific day of the week (Rev. 1:10). But here that day is given a very pregnant name: “the Lord’s day.” John is employing verbiage that the early church after the New Testament used specifically for the first day of the week.