Should Christians Watch Sunday Football? Asked Differently — Is Tim Tebow Breaking the Sabbath?

Should Christians Watch Sunday Football Asked Differently Is Tim Tebow Breaking the Sabbath
by Tony Locke
Exodus 20:8–11

8. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,

10. but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.[1]

In case you don’t read to the end, scroll down and check out some great Sabbath resources at the bottom of this article!

The most popular football player of the season is Tim Tebow. He is the new and very young quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He has great potential.

He is a man of Christian faith. Tim’s mom was told her baby would probably be born with significant birth defects. She was counseled to abort her son. She didn’t and now everyone wants to know her son Tim.

The interest in Mr. Tim Tebow is helping set television industry ratings records.

Last week Sunday he played against the Steelers. One news commentator called his win a 316 Victory. In the 2009 BCS Championship game Tim wrote the Numbers 316 in his eye black to call attention to the Gospel message of John 3:16.

That isn’t allowed in the NFL so he did it with his stats.

In the Steelers game last Sunday Tim had 316 yards passing and averaged 31.6 yards per pass. The coincidental stats caused millions of fans to perform Google searches on the Bible passage.

And do you want to know what the final quarter-hour television rating for the Broncos-Steelers game was? 31.6 millions viewers.

But I have a different question for Tim Tebow’s theatrics. Is Tim breaking the Sabbath by playing on Sunday?

I am not asking this to diminish our joy in a man of faith doing well, but, there was a day in America not that long ago, when people didn’t play sports on Sunday for fear of breaking the Sabbath.

There’s a movie about people holding these faith commitments called Chariots of Fire.

The same faith assumptions were reflected in the American Blue Laws. On November 8, 2011, my birthday, voters in more than 100 Georgia cities and counties cast ballots on whether or not to allow stores to sell alcohol on Sundays. And the measure passed in some counties and failed in others because there is confusion about God’s command regarding the Sabbath.

How should we view the Sabbath? Augustine believed that nine of the Ten Commandments (the so-called “moral law” of the Old Testament) were still intact and imposed obligations upon the Christian church. His lone exception with the commandments was in respect to the Sabbath day. Since Paul spoke about keeping Sabbaths or not keeping Sabbaths as a matter adiaphorous (indifferent), Augustine was persuaded that the Old Testament Sabbath law had been abrogated.

I am asking a less complicated question, “Should Christians Watch Sunday Football?”

How do we answer this question?

Most people start to answer the question by saying, “I feel that . . . ”

We should not ask what our hearts feel on the matter. Everyone feels a little differently about these things. Instead, we should ask “What has God said about the Sabbath in the Bible?”

I am going to let you know the end of the sermon right now: I agree with Augustine. I think the Sabbath is an Old Testament commitment that Israel was to uniquely keep. Why do I think this, and can I make a Biblical argument for this opinion?

Let me start with a theological answer. I believe that the Sabbath was given to Israel as a sign of the Mosaic covenant.

For instance: the Creation was shown complete when God rested. The covenant with Noah was ratified with the rainbow. Jews showed their faith to be included in the Abrahamic Covenant by applying the sign of circumcision. And, Israel made public their profession of faith in God’s provision and promises when on the Sabbath they all rested in those promises.

This means that the Sabbath was a religious law for Jews while they were living in Israel during the Old Testament. If this is true, then the Sabbath is part of the Mosaic Covenant. It is not a law for New Testament Believers.

There were also some practical reasons for the Sabbath that we should be careful to consider.

It was a day for social concerns. The Sabbath worked the opposite of a concentration camp. Even servants could not be forced to work 7 days a week until they fell dead. Israel was commanded to bring the rest of the community into God’s rest. Children, animals, foreign travelers and servants all benefited from the rest God gave His people. The Sabbath was an act of social mercy and an opportunity for evangelism.

The Sabbath was a day of worship. This purpose is reflected in the New Testament.

Sabbath keeping was proof that you believed God had established a covenant between Himself and Israel. It was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant.

But for us, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Mosaic law. Jesus didn’t come to get rid of the law, but fulfill it. Jesus is our rest from laboring to earn God’s favor.

Jesus is our eternal Sabbath rest. We will never have to work for God’s love. Meditating on the Sabbath should provide great grace to the soul of Christians.

Some parts of the Jewish culture forgot these spiritual truths. They were overly strict regarding the Sabbath during the life of Christ. The religious leaders remembered the rules but they forgot mercy, they forgot worship and they forgot to rest in the promises of the Messiah.

The religious leaders manipulated the Sabbath laws for tyranny over God’s children.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath Mark 2:27.

Even Jesus lived for the goodness and mercy that the Sabbath represented in the Mosaic Covenant. Jesus never served the Sabbath. Jesus administered grace and healing on the Sabbath.

Don’t let this confuse you, but Jesus kept the Sabbath. He was born under the law Gal. 4:4. Yet, even while living under the Law, Jesus was Lord even of the Sabbath Mark 2:28. All the Old Testament Typology and Word Pictures lead us to the glory of God revealed in Jesus Matt. 12:3,4.

Jesus even claimed in John 5:17 that he, like his Father, was doing His work on the Sabbath. That’s border line blasphemy since God said that the Sabbath was for rest. Working on the Sabbath was prohibited by the Commandment. Jesus claimed that he must work on the Sabbath since he is equal with God who is working through him on the Sabbath (John 5:18). This deeply confused the Jewish leaders. (And most Sabbatarians I might add)

In Luke 13:10–17 the ruler of the synagogue requested that Jesus heal on the other six days of the week and not on the Sabbath.

What is striking is that Jesus deliberately kept healing on the Sabbath. Jesus argued that healing is what he “ought” (dei) to do on the Sabbath day (Luke 13:16).

I believe that Jesus did all of this to demonstrated his ability to authoritatively interpret the command, and to foreshadow that it would in fact be altered because of His fulfillment of the Mosaic Laws. Luke 4:16–21 — Even the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ.

Let’s revisit my premise: we are no longer under the Sinai covenant, therefore, we are no longer bound to keep the sign of the Mosaic Covenant.

The Apostle Paul clearly teaches in his epistles that the Sabbath is not binding upon believers.

In the Epistle to the Colossians Paul places Sabbath keeping on par with the Mosaic requirements about foods, festivals, and the new moon. Paul argues that all of these are completed in Christ. Even the Sabbath!

Another crucial text on the Sabbath is Rom. 14:5: One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Augustine used this verse as a foundation for his views on the Sabbath.

In Rom. 14:1–15:6 Paul discusses certain foods that some Jews thought were unclean. Paul clearly teaches in contrast to Moses that all foods are clean since a new era of redemptive history has dawned.

Paul clearly argues that all these Mosaic Laws are no longer binding since believers are not under the Mosaic Covenant and we are not required to take by faith the Mosaic sign of the covenant which is Sabbath observance.

Paul argues that we can hold lots of days as significant: Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday are all days we hold as special. That’s fine. But we can’t make our personal commitments a new law for others.

In Christ we are free from these mandated calendar observances.

Now it does not follow from this that the Sabbath has no significance for believers.

Hebrews makes this clear. The author of Hebrews sees the Sabbath as foreshadowing the eternal rest of the people of God (Heb. 4:1–10).

A “Sabbath rest” still awaits God’s people and it will be fulfilled on the final day when believers rest from earthly labors.

The Sabbath is placed together with food laws and new moons and the keeping of the Passover in Col. 2:16. All of these things were obeyed by Jesus for us. We stand by faith in His righteousness.

But, should believers still keep the Sabbath in some religious sort of way? No.

Does the Lord’s Day, that is, Christian worship on the first day of the week, constitute a fulfillment of the Sabbath? No.

  • In Troas believers gathered “on the first day of the week . . . to break bread” and they heard a long message from Paul (Acts 20:7).
  • Paul commands the Corinthians to set aside money for the poor “on the first day of every week” (1 Cor. 16:2).
  • John heard a loud voice speaking to him “on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10).

Jesus appeared to His disciples on “the first day of the week” (John 20:19).

These clues suggest that the early Christians at some point began to worship on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It was never mandated. We are only mandated not to separate ourselves from the church by repeatedly missing worship.

Let’s get back to the Big Question. Should Christians watch football on Sunday?

When John Knox came to Geneva to visit John Calvin, he arrived on the Lord’s day. Knox was shocked to find Calvin engaged in lawn bowling. John Calvin was known as the most devoted Sabbath-keeping Reformer, but he did not see recreation as a violation of the Lord’s Day.

Believers are not obligated to observe the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant is no longer binding. We are bound by the new law of love.

Not everyone will agree with me on this. I make a point to show great respect and deference to those who think Sabbath keeping is still important. We should not be bound by their conscience, but we should keep from offending them by our liberty.

Two parting considerations. First, early New Testament believers worked on Sunday. It was the first day of the week for a Jewish culture. Christians went to early worship and then went to work. Don’t falsely assume that your Sabbath keeping is in line with early Christian commitments. In their Jewish culture they worked their worship around their work day.

Second, we should not miss God’s secondary blessings found in the Sabbath. There is wisdom in God’s cycle of work and rest. One day in seven ought to be a day of rest for all of us. This is the Creation pattern. Christians need to show themselves mercy and compassion by not working seven days in a row. We should remember that physical rest is ordained by God for us all.

And we should use our rest to reflect on the Sabbath Rest we have in Christ. In Jesus we cease from our labors and find our home with God.

And if we have a little extra time on our hands then we can watch and pray for Mr. Tim Tebow. Tom Brady and the Patriots ate his lunch last night and he might need some prayers for comfort.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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