Eric Liddell, Scotland’s fastest athlete at the time and a Christian, refused to run in a heat in the 1924 Paris Olympics held on a Sunday and was forced to withdraw from the 100-metres race, his best event. The schedule had been published several months earlier, and his decision was made well before the Games. The Scottish media crucified him for being unpatriotic and narrow-minded.
Eric went on to compete in the 400m. He knew his chances of winning the 400-meter race were small because two of the runners in this race had set world record times. On the day of the race Eric was assigned the outside lane, the worst lane. However, one of the American team trainers had slipped Eric a piece of paper with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor me I will honor.”
Christianity.com writes, “Eric knew his decision not to run on Sunday honoured God. As Eric rounded the turn on the track where all the runners usually come together, he expected to see the world record holders ahead of him. But he was there alone. He threw his head back even more than usual and pumped his legs as fast as he could. Eric crossed the finish line first, winning the gold medal. He had also set a new world record. Eric received a hero’s welcome when he returned home. The newspapers now tried to outdo each other praising him. But Eric knew their praise would not last long. He would soon announce his plan to stop running and go to China as a missionary to tell people about Jesus.”
God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. The seventh day (Saturday) became known as the Sabbath day – the day of rest. By the first century, Jewish people were meeting regularly on Saturdays, the Sabbath day, as per the Old Testament instruction. Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah or King. Jesus often went to the synagogue on Saturday to teach (e.g. Mark 1:21) as did the apostle Paul (Acts 17:2).
The Lord (Jesus)’s Day
Jesus was crucified on a Friday, before the Sabbath, and then rose again to never-ending life on that Sunday. The followers of Jesus thought it would be totally appropriate to meet regularly on Sundays – not Saturdays – to encourage each other, eat together, pray and listen to the apostles’ teachings. Of course they meet on many other days as well, but it seems the regular Sunday gathering of Christians replaced the Saturday meeting of the Jewish synagogue.
“And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight…” (Acts 20:7).
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come,” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
The New Bible Dictionary says about the term “The Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10, “This is the first occurrence in Christian literature of ‘te kuriake hemera’. The adjectival construction suggests that it was a formal designation of the church’s worship day. As such it certainly appears early in the 2nd century.”
“The Lord’s Day” is used in many churches today to designate Sunday, the same as it was in the second century.
No special day
The New Testament also urges us not to make too much of a big deal of any particular day because no day is intrinsically better or more holy than any other. Theologically, the Old Testament Sabbath day pictured rest and in Jesus we find our true rest (cf. Hebrews 4, Matthew 11:28). For instance, Colossians 2:16-17 says,
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious 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.”
And Romans 14:5-6 says,
“One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”
Every day is the Lord’s Day! God is the creator of every day and every day we should live for and worship Jesus, not just on Sundays.
Not a second Saturday
Why then did Eric Liddell not run on a Sunday? He believed, as most Christians do, that Sunday is the day that we as followers of Jesus have chosen to set aside to meet together, to hear the Bible explained and to corporately worship God. I’m aware that we can do all these things on any other day of the week, but historically the church has decided to get together for our good and God’s glory on Sundays. Eric believed that he would be compromising his Christian witness by valuing a gold medal more than meeting with God’s people and hearing God’s Word. He believed that he would be more of a witness to Jesus by refusing to treat Sundays as any other day. To Eric, it certainly was the Lord’s Day.
What are Sundays to you? A second Saturday to use as you please? Or do you set Sundays aside – as devout Christians have for almost 2000 years – to meet together as a church, to listen to God’s Word, and to corporately worship our Saviour? Do our non-Christian friends see the value we put on the church service? Do they observe how integral corporate worship and fellowship is to our lives? Do they understand how important hearing God’s Word is to us? Do they perceive what our priorities are? Dear Christians: keep Sunday special.
By the way, Eric Liddell’s biography is entitled, “Something greater than gold”.