Keeping the Sabbath wholly

When you find yourself running as fast as you can just to keep up, make Jesus your traveling companion.  He is Lord of the Sabbath.

Full Text: 

Keeping the Sabbath wholly

January 27, 2103 – Luke 6:1-11


When Alice goes, Through the looking glass, she is traveling with the Red Queen.  As they go, they run faster and faster.  Despite the speed with which they are running, it appears to Alice that the scenery is not changing at all. 

The Queen keeps yelling to Alice to run faster.  When at last the Queen tells her she can stop, she sits down under the very same tree from which she started.

Alice points this out.  “In our country, you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen.  “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast.”


Such an experience, I believe is not limited to the other side of the looking glass.  Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced having to run as fast as we can just to keep up.  Lewis Carroll wrote 150 years ago.  And things have not slowed down one bit.

What can we do?  We can practice Sabbath.

The Sabbath may not seem like a big deal to us, but it is a very big deal in the time of Jesus.  The commandment to remember the Sabbath is the lynchpin in the Ten Commandments.  It connects the commandments regarding our relationship to God and the commandments regarding our relationship to others.  God himself rested on the Sabbath – the seventh day – when creating the heavens and the earth.  And when the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, they didn’t get a Sabbath – a day to rest – each week.

To top it all off, the Seleucids – the Greeks who preceded the Romans in ruling the land of Israel – made a law forbidding the practice of Sabbath keeping.  (If you have the Apocrypha in your Bible, you can look it up in I Maccabees 1:45.)  So, Jews have suffered and probably died for observing the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is a sign of freedom.  It is what we would call an “identity marker.”  It is the primary way that Jews define for themselves and for the world who they are.  By observing the Sabbath, they are able to say, “This is who I am.  This is how I am different from everyone else.”  The commandment to remember the Sabbath is so important that Isaiah says that anyone – even foreigners – who observe the Sabbath and do what is right are welcome to worship in the temple in Jerusalem. 


The Sabbath is a big deal.  It isn’t just one commandment.  It is a practice that lies at the heart of Israel’s faith.

So, when Jesus starts to fiddle with the practice of Sabbath-keeping, religious leaders get nervous.

One day – a Sabbath day – Jesus was walking through a field of ripe grain.  His followers were pulling the heads off, rubbing it between their palms and allowing the chaff to drop to the ground.  Then they ate the fruit of the grain.

Some Pharisees said, “Why are your followers doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath?”

Jesus’ response was quite pointed.  “Don’t you know the Bible story about David?  When he and his men were hungry, they entered the temple and did something they weren’t supposed to do!  They ate the bread of the presence – holy bread that only the priests are allowed to eat!

“The Son of Man is no slave to the Sabbath.  He is its Lord!”

On another Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and taught.  A man with a crippled hand was there and so were some scribes and Pharisees.  They were watching Jesus very closely to see if they could catch him red-handed in wrong-doing.

Fully aware of what they were doing, Jesus said to the man with the crippled hand, “Come here and stand up front.”  The man got up and came forward.

Jesus addressed them.  “Is it legal to do good deeds on the Sabbath?  Or is the Sabbath for doing harm?  Is the Sabbath a day to help people or leave them helpless?”

No one said anything.  So he turned to the man and said, “Stretch out your hand.”  He did.  And it was good as new!

The scribes and Pharisees were furious.  Right away, they started to talk about how they could get even with him.


As important as the Sabbath is, I don’t think these stories are primarily about the Sabbath.  I think they are about Jesus and who he is.

In the first story, Jesus recalls the time when David did something that was not lawful.  David did that before he was king.  And nobody knew he was going to become king.  So, by referring to David, Jesus is saying, “You don’t know it yet, but I am the rightful heir to David and I am going to be king.”

In the second story, Jesus doesn’t actually violate the prohibition against work.  He doesn’t do anything; he only speaks.  And if you would ask any rabbi in the first century if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, they would say, “Of course!”  And that is who Jesus is.  He is the one who does good and not evil.  He is the one who brings life.  And that’s the true meaning of the Sabbath.


The Sabbath is intended to be life-giving.  It is not a burdensome commandment.  It is not intended to rob people of life.  It is intended to give people life.

So, how can we observe the Sabbath?  If the Sabbath is more than just a set of rules – a list of dos and don’ts – how can we observe the Sabbath in a way that brings life?  How do we observe the Sabbath, not merely to keep it holy, but to keep it wholly?

The Sabbath is about nurturing trust.  It is a time to stop.  It is a time to rest.  It is a time to realize that it is not up to me.  It is a time to trust in God’s love and care.

It’s a time to stop from saying to yourself, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done!”  Instead, it is a time to say, “There will be a time for that, but now is God’s time.  God will take care of what needs taking care of right now.  And I can trust God to do that.”

Be still and know that I am God.  Put everything into God’s hands – for a day, an hour, a minute.  And trust God.  That is Sabbath.


When John Ortberg first moved to Chicago many years ago to become teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, he called Dallas Willard, his spiritual mentor, for some advice. 

John told Dallas about the pace of ministry at Willow Creek. He told him about the rhythms his family life – which included his wife and three small children.  He described the state of his heart as best he could.  Then he asked Dallas, “What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?”

There was a long pause on the line.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.  Then there was another long pause.

So, John said, “OK.  That’s a good one.  I’ve got it written down. What else is there?”  John had things to do.  This was a long-distance conversation.  He wanted to get as much out of the conversation as he could.  And I imagine he kept glancing down at his watch.

Another long pause.

“There is nothing else.  You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”


We hurry when we think it’s all up to us.  Then we are running with the Red Queen.  When we remember that we are accompanied by Jesus, we can slow down, because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.  Jesus sometimes moved quickly.  He often moved with urgency.  But he never hurried.  Jesus gave everyone who came to him his undivided attention.  He practiced Sabbath every day.  He did the work of Sabbath all along the way.  Yes, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Yes, he spent time in prayer.  In fact, the very next verse in Luke 6 reads: “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.”  (6:12)  But this allowed him to do the work of Sabbath all along his way – to trust God for everything he needed and to do good to those who came to him.

You don’t need to spend a whole night praying.  All you need to do is breath in – breathe out – let go – let God.  God will take care of things for this moment, as long as that moment happens to be.  You can trust God.  You can trust God’s love and care.  You can trust God to bring you life.

That is how to keep the Sabbath – and keep it wholly.