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Following Jesus Today: The Purpose of the Sabbath

July 23, 2020 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 6:6-10 (NRSV)

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored.

Focus

The fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath gives us freedom to consider how we might engage in the ministry of healing in our own context. Our works of healing might certainly include praying for the sick, so that they might be well. But our works of healing might also include loving children as a Sunday School teacher, feeding folks who struggle with hunger and homelessness, joining a public gathering to pray for justice in our land, or reaching out to foster reconciliation in a broken relationship. Yes, the Sabbath is meant for rest. But it is also a day for restoration, restoration we receive and restoration to which we contribute.

Devotion

Luke 6 opens with a story about Jesus and the Sabbath. In response to a query from the Pharisees, Jesus claims to be “lord of the sabbath” (Luke 6:5). He has the authority to determine what is appropriate behavior on the seventh day of rest.

The next passage in Luke 6 relates another encounter between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees in which the Sabbath is the main theme. In this episode, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when he became aware of a man who had a withered hand. The Jewish authorities watched Jesus closely because, if he healed the man on the sabbath, then Jesus would be breaking the sabbath law as they understood it. Healing, after all, was a kind of work.

Jesus, who knew what the leaders were thinking, invited the man with the withered hand to come forward. Before healing him, Jesus said his adversaries, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or destroy it” (Luke 6:9).  Jesus knew that the Pharisees would allow good to be done only in a life or death situation. Healing a man’s hand wouldn’t be such a necessity. Yet, in the way Jesus framed the question, the choice was to do good or harm, to save life or to destroy life. So the Pharisees were silent. In fact, they were also furious (Luke 6:11).

When the Jewish leaders failed to respond, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” As he did, his hand was “restored” (Luke 6:10). For Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, the “work” of healing was appropriate on the Sabbath, even when the situation was not life or death. Restoration is central to the day of rest, whether it’s the restoration of soul that comes through quiet reflection, the restoration of body that comes through rest, or the restoration of brokenness that comes through healing.

For those of us who are inclined to be restless doers, this story from Luke could be a bit dangerous. It might suggest to us that we fill up our Sabbath with so many good works that we end up more exhausted than when the Sabbath began. Surely this would not be what Jesus has in mind for us. Yet, the fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath gives us freedom to consider how we might engage in the ministry of healing in our own context. Our works of healing might certainly include praying for the sick, so that they might be well. But our works of healing might also include loving children as a Sunday School teacher, feeding folks who struggle with hunger and homelessness, joining a public gathering to pray for justice in our land, or reaching out to foster reconciliation in a broken relationship. Yes, the Sabbath is meant for rest. But it is also a day for restoration, restoration we receive and restoration to which we contribute.

Reflect

How do you respond to the story in Luke 6:6-11?

In what ways do you do good on the Sabbath?

How might you be an instrument of God’s healing in your part of the world?

Act

As you approach your next day of rest, ask the Lord if there is anything he would like you to do, any good work or acts of healing he has for you. If something comes to mind as you pray, make plans to do it.

Pray

Lord Jesus, thank you for being the one who heals us. Thank you for making your priorities clear. Thank you for your compassion and power. Thank you for healing the man with the withered hand, even on the Sabbath.

Help me, Lord, to know how I can honor you as I honor the Sabbath. Teach me to stop working and to rest. But, I pray, help me also to know when I need to join you in your work of healing. May I be a channel of your restoration in the part of the world to which you have sent me. Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: How Christians Can Experience Deeper Rest


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One thought on “Following Jesus Today: The Purpose of the Sabbath

  1. JONATHAN J RUSSELL says:

    Mark, in these COVID-times, I think “keeping” the Sabbath, in the sense of making it different than and separate from the rest of the week, has become even harder.

    Have you been rethinking both the form and function of the corporate church during these lack of “meeting together” times? It seems like some churches have been reduced to operating as a Facebook/prayer chain/go-fund-me page. Not sure where we will end up after all this, but it certainly has caused me to think about the “essential” functions of Sabbath keeping and doing church together.

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