Men and women are destined for work. Researchers recently discovered that people who retire before 65 are 11% more likely to die within ten years of saying farewell to the old cubical than those who retire after 65. The creator of Peanuts, Charles Schultz, died within hours of drawing his last Snoopy cartoon. Work grounds the human soul, providing income, direction, and a sense of purpose. If a teenager wants to impress a room of grumpy, old adults, he or she needs to only mention the creation of the snow cone business. We were made to work.
Because work proves so essential to our earthly identity, we can be tempted to measure our spiritual identity by our earthly works. We talk of the mission trips we have gone on, the checks we have written, the songs we have sung, the Sunday school pins we have collected, and the hours we have served in the nursery. We put our shoulder to the old grindstone and attempt to push our way to heaven.
But no matter how hard we work to gain God’s approval; we still feel far removed from the Lord of Heaven. He finds fault with our efforts. Even our best days contain little lies, a mean thought, or a word of anger. To make up for our mistakes, we work harder, promising to abstain from premarital sex, to finish school, and to pick up litter on the weekends. Still, the smile of God remains elusive.
How Do Get God’s Blessing?
If you are working hard to earn heaven or to earn back the favor of God because you have sinned, I encourage you to stop working and to start resting. We cannot work our way back to heaven. And, we don’t have to. Jesus came under the law to fulfill all righteousness because he is the beloved son of God. In Matthew 3:13-17, the gospel author details the baptism of Jesus to remind us of the sufficiency of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. We know longer have to work for heaven because Jesus has accomplished all righteousness.
Jesus Did It All
When Jesus asked John the Baptist to baptize him, John objects. After all, Jesus has not sinned. As the parallel passage in John 1:29 makes clear, Jesus is the Messiah, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He did not need to repent and get baptized for he was the answer for sin. But what John missed and what we often miss when we read this story is that Jesus came to save sinners by walking in their footsteps. Jesus came to do what you and I can never do. He came to perfectly obey God. He came under the law to fulfill the law. Because God required his children to be baptized, Jesus embraced the waters of baptism. As Jesus told John in Matthew 3:13: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus did it all. When he died on the cross the work of paying for sins was complete. He paid our debt in full.
To reach heaven, men and women do not have to do penance, travel to a South Pacific island, or perfectly attend church for a year. Christ did it all. All we must do is repent and believe. Even baptism ceases to be a requirement for heaven. While all Christians should long to be baptized as it is a sign of faithful obedience, grace exists for those who cannot enter into the waters because of illness, imprisonment, or other physical limitations. The thief on the cross could be with Jesus in paradise without baptism because Jesus had fulfilled the law (Lk. 23:43). Our salvation does not depend on us. It depends upon the work of Jesus. He did not do 90% or even 99% of it. He did it all. Rest in him.
Jesus and the Blessing of God
But such a rest makes sense only if Jesus is God. It is one thing for Jesus to identify with sinners. But we can only be confident of the efficacy of Jesus’s work on earth if we are certain that the Father delights in the work of the son. It is one thing to claim heaven. It is quite another for heaven to claim you
What set Jesus apart from every other spiritual prophet and teacher is that Jesus claimed heaven and heaven claimed Jesus. Immediately after his Baptism, Matthew records,
The heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (3:16b-17).”
The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus as the new prophet, priest and king, the new Adam who comes to usher in a new kingdom. And then the Father declares Jesus to be his beloved son with whom he is well pleased. Because Jesus is the holy son of God, the Father delights in him.
Though we cannot please the Father, Jesus does. And he does so not just for his benefit. He does so for us. The baptism of John pictures how Jesus redeems sinners. After fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus dies on the cross for sinners, submerging himself under the waters of death to pay for all of our sins. Then, he bursts forth from the water, shattering the stone that blocked his tomb and revealing that all who repent of their sins and trust in the life and death of Christ for salvation will be raised to eternal life. In other words, the Father delights in the sacrifice of Jesus. No other works or promises are needed.
Moreover, if we know the saving power of Christ and have once again stumbled like the disciples were prone to do, we do not have to cry a certain number of tears, we do not have to give X amount of money, nor do we have to stay away from church for five weeks to gain forgiveness. We do not have to work to re-earn God’s favor. God has fulfilled all righteousness. The forgiveness of God remains forever sure for it depends not upon us but upon Jesus. Draw near to God and he will always draw near to you.
Those who work for their salvation with great zeal do not prove themselves to be grand saints. They prove themselves to be grand fools. The Father delights in the work of Christ.
If we stop working for heaven, our earthly identities will perish, our friends will change, and we may experience all kinds of loss. But we will gain something far greater. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:25,
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Stop working and rest in the Jesus for he is the fulfillment of all righteousness the beloved son of God. All who stop working and repent and believe find eternal life.
Are you ready to retire?
One thought on “The Gospel: Rest > Work”
At least I waited until I was 68 before retiring. Very good writing – it has a good flow – Publish it somehow.
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