First Rest and then Work
by Joseph Franks
In the Old Covenant of Grace, work is followed by rest.
In the beginning, God creates the world in six days. Then, on the seventh day, he rests and holidays.
In the book of Exodus, God commands his nation to worship him by working on the first six days of each week. Then, on the seventh day, they are to honor him and be improved by resting from their normal labors.
In the Gospels, work continues precede rest. In regards to sabbath keeping, Jesus feels no obligation to keep the extra-biblical traditions added by the elders, but he does honor the principles put forth in the ancient Hebrew scriptures. For six days each week, Jesus works. He then follows this up with a restful seventh day.
This pattern represents Jesus’ earthly ministry. First, the Savior labors obeying the moral, ceremonial, and civil laws. He then takes upon himself the sentence earned by his sordid church. Yes, Jesus wears himself out receiving both the Father’s commendation and condemnation. Then, as his earthly work comes to a completion upon Calvary, he enters his sabbath in paradise. Jesus works, and then he rests.
In the New Covenant of Grace, rest is followed by work.
In God’s new economy, there is much development. Leadership transitions from the twelve patriarchs to the twelve apostles. In addition, one sees circumcision and the ceremonial water rites replaced by baptism. In the New Covenant, elders replace priests and the Lord’s Supper replaces the Passover and all the other formerly prescribed ceremonial feasts. And in the Apostolic scriptures, the Lord’s Day replaces the Mosaic Sabbath. From the resurrection on, nothing else is said of the Mosaic, ceremonial, seventh-day sabbath. God’s people no longer seem to work and rest after the old rotation and strict legislation of the ancient Mosaic manner. Instead, following the Holy Spirit’s guidance and apostolic leadership, the church honors both the Creation Mandate and the Fourth Commandment by gathering for Christian worship and fellowship on the first day of each week. Under Moses they work, work, work, and then they finally rest. Under Christ they first, foremost, and forever rest, and then in this posture they go to work.
Can we handle some rest?
During his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaims.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Friends, are we weary and heavy laden? Of course we are. God’s good Law requires internal and external perfection. Holiness is hard. No, it is impossible. The higher we seem to jump, the higher the acceptable standard seems to be. On our best days, it is one step forward and ten steps backward. Oh, how we love God’s Law. Oh, how we wish we could keep God’s Law. Oh, how we break God’s Law everyday. And oh, how God’s Law condemns and enslaves us. It is an unkeepable obligation, and it is heavy. It is so, so, so heavy.
Therefore weary sinners, let us go to Jesus for rest. Let us cease trying to perform, and instead trust in Jesus’ performance for us. We can rest in his penal substitution; he took all the Father’s condemnation for us. We can rest in his righteous accomplishments; his divine work-record and commendation can be ours. There is nothing left for us to do but bow the knee and kiss the Son. There is nothing for us to do but cease our doing. Eternal rest is ours by faith and not by works. Worn out worshiper, we can rest, relax, sabbath, breathe, and holiday.
Then, enjoying the rest of Christ, let us go to work. Jesus has a yoke for us to wear and bear. He has plans to use us in accomplishing his work in his field. We are called to be his servants, slaves, priests, ambassadors, laborers, and fishermen. A charge to keep we have. We have a Great Commission to pursue.
However, in all of this ministerial work, let us always keep resting. The yoke about our shoulders is strong, but it is light and under the control of one who is loving, gentle, and tender. And in all of our joint labor with him, let us never forget the soul-rest he has already granted us. Let us contemplate it again, we can rest, relax, sabbath, breathe, and holiday. Sure, Christ would have us diligently work and labor for him, but he would first, foremost, and forever have us rest.
Someday, our earthly toil will be over and we too will enter our eternal rest. What a glorious day that will be! And to keep our eyes fixed upon Christ and his eternal reward, he gives us the Lord’s Day. We still get the privilege of enjoying a weekly holiday as we look forward to our eternal vacation. Today we rest and work. On Sunday we get to rest and rest.