Throughout 2014, I was frequently struck by the power and wonder of God’s grace. I was specifically taken by the concept of resting in the finished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I assigned themes to the years of my life, 2014’s theme would have been “Rest; Don’t Work.”
If this is the first you’ve thought or heard about this idea of “resting,” then this sermon should provide some nice background. But if you’d like, I’ll summarize a good bit of it right now.
Disobeying God’s law—sin—separates us from God, creatIng a rift between us that must be bridged. It’s a criminal offense before the King that must be punished. We don’t have the strength to bridge that gap, to make restitution for our crimes. Jesus came to do that for us, on the cross. He did what we couldn’t do for ourselves. When He cried out “It is finished!, the work had been done. He’d paid the penalty of our sins. He’d bridged the gap and brought us back into right standing with God.
Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins—He took our evil, wicked behavior and “atoned” for it by offering up Himself, the only sinless Man, in our place. He took our sin, and we get to take up His righteousness. We call this ‘justification,’ meaning that it’s “just as if we’d never sinned.”
Of course, our record might be clear, but our habits aren’t. We still do bad things; sometimes by default. We need more than forgiveness: we need transformation. Part of this happens in that first moment of salvation, but the bulk of it takes place day in and day out as we live our lives for Jesus. As we live for Him, by the strength of His Spirit within us, we become more like Him, sinning less and less.
My point in all of this is that our efforts weren’t required in taking away our sins. Nor is there anything that we can directly do to make ourselves more like Jesus. This is where the idea of resting, ceasing to work, comes in to play. In the Old Testament, God commanded that His people were to “cease,” or sabbath, one day a week. The seventh day was to be a day of resting, ceasing to work. (There is so much here that I want to communicate, but I’ll have to leave it for another time.) But it wasn’t just the seventh day that was to be a day of rest.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.” Leviticus 16:29-33
Did you catch all of that? The Day of Atonement—the day of the year upon which their sins were paid for in a ceremony that directly foreshadowed Jesus’ death—was a day of sabbath resting!
There was no work to be done on the Day of Atonment. This was so important to God that He repeated Himself a few chapters later:
“Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:28
“Don’t work because your sins are being paid for.”—that’s what He’s telling them. No one is to do any work.
Except for the priest.
He offered the sacrifice. He brought the payment for the sin before God.
One man did the work of atonement in the Old Testament.
And one Man–Jesus Christ–did the work of atonement in the New Testament.
Rest in the finished work of Jesus. Embrace the fact that you can’t do anything to blance the scales, to repay your debt of sin. It’s already been paid. Take joy in the wonder of His grace and realize that, in so far as the work of atonement is concerned, all that is left for us is to rest.
May 2015 be the year you experience the rest of God’s grace.