Monday, August 24, 2009

The End of God's Work...And Ours

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Genesis 2:1-3 (emphasis added)
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished. God finished His work. And He rested. We should marvel when we look up to the sky and ponder the vastness of God’s creation and consider that God did it all in merely six days. That is glorious beyond description. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handwork (Psalm 19:1). They reveal His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature as the Designer and Molder of it all (Romans 1:20). The creation of the heavens and the earth was a glorious work. But God’s most glorious work was yet to come.

During His ministry, Jesus said the following when He was in Samaria:
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish [finish, complete] his work.
John 4:34
The word accomplish can also be rendered as complete or finish. Jesus says that He came to finish His Father’s work. But wait. I thought God finished His work back in Genesis chapter 2. Why, then, is He still working? The first two chapters of Genesis display God’s work in creation. And the four gospel accounts display God’s work in redemption. God finished His work in creation when he blessed it and made it holy, taking His rest from all that He had done on the previous six days (Genesis 2:3). And He finished His work in redemption when, from the cross, He himself said, “It is finished” and took His rest by bowing His head and giving up His spirit (John 19:30). I can’t help but wonder if one of the main reasons God inspired Moses to tell us that He finished His work in the Garden of Eden was to foreshadow the work that He would finish as He hung on the cross at Calvary. Even in Eden there are echoes of Calvary. Many of them. But it gets even better.

The relationship between God’s work in creation and God’s work in redemption is seen in that the Scriptures tell us of how He finished both (Genesis 2:3, John 19:30 respectively). But have you ever thought about how God finishing His work in each case relates to our work?

In creation, the completion of God’s work signifies the beginning of ours. God created the waters, the dry ground, the sun, the moon, the stars, the plants, the animals, and, last of all, humankind. When He created human beings, He was completing His work in creation. And it was at that time that He told the first human beings:
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
Genesis 1:28
This has been called the “dominion mandate.” In its essence, it is a call for Adam and Eve to work. They are to be overseers of all of God’s creation. Adam specifically is to till the ground. God did not intend for Adam and Eve to be passive in fulfilling the dominion mandate. Obedience to this mandate would require action. It would require work. And, therefore, the end of God’s work in creation signifies the beginning of man’s work in creation.

But the opposite is true in redemption. In redemption, the completion of God’s work signifies the end of ours.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Hebrews 4:9 (emphasis added)
In the book of Hebrews, the author speaks of the priests who stand daily at their service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (Hebrews 10:11). What are the priests doing? They are, in a way, participating in the work of redemption. In the Old Testament, God had instituted the sacrificial system as a way to appease Him for a time so that He wouldn’t wipe the Israelites out for their sins. There were very detailed and complicated rules for how these sacrifices had to be carried out (don’t take my word for it but take a slow read through Leviticus) and doubtless much fear on behalf of these priests that they might do something wrong. I find that often in my heart I am slipping into what must have been the mindset of these priests: “I need to perform well. I need to be good enough. I can’t mess up. Otherwise God will not be pleased.”

But the whole message of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus’ finished work signifies the end of the priest’s work. The priests can bring their work in redemption—if we can even call it that—to an end precisely because Jesus has finished His. And the reason why this is such good news to me is because I find myself often falling into the mindset that I imagine those priests had. Of course I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to participate in my own redemption, but when I’m feeling down or disappointed I am tempted to think that perhaps there’s something wrong with my offering of faith. Am I studying the Word diligently enough? Am I spending enough time with the Lord in payer? Perhaps I need to do what I did yesterday?

But “It is finished” means exactly that. It is finished. God’s work in redemption is finished. And that means the end of the priest’s. And the end of mine. Jesus is a much better priest than Aaron, Melchizedek, or me. That’s why He’s called the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). But one of the woeful conditions of the human heart post-Fall is that, whether we realize it or not, there are ways that we are all constantly trying to be our own priests, many of them subtle. We try to make ourselves good enough. That’s why again and again Paul has to speak against works in his epistles (see Romans and Galatians). Ceasing our works is not as easy as we might think. And that’s why the author to the Hebrews says we must strive to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:11). We must fight to remain resting in the finished work of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It’s paradoxical. But it’s the daily reality in the life of the believer.

For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest…
Hebrews 4:2, 3 (emphasis added)
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Hebrews 4:9 (emphasis added)
God rested from His work in creation after six days. But it wasn’t until Jesus finished His work in redemption that we would truly be able to rest from ours. And though that original Sabbath ended 24 hours after it began each week, the Sabbath rest that we enter in Jesus begins the moment we put our faith in Him and never comes to an end in this life nor for all of eternity.
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished [finished, completed] the work that you gave me to do.
John 17:4
It is finished [accomplished, completed].
John 19:30
I believe, Father. Please help my daily unbelief. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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