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Finding the True Meaning of Work and Rest In Jesus

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The Old Testament highlights the significance of the Sabbath, a day of rest that was to be central in the lives of God’s people. Even when they worked on something as important as the tabernacle, they were not to be so consumed with that work that they could not put it aside. And this was no light matter: God’s people were to keep the Sabbath or they would die. As the Author of rest, God commanded them to rest from physical labor.

The purpose of the Sabbath is given in Exodus 31:13: “. . . that you might know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.” God had entered into a covenant relationship with His people, like a marriage, and the Sabbath was the day to set aside work and rest in Him, trusting in His love for them. They would be tempted to think that they needed to work, but God was essentially saying, “Trust Me. I will take care of you. Set aside this day to rest in Me, to trust in Me, to grow in your knowledge of Me and My love for you, and I will provide for you.” 

In the New Testament, we learn that the Sabbath of the Old Testament was pointing forward to a greater Sabbath, a greater rest, that is found only in Christ. In light of this, consider three different ways the gospel frees us to rightly experience work and rest.

1. The gospel secures our salvation, freeing us to rest in Jesus’ finished work.

In light of the picture of the Sabbath in the Old Testament, listen to Paul’s words in Colossians 2:16-17: 

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” 

The Sabbath was set up by God as a shadow to point us to Christ. In Christ, we rest from labor and trust in God’s love in the new covenant. It’s no surprise, then, to hear Jesus come on the scene in Matthew 11:28 and say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Similarly, the author of Hebrews says that “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 4:9–10). This is the gospel: there is no amount of work you can do to save you from your sins and make you right with God. Salvation from your sins and a relationship with God comes through resting in Christ’s finished work on your behalf. 

2. The gospel secures our satisfaction, freeing us from the idolatry of work.

The gospel doesn’t just secure our salvation, it secures our satisfaction, freeing us from the idolatry of work. When you trust in Jesus, you are reconciled to God, which means you have found ultimate meaning in God. Your ultimate source of joy is not in what you do, but in Who you know. Your identity is not in your job but in Jesus Christ. 

Will you experience frustration, discouragement, and despair at work? Sure you will. It’s the reality of work in a sinful world. But just as soon as you do, those realities will remind you that your work is not your source of meaning, not your source of joy, not your source of satisfaction, not your identity. Jesus is, and He alone can provide all that the greatest needs and desires of your soul. So let frustration in your work drive you to satisfaction in Jesus. 

3. The gospel secures our significance, freeing us from idleness in work.

Finally, Jesus infused significance, meaning, and purpose into all we do, including even the most menial tasks and jobs. Your work is pointless in this world, if this world is all there is. But there’s more to it. There is a God who loves you and has designed you and your work for His glory, and Christ has made a way for you to experience His eternal purpose in your day-to-day work. So what does this mean for your life on Monday morning? Here are four simple encouragements:

  • By the grace of God, work diligently to display the character of God.
  • By the grace of God, work diligently to advance the mission of God.
  • By the grace of God, prioritize God-glorifying rest over the course of every week.
  • By the grace of God, look forward to the day when everyone and everything will work perfectly, when we will rest fully and forever in God’s great love.

 

–This article is adapted from David Platt’s sermon titled, “Work and Rest for the Glory of God.” Go here to access the sermon.

David Platt serves as pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and president of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.
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