Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jesus our Eternal Rest

Somewhere inside the human heart there is a void. It is a hard taskmaster that demands a search for fulfillment and meaning, and it can achieve a level of contentment with the things of this world. Money, purpose, health, family, friends, and a list of temporal enjoyments are often used to fill this void, although they can never completely fill this gaping chasm. It can also be appeased by constructing a deity that accommodates man’s desires and intellect. Such are the world’s religions, including Christianity.
The word religion is a man made term that defines an organized concept of a deity who both created the universe and interacts with it as well. Religion usually has rules and tenants, and it usually outlines a lifestyle that must be adhered to in order to please or appease this deity. And so most of the world trudges through life stretching from one momentary satisfaction to the next and deriving a sense of destiny with whatever religion is available in that culture. In short, the world is one colossal community of lost sinners who have become quite adept at masking their true identity and blindness through paths of personal accomplishments and organized spiritual enlightenment.
No rest for the weary” says the proverb. And yet mankind finds only stepping stones of rest interrupted by bouts of doubt, failure, and an insatiable need for more or different. Even in most religions there are levels to climb and badges to be gained through greater knowledge and adherence to the set of rules made especially for that particular religious cache. When viewed as a whole it is a gigantic cosmic treadmill occupied by the sea of humanity. It never ends, never arrives, and strives to control those within it by systematically moving the target and many times these religious systems do not even provide any place of rest and destination. Such are religions of every kind and variety; their common thread is control, human effort, and usually a caste system of division and hierarchy.
Even many constructs that call themselves “Christian” have borrowed from other religions as it pertains to practice and methodology. These false structures offer little rest and are religious streams that continually demand more and even teach that peace can only come through a regimen of human endeavors designed to please/appease the Father God. They promise life while teaching death, and they promise freedom while bringing men into bondage. And remarkably enough, while so much of western Christianity has been fashioned according to this world, and while so much of the evangelical structure appears to be liberal and with very little sacrifice and discipline, in reality it has become a prison that offers only more of the same and void of any true rest. Believers follow a religion or a denomination or a church but not the Risen Christ.
We as professing believers should not follow rules; we should follow Christ. It may be a subtle difference sometimes that is often lost upon the evangelical Bourgeoisie, but the difference is life and death. One believer does not get drunk because his denomination teaches it and his preacher preaches against it, but another believer refrains from intoxication because the love of Christ constrains him. “What’s the difference”, you ask? The distinction defines the difference between bondage and freedom, between love and law, and between Jesus and religion.
Look with your imagination as hordes of sinners who name Jesus as their Lord march to and fro on Sunday to a building, only to repeat the spectacle the following week; watch as they chit-chat in the parking lot about almost everything but Jesus. Observe the enormous amounts of money given to pay church mortgages and inflated staff salaries. If you could invisibly follow many church pastors and staff members you might be surprised. You might see many hours talking on the phone with friends and family; you might see weekly golf games and many elongated lunch appointments usually with peers and/or the higher element of the evangelical membership. You might observe hours speaking about financial investments and energy spent talking about things which are not profitable. You might even watch as your pastor gets the bulk of Sunday’s message from the internet or some sermon book.
And behold how creative are the sermon series that are designed to keep the interest of the congregation and simultaneously draw in sinners interested in solving their particular problems. And Biblical unpleasantness is ardently avoided and relevant bridges are built to appeal to the earthly interests of mankind. Jesus is usually an aside who makes a cameo appearance at the sermon’s end as the preacher attempts to leverage the raising of hands. It is all so predictable. Arrive at the building early on Sunday and count the heads that are bowed in prayer; include the staff and pastor in your count. And when the “service” is over, follow the staff and parishioners as they sashay to the nearest restaurant and enjoy a post theatre repast. It appears so free and footloose and yet it is the most insidious form of bondage.
And as you follow your church leaders, count the hours in prayer. In fact, do a personal survey concerning the proportion of activities to the number of corporate prayer meetings. Is it that bad? Fast and pray for four days and at the end ask the Spirit how bad it is. But be prepared, the Holy Spirit will also hold up a mirror that reveals things about you and me. But this mirror is not meant to condemn and bring us into bondage; this mirror is meant to increase hunger and thirst for righteousness which is only found in the Person of Jesus, the Risen and Reigning Lord of All. The time is ripe for a revival. I do not speak of some contrived healing revival with miracle snake oil salesman and dog and pony shows. I speak of something much deeper and much closer to God’s own heart.
We need a return to Jesus. If you have been paying even the slightest bit of attention to what has been happening in the western evangelical church you probably are aware of at least one thing; there are movements afoot that are preaching another Jesus. This Jesus is interested in political issues and social injustice and earthly pleasures but this Jesus is not interested in eternal redemption. That Jesus is a false Jesus and that Jesus cannot save. But perhaps you have missed another issue in the western church, namely that those of us who profess and confess the true Christ have become self righteous, hedonistic, judgmental, militaristic, and content with our own profoundly lacking spiritual journey to follow Jesus.
And it is there where I wish to take us. All the things I have addressed about others may be accurate and true, but if we are satisfied with identifying the spiritual needs in others but are blind to our own incredible need for repentance and revival we are no better than the ones we criticize or indeed the Pharisees of old. We are in desperate need of seeking Jesus and finding our complete rest in Him once more. We get so caught up with so many issues and doctrinal nuances that we have left our first love. The cultural tsunami has overwhelmed us and like Samson we do not even know our power is gone. The church blends in nicely with culture, and I do not just mean in terms of hedonism and seeking wealth, but many times the issues of love, mercy, and grace are unremarkable in the context of humanistic manifestations of the same. Shouldn’t followers of Jesus exhibit pronounced manifestations of the characteristics of Jesus Christ that are light years more profound than are their unbelieving counter parts and are indeed unexplainable by pure human logic?
It is not enough to be “doctrinally pure”; we must also be pure in our life revelation of the Redeemer. It matters what we believe, but it also matters how we live what we believe. Paul calls us “living epistles” that are read by people who do not read the Scriptures, and in Paul’s day, could not read at all. Think about that for a moment. Many people came to believe in Jesus primarily through observing those who followed Jesus and hearing them share about Jesus. Can you believe it? The ministry of the Holy Spirit called redemption is active even without all the relevant bells and whistles we leverage today.
People are searching for rest, and tragically they do not see that rest in the western church. We as believers have been searching for rest in homes and cars and careers and investments, but we have quit resting in Jesus, except as a doctrinal core of redemption. And even that is rapidly dissipating among evangelicals. We run to and fro just like the lost world, but with our lips we profess Jesus is our rest. He is not…He has not left…we have. But let us now turn our eyes and hearts to Jesus.
Jesus. He is the eternal rest…the only eternal rest. Perhaps those who die without Christ are sentenced to the torture of attempting to work more and more in order to gain an entrance into heaven, only to find it impossible, but being unable to stop. But Jesus has provided an eternal rest. But that rest was not without cost. There is absolutely no way to fully understand the suffering that Jesus took upon Himself to purchase our eternal rest. And even while he endured the pain and the shame for our sins, and even in the midst of suffering the horrors of hell itself, He knew that most would reject Him while others would even deny the gift that God was providing by eviscerating the essence of the substitutionary punishment He was displaying.
He became sin for us that we may be made in His righteousness. Just the thought of such a thing soars above the fallen mind, and even with the guidance of the Spirit we are left spellbound with unsearchable amazement. Jesus, our Jesus, has become our exclusive and complete rest. We dare not attach any human hands or ceremony to His pristine redemption, for they not only detract, they may indeed nullify. Framed in the eternal moment is Jesus. There are only forgeries and pretenders other than Jesus the Risen Christ. God’s work is finished, and we either enter into that work by faith or we die with our own efforts.
Put down your religion, O sinner, and take those hands off the tiller of your own ship. Count up all your good works and burn that tally sheet as if it was an enemy. Cease any self pleading and intercession and sit down undone and without any claim to any goodness at all. Render yourself perfectly helpless and churning incessantly both inside and out seeking a rest that cannot be found. Have you come to your end, or have you energy still that bids you to search for your own answer? Are you still willing to toil in your own garden or have you come to the end of yourself and your own righteousness? Lay it all aside forever and cling by faith to the crimson robe of the High Priest of Eternal Rest. Away with all earthly endeavors that attempt to purchase some temporary rest, and away with all religions that add and subtract to the glory of that one and singular harbor of rest, namely the Captain of our Salvation Jesus.
Recline on those scarlet wounds and drink deeply of the divine blood that was shed for you. Put on the Lord Jesus and repose in the finished work of His cross. Allow the serenity of His eternal peace to energize your heart and mind, and with that knowledge of Him, let it empower you to walk in Him and not yourself. It is Him and Him alone that must shine forth, and men must see your good works as His and not in any way medallions of your own righteous power. In all things He must have the preeminence.
And so fellow pilgrim, board this ship of Zion and await the Captain’s orders.
There is no need of life boats or the maps of men.
And in the power of His love and redemption…rest in absolute obedience and worship.
Did I mention that this ship you board already rests in the eternal harbor?
Did I mention that this ship has already completed it's voyage successfully?
Did I mention that this ship has already been shipwrecked once?
Did I mention this ship rose from death's depths?
Did I mention that this ship's name as well as its Captain is Jesus?
The Captain invites you to dine at His table...forever.

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