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Thursday, September 01, 2016

No Rest for the Weary?

You may be new to the controversy, but for a long, long time there has been a dispute. Is the phrase, "No rest for the weary" or is it "No rest for the wicked"? I mean, "the weary" makes sense because ... well ... they're weary, so they don't have rest -- duh! But, as it turns out, the phrase is actually drawn from Scripture (who would have thought?). In Isaiah we read,
But the wicked are like the tossing sea, For it cannot be quiet, And its waters toss up refuse and mud. "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked." (Isa 57:20-21) (See also Isa 48:22.)
That, my friends, is the primary source. No rest for the wicked. According to God.

But what about the Christian?

If I were to make a reference to "standing on Jordan's shore", you might be well-read enough to know that I'd be referring to dying. Or, should be. The idea comes from the parallel of the children of Israel coming out of the desert and into the Promised Land. To get into Canaan, they had to cross the Jordan. And people like to set the story of the Exodus and the taking of Canaan as an analogy to the Christian life. In fact, this is biblical.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (1 Cor 10:1-6)
Paul draws the parallel between the crossing of the Red Sea to New Testament baptism. In fact, he's using the whole exodus story. You remember. They sacrificed the Passover lamb, a figure of Christ, then were released from slavery in Egypt, a picture of slavery to sin. They passed through the Red Sea, the image of baptism. They had God-provided food, just like we have the Spirit, and were sustained by water from the rock, a picture of Christ. It's all there. So, the notion goes, Egypt is the world out of which we come, the desert is the Christian life, and when we "cross the Jordan", we "enter into the Promised Land" -- when we die we go to heaven.

It's all nice and neat, but I'm not convinced it's accurate. I see two glaring difficulties. First, if we hold to this idea, then the claim is that the best we get in life is ... a bleak, desert experience. That doesn't sound like what Jesus described (John 10:10). Second, do you remember what it was like for them crossing into the Promised Land? It was war. They had to take the land. They had to fight. They even failed miserably at Ai. How is that a picture of heaven? No, I'm not convinced.

Here's what I think. I go right along with Paul's parallel of Egypt as the world and crossing the Red Sea as coming into Christ. I believe, however, that on this side of the Red Sea we have two types of the Christian life. One is the desert; the other is Canaan. Some Christians live and die in the desert. They're out of Egypt, sure, but they're not happy. They're struggling. They're complaining. They're hungry and thirsty. They trust ... sometimes ... but more often they are just unhappy with this whole Christian experience. "I'd be much happier in Egypt." And when you tell them there can be more, better, far superior, they run. "Oh, no," they say, "there are giants in the land! The problems are too big." On the other hand, there are the Joshua and Caleb types. Having endured too much dry desert, they say (and fairly soon if you're familiar with the story), "If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us -- a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them." (Num 14:8-9) These Christians (and, if there is a parallel with the actual account, they're in the minority) go forward beyond the desert experience and enter the Promised Land to fight for the Lord. They take strongholds (2 Cor 10:3-6). They go in with the Lord on their side. Oh, they stumble from time to time, sometimes seriously, but theirs is primarily a victorious Christian life. They live out, "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom 8:31-39)

"But," some might say, "doesn't the author of Hebrews say otherwise?" In Hebrews 3-4 there is a similar parallel drawn between Christian living and Israel under Moses. Hebrews says, "Let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it." (Heb 4:1) Now, isn't "rest" heaven, not here and now?

This, dear reader, is, in the end, my point. This is what I was getting to. Rest. Here's what the Hebrews passage says. "They were not able to enter because of unbelief." (Heb 3:19) Now, if the "they" refers to the Israel that already passed through the Red Sea ("Christian"), then it isn't total unbelief. They've come to Christ. Genuinely come. So the unbelief here would not be unbelief that keeps them out of heaven. It would be an unbelief that keeps them out of complete success, of victory in Christ, of doing all that they could in the power of the Spirit, of "walking on water". It would be, in the final analysis, rest. Sure, this Promised Land Christian would be in conflicts and battles. Sure, there would even be failures. But on the whole it would be rest because it would be "God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13) That would be rest.

Like so many other paradoxes in the Christian life -- joy in suffering, when I'm weak I'm strong, die to live, Jesus Christ as both Man and God, etc. -- we have this apparent contradiction that is not a real contradiction. Work out your salvation for it is God working in you. It is rest in battle, victory in surrender, His life lived out in me. It is rest for the weary and rest for the wicked who have been saved by grace. I would urge us on to that kind of Christian living.

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