Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 6/23/02
If I were to hear the LORD's trumpet sound today and pass from this life, the local undertaker here in Neosho, would put on my funeral brochure, "Jan Antonsson entered into rest on 6/16/02." Because he puts that on all his funeral brochures, I originally thought that he was just choosing a more pleasant way to say, "She died. She passed away. She toddled off to glory." But the longer we are here and the more we observe what the normal Christian life seems to be in the bible belt, the more we realize that it is commonly understood among Christians that dying is the only way you can rest. As long as you are breathing in and out, you have to work for God. We had a dramatic "sound bite" confirming that recently at the funeral of a dear Saint who loved the Lord, and who had apparently spent her life in good works. In fact, shortly before she died, she had asked her husband, "What can we do for Jesus today?" That may sound spiritual and Godly, but in fact, it filled me with deep sorrow. We had been praying that God would flood her body with Resurrection Life. However, as we approached the casket on our way out of the church, I whispered to Lenny, "This is the only way the poor woman can rest." It grieves me that her funeral service and the church she attended celebrates this misconception of what the scripture says about rest. There IS a rest for the people of God, entered into it by BELIEF and TRUST, NOT by death.
Some Christians have little or no understanding that under law, we had to figure out the right thing to do, but under grace, we are led by the Holy Spirit and follow His marching orders: The wisest man who ever lived wrote, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding" (Prov. 3:5). This difference between law and grace is illustrated by the two trees which God placed in the Garden He planted "eastward in Eden" (Gen. 2:8, KJV). In that garden was the tree of Life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of Life represents our life in Christ. He is the Vine and we are the branches, and when we are connected to the Vine, His life force flows through our souls, spirits, and bodies. When we are NOT connected to the Vine, we are eking out a shabby religious existence from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Partaking of the fruit of that tree is what plunged us into sin and separation from God in the first place. Did you ever wonder what caused Eve to disobey God? The serpent played his assigned role in it, by saying to her, "You will not surely die, ...For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5, NIV). Knowing good and evil was the bait on the hook Satan dangled in front of her. How that appeals to the religious mind. Isn't this what we've been lectured about since we were knee high to a duck? Do good and don't do evil? Knowing good from evil is what the law of Moses was all about. If you do the good things, you will be blessed, but if you do the bad things, or fail to do the good things, you will be cursed.
It has always been interesting to me that God said to them, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen. 3:16). From this, we know that they could have eaten of the Tree of life and lived forever, but they did not. Perhaps the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a little juicer looking, or the tree more pleasing to the senses, but I think it was the idea of wanting to be like God which seduced them. It certainly seduces a lot of people today, in and out of the pews. Some religious sects proclaim that we are gods in this world. Some religious leaders speak as though they were God. That sounds like the fruit off this very tree to me. Whatever their motivation, Adam and Eve's sin sold us down the river, where we remained in bondage to death and decay until Jesus paid the price for us. We do not know the kind of fruit on the tree, but we do know the consequences we all face because they ate of it. It is essential to realize that the tree was beautiful to the eyes and it had both good works and bad deeds associated with it. There is a popular notion in Christendom that it is only evil deeds which will get you in trouble, but this is not the case.
Last week, we read Paul's comments about the kind of foundation we build upon, be it gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or stray (I Cor. 3:11-15). He says that if we build on any foundation other than Jesus Christ, our work will be shown for what it is, "because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." This passage clearly demonstrates that there are works which we do, which will not stand the test of fire, though Paul does not indicate that they are evil deeds, or sinful ones, merely that they are not built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Remember that the forbidden tree contained the knowledge of good as well as evil. It represents self effort as opposed to the tree of Life, which represents Christ. Our God IS a refining fire (Heb. 12:29), and He is the one who tests our works (John 15:6). Likewise, good works which are done to be seen of men, are not going to pass the test of fire: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full" (Matt. 6:2, NIV). The Pharisees were the quintessential "good Christians," the religious fanatics of their day, who loved to parade their good deeds before men in order to get the glory for themselves. Jesus had VERY harsh words for them, ""Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others" (Matt. 23:23, RSV). There are those who will come running at the first sign of disaster, but who have left undone justice and mercy and faith. There are others who wring their hands in guilt because they think they should run to the rescue of everyone they hear about who is hurting. Guilt is a quick tip off that God is not the author of the effort, but rather the carnal mind. Before they ate the fruit, the scripture reports, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Gen. 2:25). Immediately after eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "... the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Gen. 3:7). Their shame caused them to make coverings for themselves in an attempt to hide from God. Even today, some try to cover themselves with good works to deal with their guilt and shame.
The works which are ordained by God will stand the test of fire, but those which we use to appease our guilt and cover our shame will be consumed by the flames. The Hebrew writer declares, "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it" (Heb. 4:1, NIV). It is still possible to enter into rest, and if the writer meant entering by dying, he would not have cautioned us to be careful not to fall short of it, for there has never been anyone except Enoch and Elijah who failed to die. The text goes on to say, "For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith" (Heb. 4:2, NIV). We have the exeGeses Parallel Bible, which is an interlinear translation from the Hebrew. It translates verse two like this: "For we were evangelized exactly as they: but the word they heard benefited them not, not being co-mingled with the trust by them who heard it. For we who trust, enter shabbath exactly as he said" (Heb. 4:2, exeGeses Bible). I was fascinated with this version because it translates belief or faith, as TRUST. It came to me immediately that the reason Christians are on a treadmill of works is because they do not trust that Jesus' works, which from the cross, He declared were finished (John 19:30), are sufficient for the job at hand, i.e., salvation and transformation from our sinful nature into the glorious sons of God (Rom. 8:29-30).
How could it be that the blood of Christ could really cleanse us of all sin, especially since most of us know how deep and how wide our sin really was, or in some cases, is? Because of this, some feel compelled to add their works to the salvation, glorification, justification, transformation promise that God has freely given all men (Rom. 5:8). This kind of thinking caused Isaiah to cry out, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa 64:6, KJV). The Hebrew word translated rags refers to a woman's menstrual cloths. Not a nice mental image, is it? But that's what Isaiah compares our own works to. Working for Jesus, doing good, rescuing all who hurt is so inbred into us because of the law, that it has become an addiction. And yet, under law, think about it, they were COMMANDED to rest on the Sabbath and do NO WORK! This is what the Hebrew writer is talking about, of course, the Sabbath rest of the people of God, which mirrors the fact that He worked for 6 days, and on the 7th He rested.
I had an e-mail today, which included an article by Malcolm Smith, a man who has been expounding on the Kingdom of God for many years. In his opening statement, he said, "The Gospel is the call to rest, to receive the free, undeserved gift that God has given us in Christ. There is nothing man can do to earn salvation. It is, from beginning to end, the grace of God, which can only be received by faith." And, of course, the Apostle Paul, affirmed that FAITH IS NOT A WORK WE PERFORM: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9, NIV). Malcolm's article continues by saying "The body of truth that proclaims the revelation of God is called the Good News. News, by definition, is the announcement of something that has happened, not a list of things that must be done! All that must be done for a man to live in perfect union with God has been accomplished by Jesus in His death and resurrection."
So, is there nothing a man must do? Malcolm puts it very well: "The heart of the Christian life is to stand in wonder before His love and say, 'Thank You!' The Gospel is not a call to do something, but the announcement that all is done in the One Who stood for all." You could search night and day for a year and probably not find a Christian who would admit to thinking he must work his way to heaven, but nevermind that. Look at his life and notice what he does, and why he says he does it.
Now, I know there are those who are listening to my words, or reading them, who will protest, "But wait. What about those verses that say 'To him who knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin?' (James 4:17). Or the one which says, 'Be not weary in well doing' (II Thes. 3:13). Doesn't that prove that we are to be out there doing good works all the time?" What I have learned over my 61 years of living, and reading the Bible a huge portion of that time, is that the Bible is not an instruction manual, like some would have you believe. One denomination I know began on the premise that you can read the bible and, recreate the early church, and the life of the first Century Christians. They left out one vital part, however, and that was the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, you only have a compilation of rules, and observations that your mind can't get around. Left to your own devices, the only thing you can do is boil it down, water it down enough to fool yourself into thinking your are following the Bible's commandments.
As we have observed so very many times, the WORD of God, is NOT the Bible. The Word of God, as the bible plainly teaches, is Jesus Christ Himself! (John 1:1, 14). When we have the living Word of God dwelling in us, then we understand the mysteries of the Gospel (I Jn. 2:27). One of them which has been opened to me, is that when the bible speaks in what appears to be the imperative mode (a command), it is based on the foundation of the indicative mode (statement of what already is). Jesus said, "Be ye perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48). Trying to keep that commandment on your own, will drive you crazy, and you will fail every time, until your eyes are opened and you see that because of what Jesus already did, you ARE perfect, "holy, blameless, irreproachable" (Col. 1:22). When Christ is the fuel which powers your works, you will NOT be weary in well doing, but will accomplish whatever His hand leads you to do. You will NEVER fail to do good, when the Father is guiding you.
Tabitha was a Christian who lived in Joppa. She "was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room" (Acts 9:36-37). The Apostle Peter was nearby in Lydda, and her friends sent for him to come at once. When he got there, the widows were standing around Tabitha's body, weeping and showing him the clothing she had made while she was alive. He sent them out of the room, kneeled down and prayed, and God raised her from the dead. This miracle turned many to the Lord in that city, but it occurred to me that Tabitha most certainly would have come back to this life changed, having experienced up close and personal the rest of God, for in His presence is the only place we can find rest. He said to Moses, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" (Ex. 33:14). I need to make it clear that doing good work is not sin unless we think we need to add to what Jesus already did, and then it falls under the category of unbelief.
Jesus invites us all, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30, NIV). When God opens your eyes to see this truth, beside your name in the Book of Life, He will write the words, "Entered into rest." Father, open our eyes that we may see, that we have rested in You eternally. Amen. Jan Antonsson
The Ancient Path, an Obituary
by Jan Antonsson
I began to enter into rest in May of ninety eight, leaving home and land and family and a job I'd come to hate. Wrestling with an angel left me crippled in my thigh, as all I knew how to do, slowly began to die.
Prayers and advice from friends, though they meant me well, did nothing to help, and plunged me deeper into hell. It was not my own idea to enter into rest. God knows, I always tried to do my very best.
"You have to struggle and strive," is what I always heard. "Any kind of resting will have to be deferred until you get to heaven, when it will be OK to sit. By then, you won't need your fight, your trying or your grit."
This resting on the earth at first seemed strange and very odd. Who's going to feed and clothe me? Can I leave this to God? My family thinks He won't, that I simply have to work; if I trust my care to Him, clearly, duty I have shirked.
Entering into rest means listening for His Word, the sweetest sound of grace and love that I have ever heard. I have followed Him to hell and back because I know I must. I found He's the only One who is worthy of my trust.
The irony of it all is, in death, I found my life. Resting means giving Him all my doubt and fear and strife. In resting, there is power to do what He calls me to, and grace to endure until the assignment is through.
Seated in the heavenlies, caught up to His throne, I see the love and glory which He's gifted to His own. Resting is the only way that we can flow in Him, back to the garden, where we begin again.
To walk with Him and talk with Him in a brand new day, with power to tell the hurting world of our Father's better way. Renewed, reborn, and glorified, our eyes are opened to see that we have rested in Him for all eternity.
Written 3:00 AM, 6/19/02, to commemorate my journey on The Glory Road.
"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16, NIV).
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Connected to the Vine,
"Laboring to enter into rest"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 6/20/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/29/08.