In most of known history, it has been a luxury to spend time doing what you want to do instead of what you must do. Some might say this tells us something about the nature of life on Earth. Others might say it tells us about human nature. I think it’s both.
In the industrialized world today, most people end up with some time to do what they want. This isn’t the simple difference between your job and your home life. Many people have work to do at home too, and it can be just as demanding as the work they might do in their jobs. The French government has made a law setting the work-week to 35 hours in that country. Anyone working at a job beyond 35 hours a week must be paid overtime. One of the reasons is so that workers have more time off to improve their quality of life. The intent was to give the workers more time for leisure and recreation. We may not have a 35-hour work week here, but we do see quite a bit of recreation. You can see it on the highway, on the river, on the mountain, at the ocean, and sometimes even in your own backyard.
Today we consider how the Christian faith may be applied to leisure and recreation. That can simply be the time you’re not at work, or even the time you’re being refreshed with some kind of restful activity. As nice as that sounds, you know that no rest on Earth will be perfect. So your approach to leisure and recreation must begin with the knowledge that your true rest is still coming.
Your rest is coming: First, because there is no true rest on earth, and second, because Jesus has given you paradise.
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.”
In our text, Jesus is teaching about more than just rest and recreation. He’s teaching about money and earthly possessions, but that relates directly to rest and recreation. Money and possessions are things that belong to someone on the Earth, and there’s usually only one way to get them: by working. So a dollar is really a measure of a certain amount of work. A quarter represents a fourth of that work. A ten-dollar bill represents ten times that work.
If you spend 40 hours working at ten dollars an hour, you’ll earn $400. After taxes, you might have around $335 to take home. You’ve converted your time working into some money. When you have enough, that money has the power to get you anything you may want. Well, not quite. It can buy you earthly things, but not heavenly or spiritual things.
I should point out that the money in your pocket is also a gift to you from God. He provided the job. He provided your able body, mind, and will. He made you; you didn’t make yourself. You did work for the money, but you also need to thank Him for bringing it to you.
Once you have that cash in your pocket, you can do something with it right away. You can spend it, save it, or even give it. You don’t need to work any more for that money. It’s already in your pocket. As far as that money goes, you can now relax. It not only represents a certain amount of work, but a certain amount of leisure or recreation. What will you do?
That’s the point where money becomes what Jesus calls “unrighteous mammon.” It’s an earthly possession that captures the heart of sinful human beings, so that we forget about more important things. We do wicked things. We waste our resources. We selfishly hurt or deprive other people. Not least of all, we gratify our own desires for pleasure as we search in vain for happiness on earth.
Jesus was making the point in our text that this is a kind of test from God. He can give paychecks week after week for years. He can also increase them. He can help you save and bless your investments. He can turn your savings into earthly wealth. He can make you rich, and He can make you poor again. When He gives you money, even money for which you’ve worked, God will watch and see what you do with it. Your paycheck may seem ever so small, but God will still see how you handle it. Maybe it’s not even your money, but something another person has entrusted to you for a while. God notices how we handle that, too. He watches us at work, but He also watches us at play.
Jesus taught, He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?
God rewards us according to His Law. His Commandments govern all human behavior. They apply to the greatest treasures just as much as the smallest coins. They apply in vast global economies in exactly the same way as they apply in your own household budget. They apply to long vacations just as much as to your weekend. If you want God’s greater blessings, then be faithful and just in the blessings He has already given.
Human beings are creatures of God, earthly creatures with limited bodies and minds. We are capable of work, but we also need rest. We work best when we’ve had some time in recreation. Just as the word implies, recreation is meant to re-create our capabilities. Rest is meant to help us better fulfill our working purpose as human beings, so that we not only do our work, but also enjoy it.
If it were not for our sinful nature, we would love it. But when sin gets in the way, we grow impatient or resentful of our work. We begin to value our time off more highly than our time on. We neglect some of our obligations in favor of others, as long as we can get away with it.
It’s been said that Americans today have work, play and worship all mixed up. We play at our worship, we work at our play, and we worship our work. That may not describe you all the time, but I think it summarizes a common problem: we are basically unfaithful with the opportunities and resources that God has given us. We are unfaithful with the little we have, and do not deserve to be given any more.
Even the most wealthy people on Earth have very little in God’s view. God can make millions or billions of dollars vanish overnight. He can turn the most glorious vacation to Disney World or the Caribbean into a life-altering nightmare. The things you and I like to enjoy are fleeting and empty compared to the true blessings that God has kept in reserve for the future. We may think that the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest must be God’s best work ever, but it’s not. His best work isn’t even on Earth. The most stunningly beautiful places for recreation will be in the world to come, in the place where rest, leisure, and recreation are no less enjoyable than our work.
So when Christians get caught up in the world’s mad quest for the perfect time of leisure and recreation, at the expense of our duties, we have failed. When our time off even takes us away from God’s Word and Sacraments, then it’s chipping away at our faith! We may well recall Jesus’ words of warning about such people with such confused priorities: “They have their reward.”
Your true rest is coming, because there is no true rest on Earth.
Your true rest is coming, because Jesus has given you paradise.
He taught about the great difference between what the world values and what God values. We tend to like to relax. Maybe a pleasant beverage is in your hand. Maybe you’re sitting or reclining in a comfortable place. The temperature is perfect. You’re clean and fresh. Something entirely different from your work is there before you to occupy yourself. Maybe it’s television, like a good show or sports, like the olympics or baseball. Maybe it’s a relaxing social game with friends.
Sometimes the relaxation we want isn’t so relaxing. Rafting over some white water, skiing down a groomed slope, catching the wind in a sail or kite, fishing, hunting, running or biking: all pleasant in their way, and a nice contrast to work or home life. Besides, they can keep your body fit and healthy. Some people have even used the phrase “the church of the great outdoors.”
What does Jesus say? “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.”
He used a pretty strong, pretty long word there. “Abomination.” It’s something that produces extreme hate, disgust, pollution, or wickedness. Jesus was referring to the love of money, but money can also mean leisure and recreation. If we love those things to the point where we lose perspective, then God calls it an abomination. Recreation has a place, and human beings need it. But it does not replace our work or responsibilities elsewhere. Our recreation is good for us, and even for others. But it’s only good for others when we keep it in perspective, and avoid turning it into another kind of idolatry.
Did you notice what Jesus mentioned in contrast to the idolatrous priorities of the world? He mentioned the law and the prophets, the preaching of the Gospel. Those are the things where God would like our attention to be. According to the world’s perspective, the preaching of the Gospel is boring and ineffective. Even worse, it’s offensive to worldly sensibilities. But according to God’s perspective, it’s at the top of the list: the number one priority. Nothing on Earth could be more important, not even Disney World. Not even the Green Bay Packers (for people living in Wisconsin). Not even a day at the coast.
Why is God’s perspective so important? The first reason we’ve already mentioned. There is no true rest on Earth. The Packers can’t give anyone eternal life, and neither can your favorite leisure activity. But even more to the point, Jesus has given you paradise, and He delivers it to you through faith whenever you hear the preaching of the Gospel.
When we go for days or weeks without the Gospel, faith shrinks and shrivels. In time, it will disappear, and we will join together with the rest of the world on its merry way to hell. But when we receive the Gospel, God forgives our sins. He even forgives our misplaced priorities and our negligence of what’s important. The Holy Spirit creates faith anew, converting us from unbelief, and bringing us back to the pure righteousness that we receive in our Baptism.
Besides the meal of forgiveness we receive in God’s Word, He also provides the meal of our Lord’s body and blood. He warns us not to take it lightly, because if we receive it unworthily, or unprepared, we receive God’s condemnation. But when we prepare ourselves by examining our lives and faith in light of God’s Word, repenting, and trusting His promise, then the body and blood of Christ bestow forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
Jesus said that with the preaching of the Gospel, everyone is pressing into the kingdom of God. When you know about the true rest to come, and you believe God’s promise through Jesus, and you realize the price in blood that Jesus paid for this amazing gift of salvation, then no amount of leisure or recreation can compare. No, it’s not wrong to enjoy some things or to keep yourself physically fit. In fact, we need those things. But we need Jesus even more. We need heaven more.
There’s an old belief among some Christians and Jews called “chiliasm” or “millenialism.” Without getting stuck in all of the details of the many different flavors of that belief, I’ll just summarize it. It holds that there will be a time when God’s kingdom will finally be established on Earth. Everything will be perfect, and God’s people will have their day. Even some of Jesus’ disciples expected such an earthly kingdom when He ascended to heaven. But that’s not the paradise described by the Bible.
Our paradise will not be in this world. It will be in the life to come. We need to make sure that we don’t begin looking for our own slice of paradise on earth. We won’t find it in a lottery ticket, or in the accumulation of money. We won’t find it in a perfectly healthy body. We won’t find it in just the right job, or just the right place to live, or even just the right members of our household. This world will always be this world, as long as it lasts.
Jesus said, And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. When He says “the law” here, Jesus means God’s Word. The words written in your Bible are more permanent than this world around us. By that power alone, the power of God’s forgiveness bestowed through Word and Sacrament, your rest is coming. Jesus has given you paradise.
Soli Deo Gloria!