“Do you think we’ll wash dishes in heaven?”
My feet ached from standing, and I winced as I dipped my already-dry hands into the dishwater. The plastic containers had gathered by the sink, and as I worked my way through the pile, I looked for hope as I asked my wife this question.
“Probably, but I don’t think we’ll mind it,” she said.
Accurate, gentle, and with just a hint of rebuke. You can tell I married up, as they say.
The Weight of Repetition
We all feel the weight of repetition. We need to wash our clothes, cook our food, cut the grass, and brush our teeth. We finish a job.. .and put it right at the top of our list again! (With feedings and changings, mothers of young children feel this weight acutely.)
Some repetition happens because of the curse, and some is made more difficult by the curse. But there’s no denying that our sin affects the way we respond to and carry out our duties.
If we chafe at repetition, think of the Levites and priests in the Old Testament. Think of the sacrifices they carried out on an annual, monthly, or daily basis. Some of these offerings were matters of bread and oil, but many more involved the blood, fat, skin, and organs of animals.
These sacrifices were messy, smelly, expensive, labor intensive, and numerous. I imagine that as soon as one sacrifice was complete, the Levites were anticipating the next. This cycle, needed only because of sin, spun round and round and round. How would it be resolved? Would it be resolved?
The End of Repetition
The sacrificial system pointed to a need for something permanent, one sacrifice to end the cycle. One decisive offering to bring about a cosmic change.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
Through his Son, God accomplished what the law could not. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was once-for-all. The author of Hebrews meditates on this glorious fact:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1–4)
The sacrifices would have ceased if the law could make God’s people perfect. Instead, the sacrifices reminded the people of sin.
But look at what Christ has accomplished:
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11–14)
Jesus is the only priest who could sit down, because his was the only sacrifice that needed no sequel. His offering perfected God’s people, who now are being sanctified.
Imagine an Old Testament Levite longing for a one-time sacrifice! Think of the relief, the lifted burden! As a comparison, suppose you had only one load of laundry to do, or that the next time mowing the grass would be your last. Imagine changing only one diaper!
The Repetition Remains
While the sacrifice for sins is complete, Jesus’ work for us continues.
Instead of an ongoing offering for sin, Jesus intercedes (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) and advocates (1 John 2:1) for us before his Father. This perpetual work of our High Priest is exactly what we need!
Because we are weak and needy, we need Jesus’ prayers. We don’t know how to pray as we should, so we need the Holy Spirit to intercede with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
Because we continue to sin, we need Jesus’ advocacy. He is our righteous defense attorney, pleading his blood as the reason for peace with the Father.
Repetition for God’s People
Our spiritual disciplines and good works are shaped by Jesus’ work. While the repetition in the Old Testament flowed toward Jesus’ sacrifice, our repetition flows from it.
We now have the joyful calling and freedom to worship weekly, celebrate communion, confess our sins, pray, hear and read God’s Word, and do good to our neighbors. These tasks are repeated because we are not yet home. We are frail and need strength; we are ignorant and need instruction; we are scared and need encouragement. We – and so many around us – need the Spirit to work within us.
See Glory in Repetition
God has created this world and written his Word so that what we see and experience would remind us of eternal truths:
- The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise to Noah.
- Trumpets and clouds remind us of Jesus’ second coming.
- A bird with a worm in its mouth points to God’s provision for his children.
Let’s see repetitive tasks in the same way:
- When you cringe at the thought of another load of laundry, think of Christ’s singular work to wash you clean.
- When it’s time to clean the gutters or shop for food yet again, remember his one-time, effectual sacrifice.
- When you need to change the light bulb, re-paint the walls, or replace the tires, consider the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification within you.
Let your thoughts bounce from your frustrations to these magnificent, eternal truths. Embrace the contrast between your ongoing work and the completed work of Jesus. Build your longing for heaven, where the curse will be no more and all repetition, even washing dishes, will be free from the stain of sin.