Recently I was doing a personal study into the amazing privilege and high calling we have as Christians of ministering to the Lord. I found myself in the following passage from Ezekiel 44:15-18, where God has rebuked much of Israel and then says, "But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge. When they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments. They shall have nothing of wool on them, while they minister at the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads, and linen undergarments around their waists. They shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat."
And, their reward for the privilege of ministering to the Lord? Ezekiel 44:28, "This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession." Wow! It is such a Kingdom of God verse! As Christians we are not citizens of this land, we are citizens of His Kingdom—we, the body of Christ, are, according to Peter, His holy nation, His royal priesthood . . . and we live here as if it is not our home, serving Him, until He calls us home into His presence, into the place He has prepared for us with Him. Until then, and after then? He is our possession and our inheritance! The question, of course, is, "Is that enough for us, or do we need the pleasures and rewards of this earth as well?"
As I looked at the passage about those ministering to the Lord I was struck by the line that said they shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat when ministering to the Lord. For me, the obvious spiritual meaning and picture of that was they couldn't bring any work before Him because work causes sweat. But then I went to a bunch of commentaries and got confused because none of them mentioned that. But, after doing a search for the word "sweat" I found that the only other time it is mentioned in the Old Testament is after Adam and Eve fell and God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19, ". . . Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, . . ." Hmm, sounds like sweat and work/labor are tied together to me.
The more I thought about that, about what this symbolized to me (knowing how we, in the New Testament, as born again believers, would become His royal priesthood), I thought, how could we ever minister to Him if we brought any of our own works or "righteousness" before Him? It would totally take from Him the sole glory and honor He deserves. He, alone, is our righteousness because of the "work" He did on the cross and our complete faith in that as our total payment and redemption on our behalf. There is no way we can truly come before Him and minister to Him in a way He would receive if we are carrying with us any part of us that says we are OK apart from Him, or that our works give us any right before Him. It takes the glory from Him and puts it on us, and it brings Him down to our level when He, in fact, is holy and completely separated from all of our tarnished works. We come boldly before Him, in confidence, because He did the work for us. We trust completely in His work to give us confidence as His children before Him. That gives Him the glory, and us the security.
Well, can you guess what I found in further searching His Word? Do you know the only other place the word "sweat" is used? Luke 22:39-44 says, "And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."
It sure seems to me that something was meant by that word "sweat." And, to me, it seems that it represents work, or works of righteousness. I might be wrong, and I can receive that, but it is worth meditating on. When I come to minister to the Lord there is only one "work" I can bring before Him. It is not my work, in any way. That claim can't be in His presence and stand. But, His Son's work on the cross? Yes. That is the complete work, the "it is finished" on my eternal passport. Jesus' work, His "sweat" (to use the imagery) is the only work I can claim before the Father . . . but since it is Jesus' and not mine, I am completely safe and secure in it.