Pastor Mark R Jacobson Pentecost 5 (July 9, 2017) Matthew 11:25-30
25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
REST ON JESUS!
“Time for bed!” Children, has anyone ever told you that? Who are those people? How late do you think you would stay up if no one told you, “Time for bed?” What would you do all night? As much as we might like the idea of being able to staying up all the time, our bodies get weary and burdened and enjoy a good night’s sleep. You may not enjoy sleeping, but your body does.
What true for our bodies is also true for our souls. Our bodies are made up of our heads, shoulders, knees and toes, the stuff we can see. Our souls are made up of stuff we can’t see. Our souls are made up of our thoughts and our feelings. And there are times when we have good thoughts and feelings. There are times when we think about how God is so good to us and how we can love him and our neighbor, but there are also times when our thoughts and our feelings are not good. At those times we often think like the Apostle Paul in our second lesson today, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Those are wearisome thoughts. Those are burdensome feelings.
When your body is weary and burdened after a long day what should you do? “Go to bed!” “Rest on your pillow.” When your soul is weary and burdened, thinking about your sins what would you do? What does Jesus say? “Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” Rest on Jesus! Today we focus our attention on one of the most comforting invitations in all of Scripture, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
So how do the rest of you teenagers and adults rest at night? Do you need your own pillow even when you’re not at home? Do you have a rule that says no caffeine after 7 o’clock? Count sheep? Listen to our sermons? There are any number of tips on how to get a better night’s rest, but the rest Jesus speaks of isn’t meant to help us at night alone, but also to help us through our days.
Our days are filled with expectations. Your family has expectations of you. Your employer and in another month your school has expectations for you. Your government has expectations and so does your church. Those are the easier expectations. You might be tempted to think it doesn’t matter what other people think, but it does matter. And even if it didn’t matter what other people think, the more difficult expectations are the ones you can have for yourself and certainly the expectations your God has for you and all people. In the Old Testament God said, “Be holy as I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). In the New Testament Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
How can we find rest for our souls with those expectations? “The wise and learned” Jesus talks about in our Gospel lesson, also known at that time as the rabbis or teachers of the LAW basically taught, “Do More. Be better!” Do more than what God says. They taught only walk so far on a Sabbath Day, ceremonially wash your hands before you eat. The teachers of the law added some 600 laws to God’s laws. They taught, “Do more and be better.” Be better than the next guy. The teachers of the law were good at noticing what they were doing and what the disciples of Jesus weren’t doing. Jesus told the story of how one of the Pharisees compared himself to a publican saying, “Thank God I am not like other men” (Luke 17:11).
And don’t we hear that same message from “the wise and learned” of today? So many books today, even Christian books, write about God doing his part and you doing your part. So many churches, even Christian churches, talk about how we need to commit ourselves to God and then he will help us. The “Do More, Be better” message is not only out there on the bookshelves and in other churches, but also lives in each and every one of us. Doesn’t your soul sometimes think and feel, “If I just do a little more in my life, if I can just be a little better as a family member, a church member, a citizen of this country, an employee or student somehow I will achieve the peace of mind and the rest in my soul I am looking for?”
Do you find that message in the “teachers of the law” of our day? Do you hear those thoughts and feelings in the recesses of your soul? It does feel good to do something. And as Christians we want to be better people out of love for God and for the good of people around us, but when that doing of good and that being better is attached to our souls finding rest with God, then the law of God becomes for us like a difficult and burdensome yoke.
The yoke Jesus speaks of was not the middle of an egg, but a piece of farming equipment. The yoke was attached to a pair of oxen. Oxen are made to carry a yoke so they can plow a field for farming. At the time of Jesus the wise and learned, the rabbis and teachers of the law spoke of the yoke of law with such pride. The portrayed themselves as being tough like oxen, but even the oxen got a break from carrying their yoke. The yoke of the “Do more, be better” law doesn’t allow for a break. The yoke of the law torments the conscience. It always says, “Not good enough. You need to do more, be better.” Does your conscience speak to you that way?
Listen to what Jesus says. “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.” What is this yoke Jesus is talking about? Are we just exchanging a John Deere piece of farming equipment for another brand? Is this yoke of Jesus just another “do more, be better” law? No, the yoke of Jesus is the “see what I have for you” gospel. It’s a gospel hidden from the wise and learned, but revealed to little children.
The Greek Word translated, “Little children,” could also be translated babies. Babies trust the good news of their mothers. Mothers have a way of communicating, “Take and eat…take and drink” and babies have a way of following those orders with delight. Get them to burp and they find rest for their souls. Babies don’t like to be alone very long, but when their caregiver picks them up everything is right in their world.
Babies understand the “see what I have for you” gospel. That’s why they sleep so well. They know how their needs are met. Little children are still pretty good at understanding too. Little children can say, “I don’t want to be your friend ever again,” and then be playing with you 5 minutes later like nothing ever happened. Teenagers and adults have a harder time with the gospel. We do a better job of keeping score and holding grudges. We think we know what will make the world right again and give us rest, but justice never really does make the world right again. Then we think God must think the same way we do, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t say, “do more, be better,” but, “Come to me.” “Take my yoke and learn from me.” “I am gentle.” “I am humble in heart.” “My yoke is easy.” “My burden is light.” Did you notice all the pronouns? The me’s, my’s and I’s? They all refer to Jesus. Come to Jesus. Think about Jesus. Rest on Jesus – in Word and sacrament – in prayer and meditation – in your devotions and in your conversations. Take his yoke of the forgiveness of sins on you. Learn of how he actively obeyed all the laws of God in your place and how he passively allowed himself to suffer, be crucified and buried. Thinking about Jesus will not keep you up at night. Thinking about Jesus will not be the difficult time of your day. Thinking about Jesus will give you rest and do you know what else thinking about Jesus will do? Interestingly enough, thinking of Jesus helps us to be more satisfied in all our callings and to do all the things that we do with more joy. Rest on Jesus. Amen.