At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30 ESV)
I know I say many things again and again in my sermons. ‘I love you.’ Who says that? [Jesus] And when does he say it? [All the time. It’s his first message.]
‘Relationships govern behaviour.’ Often we’re just busy being active because that’s life but it’s my summary of why we do what we do when we stop to reflect on it; it might be way of understanding Christian ethics.
‘Don’t be afraid.’ This is a tricky one because just saying these words doesn’t necessarily make the fear go away. This one really does depend on who is saying it. Think of a scary novel or a thriller or a horror film when the monster or evil person speaks and they were to say ‘Don’t be afraid’ then the meaning is the very opposite! So who is saying ‘Don’t be afraid’ in the Bible and in my sermons?
I know I say many things again and again in my sermons and the focus of each sermon is the person Jesus. No matter which part of the Bible is in focus, when the Bible is fulfilling its goal, it will in some way carry, convey, reveal, and point to Jesus. What I think we sometimes miss in the accounts of Jesus and there are 4 specific ones is that we hear them knowing the last page so to speak. We hear them knowing what Jesus’ goal was in his coming into the world – not to be a guru, not to be CEO of a new religion, not to be a trouble maker or stirrer, but as Immanuel – God with us – to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and in his sacrifice there is new creation, new life, new days which are lived in this world marked by sin, shame, fear, corruption, abuse, power, greed, and of course death. We hear Jesus’ words about his Father, about himself, about what he gives his followers, and about what he expects of his followers and we nod – rightly so! – because for us Jesus is Lord and God but we mightn’t appreciate how his words might have been first heard. We might even have a tendency to think how stupid, foolish, thick, blind were the people who heard Jesus back then and not appreciate how radical and scandalous and unnerving and life changing Jesus’ words actually are. Thus we might not tune in to how non Christians today hear Jesus – especially when what they might hear and see more of are Jesus’ followers!
So today’s reading from Matthew is a prayer from Jesus and a call out to the crowd. Last week Jesus was teaching the Twelve and we were overhearing, so to speak, but this week Jesus is on a preaching tour to the towns and cities and to the crowds. He is controversial because his words keep aligning himself and God closely, too closely. John the Baptist, from his prison cell, sends messengers to Jesus, ‘Are you the one?’ and Jesus points out all the signs he is doing – a new creation is happening – healings and good news to the poor.
Jesus then asks the crowd about John and how they regard him and then describes John as ‘Elijah’ – code for the one who will point out God’s anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. But people are blind because Jesus doesn’t fit their expectations. And Jesus calls out the cities where he has been and says it will be better for Sodom than for those cities, those people.
So we have Jesus saying the message again and again from various vantage points – look at the signs, Elijah, Sodom, and now Jesus prays out loud thanking God, whom he calls ‘Father’ that the people aren’t clever enough to work everything but it is by grace, God’s gift, that people learn who God and Jesus are and who they are – little children, children of God. C’mon! If you had heard this sort of talk, what would you think about Jesus?
And that’s the point. It is the argument C S Lewis mentions in his book, ‘Mere Christianity’ – Book 2, chapter 3 – it’s only 5 pages – that all things Jesus says leaves you with only three conclusions – Jesus is mad – saying delusional things; Jesus is bad, evil – saying things about himself he knows is untrue for some personal purpose; or Jesus is who he is claiming to be and all the words point to his claim that he is God.
Jesus reveals God – he and the Father are intimately linked – if you want to know spiritual truths, things beyond our experiences, then the only truth out there is Jesus. That’s his message! That’s his point! And that is
why in engaging with non Christians in any way, our goal is to introduce them to, or point out Jesus and maybe it is a matter of trying not to focus on church history or the latest clergy scandal – not to minimise that – but point out that Jesus is all about being with sinners – in the world and that means also in the Church, the rubble and debris. Our goal is to reveal Jesus – his words definitely – but also his identity – as it is Jesus’ goal to reveal God.
And then Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
And here, as is often with Jesus, you have to pause, and say something else either to yourself or to the non Christian you’re talking with – and you have to think ‘paradox’. It is part and parcel of Christianity where death is life and servants or slaves are free – and this is the part where people might think you or this Jesus is conning them, pulling the wool over their eyes, pulling a fast one because we like things upfront, straight forward, and, as I’ve said before, if God is around then his goodness is defined by how good he is to me.
However in knowing Jesus we come to see how blind and misguided we are about life and reality and about ourselves and how we don’t really know the situation we’re in so how can we know the best thing for us? We sense this with Jesus who says strange things. Did you hear it a moment ago?
Jesus says he will give you ‘rest’. Who sighed and said ‘yes, please’? Who is tired of locked-down, COVID19? Who is burdened or weighed down with worries, pain, poor health, financial pressures, fears, shames, things we want kept hidden? Who hears the word ‘rest’ as stretching out in bed, relaxing by the pool, doing the things we want to do?
And then who heard the word ‘yoke’? What is this some joke?! Or should I say ‘yoke’?
It’s there with Jesus so often. He offers something and it seems wonderful but there’s often something else. Being ‘yoked’ isn’t restful to our ears, to our imaginations – even if the yoke is easy and the burden light – we don’t want them! We want to rest! Our terms, our way; Jesus, you can be the butler with towels and drinks!
But there Jesus stands and his words are ringing in our ears. And perhaps the Holy Spirit will nudge us to think about Jesus and him being close to God and when God rested and this will take us to Genesis chapter 2 and the seventh day – not of creation, it has finished, and on the seventh day God rested and that was when he blessed it and sanctified the seventh day; he blessed it and made it holy by coming close to it, touching it, speaking over it, so that creation received all God’s good gifts, and above all, God himself. God himself safely.
God is active in this rest because he is blessing and sanctifying. And so I suggest that here Jesus is saying that he is active in this rest because he is blessing and sanctifying by linking / yoking himself to us, by being gentle with us because he is humble and compassionate and we will find blessing. What might have scared the old person this yoke, this Jesus, becomes easier and lighter the more we know this Jesus, this God.
Jesus’ words are not mysterious, cryptic crossword clues, designed to trick us but they are strange on Earth until Jesus is seen through the lens of his cross and the empty tomb and when we see Jesus’ identity then his words have a meaning we can understand and learn more about. The burdens and weights are shared by Jesus and he helps us carry them, deal with them, face them. As we hear him in his Word – today, as we read the Bible, as he hears us in our prayers, as we remember and trust his water on us, as he comes and feeds us at his table – this will happen again soon, Jesus is working, blessing us, and giving us rest – giving us what we need to live – himself and the gifts we need for today. Jesus isn’t stingy with his gifts, we can ask for anything – but more and more, we learn to trust him, and that he is good to us, and this also gives us rest, confidence, and security to face what we face each day.
I offer you nothing. I offer you no magic. But I stand in a long apostolic tradition and point you to Jesus and say, “Listen to him, he can be trusted, he can give you rest and blessings” because he loves you, he has died for you, he lives again to serve you, and he reveals the only true God and so as we face each day we don’t have to be afraid. We can live.
- Matthew 11:25 - 30