Sermon preached for the 7th Sunday of Pentecost on July 31st, 2011. Sermon Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Sometimes, you’re just so tired. Sometimes you feel like if you just got a rest, just enough of a rest, you’d feel better. If there were just a couple of minutes with you and a pillow all your problems would melt away. Sometimes you’ve been up too long, you’re too tired, and you can’t think about anything about your bed and the rest that you will finally find there.
Sometimes, you need mental rest. Sometimes in school it was when you had to study for a test and you just reach the point where your brain can’t hold any more. It needs a rest. Or maybe you hear someone arguing or talking loud. You put up with it for as long as you can, but it finally becomes too much. You finally reach the point that you just want to shout, “Give it a rest! I can’t take it anymore!” If you’ve followed any of the political talk about raising the debt ceiling or not going on in Washington, it might make you want to shout, “Give it a rest! Enough with all of you!”
Well, believe it or not, Jesus reached the point at times in his ministry where it seems he would’ve liked to shout “Give it a rest!” to some people.
Just before our text from Matthew’s Gospel, we have Jesus lamenting the way people have treated him and John the Baptist. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Matt. 11:18-19)
John and Jesus acted very differently. John fasted a lot, and Jesus didn’t. But people complained about them for different reasons. They didn’t want the truth that both Jesus and John preached. You can picture Jesus wanting to tell them all to “give it a rest!”
Then we hear that Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed because they did not repent. (Matt. 11:20) Imagine Jesus’ frustration. He spends his ministry doing miracles of healing, showing love to all these people in a few cities. He preaches there. His preaching and his miracles all point to the fact that he is the Savior. But the vast majority of the people continue right on in their sins. They do not repent. They do not turn to Jesus. So he said, “Woe to you, Korazin!” and “Woe to you, Bethsaida!” You’d think Jesus would want to scream, “Give it a rest, people!”
But he says something even more harsh. He tells the people in these cities how bad it is that they didn’t believe after everything he’d done there. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. (Matt. 11:23-24) Sodom, you know, the city God destroyed by fire along with Gomorrah because of their wickedness? What cities like Capernaum had done was worse, because they saw Jesus himself and didn’t repent. They didn’t believe.
It was sad. But right after that we have our text, and it’s interesting how Jesus found a reason to praise God even for these things. At 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. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matt. 11:25)
People fight and argue about Jesus but they don’t really believe. People witness his miracles, see his teaching, and don’t repent and believe. But little children see him, and they get it! They see Jesus and they know — he is the Savior; he loves me.
So the question is, which one are we? Are we one of the “wise” and “learned” that Jesus mentioned, do we rely on our own abilities and our own intelligence to prove we are Christians? Do we look to ourselves to be sure whether we really believe or not? Or, are we like the little children? In other words, do we see Jesus with a simple, childlike faith that trusts him as the only Savior no matter what?
We know what the answer is supposed to be. We’re supposed to be like children! We’re supposed to have childlike faith! But there’s a real danger for us. Unless we are a child, we tend to not like to think of ourselves as children. We like to think we are smart and can do things ourselves. But if someone tells us something we don’t agree with, if someone tells us we’ve done something wrong, we get angry, we stop listening, and we go our own way.
Don’t think we can’t be just like the cities that Jesus had talked about before our text. Those cities, like Capernaum, had seen Jesus at his best. They had witnessed his miracles and heard his teachings. From the outside, it probably seemed like those cities loved Jesus. But they never repented of their sins. They never really saw Jesus as their Savior.
For us, while we don’t get to physically see and hear Jesus, we have his Word. Many of us here have grown up with God’s Word and the church and been around it our whole lives. We’ve heard all the stories of Jesus, we know all the right answers. But repent of our sins? Is that really necessary? We know sins get forgiven, so we start to think sins are no big deal. We start to continue in them more and more.
And if someone points them out, if someone calls us on it, we’re likely to get angry. We’re likely to come up with all sorts of reasons why we’re right and they’re wrong. And all the while we will claim to love Jesus, we will claim to follow him, but our hearts are far from him. How easy for Jesus not to be a part of our every day life. How easy to push him out of our thoughts and lives for only except maybe for when we’re in church or when we are having a big problem.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Jesus said, “Give it a rest!” It wouldn’t be surprising if he talked to us like he talked to those cities. “Woe to you, Our Savior Lutheran church! Your mouth confesses me, but your heart is far from me!” Jesus would have every right to do with with even a fraction of our sins.
But he doesn’t tell us to “give it a rest.” He tells us to come to him for rest. He tells us to take our sins, to take our burdens, to take our troubles, and lay them on him. He said, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28) When we truly take the time to recognize our sins. To recognize the fact that we don’t know everything but that we fall short of God’s perfection every day, that’s when we will see the true burden of our sins. That’s when we’ll know we need to lay them down.
Have you ever worn a very heavy backpack? At first it might not feel too bad. You might even get used to it after a while. But there will come a time when that heavy bag starts to get to be too much. You just want it gone. And when you finally take it off, you feel such relief. It’s gone. The burden is lifted. You can finally rest.
That’s what Jesus does for us. Our sins are horrible; they weigh us down! But Jesus gladly takes them from us. 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. (Matt. 11:29-30)
Jesus has made an exchange, a trade for us. He’s taken our sins, our horrible burden of expecting eternal death, and he’s exchanged it for his load. His load is light. His load is his perfection, his perfectly obeying his heavenly Father, his never having a single sin to repent of. That’s his “load” that he places on us and marks us as redeemed children of God. He makes us heirs of eternal life. He makes us alive in him, even as he will bring us to life with him forever.
I think the prophecy of Isaiah puts this exchange of Jesus and us the best. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten b him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Is 53:4-5)
His punishment brought us peace, peace that transcends all understanding. His wounds healed us; they give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. They have given us rest. We have rest from guilt and worry now, and we have rest eternally in heaven.
And because all that is ours, give it a rest! Give it a rest in those times when we think we know better. Look to Jesus! Give it a rest in those times when we don’t repent of our sins. Instead, lay them on your Savior. Give it a rest in those times when you start to think Jesus isn’t a big deal, and look to cross and see your burden lifted, see the empty tomb and see your future there, with the life from our Savior. Give your sins a rest. Lay them on Jesus. Look to his love. Rejoice in his rest forever.