Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Date: Pentecost VIII (Proper 9) + 7/6/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
When our Lord Jesus Christ spoke these most comforting, inviting, empowering Gospel words, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” He was speaking, frankly, out of a bit of exasperation. We could call chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel “the great doubt chapter,” beginning with John the Baptist in prison sending his disciples to ask Jesus whether He really is the Messiah or if they should look for someone else. Whether it was the Baptist himself or only his disciples who doubted, Jesus invited faith as He pointed to His works and said, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Then as they returned to John, Jesus turned to the crowds around Him and quizzed them as to their faith and opinions and doubts. He pointed out how people generally had things quite upside down, saying, “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, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard.’” Then it was as if His blood pressure had reached its limit as “He began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.” “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum…if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
It was at that moment, and with that intense emotion, that the Lord of life, mercy and grace said a prayer; but a prayer that transformed into a gracious invitation. 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.” What things? Well, think about it. First John the Baptist’s disciples were doubting, then there is a more general confusion among the people, and there is resistance to hear, to repent and to believe. “These things” are everything that has to do with the Gospel of salvation. And that they are variously hidden or revealed says that the way of this salvation is by faith. And furthermore that this thing called faith is a gift of God worked through His Word.
Jesus says they are “hidden from the wise and understanding” but “revealed to little children.” People are always confusing faith with thinking. Faith is a gift of God and not the result of your calculating mind. Faith has no Intelligence Quotient. This is why we say that a little infant is given faith when he or she is baptized. The infant cannot think about faith much less explain it, but it’s there. On the other hand it seems that the more we think about God and salvation the more trouble we get into.
Do you remember, for instance, ever seeing or hearing the check-cashing illustration as a way to try to explain the Gospel? It was intended to communicate the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death on the cross as the only payment for sin. And so forgiveness of sins and salvation is like a check, drawing on the funds of Christ but deposited into your account. Well, that’s fine, so far. But then, I guess, as a way to illustrate faith they would say, all you have to do is sign the check. And that’s where the cute illustration fell apart. It not only turned faith into something you do, but notice that until you do something, though the funds are there, the payment had not yet actually been made!
The truth of the Gospel, however, is that the full payment for sin has already been made. More amazing than winning a spiritual lottery, the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross has paid the price and wages of the sin of the whole world, including yours. But if all sin has already been atoned for, if there is no further payment required, then why are not all people automatically and universally saved? The sad fact of the fallen sinful nature is that, as great as this Good News is, people still don’t want to believe it. They insist that salvation and eternal life must be, somehow, somewhere along the line, the result of something I do. It just can’t be a totally free gift without any strings attached…can it?
Jesus’ prayer turns into an invitation as He says to anyone and everyone who is listening, “Come to me.” This is the purest Gospel, for the One bidding you to come is the One who first has come to you. And He is the only way to eternal life with the Father. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This isn’t, of course, talking about physical labor, the kind that gets your muscles aching and your back breaking. It’s talking about all those who insist that salvation and forgiveness of sins must be the result of something you do, your own hard work, something you somehow “deserve.” But the “rest” He promises to give is the complete forgiveness of all your sin. And He can give it because He alone has earned it…for you.
Jesus then speaks as if He were speaking to oxen and beasts of burden yoked to the heavy wagon of God’s law, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The question seems to be not “Shall I carry a yoke?” Everyone carries a yoke, that is, the burden of how to deal with your sin, for all have sinned. The yoke of the Law is an impossibly heavy burden. The yoke or burden of following Christ, however, is easier and lighter by comparison, first of all because he has borne the burden of our sins before us and for us. But secondly it is because the Gospel and doctrine of faith are a yoke full of commands, all of them Gospel commands, however, commands to take, to trust, to feast, to inherit. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:4, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Following Jesus involves us in work. However, it is not the work which struggles in uncertainty for reward, but it is the joyful work of the one well cared for from the start.
As among those who have heard His voice and have come to Him, receive His rest, the lifting of the burden of your guilt, the forgiveness of your sins. Then learn from Him how the cross, your various afflictions or trials are more than counterbalanced by the power, help, strength, and consolation supplied by Him. Keep listening to His voice drawing you ever closer to His gracious, saving presence.