My Yoke, My Rest

Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Date: Pentecost III + Proper 9 + 7/3/11

In the first half of Matthew’s Gospel the Evangelist tells of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah promised of old, and His rapidly developing reputation. “His fame spread throughout all Syria” and he healed many sick people. “Great crowds followed him from Galilee…and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (Mt 4:24-25). Crowds were “astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt 7:28). Finally Matthew relates our Lord’s Calling of the twelve disciples or apostles. Beginning with chapter eleven, however, things begin to turn and the opposition increases especially among the religious leaders.

In every age, and not least of all especially these days in our own country, opposition to Christ and His Church has appeared; sometimes more blatantly, sometimes less. This opposition whether deliberate or merely out of ignorance or carelessness has its ultimate cause in the spiritually fallen sinful human nature. That is the meaning of Jesus’ words of prayer in our text, “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.” Just the fact that this seems to be backwards from our experience illustrates the very issue. You cannot “figure out God” on the basis of your own wisdom or methods of understanding. That is, you cannot successfully search for and find God on your own. Rather, He must come seeking you. In order to know and understand God such things must be revealed and given to you.

The “things” hidden and revealed Jesus has in mind include the significance of the ministries of both John the Baptist and Jesus and the true identity of each of them, but especially that of Jesus. For the chapter begins with even John who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, earlier had introduced Jesus as the one “mightier than I” (Mt 3:11), now hesitating and questioning himself. And then Jesus warned the crowds who followed Him concerning doubt and even the possibility of their falling away from faith.

It is, after all, only God’s gift of faith that perceives God’s revelation. Think of all the attempts to discredit or disprove the message of the Christian Church and her preachers, and the many books and articles written that supposedly prove that the Bible is only a human book filled with fantasy and factual errors. It has been said recently that the difference between the Muslim Koran (or Quran) and the Christian Bible is that “the Koran is believed to be the very word of God (or Allah) whereas the Bible was written by humans.” This is what passes for “common knowledge” in the public square today. And, of course, nothing could be more backwards or further from the Truth. The truth is just the opposite!

Jesus describes faith not as an activity of thinking and understanding but as simple dependence as of an infant. Babies are those who are unable to fend for themselves. Faith is given from God the Holy Spirit as a miraculous gift without any participation or cooperation on our part.

Furthermore, as the true knowledge and faith in God must begin with His own self-revelation to us, so we must discover that that revelation comes solely through Jesus, the Son of God. “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….”

God the Father is the One who reveals the saving knowledge of “these things” Jesus has been talking about. Then Jesus claims “all things” have been handed over to Him by the Father. As the very Son of God, “begotten of the Father before all worlds…being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made,” Jesus alone knows the Father and God is and remains Jesus’ Father as no one else’s. And now it is God’s will to reveal Himself to mankind, but He does that revealing in a particular way.

Human wisdom somehow “figures out” that there must be a common thread in all religions, therefore all religions must lead to the same goal. Right now all sorts of people are expending all kinds of energy to figure out how to define the religion of Islam in a way that at least makes it complementary to Christianity. A distinction is made between Islam as a religion of peace on the one hand and so-called radical Jihadism as some sort of aberration of it on the other. But even mere human wisdom and understanding must admit such a distinction is but only political “spin” not based on any objective evidence. Jesus says in our text, “no one knows the Son… (or) the Father except…anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” When the truth of the Bible is revealed to you, you are able to see the lies of the devil more clearly.

Now just as one may begin to think that, since only Jesus reveals the Father only to whom He chooses, Jesus may therefore choose not to reveal the Father to some others, Jesus’ words immediately counteract that thought with the universal invitation, “Come to me, all,” “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” God wills that all people come to the knowledge of the truth, to faith and salvation. John 3:16 makes no subtractions when it says, “God so loved the world,” the whole world, His beloved creation, ruined by sin, redeemed by the love of God in Christ Jesus the Lord.

“Come…and I will give you rest.” The burdens and heavy labor refer above all to the way of the Law, any system of legalism that put the onus of your salvation on you and your works alone. How do you know when you’ve done enough? How do you know when you’ve done things the right way? How do you know when you’ve passed the test? Because you can never know, all religions include some sort of either sacrifice or punishment. Christianity alone reveals and proclaims that the only true God is the One who has come to us with the sacrifice, the sacrifice of His own Son, to buy us back, to redeem us from the slavery of sin, death and spiritual darkness. Once that light of revelation of God’s good and gracious will and desire for us is given, we become sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven.

The “rest” of which Jesus speaks is the forgiveness of sins. That’s what the Sabbath rest was all about—the forgiveness of sins. It’s what Jesus’ “yoke” is all about. To take His yoke and wear it is to enroll ourselves as His students (disciples, or learners), to learn of His gentle ways of humility. It was, after all, His way to humble Himself even to the point of death on a cross for us and for our salvation. Then, as Jeffery Gibbs puts it, “paradoxically, then, taking on the yoke of Jesus lightens the burdens of life and of eternity; because of who Jesus is, the burden of discipleship becomes light indeed” (Matthew II, 591).

On this national holiday wherein we celebrate the freedom and liberty we have inherited since the Declaration of Independence FROM the British Empire, may our true freedom, liberty and new, eternal life be declared as our dependence ON “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent” (Jn 17:3).