Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Date: Pentecost V (Proper 9) + 7/9/17
The Word of God before us today describes the struggle of the life and faith of the disciple of Jesus Christ in this world. The Introit from Psalm 91 speaks of how we need God’s shelter and shadow, bringing to mind, for instance, a hard day’s work under the summer sun. Without shade (or in my case a hat) the sun can burn us. We prayed in the Collect about “the wearisome changes of this world.” We get tired, exhausted, bushed after a long day of work or the struggle of living amidst the confusions, contradictions and problems of the world. This is nothing new. How did The Preacher, Qoheleth put it: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl 1:1, 8, 14).
Though the prophet Zechariah starts out this morning saying, “Rejoice…behold, your king is coming to you,” he notes that we need this king because we are also as prisoners in a waterless pit. All of this is summed up perfectly by St. Paul’s famous complaint, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:14-15). There is a weary struggle between good and evil, between faith and ever-present sin, between despair and hope. What to do? Jesus, our King, says, “Come,” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
It was St. Augustine who identified the root cause of our weariness when he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” While this rest can be compared to a good night’s sleep or a lazy day by the pool, ultimately the rest Jesus, St. Paul and Augustine are speaking about is the forgiveness of sins. On the seventh day of creation God “rested from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,” that is, set apart for the purpose that we may receive the forgiveness of our sins, the true rest (Gen 2:2-3).
So, though there is the analogy of physical weariness, exhaustion and times of physical rest, the ultimate issue is sin and forgiveness of sin.
Adam and Eve did not experience weariness or pain in the beginning except as the result of their sin of disobedience. Now, “cursed in the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:17-19). When Jesus issued the invitation, “Come to me,” it was in the hope of repentance and faith as St. Paul described it, saying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25a).
Just before this invitation of our Lord, Jesus described the spiritual turmoi of our fallen, blind nature of sin, that is the frustration of our attempts at reconciliation with God. He pointed to John the Baptist’s testimony and witness to Jesus but how the people missed the point, asking them, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” And after revealing their spiritual blindness He compared them to disobedient children “sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’” (Mt 11:17). In other words, the people ignored the Baptist’s warning and rejected Christ when He came on the scene.
It is not human wisdom or understanding that can reveal God but only a simple, God-given faith, and that’s faith in Jesus. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son,” but then He adds, “and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” When He issues the invitation, “Come to me,” He is choosing you to life in the shelter of the Most High.
He can give it because He alone has earned it for us. In His state of humiliation Jesus experienced the wearisome effects of our sin. In the wilderness temptation, “after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Mt 4:2). Jesus knew what it was to be hungry. Once “he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar…. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well” and asked a woman of Samaria for a drink. Jesus knew what it was to be thirsty. Of course, His greatest thirst was that which He experienced on the cross just before His final words, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30). Jesus also knew the loneliness of rejection and abandonment. He was rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:1) and again after His “bread of life” sermon as St. John tells us, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). Of course, our Lord’s ultimate labor and weariness He experience on the cross because it was there that He took the punishment for our sin, all our sin, the sin of the whole world. Jesus knew what it was to be a sinner, maybe and probably better than you do. Jesus knew what it was to be The Sinner, dying for the sins of the world, even the most heinous, evil, perverted and wicked sins. “Father,” He cried, “why have you abandoned me?” And He died. Jesus knew what it was to die. Yet He leads us through no darker rooms than He has gone before. By His death He has destroyed the power of death. By His resurrection from the dead He now says to you, “Come to me.” He says to the world, “Come to me.” Now Jesus knows what it is to be the Savior, your Savior, the Savior of the world and issues the eternal, Kingly Invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Today we come “so weary, worn, and sad” (LSB 699), yet full of faith and pray God’s strength and support, and at life’s end His promised rest and the full joys of His salvation (Collect).