Matthew 11:16-19, 25 to end, Romans 7:15-25 Sermon for Sunday 5th July
In our Matthew 11 reading Jesus says “ Come to me all who labour and are weary and heavy laden, I will give you rest” Don’t we yearn for that rest from the madness we see around us, wanting some sense of normality?
Jesus looked around and said “What shall I compare this generation to – it’s like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to their playmates- We played the flute for you and you did not dance- we sang a dirge for you and you did not mourn”
Children are ever inventive, they were in Jesus’s day, and they are now, children just love doing ‘pretend funerals’ and ‘pretend weddings’
Well, Jesus piped a dance and as it were John the Baptist his cousin wailed a lament, but neither were listened to. They were a bit like partygoers and day trippers on Bournemouth beach two weeks ago who ignored; the police, HM government, the local council, resident’s, and common sense, so as to leave over 30 tons of rubbish on the beach.( and then the next day did the same thing all over again!)
You think that is bad? well we treat God the same, when in some way, maybe more subtle we ignore his words of wisdom to us.
“Look”, says Jesus “none of you listen John came neither eating nor drinking and ‘you say he has a demon’--- the Son of Man comes eating and drinking and you say ‘look a glutton and a drunkard a friend of sinners and tax collectors’ but wisdom is proved right be her deeds”.
This is an amazing part of scripture St Matthew (Mth 11:16-19) is saying that in their different ways, John and Jesus were highly unconventional, so people attribute John’s asceticism and preaching of judgement to of all things ‘demonic influence’. But they were equally scandalised by Jesus’s free mingling with so called ‘un-respectable people’. Yet Jesus says look at our deeds, my deeds prove that people’s criticism of John and Jesus really have no basis in truth or fact.
In a way this part of Matthew (11:16-19) mimics the response of the secular West to the claims of the Church and the Gospel. I used to hear people say, ‘we must be more modern, more attractive, then people will listen’. Yes, it is good to be winsome, to work on our welcome and hospitality and image etc, etc, but people will always find fault with the church and its message, and above all with the gospel. Although Alpha, Christianity Explored, Freedom in Christ etc have done much to make inquirers welcome and provide ways forward for seekers, and yet some will always be resistant. See what St Paul writes (Romans 3:9-18 and Romans 1:18-23)
Paul Johnson a Catholic writer said this:
“The most extraordinary thing about 20th Century was the failure of God to die. The collapse of man’s religious belief, especially among the educated and prosperous has been widely and confidently predicted it did not take place Somehow God survived flourished even”
So, is secularism so embedded in Britain that people including ourselves never respond to the Gospel? No!
Covid 19 has caused some terrible things; death, illness, economic disaster, separation etc, but there have been good things.
….A greater awareness in many of us of Creation’s voice (Psalm 19:1-4) and todays Psalm, Psalm 145:8-13)
People who have been healed from Covid 19 are more than grateful (Psalm 145: 14 The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down)
People have been more aware of creations song , of bird song or creation’s beauty; butterflies and moths, and birds of prey, birds of the meadow like the lark and birds of the hedge like wrens, the skies seem more silent, more inhabited by wildlife that seems to have come closer.
But why do we struggle with the Spiritual ? St Paul in our Romans reading (Romans 7) says in verse 23:
“I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me - what a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body which is subject to death?… Thanks be to God, he says, in verse 25, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Is this Paul before conversion or is he voicing what an unbeliever would say, or is it in all honesty his heart laid bare? We do not know!
Is this the voice of a man baring his soul, the cry from his heart and soul knowing that he has been made righteous by faith, but desiring too a deeper walk with God? We do not know but he then proceeds to being able to respond to the claims the Gospel makes of him.
The word ‘wretched’ in Romans 7: 24 is not one of despair, its distress and misery at what’s happened to his soul, but not helplessness because he asks the question, Who will deliver me? so he knows ‘there is one who can deliver him’ the writer knows that Jesus is the who can meet his deepest need (back to Psalm 145:14-15 worth meditating on)
So back to Matthew 11 in our Gospel the person Paul says hears his cry is Jesus. In Matthew 11 Jesus says “I thank you God that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” here we see Jesus’s code word for those who recognise their need of him, just like a little child ‘needs its daddy or mummy.’
Vs 27 of Matthew 11 reminds us Jesus said “all things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”
So, Jesus lived in such intimate communion with the Father and with the Spirit that he has been given all authority in his grace to reveal himself or make himself known to those who he wants to call unto himself. And what a blessed relief for those who have woes and trouble, they find in essence that they find ‘relief and rest for their souls’ in Jesus.
“Come to me, says Jesus, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me”. Well a ‘yoke’ was and is something that people put on you, or on an animal
Oxford English Dictionary 'Yoke'. “A piece of wood fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to a cart or plough in order for them to pull it or something that restricts freedom and is a burden”
These ‘yoke’ verses come to mind:
1 Kings 12:4; Jeroboam returns from Egypt and says to Rehoboam “your Father made our yoke heavy now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us as we serve you”.
Galatians 5:1 Paul says, “for freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore and do not submit to a yoke of slavery”.
But Jesus master craftsman that he was must have made many a yoke for oxen that probably fitted like a glove. “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, so the yoke that Jesus makes fits! ‘His grace, his boundaries, his Kingdom, his healing, his dealing with us, his forgiveness, his Kingship, his challenge to discipleship all fit !
Why do we need rest for our souls?
As David says in Psalm 23
‘He leads me beside still water, he restores my Soul’
Consumerism, pride ,stubbornness, addictions, busyness, unforgiveness; all these things can war against our souls
As Augustine says “Our lives are restless until O lord we find our rest in you”
Cyprian an early Church Father said
“He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother”.
Unfortunately, many of us want God as our ‘Father ‘but are not ready to ditch pride as our ‘Mother’. Pride cannot be the ruling principal in our lives. Capernaum had seen many miracles of Jesus but somehow in their pride they were rejecting Jesus see vs 26 to 24 of Matthew 11, the bit about judgement, is the bit the C of E lectionary leaves out.!
When Jesus prays in Matthew 11:25 he does so loudly and publicly, as it were, and he declares things, he really grapples with this question of ‘why does God show himself to some and not to others?’ as he says in vs 25 ‘God hides himself from the wise and learned, that does not mean that God Is not interested in anyone who uses their brain, and who thinks things through, but that in some ways those who in their pride are completely self-sufficient might more easily forfeit the grace that could be theirs. Why? because they say they can do things on their own, that in effect ‘they don’t need God’. But God does show mercy. In Exodus 33:19 God says “I will show mercy on whom I show mercy” and this is repeated in Romans 9:15, but to the town of Capernaum that rejects him, Jesus says will you be exalted to Heaven ? No, you will be brought down to Hades. Those who are self-sufficient who say to God “I do not need it”, “I am sorted” will if they so insist be rejected. But those who like little children express their complete dependence on God, through Jesus Christ, will be included and accepted. As one person said in Matthew’s Gospel 11 ‘the contrast is between the entire religious aristocracy of Jerusalem and Galilee and 12 ordinary men’.
In verse 25 and 26 of Matthew 11 Jesus says the only way into the Kingdom is through humility and then in vs. 27 he gives what sems a very structured 4-fold statement that is not on the face of it very humble!
- He has authority over all things-all things have been handed over to me by the Father, and he will state in Matthew 28:18 all authority in heaven and earth is his
- He alone as Gods son really ‘knows” God as Father – my Father
- We cannot know God accept through the Son
- We cannot know God unless He himself chooses to reveal himself to us
Is this arrogance? As CS Lewis said in his 1943 Broadcast talks “You must make your choice either Jesus was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse” “Jesus wasn’t either a lunatic or a fiend: and consequently, however strange of terrifying or unlikely it may seem ,I have to accept the view that he was and is God. God has landed in enemy -occupied world in human form”, Being a carpenter is one thing, but the Creator isn’t that a bit over the top?
Being a wise teacher is one thing -but wisdom embodied? Claiming to be the Son of God. Then to cap it all he says you cannot know my daddy unless he Jesus reveals his Father to us- on the face of it how arrogant !These claims are arrogant unless they are true. But Jesus is humble I (Tudor) know that – so low he permitted himself to die upon a criminal’s cross.
In Matthew (I have read right through Matthew during Covid 19)
I have watched his birth
I have seen him reach out to the lowly
I have seen him have compassion on the outcasts
I have watched him heal two blind men
I have seen him calm the storm
I have seen him deliver two demoniacs from possession of demons
I have seen him raise the dead and a heal a woman, on the same day, of endless bleeding and shame
I have seen him give that dead girl now alive back to her grateful parents
I know he is who he says he is
Martin Luther when teaching his students on the book of Galatians said
“Stop speculating about the Godhead and charging into heaven to see who or what or how God is hold onto this man Jesus he is the only God we have”. Yes! How true in Jesus we have the knowledge of the glory of God he who does not know the Son does not know God He who knows the son has rest. Come to me says Jesus all ye who labour and are heavy laden I will give you rest, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. So here is the paradox Jesus says he choose us we did not choose him (See Aslan talking to Pole in the Silver chair by CS Lewis) Jesus says come to me, as an imperative, take my yoke upon you. So, it is true God calls us and at the same time we are given choice to come to him or not. Just as in light there are waves and particles ( see Planck, Einstein, and De Brogle) in being called and chosen they are two elements of one truth.
Come to me say Jesus and you will have rest
Have you ever been in a wrong relationship and then got into a right one?
Have you ever been in a bad hosue and then lived in dream home?
Have you ever been in a wrong job and then ended up in a wonderful job?
All of these things are a blessed relief. Well, X 10,000 when we rediscover Jesus when we know what it means to be discovered by Jesus it is rest and relief and Joy.
Isaiah 30:13 says
“In returning and rest you shall be saved in quietness and in trust shall be your delight”
Jeremiah 6:15 says
“Ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and walk in it you will find rest for your souls”
Revelation 14:12-13 says
….. “That they may rest from their labours for their deeds follow them”
Hebrews 4:9 says
“There remains then a sabbath rest for the people of God”
Don’t wait till you are 105 to accept Jesus’s rest! accept it now, seek it now, today Jesus invites all of us who are heavy laden and burdened down to come under his yoke, his kingdom, his boundaries, his kingly wisdom, his word, his Father, his rule, and there we will find rest for our souls, not the impossible demands of the pharisees or the modern equivalent of a legalist faith, but the Godly challenge of living Holy lives now.
Take my yoke, not my bed, not my Chair, but my yoke
And know that in Jesus is life in all its fullness, not a lack of suffering, but Joy deep down through pain even through death. Amen
C. Tudor V. Roberts July 2020.
Lord Jesus thank you for the grace and power to persevere through what can be impossible difficulties, we come to you heavy laden to you Jesus who takes our burdens.We know that You walk beside us every step of the way infusing us with your grace and power. Help us to look to You in these difficulties so that we may persevere and not lose our hope. Strengthen us with your divine strength and fortitude as we cry out to you. We are afraid but we pray for Your courage to persevere and pierce through our difficulties. For you are a faithful and gracious God