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Today we are starting our new series “Summer School”. As we attend this school each Sunday, we are privileged to have the best teacher who has ever lived serve as our instructor. The people who heard him teach in person were amazed at his teaching. They asked, where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? No one ever spoke the way this man does. He teaches with authority, not like other teachers. Our teacher is Jesus. He invites us to learn from him, the best teacher ever. The one who shares all things with God the Father. The one who teaches with authority and yet is gentle and humble in heart.
In Matthew 11 Jesus was addressing a common problem with which we can identify. You can’t please everyone, and if you try, you will get very weary. The example Jesus used was the way the people reacted to John the Baptist and then to him. John lived a very austere life. He lived in the wilderness and ate locust and wild honey and people said, “He must be crazy, he has a devil.” Jesus lived among the people. He ate and drank with them, even with tax collectors and sinners, and people accused him of being a drunk and a glutton, and with hanging out with the wrong crowd.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. And, if you are like John and Jesus, trying to proclaim God’s word, it’s even worse. When you tell people something they don’t want to hear, they will look for any little thing they can find to use as an excuse not to listen to the message. If you try to please people you will get very weary and frustrated.
There was another common problem that Jesus was addressing with which we can identify. Trying to follow all the rules is very burdensome.
The other teachers of Jesus’ day were all about rules. They had the idea that the more rules you had and the stricter the rules were, the better it was for society and for your relationship with God. God said don’t work on Saturday. So they decided to define what it meant to work. How far could you walk before it was considered work? They came up with a Sabbath day’s journey. You weren’t supposed to prepare food on the Sabbath, so were the disciples sinning when the picked grain as they walked by a field and ate it on the Sabbath? The Pharisees thought they were. All these rules upon rules led to constant arguing among the Rabbis and the people about which rules were best and who was better at following them. It was burdensome.
Maybe more than ever in our lifetime we can identify with the people who were worn out by trying to figure out and follow all the rules of the day. Do masks help or don’t they? The advice of the doctors keeps changing, just like the advice of the Rabbis of Jesus day. Should schools open in the fall or not? You can find a doctor, or scientist, “a Rabbi” of today, to support whatever opinion you might have. People pick sides. The politicians get involved. If you disagree you might get canceled or put in Facebook jail. Do you get what Jesus was talking about when appealed to those he knew were weary and burdened?
Trying to live by rules; trying to do what makes people happy; is burdensome. It wears you out because the rules seem to always be changing and no matter what you do, someone isn’t going to be happy.
To those who are weary and burdened Jesus says, come to me, learn from me, and I will give you rest.
Jesus says to those who heard him, “Are you worn out by trying to figure out what it means to rest on the Sabbath? Can you go out of the house? How far can you walk before it’s considered work? Can you pick some grain and eat it on the Sabbath if you are hungry, or would that be work?” Jesus says, come to me and rest. I am Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. “Find your rest in me. I am the fulfillment of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was my shadow. It was a way of letting you know that true rest was coming, but instead of looking forward to that coming rest, you made all kinds of rules that distracted people from that true coming rest. I’m here. I have come to give you the true rest you want and need.”
Okay, Jesus, how do I get this rest? Take my yoke upon you.
“What? How is that restful? I already have a yoke that’s too heavy to bear. I have the yoke of all these rules I can’t keep. I have the yoke of wanting to make people happy, and I never can. I have the yoke, the crushing burden of the guilt that comes from knowing that if I can’t keep the rules and I can’t make people happy, then surely God is not happy with me. And if God is not happy with me, I’m doomed. All I have to look forward to is death and eternal punishment. And now you tell me to take another yoke on my shoulders? How is that going to give me rest?”
My Yoke is easy, and my burden is light. “I’m not just another taskmaster. I’m not just another rule maker, just another person you can try to please but never be able to.” I am gentle and humble in heart. “In me you will find the kind of rest that no one else can give”, rest for your souls.
“When you take my yoke upon you”, Jesus says, “it’s so easy and light you won’t even know it’s there. That’s because I’m doing all the work for you.”
If you think of the picture of the yoke on the screen, Jesus is on one side, and you are on the other, but you are not equal partners. It’s as if you were a baby, just strapped in. Just along for the ride because your legs aren’t even long enough to touch the ground. As the writer to the Hebrews said, when Jesus is your Sabbath rest, you rest from your own labor and let Jesus do all the work for you.
When you are weary and burdened and you come to Jesus for rest, he takes every other yoke off your shoulders. He takes the yoke of thinking you have to keep all of the rules and make everyone happy off your shoulders. He reminds you that not even he could make everyone happy even though he did keep all of God’s rules. He reminds you that when he did keep all of God’s rules, he didn’t just keep them for himself, he kept them for you. When you come to Jesus for rest; when you take his yoke upon you and confess, “Jesus, I can’t do it. I’ve tried my best to please God and people and I have failed. Help me!” When you humble yourself and admit that you have sinned, Jesus is gentle and humble. He says, “I have taken your burden on my shoulders. I have taken the yoke of the law on myself. I have done what you could not do. I didn’t please sinful man, but I did please the Father. He declared it to be so both at my baptism and at my transfiguration. The job is done. The field is plowed. God’s desire that his law be kept has been fulfilled perfectly. Since you are yoked with me, the Father considers that you have kept his law perfectly as well, even though I did all the work.”
When you are weary and burdened and you come to Jesus for rest from the guilt that robs you of both physical and spiritual rest; when you come to Jesus because you realize that you are lost and condemned, that there is no way that you can pay for your sins against God and others; Jesus says: “I put that yoke on my shoulders too. When I went to the cross as the spotless lamb of God, I was able to accept the punishment you and all people deserved. I paid your sin-debt to God in full. Whatever sin from your past is robbing you of rest, bring it to me. Look at the cross and realize that I have suffered the punishment you deserve for that sin. It’s been removed as far as the east is from the west. God chooses not to remember it. You have rest for your soul.”
Does that mean there are no more rules to follow? Does that mean the commandments are abolished and no longer apply? No. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish God’s law, but to fulfill it. God’s commandments still apply, and he expects us to keep them perfectly. But when we come to Jesus for rest, we learn from him that he has kept them all in our place and suffered the punishment we deserve when we sin. That gives us a new attitude as we look at the commandments. We don’t see them as a burden that’s impossible for us to bear. In Jesus we see how much God loves us. We learn from Jesus that God only wants what is good for us, and what is good for us is expressed in his commands. The rest that Jesus gives us moves us to love God. And John says, This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.
When a culture rejects God and his word, when people think the Bible is just an instruction book, a rule book for life on earth, things get very tiring. Everyone makes up their own rules and then argues about whose rules are the right rules. People use whatever power they have to try to force you to follow their rules. That’s what made the Jews of Jesus day weary and burdened. It’s what is making us weary and burdened today. The answer is the same today as it was then. Jesus says, come to me. I will give you rest. He teaches us that rest doesn’t come from having the right rules. Rest comes from the fact that he kept all of God’s rules for us. Rest comes from the fact that he paid for all the times we break God’s rules. He took our yoke of keeping God’s law and the heavy burden of our punishment on himself so that we could take up his yoke of forgiveness and have rest for our souls.
In the midst of all the arguing and controversy in our world today, learn from Jesus that you can’t please everyone. Even he didn’t. But he did please his heavenly Father, and that’s what really counts. Through faith in Jesus, the Father is also well-pleased with you. Let that fact give you rest and enable you to remember what’s most important- taking up Jesus’ yoke, being his disciple, holding firm to the certain hope of eternal rest that he has won for you. Always go to Jesus for rest!