The 9th Sunday After Pentecost August 6, 2006
15, 351, 276, 51
Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things
In Christ Jesus, who is our Rest, dear fellow Christians:
Sometimes it seems that the dog days of summer will never end. There comes that time in July or August when the heat and humidity become oppressive. Our energy level hits rock bottom, and it’s a struggle to find the motivation to do anything. Nothing seems interesting or exciting; and yet, if we just sit around, the walls start to close in and we get on the nerves of others.
How do you cope? Do you pack a cooler with sandwiches, load up the car, and get away from it all? How about heading to some secluded woods with a little creek where the water is crystal clear and perfect for wading. Instead of the drone of traffic, all you hear is water gurgling over rocks and the songs of birds. Add the fresh smell of pine trees and you can feel the stress melting away. It’s a great way to refresh and renew!
Everyone needs a break like that from time to time in order to recharge and get a new perspective on life. We all have our favorite places and activities for unwinding, whether it’s hiking, golfing, camping, swimming, or reading a good book in a quiet corner. But as we enjoy all these things, let’s not forget the source of all true rest for both body and soul. It does not come from a travel agent or that camping spot no one else knows about. Our real rest comes from the Lord Jesus.
Does it surprise you that Jesus is interested in giving us rest? Since He is God we might assume that He can’t possibly understand our human need for rest, or that He is too busy to notice when we are running on empty. But that is not the case at all! He does understand and notice. While He lived here, He was like us in every way, except without sin. He knows what it’s like to work so hard for so long that you can’t drive another nail or lift another box. He knows what it is like to deal with people and their problems all day long until total exhaustion sets in and you can’t keep your eyes open. He knows what it is like to be so hungry it hurts.
But even as He experienced all these things, His primary concern was not His own comfort, but the wellbeing of others. When the apostles returned from their first preaching mission, Jesus recognized their need for a break. They were physically tired, and what is more, they had just received the shocking news that King Herod had executed John the Baptist. They needed time to sort through their thoughts, but the people were still coming in droves. Jesus saw the need and provided for it. He told the disciples, “Come with Me and get some rest.” He led them to a boat, and they had a relaxing ride across the lake and at least a few quiet hours with the Lord before the crowds discovered where they had gone.
We too need physical rest. Putting in hours at work is tiring. The daily stress of deadlines, appointments, and responsibilities wears us down. Just making sure where we are supposed to be can be exhausting. What can we do about it? How can we cope? Look to the Lord who sympathizes with our need. Before He sent out the disciples, He told them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30 NIV). The Lord sees our need and provides rest. It has been part of His plan from the very beginning. After creating the world, God rested on the seventh day, not because He was tired, but because He wanted that rest to be an example and gift to us.
He warns about neglecting the gift: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2 NIV). The Lord provides rest in a good night’s sleep, a relaxing weekend, an evening with friends, and vacation trips. We don’t need to feel guilty about taking a break and getting away at times to rest. It is another undeserved blessing of God to be received with heartfelt gratitude.
The next time you are camping and you stare in wide-eyed wonder at the thousands of stars visible overhead in the night sky, remember who made each one. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1 NIV). When you are traveling thank the Lord for the convenience of cars and planes. Even at home as you grab the microwave popcorn and TV remote, thank Him for all the labor-saving technology which benefits us every day. Need a break? The Lord knows and graciously provides.
Have you ever had a vacation that failed to live up to expectations? Maybe the fishing was lousy or the flight was canceled or you caught a cold and spent the entire week in bed. Sometimes we are more tired after a vacation than before. Even under the best of circumstances, a physical rest is not the ultimate answer to our needs. It’s a given that we will become tired again at some point in the future.
The crowds that followed Jesus to the other side of the lake needed more than a rest from their ten mile hike. They needed spiritual rest for their souls. Jesus’ heart went out to them in compassion, because they were exhausting themselves, wandering like lost sheep trying to find meaning to life and lasting happiness. People today, too, try one thing and then another. They may try to find meaning in money and what it can buy. They may look for satisfaction in fun and entertainment. They may try to find fulfillment in discovering their inner self. But none of this works because it does not deal with the underlying problem of sin. How can anyone have real rest with sin and guilt unresolved?
Do you recognize your own need for spiritual rest? Do you feel the weight of your sin? When you lose your temper and wound someone with your words, you feel the load on your heart later. When we realize that we have been so wrapped up in ourselves that we have missed opportunities to help someone else, the load gets heavier. We have not loved our husband or wife or brother or sister the way we should. We have sinned by worrying instead of trusting the Lord. Too many times we have buckled under pressure and followed the world’s way rather than God’s will.
Sin condemns us to eternal punishment where there is no rest for body or soul. David felt that load: “Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:3-4). A long weekend or a day off won’t give us relief from sin. We need something more.
In the 1800s, thousands of immigrants arrived in the U.S. through New York harbor. They found great hope in these words etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe freedom; the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, and the tempest-tossed; I lift my lamp beside my golden door.” Jesus offers so much more when He invites: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV).
Jesus offered the most complete rest of all to the crowds. He did not avoid the topic of sin. He did not tell them that they were basically good people who just needed to try a little harder to make things right with God. He pointed out their sin, their inability to do anything about it, and its eternal consequences. But then He lifted the horrible burden off their shoulders with the news that He had come to be their Savior. He would live the way they were supposed to, and He would take the punishment they deserved on Himself. In Jesus they would find perfect rest from all guilt.
Even more than physical rest, we need a vacation from sin. Through Word and Sacrament Jesus calls us to take a break, and come away with Him to a quiet place away from the world’s pressures. Have you ever thought of coming to church as a spiritual vacation trip? It is! When we come here we get away from the distractions and routine of everyday life in order to listen to Jesus’ refreshing words of comfort. The stress melts away as He tells us that it doesn’t matter how miserably we have messed things up. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
It doesn’t matter how stress-filled tomorrow may be. We can still be at rest, for Jesus promises to stay at our side and hold us up with His almighty arms. He even gives us rest from worry over the long-term future. With sin paid for, we can look forward to a blessed journey through life and a wonderful homecoming in heaven. That was the rest Paul was eagerly anticipating when he wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV).
Are you stressed? Need a break? We all do! Praise God for His compassion which gives us the rest we need. Praise Him for the physical rest He provides our bodies, but especially for the spiritual rest we enjoy through the peace earned by Christ in our behalf. May the Lord renew us today in both body and soul, so that tomorrow we will be rested, refreshed, and ready to work wholeheartedly for Him! Amen.
“Come unto Me, ye weary,
And I will give you rest.”
O blessed voice of Jesus,
Which comes to hearts opprest!
It tells of benediction,
Of pardon, grace, and peace,
Of joy that has no ending,
Of love that cannot cease.
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