6th Sunday After Pentecost July 24, 2011
782 [TLH alt. 428], 652, 276, 400
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
In the name of Jesus, our burden-bearer, dear fellow Christians:
The best part of summer is _____________ . Many of us would probably fill in the blank with “vacation!” After nine months of sitting in the classroom a student longs for vacation-time: sleeping in, playing ball, swimming, or just being outside in the sunshine. Knowing that a week of fishing at the lake is coming up on the calendar makes a 50-hour work week more bearable. Getting away from routine and visiting new places can refresh a tired body and mind.
But what about our souls? They work hard too and need a break. They face the daily struggle against the Old Adam as Paul pointed out in the epistle lesson: “What I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…but now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:15, 17 NIV). The world entices us with its shiny temptations and distractions. The Devil lurks nearby waiting to pounce on us in a weak moment. Our souls need a vacation rest, one which Jesus graciously offers free of charge.
Do you remember summer vacation when you were seven or eight years old? Weren’t those summers some of the best ever? You may not have taken any exotic trips. You may have stayed home the whole time. What made them so wonderful was that you didn’t have many concerns. It was a carefree time. You didn’t worry about the cost of a barrel of oil or the effect it would have on the weekly grocery bill. Home repairs and job security were things you left to your parents. You didn’t think about where you stood with others. You likely didn’t even think too much about the next school year. Summer stretched out endlessly, and it was all yours to enjoy. I remember just lying on the grass in the yard and watching the clouds drift by overhead. I haven’t done that for a long time. Have you?
We grow up and that carefree outlook is hard to find. We have responsibilities. We are short on time. We are in control, or at least we think we should be. We feel the need to figure things out ourselves, and we are reluctant to trust others because we think we know best.
However, if we try to figure out spiritual matters and take responsibility for our own salvation, we are going to make a complete mess of it. All we have to do is look at people like the Pharisees. They believed they had it all figured out. They reasoned that since they were descendants of Abraham they were automatically God’s favored people. They trusted that their hard work in keeping the letter of God’s Law would bank a reward for them with God. They saw no need for a Savior from sin. They had it all figured out without Him. They saw themselves as very wise.
Jesus condemns that attitude. He prayed, “I thank You, Father….that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” [v.25] God is not impressed by man’s wisdom. We shouldn’t be either. All of the advanced university degrees, prestige, and philosophical conjectures in the world miss the mark when it comes to spiritual truth. The Lord reminds us: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Paul wrote the Corinthians: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).
We don’t have to figure out the way to God. We do not have to decide who has it right. Jesus reveals it to us. “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father,” He assures us. “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal him.” [v.27] Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
So give your soul a vacation by thinking like a child, taking Jesus at His Word, and leaving everything up to Him. Trust that as He clothes the flowers of the field and feeds the birds of the air so He will certainly feed and clothe you. Seek first His kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:25ff). Trust that when we follow Him we will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. Come to Jesus with a carefree, childlike attitude, and find welcome rest for your soul.
Vacations are restful because you can get out from under some of the burdens of life. You don’t have to mow the grass or deal with the mountain of laundry beside the washing machine. You don’t have to keep checking your watch to make sure that you are not late for work. You can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. If you feel like it you can take an afternoon nap or lose yourself in a good book. You can go out for a walk without worrying what time you have to be back. Our bodies and minds need that kind of break.
Our souls need a break from a much heavier burden, namely, that of our sin. We were born with it and daily we add to it. We become impatient with a family member and blurt out a hurtful comment. No sooner do the words come out than we regret them. We feel worse than we did before we spoke. We know we not only hurt a loved one, we offended God. We become lazy and careless in carrying out the duties God has placed before us. We coast along and let others take up the slack. Again, before long guilt begins to gnaw at our souls. Instead of taking the words and actions of others in the most charitable way possible, we assume the worst, jump to conclusions, and gossip. Our guilt grows still more. The world is quick to shrug it off and say, “No one is perfect. You need to forgive yourself. No one should be held accountable for what they can’t help.”
But God’s Law is not like Play-Doh which we can mold and shape into any form we want. There is no “give” to the Law. It demands perfection. It is like a boss who will fire you for one quick glance out the window when you should be working. It is like a teacher who will fail you for the entire year if you misspell one word. The Law of God offers no rest whatsoever for the tired soul. It points an accusing finger at each of us for not being the husband, wife, brother, sister, friend, or faithful follower God requires. We can’t even truly enjoy a vacation for the body and mind if our soul is being smothered under a massive load of sin.
Still, some try to carry the burden themselves. They believe they can hold up under it or pay it off by their promises and efforts at reforming their lives. But it doesn’t work. It is like a person who believes he never needs a vacation break and so keeps working nonstop year after year. He may seem to do fine for a while, but eventually it always catches up with a person in the form of ulcers, heart disease, unhappiness, or just plain burnout. Sin does the same thing to the soul. David wrote about it often in the psalms: “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 NIV).
Some people believe they can shoulder at least part of the burden of sin, just like there are those who take a vacation, but pack their work phone and answer business e-mails all the while they are away. That’s not a real vacation. Thinking that it is up to us to handle part of our guilt is not really a vacation for the soul. The burden is still there.
Give your soul a real vacation! Take Jesus up on His invitation: “Come to Me, all you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” [v.28] Don’t hold anything back. Take all your sin to Jesus. Confess to Him all the sins from your past, all the guilt that has troubled your conscience, all the sins no one else knows about, even the sin which you are not aware of. Then look at what Jesus did with it. He put it all on His shoulders. He carried it to the cross. He suffered the penalty for it in full. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows! The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV).
All that crushing weight has been lifted off us. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). If you want to picture it for yourself, write down all the sins you can think of. Fill up an entire sheet of paper front and back. Then feed the paper through your shredder and afterward try to read the words or put the pieces back to together. It can’t be done. So, too, your sins cannot come back to hurt you. They are gone, buried with Christ.
The spiritual rest of forgiveness in Christ is the best kind of vacation. It is better than a month at the lake or a summer off from school. It is the peace of God which relaxes and refreshes the soul. Come to Jesus for that spiritual vacation. It is free for all by faith.
Can a vacation deal be too good to be true? I’m thinking of the phone calls which promise a glamorous vacation at a brand new resort free of charge. Did you find out later that there was a catch? To receive it you may have had to pay transportation costs, an expensive service charge, or maybe sit through a high-pressure sales presentation.
It could almost appear as though Jesus does the same thing in our text. He promises rest and relief from the burden of sin, but then He adds, “Take my yoke upon you.” [v.29] A yoke is a large wooden beam placed on an animal’s back to attach it to a plow or wagon. Ordinarily, a yoke describes an uncomfortable burden, but Jesus’ yoke is different. “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Jesus’ yoke joins us to Him and to one another, but instead of wearing us down and tiring us out it does just the opposite. It refreshes us.
Jesus’ yoke is, first of all, trusting in Him as our Savior from sin. That joins us to Him and to all the blessings He has in store for us, including spiritual rest. The more rest we receive the more invigorated we will be to live for the Lord. His burden is light because He does all the lifting! We love because He first loved us. We are committed to Him because He is committed to us. We forgive others because He unconditionally forgives us.
Jesus gives us a new perspective on all of life. Apart from His rest, keeping the Commandments is a frightening, frustrating, impossible burden. But now it is all taken care of. Jesus’ righteousness is already ours, and we delight in expressing our love in unforced, willing obedience. Helping around the house, caring for the needs of others, going to work, reading Scripture, and going to church would all be dreary chores apart from Jesus’ rest. But with forgiveness the Lord also gives us hearts which want to do all things to His praise.
This summer take the best vacation of all. You don’t have to wait for it, save up for it, or even go somewhere for it. Give your soul a vacation—the one prepared, offered, and paid for by Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
“Come unto Me, ye weary,
And I will give you rest.”
O blessed voice of Jesus,
Which comes to hearts oppressed!
It tells of benediction,
Of pardon, grace, and peace,
Of joy that hath no ending,
Of love which cannot cease.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.