Come to me, all 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
Jesus had just exploded the minds of the disciples and His hearers all across that Galilean countryside by the time that we arrive at our Gospel reading for this morning. From the time of the great Sermon on the Mount of Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus had healed a leper, a centurion’s servant, a paralytic, some woman who touched the edge of the cloak He was wearing, two blind men, two men with demons, one man who couldn’t speak, Peter’s mother-in-law, along with the countless droves that descended upon the house afterwards, and He raised a girl from the dead. Just for fun, in the middle of it all, He calmed a storm out on the Sea of Galilee.
The most recent spectacle had been centered around Jesus’ teachings. He began taking on the Pharisees and Scribes at every turn. He talked about the persecution that His disciples, His little ones, would have to endure. The very teachings and life of Jesus would act like sword that would sever relationships even those who were family members. He encouraged His followers to not fear though because there was One who was mightier behind it all. And like we heard in last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus was pulling back the curtain to reveal the God who was behind all that was transpiring… for everyone who receives Christ, receives the Father. Ultimately, the life of a disciple of Jesus isn’t about who is greatest. It isn’t about rewards. It is always and only about Jesus.
The disciples weren’t the only ones losing their minds either. John, who was imprisoned and, unbeknownst to him, was awaiting his execution, hears about all of the things Jesus is doing. He hears about all of the things Jesus is saying. While it is not clear if John is doubting, he is certainly confused at the least. So John sends his disciples to ask Jesus a simple, straightforward question: “Are you the One that is supposed to come? Or should we look for another?” In other words, “Yo! Jesus! Please tell me that you know what you’re doing!” Jesus responds back using the language of the prophecies of Isaiah, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” And just in case anyone had their doubts about John, Jesus puts those down also – “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
While those with ears were listening, Jesus had a few more things to say, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were the regions that had seen first-hand the works of Jesus. The healings. The raising to life. The demons cast out. The blind seeing. The deaf hearing. The mute speaking. The works foretold by Isaiah. These all happened in their midst. And, yet, they are skeptical. Shame on them.
Then, in a somewhat surprising twist, Jesus turns His focus from the world to His disciples… those that had also seen and heard everything to this point… and gives a prayer of thanks to the Father. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” The wisdom of God and the plan of salvation is hidden from the wise and given to the little children… the disciples of Jesus. Earthly wisdom and worldly stature cannot reveal the plan of God. Yet, the simplest of minds can understand it when the Spirit reveals it to them. This is truly the working of God. [Head explodes]
Then Jesus turns to His disciples, in the midst of their confusion and bewilderment, “Come to me, all 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” Jesus knew the road that He had to follow to Calvary. He knew the road that most of the twelve would follow. Crucifixions, torturous imprisonments, vile executions, beatings, tears over the lost, never-ending endeavors to gather God’s lost sheep, the toil of managing a growing church in the midst of persecution. Jesus knew it all. And He speaks these words to them. “Come to me, all 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 Old and New Testaments, there are really two separate ideas used when it comes to the metaphor of a yoke. In the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament, the metaphor of a yoke bears the idea of an animal yoke. It is something that weighs you down, and something of which you struggle with all of your might to rid yourself. It is something to which two animals might be yoked together so that the work might be more bearable, in and of itself it is a burden. However, in the rest of the places in the New Testament, the metaphor of a yoke is used to talk about the yoke that a human might wear in order to make the work that he has to do easier. Yes, the person will yearn to rid himself of the yoke when the work is done, but it is, nonetheless, something that allows you to accomplish a task that is before you with more ease than if you had to bear it on your own. Notice the tenor of Jesus’ statement now. He knows that there is labor and toil ahead of those believers that will weigh them down. It will discourage them. It will be impossible to do by themselves. So Jesus, extends His yoke. This life will not be easy but when we find ourselves wearing Jesus’ yoke, we find the peace and rest our souls need… even in the midst of the worst turmoil and grief.
This is no metaphorical peace and rest because our grief and pain… our turmoil and temptations are real. The calamities and sin in our lives and the lives of others bring about real delusions, real devastation, real weariness and trepidation. A metaphorical relief to these things would be of no solution to you. It would amount to nothing more than a pat on the shoulder from your old buddy, Jesus, telling you to buck up because things are going to get better. Don’t worry! There’s always tomorrow! However, when tomorrow arrives with the same problems as today, the shortcomings of our weak hope will only darken the hallways of life. We would be left with the same question as John the Baptist. “Is Jesus the One, or should we look for another?”
Jesus knows our grief and pain. He knows what it is like to lose a loved one expectedly after a longsuffering disease, or unexpectedly… so fast that it turns your life upside down. Jesus knows the proverbial monkey of addiction that you carry around. He knows the hidden prayers you mutter as lies and deceit burn another bridge. He knows the empty promises and the hopelessness out of which they are made. He knows that worry about the future that plagues every moment that you are awake. He knows the worry doesn’t go away but only intensifies when you go to sleep. He knows that the income and the bills aren’t zeroing out. He knows the hurt that is left by an unfaithful spouse. He knows the guilt you carry when you are the unfaithful one. He knows when you that you stole one extra pen from the bank. He knows that you told one little white lie that only you and Him will ever know. He knows when you’ve faltered. He knows how hard you try to keep on going. He knows that your yoke is heavy. He knows that the weight you carry is crushing you. So He gives you real comfort and real rest in the midst of your real pain.
He gives you your baptism. “Come to me, all 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.” How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life- giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St Paul says in Titus, chapter three:“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” The real salvation that Jesus won for you on the cross is actually given to you in Your Baptism. You are given the yoke of Christ in those wonderful waters combined with the all-creating Word of God. The Word that creates faith… that creates life… even and especially amongst dead sinners.
He gives you His Words of forgiveness in the words spoken by your pastor. “Come to me, all 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.”What do you believe according to these words?I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. There is a reason that this congregation has called three fellow sinners to stand in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus… so that you would know for certain that all of your sins are forgiven… those forgiven corporately or privately. In forgiveness, Christ, again, reminds you that His yoke is the one you wear.
He gives you the Supper. “Come to me, all 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.”What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.” Brothers and sisters, do not deny yourself the very gifts that Christ brings! For what do we receive at this table than the very real body and blood of Christ for our very real lives of sin, death, and trials? Here is where we receive the very yoke of Christ. Every promise is fulfilled to us in these Means of Grace… these yokes of Christ… which allow us to persevere until that day when we need no yoke and we bask in the blessings of our Savior for eternity with the innumerable saints of heaven. May God bring this to completion in the day of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.