Nothing I do is ever enough!!!”
Have you ever heard someone say that? Have you ever said that or thought that yourself? Sometimes no matter how much we do, how much we say, how much we pay, how much we save, how much we exercise, etc., it just never seems to be enough. Jesus knows how we feel because he went through the same thing here on earth.
Jesus wasn’t the first person that the Pharisees didn’t accept. Like Jesus, John the Baptist was seen as someone other than who he really was. He was seen as a demon-possessed lunatic, and Jesus was seen as a glutton. John’s austerity in dress and food underlined the severity of his message. Jesus, on the other hand, went to where the people were, a participant in their condition, if not their sin, where the joys and sorrows played out in families, towns and cities. The people of John’s and Jesus’ time rejected God by rejecting his messengers; neither approach pleased them, because neither man fit into their mold, so they lodged contradictory complaints. In both cases, the wisdom of the courses of action of both men was proved only by the results. In other words, the ends justified the means. We often want the Jesus we want when we want him. The people in Jesus’ time were the same, and he was frustrated. The problem for those who reject Jesus is their awareness that taking John the Baptist and Jesus seriously requires people to change their lives.
The elite did not accept John the Baptist or Jesus-the poor did. The same situation exists today. There are those who think that they are so high in society that they don’t need God. Then there are those who are so downtrodden and suppressed by society that they eagerly accept Jesus’ teachings.
There is an interesting contrast in Matthew 11:16-19,25-30. Jesus is contrasting Man’s Law with God’s Law. Man’s Law was formed as the result of the Ten Commandments. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people to guide them through the moral traps of life, but well-intentioned people added on to the law until it became its own trap. Religious professionals prided themselves on their observance of the law, but even they couldn’t avoid breaking the law. The common person did not stand a chance of perfectly observing the law. All of these rules and regulations were a huge burden on the people. The law was a dispensation of terror.
Jesus came along and said to the Pharisees, “Look, guys-you don’t need all these man-made rules and regulations. You don’t need rules stating how far a person can walk on the Sabbath, or how clean they have to be in order to be part of society, or what type of work people can do on the Sabbath. That is not the intention of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are rules for how people are to live their lives and treat their fellow man. They are not meant to be a spiritual strait-jacket, but you, with your rules and regulations and determination to obey the letter of the Ten Commandments, have forgotten about the spirit of the Ten Commandments.” People might be learned in religious rules, customs and teachings, but our main source for understanding God’s ways doesn’t come from that knowledge. It comes from receiving Jesus and his message. In fact, strict observance of the law can make us blind to the Spirit’s freedom Jesus is offering us.
Jesus went a step further and replaced all of these laws with the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. He told the Pharisees, “Look at how much easier and less demanding the Great Commandments are. They are a common-sense approach to living the life God wants us to lead. If people obey these two commandments, they will form the basis for how people live their lives. “
Most of you have seen oxen that are harnessed together by a yoke. They share the burden and work together so that one doesn’t have to do all of the work or shoulder the entire burden. Oxen are trained for a specific position in the yoke, so when they are put in the other position, they refuse to move, much like the Pharisees refused to change for Jesus or John the Baptist.
When Jesus tells us to take his yoke, he is inviting us to submit to his authority. If we submit to him, he will give us rest by sharing our burdens. We all need rest. That’s why God created the Sabbath. A Sabbath changes the pace of our lives. It helps us restore our strength and helps us be still. It helps us to let go of our grip on our lives. Jesus is asking us to let him be in control of our lives. He wants to guide and direct our lives. As the old saying goes, he wants us to “let go and let God”.
Jesus lived enough days on this earth to experience weariness-in body, mind, spirit and heart. Weariness can come in all forms and can last a long time. Some weariness moves into depression and despair. Thus, for Jesus to extend rest for the weary, he is giving hope to those who are burdened. That hope is named-Jesus.
Jesus promises to give us rest when we find our rest in him. He is our burden-bearer. When we turn the circumstances of our lives over to him, he lifts us up and infuses our hearts with fresh hope and wisdom. Some situations are just too difficult for us to handle, but nothing is too great for God. In the words of the famous old hymn:
What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer
He promises to refresh our weary souls when we cry out to him.
To understand God, we must get rid of our rules, intellect and common sense. We must become spiritually helpless like children and come to him with curiosity, naïveté, and trust. We have to come to him in simple, child-like faith. This isn’t easy to do, especially because as we move from childhood into adulthood, we are often jaded or shaped by our experiences.
A child young enough not to have been taught otherwise knows how much he or she needs help. A child innocent enough not to be caught up in the world’s deception knows that he or she is loved just as they are. In fact, it is not even a matter of knowing for the infant in our arms, it is a matter of experiencing love, being held by love.
The Pharisees’ rules were a burden in their time, just like man’s rules can be in our time, especially when dealing with the government. If you don’t have every single “I” dotted and every single “T” crossed, dealing with the government can be a heavy burden. Not walking in step with the establishment is hard work and can be dangerous, but it can be done, and has been done in the past by people such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.
The world’s way of lightening burdens has always involved transferring the burden to the scapegoat, usually the poor. God hears our cries and can understand the difference between cries of pain, hurt, anger, frustration, joy and deep need. He longs to hold us while we cry, not saying anything, but showing immeasurable love through his powerful embrace. God will bring strength out of brokenness. He releases us from the bondage of having to prove our worth. We can live freely and lightly. He will never give us more than we can bear.
Most of us go through life with burdens that weigh heavily on us. Like potatoes in a pressure cooker, we know the meaning of stress. Regardless of what our burdens are, Jesus wants to come alongside us and heal us. He wants to properly clean the wounds of our lives. It will take time and it won’t be easy, but if we keep ourselves surrounded by Jesus, the source of life, we will be healed. And when we are healed, we will experience the love, peace, hope and rest that Jesus can bring.
It is easy for us to get caught up in a “hurry-worry syndrome”-doing too much, driving too fast, eating too quickly, and juggling too many things. It all seems important now, but later we realize that much was done at the expense of cultivating deeper and meaningful relationships with those we love the most. Being held hostage by the tyranny of the urgent is not how we were meant to live.
A sermon preached on Matthew 11:28-30 changed lives in a small rural community where two leaders of the congregation were quarreling bitterly over a decision about which they disagreed. When the minister pronounced the benediction and left the sanctuary at the end of the service, he wondered why the congregation did not follow him to the door where he normally greeted them. He returned to the sanctuary and found the two leaders embracing each other in tears while the rest of the congregation stood around in amazement.
Jesus’ easy yoke is not an invitation to an easy, carefree life, but it is deliverance from the man-made burdens of religion. These burdens are the guilt of sin and its side effects such as depression, anxiety, fear and doubt. If we accept the rest Jesus offers, all we have to do is accept his teachings as well as the obligations he will lay upon us. He invites us to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we come together to worship every week, we admit our hunger for God. God sees our emptiness and feeds us the choicest food, the flesh and blood of the one who invites us today to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is meek and humble of heart. We can let go of the heavy yokes of this world and take up the blessed yoke that is no burden, the yoke of acceptance of our own beloved self in Christ, the yoke of acceptance of the beloved nature of other weary, heavy-laden ones still striving all around us.