Jesus Offers Relief for the Weary Modern World

Title: Jesus Offers Relief for the Weary Modern World

Text: Matthew 11:28-30

Date: September 2nd, 2009

 

Today we come to one of the most comforting of all teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Unlike many or most Christian churches today, we just can’t go through the Bible preaching and teaching the sweet and pleasant verses while at the same time omitting and ignoring the difficult ones. That’s what congregations seem to want these days — all sweet and no sour – but we can’t do that and be faithful to the whole revelation of God taught in the Bible. No, we must state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as we are reminded each time someone is “sworn in” to give testimony in a court. So too we must hear the entire message God gives from his Word without editing out unpleasant parts or teaching exclusively from pleasant passages. And that’s the balance I try to maintain in my ministry – actually it’s easy to keep such a balance when I’m teaching verse-by-verse through a book or section of the Bible, because if I’m accurately explaining each verse there will be a balance between sweet and sour truths. But today we come upon one of the more pleasant passages in all of God’s Word, the invitation of Christ Jesus for everyone to find rest for their soul in him. That’s good news for a weary world like we live in today. The pace of life is so fast today, it seems like everyone is always so busy. And there is also lots of pressure today that wasn’t present in times past. Someone once observed that with all our laborsaving devices such as the washing machine, dishwasher, microwave, for example, that we have more time not less time for everything we desire to do. Wrong. When we get more time we quickly fill it up with something else so that we are just as busy as we ever were, only now we actually have more things to do! But it’s not just the pace of life that’s a problem today, it’s the way of life that even more troubling. As faith in God and obedience to his will slips more and more in society, as we try to live our lives on our own terms rather than God’s, we suffer a lose of meaning and purpose at the center of our lives. Our lives become hollow and empty. This may be the biggest problem facing the modern world today. It’s not so much that we are tired of activity as much as we are tired at the core of our being because we are more and more losing the very point and purpose of life. Our modern problem is truly a spiritual problem but few people identify it as spiritual. Most people today think it’s psychological – so they visit a counselor or therapist to get themselves fixed. They complain of a lack of drive or motivation, or low self-esteem, or depression or anxiety, for example, but the real problem stems from a lack of meaning and purpose because they’ve ignored God and God’s Word. They’ve substituted other things for God in their lives and wonder why they are so empty. But even Christians can get off track and begin substituting other things for God at the center of their lives, so the malady isn’t limited to non-Christians by any means. What is needed is a re-centering of God in our lives. God must be front and center in our lives, not just in theory but also in fact. Only then can we feel the peace and security he offers us through his Spirit, only then can our lives be properly ordered so that meaning and purpose flow from God at the center outward into every activity we involve ourselves in. That’s what Jesus invites us to in this passage. That’s what is such good news. Let’s explore it further.

 

First, Jesus invites a weary people to rest. Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give your rest.” Do you know what it means to be weary or burdened? Sure we do. But if we don’t have enough examples in our own lives, it’s easy to see weariness and burden in the lives of those around us. Take for example marriages. For all of our education, ability and know-how in the modern world, we fail at marriages at a higher rate than any people ever in the history of the world. Why are people so weary and burdened about their marriages today, whether divorced or not? From the number of marriage experts and marriage instructional books and seminars you’d think that we’d be people who are so informed and enlightened on the subject that we’d experience better marriages and more successful relationships than people of the past. But no, with all our marriage knowledge and wisdom we fail even more than past generations who knew less about the science of marriage. Why? Because we’ve substituted “self” for God in the center of our lives and we are trying to live lives apart from God and God’s Word in our lives. We live by our own abilities and resources and knowledge apart from God’s leadership, and the results are terrible. Marriages fall apart, families split apart, and lives are ruined. But that’s just one area of modern life; there are many other aspects of life today that cause burden and weariness in the human spirit. Financial pressure is another area. It didn’t take an economic recession to burden our hearts over money, but the recession only compounds the problem. Materialism and money dominate life today for most people. Even though we live at a higher standard of living than people of the past, we pay for it in increased pressure and anxiety. Most families are only a few paychecks away from financial disaster, and the knowledge of this causes burden on the human spirit. No wonder so many people look tired and weary – they are, just trying to keep their heads above water financially, especially with so much credit and debt. I could go on naming the areas of anxiety and burden in our modern lives today, but I don’t want to burden you all with more discouragement and depression, that’s not my intent. But I say all this to simply underscore the fact that when Jesus invites us to rest in him, that’s really good news because we need rest for our weary souls. We need inner peace that can only come through a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We simply can’t ignore God or remove him from the center of our lives and have the peace and blessing that only he can give. Now some people who haven’t experienced the peace of God in their lives don’t believe it’s possible. They need to take Jesus up on his offer and experience it for themselves. Others have experienced the peace of Jesus in their life before but they’ve gotten distracted, much like the parable of the sower describes where the weeds and cares of life rob the seed from growing into a healthy plant. They need to once again commit themselves to Jesus by making him the center of their life in order to experience his blessings in their heart. So Jesus invites us to peace of mind and soul. Isn’t that good news today? But how do we make Jesus the center of our life? Let’s find out. 

 

Second, God’s peace and rest is found through becoming a disciple of Jesus. Matthew 11:29, “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.” Here is a paradox – the way to find rest for your soul is to take on the labor of love in following Jesus as a disciple. Jesus invites us to peace of mind and rest for our weary and burdened souls, then he tells us how to do it – take upon ourselves his yoke and learn from him. Or in other words, he calls us to work and study. But wait! How is that restful and peaceful? When we think of rest we usually don’t think of more work or more study; these are the kinds of activities that cause weariness and make us tired. How can Jesus invite us to rest with these kinds of activities? I told you that Jesus is teaching us a paradox, or in other words, something that seems totally contrary. It’s true. According to Jesus, the way to have peace and rest in our deepest place, our spirit, our soul, is to commit ourselves to following him as a disciple, taking on that burden or responsibility. The Greek word used in this verse translated “learn from me” is actually the word for disciple, mathete. So we could translate the verse, “Take my yoke upon you and become my disciple,” or “Follow me as a disciple.” And in so doing, we will, Jesus promises, find rest for our souls. Now that’s a paradox because it calls weary and tired people into another kind of labor – discipleship or following Jesus. As modern American Christians we don’t know a lot about discipleship in the Christian life; past generations knew something about it, but we’ve been raised on a kind of Christianity that settles for affirming doctrines and some minimal commitment to regular church attendance and giving. But the early disciples of Jesus followed Jesus and practiced the disciplines of discipleship; they made a commitment to God not only to believe certain things about him, but also to practice certain things in devotion to him. The basics of discipleship are regular daily prayer, every day Bible study, regular church attendance and a few more other things that in years past every real Christian new were required. Today, however, we practice a kind of minimal faith that really doesn’t require much other than our signing up and not doing anything that would get us kicked out! But if we want to have rest for our souls and peace of mind and experience the blessings of God at the center of our lives, we got to be willing to accept Jesus’ challenge to “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” But how can Jesus seriously invite already burdened people to take upon themselves another burden, his yoke? Because his burden, his yoke, puts God in the center of our lives so that we aren’t living from our own ability but rather we are living from God’s ability. You see the problem with life in the modern world isn’t that we are too burdened; the problem is that we are trying to live apart from God and we are trying to carry our own weight. We need to become a disciple of Jesus, take upon ourselves his burden or yoke of following him, and experience the blessing of God directing and empowering our lives. Are you willing to become a disciple of Jesus? Are you willing to take on that responsibility? Let me explain why it makes good sense.

 

Third, compared to the burden of sin and self, Christ’s discipleship burden is light. Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden in light.” Now notice Jesus doesn’t invite us to a life with no burden. He doesn’t say, “You who are already overburdened, come to me and I’ll unburden you so that you won’t have to carry any load.” No. He invites us all to take up a different burden, a different kind of burden and a different size burden. You see, in reality the burden of sin and self-centeredness is really heavy, unbearable. Compared with the burden of selfishness and sin, the burden Christ invites us to is light. That’s why Jesus says, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Life comes with some kind of burden. It’s unrealistic to think that life comes with no burden, no weight of responsibility, no commitment, no concern, it’s just that we should be careful as to what burden we bear in life. Sin and self-centered living comes with a heavy burden; being a disciple of Jesus and bearing the responsibility that entails is better, superior than the burden of sin and selfishness. And that’s the irony. You’d think that if you were free to pick your own burden and you picked the self-directed life, the self-centered life, you’d think that you’d organize things to your own self-satisfaction. But that’s not the case. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Whoever would find his lose will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel, will find it.” Again, paradox, counter intuitive. When we become a convert of Jesus and follow after him as a disciple, that is, someone who believes what Jesus teaches and does what Jesus commands, we are paradoxically liberated and unburdened. Yet when we live for self and sin, when we reject God at the center of our life, we become a slave to ourselves and over burden ourselves. Our yoke is heavy, our burden is great. It’s better to make the commitment to follow Christ in obedience and serve him than it is to rebel against God and serve self. Apart from God we are all lousy organizers of our own lives in every way. But with God as the center of our lives, we not only are directed down the right path, we are instructed as to how to walk down the right path. Discipleship takes commitment; there is no doubt about that. Some people balk at the idea of spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, church participation, giving, witnessing, spiritual and moral accountability, for example. They don’t realize that without taking upon themselves the burden or yoke of Christ as a disciple they are consigning themselves to a life burdened by sin and selfishness, which is far heavier than anything Christ ever asks of us. Speaking from experience, I follow spiritual disciplines and I see it as the heart of discipleship. It’s not a heavy burden for me; it’s normally something I enjoy. Sure, there are times when it’s hard for me to follow all the disciplines all the time, but I don’t see it as something legalistic, but something that’s a blessing. I hope you grasp the importance of being a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t one already.

 

The easiest way to become a real disciple of Jesus Christ is to find a good church, like this one if I may say so, and sign up for the membership class, which really could be called a discipleship class, because that’s what it really is, at least a basic discipleship class. Membership in a local church should be from start to finish a discipleship experience. According to the passage I’ve been examining, Jesus invites us to unburden ourselves, to lay our burdens down by taking upon ourselves his burden of becoming a disciple. Why? Because his burden of discipleship is easier and lighter than our own selfish, sinful life apart from God. Sin pays a heavy toll that few people realize. Sloppy Christianity pays a heavy toll and burden on people also because it’s basically a situation where a person has one foot in the kingdom of God and one foot back in the world. It’s the perfect example of the “double-minded man” that James describes. It’s so much better to clearly put God in the center of our life and leave him there. But that’s the problem – we need help in keeping God in the center of our life, because even as Christians we are susceptible to wandering off. Remember the words of the old hymns, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the one I love.” That’s a description of a Christian being tempted to drift back into sin or worldliness or the flesh or a self-centered life. So we need help in keeping God in the center of our life. That’s where the church comes in, that community of fellow believers who all want to live for Jesus and follow him as disciples. When a group of people all dedicate themselves to following the Lord Jesus in word and deed, they then make a covenant between themselves to help encourage each other and hold each other accountable for living the Christian life. Ok, here we see again, the yoke or burden aspect of discipleship. It’s easier to remain free and without accountability. Who likes to be accountable to anybody for anything? Wouldn’t it just be easier to not go through that or join any church community or make any commitment to believe or live a certain way? Yes, it would be easier to live without making a public, community commitment to follow Jesus, but then that wouldn’t be discipleship. Jesus said there’d be a yoke, a burden, but he also said that it would be light and easy compared with living apart from God and God’s people in sin and self-centeredness. Now I ask you, are you a disciple of Jesus Christ in community with other Christians who can encourage you and hold you accountable? Are you part of a church that takes Christ’s call to discipleship seriously? If not, how are you going to keep God center in your life without the help of other Christians? You can’t, you were never meant to, apart from the church. I’d like to challenge you to find a good, solid church and join in together with others in the discipleship process Jesus calls us to. Join the church, make the commitment, take this burden upon you, because it’s light and easy compared with the burden and yoke of sin and selfishness outside the church.

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