“Rest for the Weary”
Have you ever just had one of those days or weeks where everything seems to be falling apart around you or the pace of life seems overwhelming and you’re not sure how much more you can cope with?
Some time ago, I found an article online about a Bassett hound named Tattoo. This is his story. Tattoo was not a fan of exercise and didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his lead in the car door and took off for a drive – with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice. A police car noticed the passing vehicle with something dragging behind it. He commented that the poor basset hound with its short legs was, “picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued. The dog had reached a top speed of 25 miles per hour, falling down and rolling over several times but he survived and was unharmed.
When we have one of those days, or weeks, or months, or for some of us it’s the only lifestyle we know, we’re a lot like Tattoo, our legs just don’t seem to be long enough and we’re picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can as we try to keep up with life– falling every once in a while and rolling around & feeling as if we’re being dragged along.
There was a report in the 60’s on time management. It predicted that advances in technology would radically change how many hours a week people worked. They forecasted that the average person would be working 22 hours a week within 20 years. “The great challenge,” the experts said, “would be working out what to do with all the excess time.” Over 40 years later, after major advances in technology – how many of us are wondering what to do with all the excess time on our hands?
Life isn’t always what we thought it would be. It’s hard! All of us need and want rest.
As we look at the reading from Matthew this morning, rest is exactly what Jesus offers: Rest for the weary, relief for the burdened, rest for the soul.
The beginning of this chapter tells us that the disciples have just been sent out to preach and Jesus also goes out to preach. While He’s out, some men come to him from John the Baptist, who has been arrested and put into prison. Now John had expectations of what Jesus would be and what he would accomplish and, to be frank, Jesus was not living up to those expectations. John expects the Messiah to come and to put and end to the way things are. He expects the Messiah to come and make His judgment on the nation of Israel and on the other nations of the world who have turned away from God – and that’s not what Jesus is doing. So when John heard what Jesus was doing, he sent his disciples to Him with a question. He, no doubt, heard of the kind of men that Jesus had called to follow him, he heard what Christ had taught about love and mercy and the law on the side of the mountain. He probably heard that Jesus was making it a habit to eat and have fellowship with sinners. He knew that Jesus’ disciples had gone out and were preaching and asking the people to repent, Christ was still giving them a chance to turn away from sin. This wasn’t the Jesus that John expected. And to top it all off, now John is sitting in a prison cell, where is his deliverer?
Most Christians find themselves in this place at some point in their lives. The place where Jesus doesn’t seem to be who we thought He was. He doesn’t seem to be doing. When we find ourselves in this place, doubt begins to creep in. One of my favourite poems is Footprints by Margaret Fishback Powers. The writer is asking God why when she needed Him the most the two sets of footprints in the sand became only one and God replies that that is when He carried her.
So even John the Baptist had his moments. Despite all that he had seen, when Jesus didn’t appear to be the instrument of God’s Wrath and Judgment on mankind, like John thought he should be, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus why. Jesus answers and says to John’s disciples: Look at all of the things that I have done which has displayed my power and my authority. So, Jesus is not bringing the judgment that John and many others expected. The judgment that John and others were waiting for will come, but what John didn’t understand was that Christ came to rescue and save as many from that judgment as possible.
Then Jesus continues to talk. He says “you don’t know me.” Only the Father truly knows why I have come and you don’t know my Father. Only those who believe in me, who recognize me, will know My Father because I will reveal Him to them. So don’t assume that you know. Don’t assume that I’ve come to judge and to pour out wrath. The day for that will come, but for now, this is what I offer, not judgment, but rest for those who are weary, rest for those who are burdened. Not just physical rest, but rest for the soul, rest and peace in the deepest parts of who we are.
But this promise, like so many others in Scripture, requires us to act. And so there are three aspects of this promise that are our responsibility if we want experience the rest that comes from our relationship with Christ.
The First Command is this:
1) Come to Me
Come to me all who are weary and burdened. All who have been beaten and battered by life, come to me and you will find what it is that you need and what it is that you’re looking for.
It’s for those who are weary and tired of searching for meaning and purpose among the things that the world offers. They find peace that no one else can offer because now, they understand. Things begin to make sense, no longer is the future filled with uncertainty and fear.
And not only are we to come when we are weary but Jesus says when we are burdened as well. When the things we talked about earlier are pressing in on all sides and we feel like we can’t stand up under their weight any longer, Jesus says to come. He wants us to lay our burdens down and to give them to him and when we’ve done that and we trust that He will deal with them, we will experience rest.
In his book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan tells the story of a Christian on a journey, carrying a large bundle on his shoulders. He arrives at a place higher than the surrounding area. On that hill there stands a cross, and below the hill there is a grave. As the man comes to the top of the hill with his heavy burden, the load is suddenly released from his shoulders. It drops to the ground, rolls down the hill, and disappears into the empty grave. That is a picture of what Christ has done for us. We labour along, carrying a heavy load. The cross appears before our eyes. We lay our heavy load down there, and it is rolled away.
The next command that God gives us here in this promise is to:
2) Take My Yoke –
The first command begins with a call to come to Christ. But it doesn’t end there, the Christian life is one of growth and each of us must come to that point in our growth where we give up trying to do things in our own strength and accept the strength, direction, and instruction that God offers.
In old war movies, when one side sees the hopelessness of their situation, they wave the white flag and surrender. They give up! Jesus says, Give up, take my yoke upon you. He will not force it on us, but we must willingly go with Him.
Now you know that a yoke is a carved piece of wood that is fitted to the neck and shoulders of a particular animal that was to wear it to prevent chafing. It is part of the harness used as a means of controlling and guiding the animal (whether it is oxen, horses, or mules) in useful work. It is always the case that when a pair of animals is yoked together, the workload is reduced and more can be accomplished. So God, is offering to be yoked with us. To be bound together and to help us in the work that He has for us. And when we obey, when we take that yoke, we will find the rest that he promises.
This yoke will not choke us, it will not drag us down. It will be well fitting and custom made for us. His yoke is easy and He also says that His burden is light. At that time, a relationship with God was anything but a light burden. The demands of the law and the rules and regulations that had to be followed were breaking the backs of many Jews.
Jesus came to lift that burden by fulfilling the law for us and freeing us from it. He carries the load.
When we’re yoked with Christ, our burden is light, not because problems go away, not because God won’t ever ask anything of us. Jesus doesn’t say that there will be no burden but our burden is light because when we encounter situations in which the burden is too much for us to bear, Jesus is there shouldering the load and the burden is carried together.
The third and final command that we have here is Jesus saying:
3) Learn From Me – the process in all of our lives in which we become more and more like Christ. This will happen naturally if we have followed the second command and we have yoked ourselves to Christ. Connecting ourselves with Him, leaning on Him, and following where he leads us.
It is the norm in basic training in the services that the recruits are screamed at, yell at, berated and to torn down. Failings are pointed out and praise is seldom given for things done well. I’m sure you’ve all seen the sort of thing I mean on TV or in films and indeed many of you have personal experience. Some people think of God this way, but Jesus says that’s not the case, we can learn from Him and He is gentle and humble in heart. He is patient and kind as He guides us towards those things that He wants us to learn, patiently walking us through our shortcomings and cheering us on when we get it right. And he promises again, when we learn from Him we will find rest for our souls.
Rest will come when we take His yoke on us. When we surrender, give up trying to do things on our own and let Him shoulder the load with us. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And if we want rest for our souls, we’ve got to learn from Him.
To God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit be glory and praise now and for ever. Amen.