The Gift Of Rest For The Fatigued And Overburdened

Text:  Matthew 11:25-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Are you tired?  Are you worn out?  Are you like an ox who is tired from the tremendous weight of a yoke placed around its neck and shoulders?  Are you burdened from the load that you must pull?  Then you are in luck, for Jesus bids you in today’s Gospel reading to come to Him.  Yes, you who are laboring to justify yourself and you who are crushed by the yoke of the Law are indeed blessed, for the Gospel calling is to and for you. 

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear that those who are weary and exhausted from constant ‘doing’ and never-ending ‘striving’ are called by Jesus.  In other words, those of you who are exhausted and weary due to trying to work out your own salvation in your own strength by dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ are the ones that Jesus has in mind.  In case you think that you don’t need this gracious calling of the savior, keep in mind that there is no relief for you apart from Christ.  Apart from Christ you are most certainly in a trap that only leads to depressing despair.  The more you attempt to meet perfection in your own strength, the more you will toil and work; the more you toil and work, the more you will exhaust yourself.  There is no end to this trap; there is no bottom to this ploy.

There is indeed a great desire that is built into each and every one of us to justify ourselves, to be whole, and to be right.  Beneath all the layers and beneath all the facades we come face to face with the reality that we are not right due to our sins.  We have indeed sinned in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  We do not hit the mark.  We do not reach the goal.  Thus, to overcome this sin (this twisted deficiency) we do our best, we labor, we attempt, we plan, we strive, (consciously and subconsciously) to meet the standard of holiness.  Thus, we exhaust ourselves.  We believe the myth that we can reach the carrot on the stick; we believe that we are capable of meeting God’s perfection, thus we are driven to strive, work, and labor towards the never ending and constant demanding goal.  This leads you and me to exhaustion.  It leads you and me to despair and weariness, for we cannot qualify for God’s favor by our performance in keeping His commandments.  We are sinners. 

Jesus though, says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

Jesus also addresses in our Gospel reading that those of you who are being burdened are to come to Him as well.  Yes, those of you who have felt the pressures of the yoke of the Law pressed down upon not your neck and shoulders but upon your hearts and minds are the ones that Jesus has in mind.  You see, God’s Law is good, right, and true.  It makes demands upon you.  It demands perfection, as it should.  It not only is inscribed in the words of the Ten Commandments, but it is also inscribed on your hearts.  God’s holy and perfect Law rightly comes to you and tells you what to do, but it does not enable you to comply with its demands.  God’s holy and perfect Law rightly interrogates you to uncover your sin, yet it offers no help to get out of it.  Surely, the Law produces remorse and it brings forth the terrors of hell, death, and wrath of God.  God’s yoke of the Law eventually drives you to desperation, as it should.[1] 

You who have ears; you who are burdened by the yoke of the Law and are loaded down, you will not find true rest or save yourself underneath the yoke of the Law or by your own strategies and abilities to overcome this heaviness.  Why?  You are not God, but a mere mortal.

My friends the truth is that “all the vain, fruitless striving after peace, contentment, happiness, rest, and joy, which is found the world over, is this constant laboring; and those who come with their deceptions and their [offers] of help only load men down the more.”[2]  Rest from your wearisome hearts and a break from burdens does not come nor is it found in the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I.’ Looking to ‘self’ to overcome the tired soul and the burdened mind will only result in more suffering, more unrest, more trouble, more fear, more grief, more pain, because looking to yourself essentially adds more labor and a bigger load to your own spiritual and emotional checklists. ‘Self’ is not the solution, but the very source of the problem.    

Indeed, all of your striving, all of your efforts, and all of your endeavors to fulfill your own demands, fulfill your own expectations, fulfill the demands of others, and fulfill the demands of God’s holy divine Law become like a heavy yoke.  They are like a yoke, which is placed over your shoulders and over your souls.  It becomes heavy and constantly weighs down upon you as its sheer weight drives your face into the mud, thus suffocating you and making your soul weary and burdened.  There is no escape from this yoke as it seems to be cemented to you, clinging to your hearts and minds.

Jesus though, says to you, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

You who have ears, hear, “Jesus bids us in these Gospel words to come to Him and bring our heavy load, give over all that laboring to justify ourselves, all that yoke of the Law, to Him.”[3]  He then says to take ‘His yoke’ and learn from Him.  This sounds like exchanging one load for another, does it not?  This sounds like Jesus takes our yoke and we get Jesus’ yoke.  Yes, this is exactly what happens.  Jesus’ Gospel words are bidding us to come to Him so that He can relieve us of our yoke, that which we cannot bear.  Truly, Jesus “relieves us of all that.  What we cannot bear, Jesus bears for us.  He carries that yoke for us, fulfills the Law for us.  Its condemnation on our sin He bears for us, for on Him is laid the burden of the iniquity of us all.  The death for sin Jesus dies in our place.  The forsakenness of God, which is for our sin, He takes in our place, for He is the sin-bearer for us all, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”[4]

“Then Jesus gives us His yoke.  It is a happy exchange: Jesus, I am your sin; You are my righteousness.  Our yoke of sin He takes and bears for us, then gives us His yoke.  What a yoke, though!  Never such a yoke as this, really no yoke at all, as is shown by the paradox of its opposite canceling it out.  [A] yoke [that is] easy [and a] burden [that is] light.  What is light is no burden, and what is easy is no yoke.”[5]  You see, “Jesus’ yoke is an easy and light burden because he does all the work.  We love because he first loved us.  We are committed to him because he was first committed to us.  He paid for all our sins and set us free.  He fights all the battle for us.  He equips us with his mighty power, the full armor of God.  He provides our escape from temptation so we can stand. . . . Jesus is our relief, our rescue, our rest at every turn.  Our rest does not rest on us at all.  It rests only on Jesus, who broke the yoke of slavery and removed its burden on the cross, who daily lifts us up and carries us on eagle’s wings”[6]

Indeed, “Jesus gives His cross to us and with it forgiveness, acceptance.  God is our Father as surely as Jesus is His Son who exchanges yokes with us, and the yoke that is ours from Him is easy. . . . [This great exchanging of yokes] is how you feel when the heavy pack comes off and you take off your heavy boots and your feet can’t believe the ease and the lightness of walking.”[7] 

With the yoke of Jesus placed upon you, as a complete and sheer gift, you will rest in the unforced rhythms of grace, as you learn to live freely and lightly.  When the demands, expectations to earn righteousness, and the need to justify ‘self’ emerge, as they surely well, we can be sure that this is not from Christ’s yoke but evidence that we have crawled back under the old yoke as if it is still ours to bear.  Dear friends, do not let the old sinful flesh deceive you, for this old yoke is not ours to bear.  The reason why? We died to the old yoke and we have been crucified with Christ.  We no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in us.  The life we live, we now live by faith in the Son of God who loves us and gave Himself for us.  Yes, in Christ there is no heavy or ill-fitting thing laid upon you.  He does the verbs.  He is your shepherd, king, master, substitute, savior, and Lord—for you.  Thus, whatever comes to you, whether good or bad, you can face it together with Jesus.  Yes, “with the Jesus yoke, we can only be crushed if He gets crushed too.”[8]  Ah, but keep in mind that He has already been crushed and He was resurrected; therefore, in Christ there is no more judging yoke of Law, no condemnation of sin, no fear of death, but only forgiveness and life with Him.[9] 

Blessed Saints, come and get away with Christ for He gives real rest.  Walk with Him, dance with Him, and sing with Him.   Take, trust, and feast upon the Gospel for your souls knowing that it is not by your own might or power, but by Jesus’ power and might that you live, walk, and breath.  Indeed, the yoke He gives in exchange is easy, and His burden light.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Paraphrases from Walther’s Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.
[2] R.C.H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2001), 456-457.
[3] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 175.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Sermon Studies on the Gospels: Series A. ed. Richard D. Balge (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1989), 250-251.
[7] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis, 176.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

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