July 3, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
[Jesus said]: “Come unto 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’ words promise rest for those who are burdened. The burden that humanity bears is great. It comes from the Law of God that clearly spells out what is expected of all whom the Lord has created. His order is imposed on the world that He has made. And that order addresses all aspects of life, both secular and spiritual. But as that order found in the Law confronts humanity, as you are part of the world that the Lord has made, it exposes all the failures and faults of mankind, including yours.
Think about what has been laid upon you. You are instructed in how to behave with one another. You are told how to interact with God. Your actions are constrained by what the Lord determines to be good. The duties that the Lord’s commandments assign to you are manifold. And as you have been made the Lord’s people through the work of Jesus, it is your desire to fulfill all those commandments.
Though you desire to obey, you find that you cannot fulfill that desire. The Apostle Paul describes that situation in the Epistle Reading for today: “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” You attempt to fulfill what the Lord demands of you, but the Law keeps increasing the burden of your guilt. It doesn’t bring relief, but brings forth admissions of failure that roll around your hearts, minds, and souls: “I haven’t loved God with all my heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. The Lord’s words have not always been my delight. I have hated, lusted, cheated, and slandered. Seeing what others have makes me jealous of them and dismissive of what the Lord has given me. The Lord put me in charge of my family, and I have not reared my children well. The Lord placed me under my employer’s governance, and I have not been obedient, but obstinate. The Lord has assigned me authority in this world and I have abused it.”
Such admissions and contrite statements come from the Law’s effect on mankind, especially from those who know and believe it to be good. Remember Paul’s words: “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the Law, that it is good.” There are times when you may rebel against God’s Law, thinking that it is not actually good. This is occasionally seen in your lives and in the record of the Lord’s people found in the Scriptures. But the more typical problem for those in the Church, including you, is that you know that the Lord’s will is truly good, but you have not kept it. And each failure to dos so is like adding more and more bricks into a bag that you are lugging around. The never-ending labor to obey the Law tires the body and the burden of guilt and failure crushes the soul. That is described well in Paul’s words: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
So what can be done about it? Several solutions can be offered. Some may put forward the idea: “There really isn’t a Divine Law. All of it is just made up by people who wanted to oppress and subjugate others.” Others may say: “Just ignore the Law. It was meant for a different people in a different culture at a different time.” Still others may suggest: “The Lord’s commandments are just what He wishes you would do. He knows you can’t keep them, so just try your hardest and don’t worry about it. Your attempts aren’t really failures as much as just the best you can do. There really isn’t any guilt or punishment to in play here.”
But such solutions are not what Jesus puts forward in His teaching. He doesn’t say that the Divine Law doesn’t exist. He doesn’t suggest that you ignore the Law and its demands. He doesn’t say that guilt and punishment aren’t real. No, Jesus teaches that the Law is real, its demands are real, your guilt is real. But He also says: “Come unto 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 shows you the remedy for your problem: it is what He offers. He promises rest and relief.
Why does Jesus promise such a benefit for you? Because that is what His Father sent Him to bring and to give out. Jesus’ purpose was to make known the Lord’s salvation in thought, word, and deed. His will was to fulfill everything that had been commanded. His teaching taught the full demands of the Divine Law, but also the atoning sacrifice that He would make. His deeds showed true righteousness and exhibited mercy. That is what Jesus accomplished in His earthly life, so that your burdens may be taken away from you. In thought, word, and deed, Jesus demonstrates the Divine Character expressed in today’s psalm: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. . . . The Lord is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works.” He does what is said about Him: “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.”
But not all people received that from Jesus. It was rejected by many who saw and heard Him. Jesus’ words reflect that: “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.” Many missed the salvation, the rest and relief that Jesus was bringing.
But you have not missed it, since you have heard and believed the word of Christ. Jesus’ arrival was the fulfillment of what had been promised centuries before, as Zechariah’s prophecy declared: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus fulfilled this prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He was there to bear the burden of guilt, to atone for your failures and the sins of all mankind. Jesus’ presence was to deliver the Lord’s goodness, the salvation that He had sworn to give: “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
So Jesus promises rest and relief. That rest and relief is based in what He has done. Through His perfect will, through His proclamation, through His obedience unto death, you are forgiven. That rest and relief are made yours as you receive the benefits of what Jesus has accomplished for you. Your guilt is taken away. Your record is wiped clean. You are restored and revived. You are considered by the Father to be righteous and perfect, as He views you through the prism of His Son’s work on your behalf.
So Jesus says: “Come unto 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’ yoke has been put on you when you were united to Him in Holy Baptism. Troubled by your sin, guilt, and failure, you come here to receive the rest and relief that Jesus offers in Absolution. Hearing His teaching, you learn from Jesus what He has done for you and the about the life that He gives you. And you come to be further yoked and united to Jesus as you commune with Him. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are given to you who are guilty, dying, and lost.
Through these means that apply Jesus’ works to you, the labor is ended. Yes, you will go out from here striving to obey the Lord’s commands. That is your desire, as the new life as Jesus’ disciples is assigned to you and your hearts and minds are renewed. But the work for your salvation has been accomplished for you. Jesus’ perfect obedience and righteousness more than make up for your failure and imperfection. He has done what you could never do. And the heavy burden placed on you, the guilt that comes from the knowledge of your sins—that is removed. Think again about lugging around a bag of bricks, the burden of your guilt. Your failure to love God above all things—forgiven; brick removed. Your failure to love neighbor as yourself—forgiven; brick removed. Your mistreating of the Lord’s name and word—forgiven; brick removed. On and on it goes, as Jesus’ words of forgiveness absolve and remove every ounce of guilt: “You are forgiven, because I have borne that burden for you.”
Jesus’ words show the solution to the problem. Remember Paul’s lament: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The lament was answered: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The solution is found in what Jesus has done. Paul’s guilt was removed by Jesus’ forgiveness. The same is true for you. It has been made known to you in what Jesus has revealed: “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 Father has been revealed to you, as has His desire to save you through the work of His Son. That salvation is what Jesus invites you to receive: “Come unto 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.”
Find the rest and relief that Jesus has for you here. It is meant for you. It is accomplished for you. It is presented freely for you. Have your guilt removed. Have your sins forgiven. Have your failures remedied. As you are united to Jesus, yoked to Him and His work for your salvation, you also will be “delivered from this body of death.” This life of frustration, where “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand,” will end. Instead, you will live where sin no longer dwells in you, but where only all that is good exists. That rest and relief is what Jesus has accomplished for you through His death and resurrection. So come to Him, take His yoke upon you, learn from Him, and you will find rest for your souls.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.