Sunday, February 24, 2013

LSB St. Matthias Day Sermon - Matthew 11:25-30

February 24, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“At that time Jesus declared…‘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. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”

Matthias is called as an apostle. That is the Church’s focus on February 24, the date set apart to celebrate and commemorate the Twelfth Apostle of Jesus. For most of you, the record of Matthias’ selection is quite familiar; you hear it every Easter Season. You heard the details again this morning: Jesus ascends to the Father; Peter stands up in the midst of the followers of Jesus and says that there is a vacancy, a hole created because Judas forfeited his place through his treacherous betrayal of Jesus; there are supposed to be Twelve, not Eleven apostles, so a replacement needs to be found.

The record of Matthias’ selection includes the manner by which he was chosen: “And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two You have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” With that, the apostolic band is back up to twelve. All is restored to how Jesus had desired it to be.

Several things can be learned from this event: the symbolic value of the Number 12; the nature of the Scriptures as spoken of in Peter’s statements—that the Holy Spirit spoke through David and that what happened to Judas was foretold; when lots are to be used in decision making. But today the focus should be on the reason for Matthias’ selection as an apostle. What was Matthias’ role? What was he to become by being added to the number of the apostles? Peter’s declaration about the need to have a replacement for Judas spells this out: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” 

Another witness to Jesus’ resurrection was needed. Another man who had seen what Jesus had done and heard what Jesus had said from the time that He stepped into the Jordan River and was declared to be the Beloved Son of God the Father to the time when Jesus ascended to His Father was to be given the job of being an apostle—an authorized sent one to bear witness. That is why Matthias was selected. But why was this witnessing to be done? So that Jesus’ words and works would be made known to the world, just as Jesus willed it.

The reason for Matthias’ selection is not only found in the account of his being chosen. It is actually disclosed in the statements of Jesus that you heard today. Jesus speaks concerning His identity and His purpose: “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.” Jesus states that He has entrusted with things by His Father; His role is to reveal them to whom He chooses. But this is not just some sort of esoteric knowledge or trivia to fill people’s minds. No, what is to be revealed brings relief to people.

This is seen in the words of Jesus that follows His statement about His identity and purpose. Jesus gives an invitation: “Come to 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.” It is a summons for all who are troubled, all who are burdened, all who are weighed down despite all the work that they have performed. Jesus calls them to Himself, calls them to take what He has to offer—the way of life that He brought from His Father and manifested to the world through His words and works.

Jesus speaks of people who labor and are heavy laden, those who have restless souls. He describes those who are troubled. What troubles them? Guilt borne, as they know well their faults and how they have harmed others by their actions. Misery of knowing their failures and their inability to change circumstance. Suffering endured when injured by the acts of others. Restlessness of trying to find a purpose in this world. Frustration from trying all the fads, all the prescribed methods of helping oneself, but never reaching the goal of improvement. Grief from the tragedies and loss that death brings. These and more burden hearts and souls. It isn’t that people hadn’t tried to find a remedy—they had labored, carrying around their heavy loads. So Jesus calls out to them: “Come to Me. I will give you the relief that you’ve sought. I will cancel your debt and remove your guilt. I will give you a purpose for your life. I will bring you to an end that will surpass all the goals that you’ve set. I will give this to you because I bear all that is burdening you.”

Jesus makes a promise in that invitation: “Come to 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.” It is a summons that comes with a pledge. That promise and pledge are rooted in what He does. Jesus makes the promise because of His identity and purpose—what He was in the world to do. Everything that Jesus had done from the time of His Baptism in the Jordan to His ascension into heaven makes His guarantee possible. It is the outcome of His being the Suffering Servant of the Lord.

What you will hear again on Good Friday concerning Jesus makes His promise valid: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” These words describe what Jesus endured. He has taken the yoke of the load that wears down your souls and put it on His shoulders. In its place, He has given you the yoke of His way of life, just as Isaiah prophesied: “Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.” This is what the humility of Jesus had brought about; the result of it is seen in His being exalted in resurrection.

And this actually brings us back to the reason for Matthias’ selection. Not that Matthias was the Suffering Servant. No, he was chosen to bear witness to what Jesus, the Suffering Servant, accomplished. He would proclaim what Jesus had said and what Jesus had done. Like the other Eleven—Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James and Thaddeus, and Simon—Matthias would be a witness to the words and works of Jesus that culminated in His dying and rising again. That is how Jesus brings rest for souls. The yoke of Jesus would be placed on those who heard His invitation spoken through the apostle’s mouth.

That activity continues today, nearly two thousand years after Matthias’ selection as an apostle. Jesus’ invitation is still spoken. You heard Him call out to you: “Come to 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.” The living voice of Jesus summons you again. His invitation is given because He knows what you are burdened with. Jesus knows, because He witnessed it in this world. But even more than that—Jesus knows, because He has borne it. That’s part of His being the Substitute for you. His call is given to you because of His promise: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word.”

So Jesus gives you the invitation: “Are you burdened by guilt? Take My righteousness and clothe yourself in it. Are you miserable because of your failures? Take My joy that came from finishing the course, enduring the shame of the cross for you. Do you suffer from being wronged by others? Take My healing that comes from suffering in your place. Are you restless, looking for something established that doesn’t change? Take My words that disclose the Father’s eternal will for you. Are you frustrated by never finding something that will improve you? Take My deliverance from this body of death. Do you grieve because of death? Take My resurrection and life, I will raise you up at the last day.”

Jesus’ invitation comes to you each time that you hear His words and listen to the account of His works. This is what the apostolic witness—the witness of what Jesus did from His baptism to His ascension—brings to you. These things may be hidden from those whom others may consider wise and understanding. But they have been revealed to little children, those to whom Jesus has chosen to disclose them—to a group of twelve made up of fishermen, tax collectors, even a political revolutionary; to groups of common folk; to slaves and freemen; to merchants and tradesmen; to eloquent teachers and aristocrats.

The earthly distinctions don’t matter. All who are humble and contrite in spirit, those who trembled at the Lord’s words are looked favorably upon. That group includes you. Jesus’ words and works draw sinners to Himself. So take Jesus’ yoke upon you, learn from Him, find the rest that He has for your souls. It’s what the Father graciously desires for you and what the Son reveals and what the Spirit brings to your knowledge. This is why Jesus has appointed the witnesses of His resurrection, why His words and works have been made known to you.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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