Exciting news: I have figured out how to get my sermons recorded and you can now listen to them! I will include a link to the sermons at the beginning of each one from here on out.
I missed being here last week, but the Men’s retreat was a great time of restoration for me. I got to have good conversations, good time with God and got to smoke some guys on the ping pong table. As a new parent, rest is not something that happens in a consistent manner and my wife is suffering much more than I am. So, last weekend was a time of rest that came with a sacrifice. To a certain extent rest is a sacrifice we make so that we can do better after the break. If we don’t take rest times, we risk sacrificing much more than performance. We risk our relationships, our health and our own safety when we don’t take necessary times of rest to rejuvenate our bodies. Jesus took rest times during his ministry and saw part of his ministry as bringing people into a relationship with God the father that led them into God’s rest.
Some of the things that Jesus saw people carrying were the religious burdens that came from a misunderstanding of God’s desire for His people. God did indeed want to bless the world through His people, and did indeed desire for His people to set apart as holy from other nations, but God knew that He was the only one who could accomplish those purposes and that knowledge was built into the inauguration of the covenant with Abraham. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time taught and believed that on the day that every single Jew obeyed their interpretation of the religious rules of life and was entirely obedient to the covenant the Messiah would come. The people around Jesus were bombarded with the burdens of a human controlled interpretation of the Torah, the occupation of the Roman Empire and the daily struggle to eke out enough of a living to have enough to feed their family after they paid their taxes to the Romans and the Temple, and made all their appropriate animal and grain sacrifices. Into this deep sense of burden Jesus says:
27All 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. 28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
12At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” 9He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. Matthew 11:27-12:13
The Pharisees thought that they could control God’s actions by performing in a certain way. In essence they believed that if they did all of the right things in all of the right ways God would give them what they wanted. From our end of history we could look back with a sense of judgment, but Jesus saw what was really going on. Jesus saw the burdens that rested on everyone, including the Pharisees, and said that through God another way is possible. The first thing that Jesus recognized is the deep burden we place on ourselves when we try to control God’s actions. If we start to think that our behavior can place a limit on what God can or will do in the world, or that we can make God act according to our desires, we are engaging in the same sin that Adam and Eve were tempted to in the garden. We will become rest-less because of the magnitude of the task we are attempting to take over from God. Jesus reveals himself to us as the antidote for this kind of burdened life. The yoke that Jesus has for us takes away the idea that we can control God and instead places us at the foot of the cross where our burden can be carried by the only shoulders that can. Jesus takes that attitude of seeking control and offers us an attitude of obedience to his gentle voice. This obedience will lead us beside still waters that will sustain us even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The Pharisees did not have the still waters of restful obedience to sustain them under the harsh Roman occupation and in their efforts to gain control merely placed larger burdens on themselves and others. The Pharisees saw only the literal law and did not take the time to consult the giver of the law about the Spirit which lay behind it.
Jesus was connected with the Spirit behind the law and because of that could see clearly when the time came to break the letter of the law in order to honor the spirit of the law. So, don’t hear me saying that adhering to God’s law is unimportant or optional, it isn’t. What I am saying is that we are not called to apply God’s way of being and doing what is right to other’s lives, nor to see obeying God’s way as a means to achieve our own ends. There are many people in our culture and in some churches who will tell you that if you truly follow God and have faith He will give you health, wealth, and prosperity, that He will expand your territory. Now I am not saying that He won’t, but that if we use those things as measures of holiness, we do a grave injustice to those Christians following God in oppressive nations and we deny the power of God to bless us beyond our circumstances. In other words we start to become rest-less because our focus has moved off of the giver every good and perfect thing and onto only a few of the gifts He can give us.
When Abraham first asked God for surety of the promises, God told him the terms in Genesis 15 and then in the tradition of the times Abram sacrificed three animals and kept the wild beasts away from them. The tradition of the time was to seal the consequences of violating the treaty by walking among the pieces of the sacrificed animals together at nightfall, but God put Abram to sleep and walked through the pieces alone. One of the burdens that we often carry is the idea that something we do will make us right with God, that our actions can make a difference in making up for our sin. Jesus is teaching something different here, that in Him we already have relationship with God and were freed to live in direct relationship with God without any intermediary. We are gifted with a life that is worth living not because of anything we do, but because of God’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice every moment can be lived in the presence of God.
When we focus on Christ and allow our lives to be centered on Christ, we are given gifts that fit exactly who God created us to be. We no longer have to fight to conform, but are instead conformed into our originally intended design. Our happiness, peace and direction are no longer dictated to us from the world around us, but instead flow freely from the Christ who lives within our hearts. We can then look at our lives with discerning eyes and say that the way we and others apply a rule or scripture passage goes against the Spirit that inspired them, and as such are creating an unnecessary burden. We can show mercy when failure happens and bring others into God’s forgiving rest. Then we can pray and ask for Jesus to teach us the truth as He desires us to live into it.
The question this leads us to is: “How?” How can we cease striving for control over outcomes in our lives or others’? How can we move from being rest-less to being rested? This feels like no easy task, but the answer is simple. If you want to be rested, you need to rest. Most of our days are spent striving to get things accomplished, to stay one step ahead of (or behind) our kids, to live up to the expectations that we perceive our society, peers, or faith community has placed on us. If you want to deepen your relationship with God you need take the time to relax in and simply enjoy his presence. This can be done every day, just about anywhere. When you take your work break, when there is a break in the school day, when you finish a task around the home, maybe you can go find a quiet spot and just be in God’s presence with no other agenda than to “Be still and know that He is God.” We can take an actual Sabbath in which we dedicate a day to rest in God’s presence, and we can take a spiritual vacation or retreat in which we take time away from our daily routines to focus on our relationship with God. I will make no guarantees that this will change your circumstances, get you ahead in the world, or make everything wonderful, but if you take the time to rest in God’s presence I can guarantee that your heart will change, that you will have a transformed outlook on life, and that you will better be able to discern the will and good purposes of God in the world.