Sunday sermon @ 10.30am, 6 July 2014 – Come unto me, take my yoke upon you

Readings: Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30;

Message.

Our eldest – at pre-school – had to deal with being a pastor’s kid living next door to the church. So he saw me going off for funerals and weddings. On one occasion I asked him “what happens when people die?”. He responded: “they get married” (as opposed to buried!).

In the Gospel reading today Jesus proves again to be a good observer of human beings – in this case children.  We read his words in Matthew 11, verse 16 and 17:They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:  “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”

It’s a game of weddings and funerals – like my son’s mix up between marriage and dying (and they are very close actually) – the kids must have had a game in which they pretended. I’m sure you did this as a child. Playing house, or in my sister’s case “teacher and schools” – the crayons were sorted into their different sizes and you have an instant school with different year groups! She is still loving being a teacher!

Imagine children saying – “we played a flute for you and you did not dance” is like saying – “it’s not fair! (when playing cowboys). “I shot you and you didn’t die”. It’s a wedding and you’re supposed to be happy! We’re playing funerals – and you’re not crying! Typical kids. In fact in those days the kids did play weddings and funerals. Those were the public rituals they would have seen and acted out. Except in Jesus’ illustration they were surly and unresponsive to the one calling them – “come and play”

One commentator on this passage says that for pastors – it all sounds horrible familiar! You can’t please people!!! Good point – pleasing God is what really counts.

Of course Jesus was really talking about the adults of his day and not the children! They complained about John the Baptist and Jesus! Couldn’t please them all! The complained because of Johns ascetic lifestyle (withdrawing from the world and living in a desert) – and muttered because Jesus was too friendly with sinners (he made friends with everyone! Tut Tut!) Or to put it differently: John is too holy; Jesus is not holy enough. John was too strong on repentance! Jesus to strong on acceptance! Sounds familiar to me.

The passage ends with this statement: “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” This really is the same as “by their fruits you will know them”. In short – the people who complained only had to see what was happening – Matthew 11:5, a little earlier in the passage, tells us; “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

If you want to see whether Jesus was the one (despite his association with the outcasts of the day) then you have to bear witness to his miracles AND listen to his teachings of course.

It’s the teaching that really interests me in this passage:

Mat 11:25  At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Mat 11:26  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Mat 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Firstly Matthew 11:25-26: “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

If you want to know what people believe – listen to their prayers.  “At that time” refers to the verses before – which are left out in the reading today. Like the comparison between weddings and funerals, between John and Jesus, people choose their responses. The cities that Jesus referred to are judged by whether they believe or not! In fact the three cities that failed to believe – says Jesus – will be judged more severely than Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, which will be judged because of their evil ways!

In the context of this pronouncement Jesus prays: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

I spent five years in a school – where the focus was on learning rather than wisdom. The truth is that people do set themselves up as wise and learned. And since being back in pastoral ministry for over three years (and in the 19 years in parishes before) – I have found the same thing in churches. There are always those who set them up as knowledgeable and superior.

Jesus in his prayer reflects a clear understanding that the Lord of Heaven and Earth hides these things from the wise and learned.

It is because he doesn’t want them to know the truth?

Or is it rather that their way of going at things is counter-productive. One can only guess that Jesus is referring to religious leaders of his day. I don’t think Jesus minded people using their brains. He probably had issues with people who allowed their thinking to be distorted. And more than ever – he had issues with people who were given the truth – like the Torah – and missed the point of it all.

Isn’t it amazing and lovely that it was for the Father’s good pleasure that little children receive the truth! The children of this church are a delight – not just because they are smart, which they are – but because they believe what we tell them.

The children at Messy church are also a delight. I got a big hug from one on Friday – I only see him once a month. I’m sure the hug represents the acceptance and love he finds among our team of creative people there.

Children  have open hearts. And it helps when parents believe and model faith. It used to break my heart when I worked with 5 years-olds some of whom were cynical and said “there is no God”.  I guess they were imitating their parents.

And now verse 27:

Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Verse 27 is a fascinating verse. It’s been described as a “bolt from the Johannine heaven” because its sounds more like John! It’s a great Presbyterian verse!

It places all the emphasis on God’s choosing – the sovereignty of God! We’ve seen already in our conversation at a young adults focussed sermon (they chose the theme) that the conversation about free will and election is complicated and challenging!

What is lovely here is that the relationship between Father and Son is quite unique and special. And think of it this way – we have a glimpse of the amazing love of God through Jesus.

In what way do you think Jesus knew the Father? I should think that the extent of the amazing profound redeeming love of the Father was known to Him. Think of how Isaac trusted Abraham on that altar. Multiply that by an infinite number of times and you get a glimpse of the Father’s love – the Father who commits “all things” to the Son! This “knowledge” that they have of each other is quite exceptional. And we are invited into that relationship.

Think again of another prayer of Jesus: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

And after this comes the amazing invitation and directive:

Mat 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Here’s the real treat in the passage. If this were a meal (and it is because we should eat these words!) – here’s the main course!

The one that they accused of being a drunkard – the one which the wise and learned still reject – the one whose words cities that had seen miracles would not believe – plays his cards!

He issues the invitation above all other invitations! Yes “follow me”, “believe also in me” are all good and essential. “Come to me” is gold!

Come to me all! All who are WEARY AND BURDENED” AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST!

There are a number of ideas that come to mind when you think of rest! A siesta. RIP – which is long term! A snooze. Collapsing in a  heap…

The word is quite interesting – it’s really close to “respite” which is almost like recovery time.

This is not a laid back kind of Christian holiday camp.

The rest prepares you for the journey – for the yoke that Jesus has for you. The concept of a yoke was not unknown to them as a symbol of burden – even Peter uses the term at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. He says:

Act 15:10  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?

Take my yoke upon you is Jesus’ directive. And his reason for this is quite amazing, considering who He is:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (v29)

“Learn from me” says the best teacher in the world.  Why?

  1. “I am gentle and humble in heart”. Few teachers would claim that as their credentials. This is the Son of God giving us a reason to be yoked to Him – connected closely in a trusting relationship – by faith.
  2. You will find rest for your souls.

The prophet Jeremiah said this many years before: Jer 6:16  This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Sound familiar? “We will not walk in it” was their response to an invitation to go on the ancient path, the good way – where there would be rest for their souls! Tragic and still true of so many.

Here are some ideas I found which expand the concept of the yoke. I think they are quite useful.

The Yoke  (LMP)

Of love                                 L

If you think about it, the one we are yoked to has walked this way before! He is not unsympathetic. In fact he has been tested just like us! His temptations were real temptations. Jesus was fully human! So his empathy is real! It is a yoke of love as he helps carry and directs! It’s not a burden laid upon us like the Pharisees did – cold and harsh.

Of meek obedience       M

You can’t pull in the opposite direction! When you’re on Jesus’ road – obedience is not a chore either because there is wisdom in the one who has done this before! Like an ox – the older wiser ones teach the younger headstrong ones!

Of personal allegiance  P

It is “his” yoke – not a general impersonal journey with Jesus! In fact the first series I preached some 27 years ago when they finally let me loose as a preacher was “Journeys with Jesus” – “Journey with Jesus the one who satisfies! The bread of life! The living water!”

Of faith                                                F

The Yoke is a yoke of faith. It involves faith in the simplest yet deepest sense – TRUST! You have to be committed in faith to Jesus and trust Him when you choose to journey with Him in this way.

It’s risky too – who knows where he may lead you. Often on a Sunday we look at that challenge – what could the Lord be saying to you about your life and the world that needs the Gospel?

It speaks to our young people too – maybe God will call some to reach the ends of the earth with Good News! And Kiwis have great opportunities to work in interesting places – as this country has credibility that opens doors.

Of conscience                   C

And it’s the yoke of conscience! Imagine this – being yoked with Jesus means that HE goes where you go. That’s a bit limiting really. Or is it?

Just recently I told the story here about Tony Campolo – a great American preacher and sociologist – who describes how as a minister he used to pop into the pub – and someone would notice things and say loudly ‘HELLO PASTOR!”. Just so that the people would tone down the jokes.

It makes you think – doesn’t it – about wrong decisions – when Jesus is right alongside. It also makes you think about the things people share on-line – one has to ask whether they are a good Christian witness.

I think we need to pray more for our friends -and especially our children and grandchildren to be yoked with Jesus – to save them from being yoked to their peers or to society’s dodgy standards!

“You will find rest for your souls”

There is something deeply attractive about rest for your souls – not unlike that favourite Psalm – Psalm 23 in which David says HE RESTORES MY SOUL.

We come to him because we are physically weary and heavy laden, because he offers physical rest. But then we find a deeper rest – for our souls.

The deepest needs we have are met when yoked to Jesus.

We have to respond! Come unto me (all you who all you who are weary and burdened – “all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (KJV)) and I WILL GIVE YOU REST.

Will you come? When you do a new adventure begins:

 Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The easy and light bit has to be in comparison to other heavier loads placed on God’s people before Jesus. And of course still placed on people today by unscrupulous leaders.

It certainly keeps us on track. And the burden is symbolically halved by the image of the yoke.

In reality it’s the grace of  God that enables us to put our hand up and say “yoke me” – “strap me into the chair – wherever this machine goes I’m in”.

Amen.

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on July 6, 2014, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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