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Evening service at Fairview Lifestyle Village, 6 July 2014 – I will give you rest; you will find rest for your souls

Reading: Matthew 11:28-30

“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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“I will give you rest”

“You will find rest for your souls”

SERMON

At our two services this morning we looked at what it means to be yoked to Jesus. I promised that this evening we would explore the “rests” that are spoken of in this passage.

In short: 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.

C H Spurgeon and Michael Green both write about these rests – the first in a sermon  dated 24 May 1903, and the second in a commentarty “Matthew For Today” published in 1988.

Michael Green is a great preacher and writer from this century. He writes about evangelism at length. He also writes here in this commentary about the exclusive claims of Jesus. Not only does He say “I am the way, the truth and the life” in John 14, but in this amazing passage Jesus says this:

Mat 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Most prophets would point to God as the one to whom we are to come or go.

But no – Jesus says “Come to me”. I will give you what you need. (Add his other sayings – about the bread of life, living water, the gate, the door, the good shepherd, and you soon have a strong argument for a very exclusive claim).

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

What kind of tiredness is this? Who is he inviting?

This first invitation or directive is to those who need to come to faith in Christ! And through Christ to come to God.

This is the rest we find. We are tired from the struggles of life – weary from trying to make sense of it all (my words) – tired of travelling alone and fighting our battles alone.

We come to Jesus the Saviour – and find rest.

At the time Jesus spoke these words to the weary and the heavily burdened, especially inviting them in – there would have been something more worth noting here beyond the obvious rest for tiredness (according to Green). In those days there were Greeks and Jews that Jesus encountered.

Michael Green notes that the Greeks would have been exhausted by the search for truth which they had been engaged in for centuries without resolution. Greeks who if they discovered anything about God – still believed that you couldn’t really tell anything about that God. He was quite unknowable, and searches for truth could lead to despair.

As for the Jews of the day, says Green, they had a religion which they found to be a great burden. Matthew 23:4 makes it clear to us that the scribes and Pharisees were responsible for binding “heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay(ing) them on men’s shoulders.”

Jesus was quite direct in his critique of the religious leaders who made the ordinary people’s lives a burden. The rabbinical teachings at the time suggested that Jews were to be yoked to the law – and that was a burden in the sense that you could not keep so many laws. And some of the interpretations were very picky! They did become quite untenable and unbearable.

Green suggests that Jesus comes to lift the burdens of the aching backs of the people of the day – offering them rest – the end of the striving for a philosphically unknowable God or an unreachable obedience of or compliance  with the Law.

Jesus offers Greeks and Jews alike peace and fulfilment, and the sense of being put right with God – ending their respective search for truth and righteousness.

Both Green and Spurgeon speak of the second rest however.

Spurgeon says this: “There are two rests for a Christian to enjoy. The first is the rest Christ gives him when he believes. The next is the rest that he finds when he takes Christ’s yoke upon him. These two rests will be distinctly enjoyed by anyone who comes to Christ and learns of Him…

Spurgeon suggests that If we are bound to Christ (like an apprentice used to be bound to his master in those days) we will find a newer and yet deeper and fuller rest for our souls.

There is a sweetness – a satisfaction – in learning from Jesus. In being coupled to him like two animals yoked together. In sharing the load with Him if you like.

John Ortberg, a current preacher and writer, suggests that being yoked to Christ is really what we used to call in the old days being IN COMMUNION WITH GOD – in a relationship with Him. We spoke about this at our morning services today.

In that close proximity with Jesus and through him with God a number of things are real for us

  • He has promised never to leave us for forsake us. (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5 following Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5).
  • We are in step with Him – our lives, our relationships and attitudes are surely affected by being so close. (See John 15:4 and Galatians 5:25)
  • And being close – as Spurgeon suggests – we observe his grace and love in suffering and pain (in the garden wrestling with pain and death ahead – on the cross carrying the burden of our sins and the sins of the whole world). (See Matthew 26:39-39; Luke 23:34)

Michael Green’s view of the deeper rest (for our souls) is therefore our training as disciples – as we figure out how to be like Jesus and respond to our challenges in life like Jesus.

WHAT ABOUT THE NEED FOR THESE RESTS IN THIS GENERATION?

This is a restless generation. Unlike many before us, we are more connected and networked through media, internet, mobile offices and wireless connections than ever before. Information is freely available on the information super highway. We have all the modern contraptions – and the most developed technology, science, and medical progress of any generation.

But people are still restless. The quest for pleasure, or the will to pleasure (following Sigmund Freud’s psychotherapy) the desire for power, or the will to power (following Alfred Adler’s individual psychology) still motivate many in our society. But it was Viktor Frankl from the same Viennese tradition of psychotherapy who spoke the will to purpose or meaning (known as logotherapy). He was well qualified to speak of this powerful influence, writing his book “Man’s search for Meaning ” in just nine days after being released from the concentration camps. He knew that you could live through anything if you had something to live for.

Jesus gives us that kind of purpose when we are yoked to Him. Someone to live for, and even for many in this generation where the persecuted church proliferates – for many someone whose name they may die for.

What us the key difference between the rabbis’ calling people to be yoked to the law – and our being yoked to Jesus?

Green says that it is the yoke of love – not of duty.

We bear the yoke of the liberated – not the obligated.

And that makes all the difference.

One of the greatest stories in many years is the story of the man who escaped an English rest home recently when the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of D-day were happening. His carers thought he had caught the bus to town and a search began when he didn’t come home.

What they didn’t know is that he had jumped on a ferry to join his old unit in Normandy to celebrate that liberation again!

And that’ s the key! Liberation is worth celebrating!

That’s the yoke of the liberated which binds us to the Liberator – the Redeemer Jesus who by His conquest sets us free from our enemies – Sin, Satan and Death itself!

Rest for our souls incorporates all these rich concepts!

Thanks be to God!

Amen!

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.

Sunday message @ 9.00am 6 July – Yoked to Jesus, an easy yoke, a light burden?

Reading: Matt 11:16-19, 25-30

SERMON

So how’s it going being yoked to Jesus?

An easy yoke? A light burden?

One has to wonder what we’ve done with this. (I’ll talk about the rest later – maybe tonight if you come along. Or perhaps the rests – following that great preacher Spurgeon who indicates more than one kind of rest.) For now – here – today – what about the light and easy stuff? This burden and yolk Jesus offers.

Have we missed it? I think we may have.

I suspect that the Jesus we think we know is a tad different from that warm attractive witty compassionate person who hung out with the fringe members of society – and found them repenting and being transformed – without the frills of our theological systems.

Oh and children were there too. Drawn to Jesus. As were sinners of all kinds and shapes.

They had the freedom there to totally be themselves. And I reckon they had a lot of fun. And they clearly were changed people.

What does an easy yoke actually look like?

Well rabbis would use a yoke to describe a way of life. The whole life. Most would have said they were to be yoked to the Law. That in itself would have been challenging –  there were so many laws! We barely remember the big ten by heart!

The trouble is we sometimes see the yoke as a burden in a spiritual compartment – or as service of God – doing his stuff – when many people (as I do) think it’s more to do with our relationship with God – what we used to call communion with God. We are to be closely connected with Jesus.

Listen to this man writing about his ministry: His name is John Ortberg – you would have heard from him in home groups last year. (Remember – it all ends up in the box). A Presbyterian pastor.

I trained originally to be a therapist—a clinician, but discovered I wasn’t as good at it as I hoped and found the work quite draining. I discovered, instead, that I really loved the church. But after a few years in ministry, I began to become frustrated. I found myself asking, “What does it mean to be human? How do people change? Why is change so hard? Why doesn’t it happen more often in the church?” I found that we’re pretty good at helping newer Christian deal with surface bad habits. But after a while, people feel like the change process kind of stalls out. (As a second language teacher I would have used a different phrase from language learning – it plateaus! Levels out!)

People attend, volunteer, tithe, serve, avoid scandalous sins, but most don’t seem to be transformed more and more into joyful, loving, winsome persons. What is more disturbing than that is that no one really seems to expect such transformation. No one says we need a consultant to deal with this terrible problem. We rarely see the kind of renewal described in Romans 12:1-2, and we don’t seem to see this as a big problem.

Romans 12:1-2 says this of course:  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

It’s about transformation! (Paul in 2 Corinthians talks about us looking to the Lord with unveiled faces – and transformation follows:  2 Cor 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.) 

Ortberg says we settle for second best – by using what he calls boundary markers. We set up boundary markers. These are visible signs of our belonging to the organisation – for the rabbis back on that day it was keeping the Sabbath and circumcision – today it could be something else in which we measure who is in and who is out the club – whether it be clubs for hippies, yuppies or bikers. Or churches. Like Christians carrying big bibles and wearing big smiles to church. We all have visible boundary markers -signs of belonging.

They’re no measure or sign of actual transformation. But they help us placate our consciences as we tick the boxes we regard as important. And we do it too. Trying to measure church’s success by numbers or style rather than obedience. Measuring spiritual growth by activities – how many things we attend. Or who is here each week (again we tick boxes, although the intention is look out for the missing ones!)

Ortberg suggests that the easy yoke offered by Jesus –  for ministers at least – begins with joy! Our whole life is meant to be lived “in Christ”. The most important thing we ought to do as minsters or pastors, he suggests – is to live a real Christian life – with deep contentment and confidence and joy – confidence in our everyday lives (Ortberg follows the thinking of Dallas Willard here). For me this is about a life that is characterised by integrity, reality, a genuineness (and not being fake).

And should think that this kind of congruence should apply to all Christians. What we say on Sunday should add up on Monday – wherever we find ourselves.

For pastors and those in ministry – success is not measured by impressive buildings and statistics.

It’s about sharing a life that is as attractive as Jesus’ one. And being able to laugh is one of the keys! It’s actually infectious. (I am blessed with a fairly healthy sense of humour – through which I have to laugh at myself a lot too!) Joy is a sign of a real life that is yoked to Jesus.

But in case you think I am trivialising this – behind the ability to laugh (which is not measured or rated by training and skill) – is the real Jesus stuff which oils and lubricates and fuels real Christian joy.

It’s called grace.

And – we are reminded – grace existed in God before sin came into the world.

Grace is not just about celebrating forgiveness of sins.

Grace made possible the amazing GIFT of creation – the very breath of life being breathed into the first human  (Genesis 2:7) – the CONVERSATIONS in the cool of the day in Eden when they walked and talked together (implied in Genesis 3:8-9 where God walks and is wondering where they were hiding).

Our first waking moment – and every day we live and breathe – is a celebration of grace. Our Messy church celebration of WINTER on Friday included a reference in our story time to the celebration of the fact that we as people of dust received the breath of life from God! All of this is part of our prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude.

And you do hear it in people’s prayers don’t you – that sense of gratitude for the gift of life and salvation, creation AND redemption. (Or for some redemption AND creation!)

If you only thank God for sending Jesus to die for us each week – what’s up with the rest of the gift He’s given? Where are we hiding that? It pops out in our open times of prayer, especially when children pray, thanking God for the daily blessings of life, family, fun and holidays etc.)

How about the celebrations that we should enjoy? The recognition of the gift of life to us all and our responsibility to care for that life (in the broadest sense including the environment and the world of resources). There should be much more laughter and fun here! Christians together should be experts at celebrating EVERYTHING!

We have an amazing time sharing our lives at our home group – as an illustration. We read and pray and learn together. But there’s more. I think our curry nights as a home group are spiritual things too – not because of the potential for cleansing – but because of the intricacies of the tastes and flavours – the variety – the detail – and the people we share it with.

They too are gold! Choice, bro! It’s all a celebration of worship!

My sister in law – who lives in Brisbane now – once gave me a poster that said: don’t worry, don’t hurry, and don’t forget to smell the flowers!

It’s a deeply spiritual statement – of trust – restfulness – and thanksgiving along the way.

Jesus died for our relationship – not just a clean slate – he died for us to live in a new network, if you like. Full access. Network Trinity. And the network of his international and local family on a shared journey of faith. In a created world that despite its brokenness is still worth celebrating each day.

A theological aside

In the midst of these words from Jesus today – about people expecting the wrong stuff especially from religious leaders (neither John nor Jesus satisfied them, One too ascetic. One too happy really.)

In the midst of this,  the relationship thing creeps in:  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.  No one knows that Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him!

There’s a separate challenge. It’s not even up to us who comes into this network. In an amazing way not understood by us he includes those whom He chooses. That to is an example of sheer grace.

It’s not our job to understand this aspect of His will. It is our job to share the vision He has given us.

THE VISION AND THE YOKE

People sometimes ask me for a vision – which usually means they want a business strategy for ministry. For a successful church. And I understand the reason for this. If a church dies off – then what about the next generation? I understand this desire for a vision and a strategy – I used to be a church development consultant helping churches to plan to be effective.

In fact the best analytical question for church growth and future thinking is this: If all of us (as a local church) disappeared overnight (say we were beamed up somewhere like on Star trek) and were nowhere to be found. would we be missed? (You can ask that of any local church). Do we make that much of a difference (say as salt an light) that people would mourn?

When it comes to local churches –  God brings the life generally where He chooses too. And some of the big growing machines in the mega church families can look like something quite foreign in my view. That’s my view anyway. The vast majority of Christian churches and communities around the world are fairly small (probably under 80 in active numbers).

Here’s the vision I offer today. This is what makes the difference in all those communities.

The yoke of Jesus.

Yoke up! Jump on the eternal life bandwagon – which means getting to know Jesus and the One called FATHER who sent Him. Remember another of Jesus’ prayers in John 17?

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3)

It’s a vision of God – and how glorious and generous he is – and how wonderful his grace is – and what a difference it makes to be yoked to him!

Simple really. Knowing Him. In fellowship – communion with God.

The church theological police (the wise ones from Matthew 11:25)  will scratch their heads and bang their pointing fingers to the text and say – “what about this and that!” –  (all those conditions that they lay down for people to come to Jesus…)

What about them?

Show me your life that is full of grace across it all – and I’ll say it’s the yoke of Jesus that’s doing it. It’s being connected to Him that changes us. You and me.

You have to be connected (yoked) with God to be beautiful for God to do beautiful things for Him!

And quite often what the world deems to be success (image, wealth, fashion, modern goodies and the latest cars) is a world away from the life Christ calls us to.

  • We look upon His beauty on the cross. We see the grace in His praying – “father forgive them”. We see His suffering, and often will share in that suffering. (Read Colossians 1:24-29 as a Bible study this week).
  • We gaze upon His majesty at the resurrection. We look at death and suffering in the light of this ultimate transformation beyond this life. (1 Corinthians 15 is worth reading as another study this week).
  • We cast our eyes heavenward for His return. (1 Corinthians 15:42 onwards. And also Acts 1:4-11). This is our eternal perspective.

But in the meantime.

We are to be Him in the in-between years – Christ in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) – showing His grace and love without a dour disposition and miserable load of old rubbish that we carry around and want others to carry like the Pharisees used to. (See Matthew 23:4:  They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.)

In the midst of these verses Jesus speaks about how we need to de-clutter it all and de-complicate things:

“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.” Mat 11:25-26 

Later in Matthew we read this:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-3)

There is something simple in being yoked to Jesus in a close relationship.

Yay! Yea and Amen!