Sermon for Sunday July 9th, 2017, the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 145:8-15; Zechariah 9:9-12; Romans 7:15-25; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Topic: The Lord Jesus Christ invites you to come to him and receive rest for your soul.
Our sermon hymn today, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” was written by a renowned Scottish preacher and hymnist, Horatius Bonar, who wrote many of his hymns especially for children. He wrote this hymn for his Sunday School children in 1846 (p. 117, Robert J. Morgan: Then Sings My Soul, Vol. 1. Thomas Nelson, 1982). He based his hymn on the three great promises of the Lord Jesus Christ found in Matthew 11:28, John 4:14, and John 8:12. The first half of each verse expresses the promise, and the second our response. How did Horatius Bonar’s great love for children come about? He and his wife had lost five of their own children, but God gave him many more spiritually, through the Sunday Schools. Many years later one of his surviving daughters was widowed, and she returned to her parents’ home with five young children. Horatius wrote to a friend: “God took five children from life some years ago, and He has given me another five to bring up for Him in my old age.” Among his final requests was that no biography of him ever be written. He wanted Christ alone to receive the honor for his life’s work.
MATTHEW 11:25-30: THE CALL OF CHRIST TO REST IN HIM
The second half of our Second/Gospel Lesson today begins with the Lord Jesus Christ’s thanksgiving to the Father for hiding “these things” from the “wise and understanding” and for “revealing them to babes” (Matthew 11:25). What are the things hidden from the wise, and why have they been hidden? Previously, the Lord had referred to the cities in which he had performed many miracles as being unrepentant, and he had spoken before that about the present sinful generation rejecting both himself and John the Baptist, although they were contrasting examples of God’s wisdom by the way they lived their lives. The truth of God and the wisdom of God far surpass the wisdom and the understanding of even the most knowledgeable people on earth.
To ordinary, humble people God reveals his mighty deeds of salvation. But from the proud and conceited, God hides the way to life. To come to Christ we must be teachable and willing to learn from him. In commenting on this verse, Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) sounded this warning:
Let us watch against pride in every shape, pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own deserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him from seeing Christ, as pride.
Part of pride these days is relativism, or the belief that there are many ways to salvation and to heaven, and each is as good as any other. In John 14:6, the Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (KJV). Here, in Matthew 11:27, Jesus proclaims in similar fashion his unique role in salvation by saying, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (KJV). This sounds like a statement Jesus made in St. John’s Gospel, but it sums up the simplicity of the way of salvation as Jesus Christ alone. The knowledge of God that is eternal life (John 17:3) is found in Jesus Christ alone.
On the basis of the truth that He is the way, the truth, and the life, the Lord Jesus Christ issues an invitation to all that “labour and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28, KJV) to come to Him, and He will give them rest. Now the metaphor that Jesus introduces here is of a beast of burden heavily weighed down by the baggage it has to carry, or oxen pulling a plough and a yoke weighing heavily upon them. Such imagery was familiar to the Jewish people of the time, since people were encouraged to take upon themselves the yoke of the Jewish Law, and by keeping it, gain life. In Ecclesiasticus 51:26, the reader is encouraged to submit his neck to the yoke of wisdom and receive instruction. Here Jesus continues the metaphor of the yoke by adding the words: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30, KJV).
The call of Jesus is both a call to rest and a call to be His disciple, or follower, for the rest of one’s life. But how is it, someone may ask, that Jesus addresses his invitation only to those who labour and are heavy laden? Isn’t everyone working hard and heavily laden with trials, difficulties or adversities of one kind or another? All of us are burdened by our sins, and we are all invited to come to Jesus. At the same time, there are many people who have plunged themselves deeply into sinful ways of life, but feel no burden. All whom the Holy Spirit has allowed to feel the burden of sin, and all who are weighed down by life’s problems and trials are invited to come to Jesus.
All this said, though the invitation is given, how many people actually come to the Lord Jesus Christ to receive the rest that He alone can give? So important is this invitation, that it is repeated a number of times in different ways in the Bible, for example, in Isaiah 30:15, the Lord says to his people, “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.” This was the Lord calling to his people Israel to come back to Him, trust in Him, and rely on Him for strength, but they did not wish to do so. Further on in the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord issues this invitation:
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
(Isaiah 55:1-3, KJV)
God was calling his people to come to Him, to the living water, the bread of life, to rest in Him, and live in His presence and listen to His word. In this passage, He promises an everlasting covenant with His people, “the sure mercies of David” being a prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming and the salvation He would bring by his atoning death.
How many, even Christians, really accept the invitation Jesus gives in His words, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”? Is it not really the same as the invitation to the Wedding Banquet, when all the guests had to do was to come to the Banquet and enjoy the feast? Yet one by one, they made excuses why they couldn’t be there (Luke 14:16-24). Is this not what many people do today? The business of life, the almost ceaseless activity of work, the variety of forms of entertainment, the anxieties of this present world – there are so many things that can become excuses to decline the invitation of Jesus to come to Him and find rest. In 2 Corinthians 6:2, St. Paul quotes Is. 49:8, “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee.” He immediately adds these telling words, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
KNOWING THE URGENCY OF THE INVITATION
Today Jesus is still calling you to come to Him and receive rest. This is not a call to attend more church services or activities; it is not a call to become busier, even in the name of Christ. It is a call to come to Him and rest in Him. This is the rest of prayer, of abiding in His presence, of listening to His word and meditating on it. It is a quieting of the soul in the presence of God, and it is in this stillness of God that we are refreshed and strengthened by the Lord himself, and our lives are re-directed and renewed by His Spirit. There are many calls on our attention in this day and age, but none as urgent as the call of Jesus to come to Him.
Will you come to Jesus in prayer and in the stillness of His presence receive from Him the spiritual rest that He alone can give you?