Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Relationship over Rules

Matthew 11:25-30

Let’s begin with the astounding claim Jesus makes: “The Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals him.” In other words, Jesus is saying that he alone has perfect knowledge of God, and that only through him can we have perfect knowledge of God. That’s an enormous claim. And it has big implications: Jesus is the only way to God. Biblically speaking, knowledge means intimate relationship. Jesus says he has a perfect relationship with the Father. And only through him can we have a perfect relationship with God. Jesus can make this incredible gift available to us.

But who can receive it? We have to consider the context of this passage.

At the beginning of the chapter, John the Baptist’s followers are coming to Jesus and asking, “Are you really the Messiah?” There must have been a certain level of disappointment. John’s message was a harsh message of coming judgment. And Jesus didn’t seem to be delivering. In spite of all the miracles he had done, in spite of the good news he preached, they didn’t get it.

Some were cynical about both Jesus and John. John was a very austere character; he fasted, he avoided contact with society because there was too much sin in the world. And the cynics said, “He’s demon-possessed.” Jesus, on the other hand, freely associated with sinners, eating and drinking with them. And the cynics said, “He’s just another glutton and drunkard.” The cynics looked down on both of them.

I’m convicted by that. I feel like I have more than my fair share of cynicism in me. I blame politicians, personally. But I need to check my cynicism. Maybe you do, too.

Then Jesus talks about the places where he has ministered. “If the miracles done among you had been done in other places, they would have repented and believed. These things are hidden from the wise and clever.”

Again, I’m convicted. I think I consider myself to be wiser and more clever than the average person. No doubt my pride at work.

Who then can receive Jesus’ gift? The childlike. The humble. The unpretentious. Those who don’t fool themselves into thinking they have all the answers. I think one of the most powerful verses in Scripture is in Proverbs 3: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord.” True wisdom comes from God, not self. The problem is that we fool ourselves into thinking we are smarter, wiser, and more clever than we really are. Feel free to correct me when I get to thinking I’m smarter, wiser, and more clever than the next person. I need it as much as anyone.

Let’s turn to those last three verses because there is so much good news to be found in them. “Come to me, you who are weary and heavily burdened.”

Jesus is addressing people in a culture obsessed with the thought that the only way to God is through enormously complicated and exceedingly difficult rules and regulations. Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” That sets up chapter 12, where we see Jesus sparring with the religious elites about the Sabbath, the day of rest, and how it was to be observed.

According to the rabbis, there were 37 different kinds of work forbidden on the Sabbath. It was regulated how far you could walk. How heavy a burden you could lift. How many words you could write. If your fire or a lamp went out, could you re-light it? And that was just one little part of the Law. They literally filled thousands of pages with all the minutiae of what you could and could not do. And that was the way to God!

Isaiah 40 promised that Messiah would bring rest for the weary: “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless… Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.”

“Take my yoke,” Jesus said. A yoke was a wooden instrument placed across the shoulders of beasts of burden to allow them to pull a load or a plow. Typically a yoke would join two animals together.

Jewish people used the yoke as a symbol of obedience. To take Jesus’ yoke is to become obedient to him. But it’s also a symbol of relationship. When we take Jesus’ yoke, we are joined to him. We walk side-by-side with him. We are under the yoke with him. We learn from him. We depend on him. And in this, we find rest in him.

“My yoke is easy.” Literally, “My yoke is well-fitted.” That makes a difference, right? Jesus was a carpenter. We can’t say this for sure, but I’m willing to bet Jesus probably turned out a yoke or two in his day. And you couldn’t use the same yoke for a donkey as for an oxen. It wouldn’t fit!

This is the yoke I bought for a canoe that I got back in 2009. The yoke that came with it was just a flat yoke, not very comfortable. I had used one of these before, and I knew they were comfortable. I bought one and sanded and shaped it to fit my shoulders. And it sure worked well. For me. Because it was fitted to me. Most everyone else complained about it! So I took it off and replaced with a universal set of yoke pads that would fit anyone.

Well, the yoke Jesus offers is well-fitted to us. It is suited to our needs. It is suited to our abilities. There is still work to be done. No point in wearing a yoke if you’re not doing work! But we don’t do it alone. Jesus is with us. Jesus offers us the joy of relationship with God through him, and not just the rules of religion. That’s the good news of the Gospel.

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