The Promise of Rest
May 27, 2018
Sometimes you hear people talk about how hard they work and how tired they are. But in 2018 in North America, I’m not sure that we have that completely in perspective. And I understand that there are different types of work and different types of tired.
I was in a meeting with a group of ministers one day and one of them said that pastoring a church was really hard work. And then, he said, and I quote “Pastoring a church is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
And I snickered, I didn’t mean to, it just came out. And he turned and glared at me and demanded: “Don’t you think pastoring is really hard work?” And I asked him, “Have you ever really worked for a living?”
I wasn’t trying to be funny. The summer I was fourteen I worked for a farmer, haying. Have you ever hayed? I spent my days in the sun pitched 60 lb bales of hay unto to a moving wagon.
The year between high school and college I spent fishing on 132-foot herring seiner, have you ever seen 200 tons of fish at one time? Have you ever spent a night getting 200 tons of herring from the Atlantic Ocean into your holds and then spent the next day getting the 200 tons of fish out of your holds into the fish plant, and then get a few hours’ sleep and start all over again?
Nope, pastoring is not the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
And maybe it’s because I love what I do, most of the time. Years ago, I read the phrase, “Do what you’ll love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” And while it’s well-meaning, there are still days that I’m exhausted at the end of the day just from dealing with people and their problems and administrative stuff.
Thirty years ago, I was speaking to the students at Kingswood University in Sussex NB, which is one of the schools where Wesleyan pastors are trained. And the day before I had performed a funeral at our church, not a particularly hard funeral but still it was for a man who I respected and liked, and his family was grieving.
And I told the students at Kingswood that day that in the ministry they would spend 15% of their time doing what they loved and 15% doing what they hated and the other 70% would be just doing stuff that needed to be done. I’ve had pastors tell me that they were attending Kingswood at the time and how they’ve always remembered that.
I never have the heart to tell them that like most statistics, that one was made up.
But most of us will spend our lives working. And it is a necessity, regardless of whether you are a subsistence farmer in West Africa or a Software Engineer in Nova Scotia, or a stay at home mom, work is work.
And it’s not always fun and it’s not always rewarding. I remember telling someone once when they were complaining about their job, “That’s why they call it work and not play.”
There was a time, not that long ago in our country and in our culture that work wasn’t something that you needed to find fulfilment in, it was what you did to earn a living and it was what you did to take care of your family, it was work.
And there is a lot that has been said about work, Thomas A. Edison said: “There is no substitute for hard work.” Or maybe it was Nikola Tesla who said that.
Stephen King wrote, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
And it was Alex Rodriguez who observed: “Enjoy your sweat because hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but without it you don’t have a chance.”
But we don’t have to rely on motivational books for those sentiments, the bible talks about work in various places.
It goes clear back to creation when we are told that it was “work” for God to create everything. Genesis 2:1-2 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.
The book of Proverbs speaks extensively about the benefits of hard work, here are some samples, Proverbs 12:24 Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave. , Proverbs 14:23 Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty! And Proverbs 21:25 Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work.
And the author of Ecclesiastes wrote Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labour are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.
Have you ever felt like that? Well, he goes on to finish his thoughts with these words, Ecclesiastes 2:24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. Even work is from the hand of God.
And in the New Testament that high work ethic continues to shine through with Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.
This is week one of our new spring series, “Pinky Swear, the Promises of Jesus” and over the next five weeks we will be looking at some of the promises that Jesus made in the Gospels, to those who followed him. Because 2000 years later those promises are still valid for those who follow Jesus.
This week we are going into the book of Matthew, the passage was read for you earlier, where Jesus made this promise: Matthew 11:28-30 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
So let’s begin with who Jesus was addressing this promise to, we read in Matthew 11:28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
So let’s begin with The Who of the Promise
I would suspect that everybody in the crowd that day thought he was talking directly to them, it was a hard life, Because, 2000 years ago in Israel for most people life was a day to day existence. If you didn’t grow it, catch it or prepare it today, you wouldn’t eat it tomorrow.
Add that to the constant strain of living in an occupied country where you could be called upon at any time to do the will of the empire and you begin to understand what Jesus was saying when he spoke of those who were weary and carried heavy burdens.
And many of you who heard those words today figured that Jesus was talking directly to you, with work and family and church and community, it seems like you never stop. You know what it means to be weary and heavy burdened.
So, this is a promise that has universal appeal. So let’s keep going, Matthew 11:28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
So, more than simply an opportunity for people to identify themselves as needing rest, here is The What of the Promise
It is here that we have Jesus’ promise to his followers that they would have rest. And if we take that as Jesus promising a rest from daily work, a rest from the labours of life, then we are probably going to be disappointed.
Because I would suspect that for those who originally heard these words, that the next morning the crops still needed to be tended, the goats still needed to be milked, the fishing nets still had to be cast and drawn back in, the babies still needed to be changed, the house still needed to be cleaned and meals still needed to be prepared.
And so, as I looked at this I realized that the rest that Jesus was promising wasn’t a rest from physical labour or from the general work of life.
Jesus was talking to those who carried a spiritual burden. The people of Israel were desperately trying to be good, desperately trying to find and please God.
The law was laid down in the Old Testament and it governed every area of their lives, it told them what they could do and what they couldn’t do. Their lives were made up of a constant barrage of “Do this” “Don’t do that”.
And added to that were all the interpretations that religion had added to the law. It wasn’t enough to not work on the Sabbath, but work had to be defined. You could carry this much, but to carry more was a sin, you could walk this far but to walk further was a sin. And that carried across into every aspect of their lives.
Every action of their lives was defined and quantified by the law and by every minutia that defined the law.
And the people of the day never knew if they were being good enough to make it or not. They were constantly striving, reaching, praying and giving, hoping that whatever cosmic scales were being used to measure their goodness would tilt in their favour.
Jesus was speaking to that very thing in Matthew 23:1-4 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
And along with the spiritual burden came an emotional burden. The feeling that you were never good enough, the fear that you weren’t going to measure up and somehow you were going to miss the mark.
And those are burdens that people still carry today. If you’ve been doing the devotional guide for praying for the Muslim World, you have discovered how many of their groups still rely on talismans and fear curses.
Luckily, we’re not like that, knock on wood.
Today, people might not be measuring themselves by the Old Testament law, but there is still a scale in most people’s lives that they are constantly weighing their behaviour on to see if they are good enough.
Good enough for God, good enough for their spouse, good enough for their children, good enough for their parents, good enough for their bosses. And Jesus is saying “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens”
And we are constantly asking ourselves Do I pray enough? Read my bible enough? Earn enough? Spend enough time with my kids? Spend enough time with my spouse? And still have the time I need for myself? And Jesus is saying “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens”
And to you who are carrying those burdens, Jesus is offering rest. 2000 years ago Jesus was telling people, “I’m here to help, I’m here to ease your burden.” And he’s telling us the same thing today.
But what does that mean? Does it mean that he will eradicate all of the things that are burdening us?
The rest that Jesus promises isn’t based on the premise that the burdens will go away, there will always be a family commitment, work commitment, community commitments and church commitments. The word that he uses for rest suggests renewal and refreshment. It’s when he gives us a chance to breathe, a drink of cold water. He didn’t promise that we would never be weary ever again, instead he is offering us a chance at renewal and refreshment on the journey.
Listen again to his promise, Matthew 11:29-30 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
And it is here that we discover The How of the Promise
Last week we looked at the admonition to not be unequally yoked together with those who don’t believe as you believe. And I mentioned that to be yoked was an agricultural concept, that unless you have been to a historic village like Sherbrooke village or Kings Landing you’ve probably never seen Oxen yoked together.
And yokes aren’t a whole lot different now than there were 2000 years ago.
In Jesus day, they were made out of wood, just as they are now. And the very best yokes were custom made for individual animals and were adjusted so it wouldn’t hurt the animal and would spread the load to make it more efficient. They were shaped just right to fit just right. And we are told that when a yoke fit an animal well that it was an “easy fit”.
Do you ever think about what Jesus did for a living? You say, “That’s easy Denn, he was a carpenter.” And as a carpenter, we think of him making chairs and tables, crafting doors and maybe building houses.
But a big job for carpenters 2000 years ago was building farm equipment, making tools and shaping yokes. I wonder if there was a carpenter shop in Nazareth that had a sign that read “Jesus’ Carpenter Shop: My Yokes are Easy”?
And so, Jesus’ invitation is twofold, if you are burdened he invites you to come. And then he says that he wants to help you with your burden. He says, “I have a new custom-made yoke for you to help you with your life.”
It is a yoke of grace that he offers. Remember Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Someone once said that religion is spelt “Do” but Christianity is spelt “Done”. And so, we can rest spiritually knowing the price was paid, that we don’t have to constantly be doing this or not doing that to assure our relationship with God.
There is the rest of knowing it has been done, the price has been paid. The Apostle John was part of the group that heard Jesus’ words that day and he would later write. 1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.
Not so you can “hope” that you have eternal life, but so that you may “know” you have eternal life.
We find rest in the assurance of our salvation.
But there is more because Jesus says Matthew 11:29-30 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Not only does he offer us a yoke designed just for us to help us with the burdens of life but he says, “Let me teach you”. And he teaches us about forgiveness, and trust and faith. And he tells us that we aren’t alone.
He doesn’t say the burden will go away, but he does say he wants to help carry the burden.
Let’s have a volunteer come up. Here, hold this bag, pretty light isn’t it. Let’s add some stuff. How about family responsibilities (Start adding rocks to the bag) that’s like your spouse and your kids, oh yeah don’t forget your aged parents and your weird Uncle on your mother’s side, and let’s not forget work, and church and your hobbies, and concerns for retirement, and your bills and any medical concerns you might have.
And Jesus doesn’t say that he will take those burdens away, but he does say he will share the load. (take the handle of the bag and take some of the strain)
And when you are part of God’s family there are others to share the load with you. That’s why we are told in Galatians 6:2-3 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
You might remember the hit song the Hollys’ had in the late 60s entitled “He’s ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”. Supposedly it originally came from a story told by a preacher in late 1800s about a man seeing a little girl struggling as she carried a little boy in her arms.
The man said, “you must be tired carrying that heavy load” to which she replied, “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” Which reinforces the truth that a burden which is given in love and carried in love is always lighter than one carried out of obligation.
I don’t know where you are today or what burdens you may be carrying, but Jesus has a yoke that he has made just for you, he wants to help, and he wants his family to help.
If you aren’t a Christ follower then Jesus is saying “come” if you are a Christian but you are struggling with your walk, he says “come”. If you are carrying a burden of guilt he says “come”, if you are carrying a burden of resentment he says “come”. If you are carrying the burden of “doubt”, he says come.