The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 11:25 “At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. 26 Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.’ 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (NASB)
Before Covid-19, the adult class was working its way through the St. Paul’s epistle to the Roman congregations. Romans is an epistle that is all about the Law and the Gospel, rightly dividing them, rightly understanding the purpose of each, then rightly applying them. In the opening verse of chapter two, St. Paul wrote, “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?”
The Law, whether it is God’s Law as in the Ten Commandments, or a law conjured up in the imagination of the human mind is unescapable. This is St. Paul’s dilemma in the epistle lesson for this morning, Romans seven. Paul measured himself again the Law of God and found that he could not stop himself from breaking it. “19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want…23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” This is how the law works for sinners and as Romans says in other places, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin is death.”
Again in the absence of a real unifying religion, as was the case between Christianity and the West (including the U.S.A.), sinful humanity creates religions right out of humanity’s sinful imagination. While not the first sign of America’s new civil religion, political correctness was the most obvious. We’ve more beyond the PC culture. Now “wokeness” and the “cancel” culture are the most identifiable traits of the new civic religion.
I don’t know if you watched President Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore (you should), but in that speech he said, that;
“in our schools, newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far left fascism that demands absolute alliance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.”
This folks is where law created in and implemented by the sinful, self-righteous, and zealous human mind leads. As with all such civil religions wokeness and the cancel culture is a religion of pure law, with its own shibboleths and no possibility of redemption.
In the Old Testament, Judges 12 a tribe called the Gileadites was at war with the Ephraimites. An Ephraimite tried to cross the River Jordan to get behind the lines of the Gileadites, but he was stopped at the river’s banks ad questioned. The Gileadites asked him if he was an Ephraimite and he said no. So they asked him to say the word, “Shibboleth.” Ephraimites were the only tribe in the area that couldn’t pronounce the word correctly. Thus he was discovered to be what in fact he was, the enemy so they killed him right there on the spot. Since then “shibboleth” is a word or saying used by one group to unmask a person belonging to another group.
Today, shibboleths are found everywhere and the language and thought police stand at the ready to pounce. The new civic religion of America demands you act, think, and speak exactly as the new orthodoxy demands or your career, safety, property, and freedom will be taken from you. But here’s a couple of dirty little secrets that only observant Christians understand. The law, like the angry zealots of the new religion can never be satisfied. Not even the law makers and enforcers can live up to the same rules and regulations they seek to impose on everyone else, including you.
With all that said, perhaps now you will understand the Gospel lesson a bit more fully. In Matthew 11 Jesus was facing increased opposition to His preaching and doctrine. Over time the religious rulers had established civic religion under the name of Judaism and Jesus was undermining Judaism’s fundamental tent of works righteousness.
Earlier in the chapter 11 Jesus had described those who opposed Him. He said they were (17-19) “like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ That means the religious leaders demanded that the people dance to the tune they order, but the people failed to comply. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
That sounds a bit awkward, but Jesus was pointing out that some of the Jews did not receive the teaching of either John the Baptist or Jesus Christ. Instead, they took offense at the behavior of John the Baptist because he did not eat in the prescribed manner, thus they accused him of having a demon. Jesus on the other hand did eat and drink, so they accused Him of being glutenous and a drunkard. So regardless of whether one abstained or ate, the rule makers made up rules in an attempt to show people what kind of men John and Jesus “really” were, sinners/law breakers.
After pointing out the Jews’ shenanigans, Jesus told the people that three cities Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had refused to repent and to believe the Gospel and would be therefore much worse off for their rejection.
Jesus was stating the obvious. The more He taught and miracles He worked, the greater the opposition. Towns ignored Him and some people were increasingly more hostile to Him. Jesus wasn’t even trying to keep their laws. He wasn’t using the approved vocabulary. He wasn’t acting in the prescribed manner. If He didn’t change His ways, well then something was going to have to be done to put this rabbi out of business. Sound familiar?
From the way chapter 11 was written, it seems that the educated and ruling class in the three aforementioned cities couldn’t see the Gospel truth. Jesus responded to the current state of affairs with a surprising kind of prayer. “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. 26 Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight.”
Jesus praises His Father precisely because the God the Father had hidden the truths of the Kingdom of Heaven from “the wise and intellegent” leaders of the day and revealed them to infants, to simple people, poor people, social outcasts, and the ones deemed unrighteous by law makes of the day.
Arrogance is not a virtue. People, especially the young people these days seem a little confused about that, but it’s true. College and graduate degrees might show something (not sure what these days!), but such things mean nothing in regard to the wisdom that comes down from above. Studies show that the higher the degree of education, the less orthodox, right believing a person is. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by appealing to arrogance.
The rejection of God’s Word, of His Christ, and of all things wholesome and acceptable in God’s sight is the ultimate expression of arrogance. Human wisdom does not make a person any closer to the kingdom of heaven. But a humble mind and spirit might well be fertile ground for the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus follows up His prayer praising His Father for the simple sinners that have had their eyes opened, with an invitation inviting even more simple people into the church. 28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
All false religions, especially the modern ones with all their purity tests, their demands of total compliance, political power, raw intimidation, and shibboleths are religions of law. They are religions of punishment and hard labor.
The Law of God Law is a heavy load that none can bear but Christ. The law of sinful human beings can be even more so.
Law is an immovable object—it’s inflexible, unyielding, requires total obedience, and is crushing in its demands of perfection. No sinner can bear the weight of the Law. It wears you out. We get tired and sick of it on the nightly news. One person after another, one company after another, one group after another, and one political entity after another are all breaking under the weight, demands, and threat of man made laws, made by people who can’t keep the laws they make themselves.
The rule makers today demand guilt from you and from everyone but themselves. Like the Pharisees of old, they only see your alleged sin and not theirs. They are guiltless. They use the guilty they generate in others to shake down corporations for billions of dollars. They use such false guilt to pass new laws and to exploit the weary and heavy laden. The nasty truth about this kind of hard labor is that it is never good enough. No matter how hard you work, you will fail to keep it– be it man’s laws or God’s Law.
St. Paul understood the predicament of man made laws and the sinner. He understood even more so the Law of God and the sinner. The good that he wanted to do he could not do and the evil that he wanted to avoid, he often could not avoid. Paul says he’s tired of himself! He’s tired of the inner conflict! 24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
When you grow tired of yourself, of your waywardness, your inner conflict, and of the world’s demand that you bring yourself to yield to the world’s religion, listen to the voice of the One who calls you to come to Him for rest. “Come to me (Jesus says), all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Unlike all the other religions and causes in this world, we, the simple have been made to see and to believe in the God who tells us to lay down our burdens of self-justification and to trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
Jesus has done all the work that makes us right with God. The blessings of that work come to us when the Holy Spirit works faith in us and faith receives the gifts of God – forgiveness, life, salvation. He replaces the demands to be and do more with the easy yoke of Christ’s forgiveness and the light burden of His righteousness.
Christ has come to you and you to Christ this morning to hear His gracious invitation again. 28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” and you have it– rest.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.