LIVING CRUCIFIED #11: REST FOR YOUR SOUL

Jesus invites us to take on his yoke. What he means is that he is inviting us to take on only his burden, and to do so with his own strength. To accept this and find the rest for our souls that He promises, we must first drop our own load – our ideas and expectations and demands about what we think we need to be happy and to be “OK.” We might think we need a certain amount of money to be OK. We might think we need to live in a certain place in order to be happy. We need to have this kind of relationship, or that kind of car. That’s the stuff we need to drop. If we try to add Jesus on top of all that, it will feel like a burden.

But Jesus invites us to drop it all. It’s the only way to find rest for your souls. Instead of trying to make sure we have everything we think we need, we trust Jesus to supply all that we need. When we allow him to live through us, so that we have no agenda other than “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” we find his yoke is easy. We find rest for our souls.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 11

LIVING CRUCIFIED #11. Matthew 11:28-30

If Jesus is really going to live his life through us, it can’t be only on Sunday mornings. It can’t be just when you have your quiet time with God each day. It can’t be only Sunday mornings, plus quiet times and small group meetings. It can’t be only after work. It can’t be only on weekends or mission trips.

You see, in America especially, we tend to have our own goals and ambitions, and we try to wedge God into our life as one piece of a very full pie. We’d be quite happy to let Jesus have more of us, but we just don’t have the time. Our plates our full. Our time and energy is used up. Then we come along and read something like this:

28 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, HCSB)

We think, “That sounds great, but frankly, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels following Jesus just adds to all the hard work I’m doing.”

But we’re forgetting two things. First, we are forgetting that Jesus has already done it all. He has forgiven us. He has made us holy. He is the one who wants to live through us. We don’t have to make it happen. We don’t have to make ourselves holy. We simply need to respond to Jesus in faith.

Sometimes we come across passages in the bible that tell us how to behave. Like this one:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:17-29, ESV)

 We might think, “That sounds like hard burden, not rest for my soul.” But we sometimes read too quickly, and miss where it says, “put off the old self…and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and  put on your new self, created after the likeness of God.” So this is something that happens as our mind is renewed. That happens through faith, and through frequently putting the scriptures into our minds. But our new self has been created, not by us, but by God. So, maybe, when we read those verses we could pray something like this: “Holy Spirit, thank you for showing me what the life of Jesus looks like as he lives through me. Please help me to step aside so that you can manifest your life in me and through me, for your glory. Renew my mind, and keep creating my new self.”

When we find ourselves in a situation where we want to do one thing, but we know Jesus wants to do something else, we can pray: “Lord, thank you that you are the one living my life. I can’t do what you want. My flesh doesn’t want me to do it. My flesh is not strong enough, or good enough, to do it. But I surrender to you, and I ask you to work in me anyway. I have no power to stop myself from doing wrong, no power to do what is right. But I give you permission to do the right thing through me right now.”

That prayer might sound too simple. But the Lord answers it. I have had times when I wanted to sin. I knew what I wanted to do was wrong. But I felt I had no power to stop myself. I prayed a prayer like the ones I just shared (above). And somehow, I just ended up doing what the Lord wanted, and not the sin I had intended to do. It didn’t feel dramatic, except that somehow, I ended up doing the right thing. You see, we really can trust him to live through us, if we only give him permission to do so. So these things don’t need to be burden. We simply ask Jesus to live holy lives through us, and then let him.

Second, we are forgetting that when Jesus invites us to rest in Him, we have to drop our own agenda in order to do so. Imagine you are carrying a sixty pound backpack. Then you come to Jesus, and he says, “Take my burden upon you; it is easy and light.” Jesus points to his backpack, which weighs fifteen pounds. You think “That doesn’t feel easy. Now instead of sixty pounds, I’ll be carrying seventy-five pounds.”

You grab his pack and sling it on top of yours. Now your heavy burden feels almost intolerable. But Jesus laughs, and pokes you in the ribs. “You’re not listening,” he says. “Drop your load. All of it. Carry only my fifteen pound pack. Everything you’ll ever need is in there.”

And that uncovers the real issue. It’s hard to believe that Jesus could give us everything we’ll ever need with only a fifteen pound backpack. Does it have our favorite food? What about the television? What about the clothes I like? And so on. But the only way to find out is to trust Jesus, and drop our own pack.

What I am calling our own backpack is all of our ideas and expectations and demands about what we think we need to be happy and to be “OK.” We might think we need a certain amount of money to be OK. We might think we need to live in a certain place in order to be happy. We need to have this kind of relationship, or that kind of car. That’s the stuff we need to drop. If we try to add Jesus on top of all that, it will feel like a burden. But Jesus invites us to drop it all. It’s the only way to find rest for your souls. Instead of trying to make sure we have everything we think we need, we trust Jesus to supply all that we need. When we allow him to live through us, so that we have no agenda other than “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” we find his yoke is easy. We find rest for our souls.

This is what we’ve talking about with this sermon series. Life is not found in our circumstances. There is no life in having everything we want. There is no life in denying ourselves everything we want. The only true life comes from the realm of the spirit. It is found in Jesus alone. When we have Jesus, we have the life. As a discipline to help us find the true life that Jesus offers, we put God after the but. We live by faith, trusting the words of the bible that tell us we have been thoroughly separated from sin and the law, and we have been born again into God’s kingdom, even if we don’t look like it, or feel like it. We now live only for God’s glory, and find that the burden of doing so is light, since it is Jesus who lives through us.

We started to talk about this last time, but let’s continue to consider what it looks like to drop our own agenda, and take up the easy, restful yoke of Jesus. What is like to have all of life be about the glory of God through us? First, for many of us, the change is mostly internal. Externally, we might still do most of the same things. We will still go to work, and come home, and eat with our families, and go fishing on the weekends, and so on.

The change comes in the way we go about these things, an also in the why we go about them.

Let’s start with the change in the “why.” When we realize that all of life is about letting Jesus live through us so that God is glorified, it reorients us. Going to work is no longer primarily about making money and creating a secure financial future for ourselves. Instead, going to work is an opportunity for Jesus to be there with your co-workers – through you. You aren’t working to advance your career; you are working to let Jesus advance His agenda in your workplace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Bible does says that, apart from unavoidable exceptions, people should arrange to make sure that they support themselves and their families financially (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 5:8). By the way, this could involve mothers staying at home with kids while husbands work to support them all, so stay-at-home-moms have no reason to feel bad at all. In fact, that too, can often be a calling which brings glory to God. If you are a family breadwinner, it also brings glory to God that you do honest work for which you are paid. Even so, the point of working is not to create security for yourselves, but primarily to be about whatever business God has you in, so that he can use you there. The reason you work is now so that God can show his glory through you.

As far as the way we live for God’s glory at work, God might show his glory through you in the calm presence that your co-workers feel from you. He might do that in conversations you have with coworkers. He might do that just by having your do work excellently, so that it becomes part of his glory. Others will notice how you work, and if you let Jesus work through you as he wants to, it will have an impact on them. Again this comes as you lean on him in trust, and let your mind be renewed by the Bible.

This is true also of leisure time. We aren’t supposed to stop having any kind of relaxing time, and just serve God directly at church with every spare minute. Instead, every minute of every day is in service to God, no matter what we are doing, and that includes the time we spend relaxing.

Let me give an example. I love to fish. Years ago, I used to fish at least once a week during warm weather, often all day; sometimes I fished even more than that. One day, I realized what we are talking about here, that all of life is about God’s glory, and I understood that something needed to change. It wasn’t that I needed to stop fishing. But I needed to let God use the time I spent fishing. So, I did two things. First, I became open to inviting others along with me as a I fished. Then, if God wanted, he could us to encourage one-another as we fished. We were still fishing, and catching fish was the primary goal. But the time now belonged to God, and so when someone else was with me, there was an opportunity there for us to encourage one another in following Jesus. Usually that happened very organically and naturally, around the activity of fishing. Sometimes, it was just building relationships, and we had no conversations that were especially spiritual. But either way, the time belonged to Jesus, to use as he wanted.

Second, when I was fishing alone, I also used that time to pray, and to deliberately let the Lord refresh my soul. Again, I was definitely out there to fish. But I was also there – even by myself – to be used for God’s glory, and part of that involves Him pouring his life into me. For me, time alone is very helpful for that sort of thing.

So, for you, maybe it is golf. Don’t stop golfing. But surrender your golf time to the Lord. He may call you to golf (or fish) a little bit less. (At this stage of my life, he has me fishing less than I used to.) He may, or may not, call you to golf less. But he wants to use the time you are on the course to bring Him glory. The same could be true of crafting, or watching and talking about movies, or sewing, or getting together with friends to hang out.

All of life now belongs to Jesus. Sometimes, our priorities are out of line. We may need to spend less time and work, and more time with certain people that God has put in our lives. Or, maybe the opposite. I have noticed as life goes on that Jesus frequently wants to make adjustments in how I spend my time.

Even ordinary things like grocery shopping, are there for the Lord to use. Sometimes, I ask a cashier how I can pray for her. Others time I pray silently, without talking about it. Many times, the Lord uses my time at Walmart to reveal my mean-spirited heart to myself, and bring me to repentance for the way I look at some people. Going to Walmart can build real Christian character if you take on the yoke of Jesus.

One thing that may help us to remember to let Jesus live through us is to say a quick prayer whenever you transition between activities. For instance, maybe you are wrapping up work for the day. You could say, “OK Lord, thanks for living through my work today. Please now live through the time I’m going to spend with my family.” (Or “the time I’m going to spend fishing, or shopping, or whatever…”).

Another thing about the yoke of Jesus. I think most Americans probably try to do far too much. We have so many opportunities, and most of them are truly good. But sometimes “good” is the enemy of “best.” For a lot of Americans, I think Jesus wants to invest more deeply in fewer things, rather than trying to be a part of every opportunity that crosses our paths. Especially when our kids are young, we often enroll them in band, sports, dance club, chess club, music club… I don’t even know all of the options. But often this means that our kids never have unstructured time, and never have alone time. If you don’t have those kinds of time as you grow up, you end up having a hard time being alone, and a hard time thinking deeply about things, and hard time structuring your own life, and all of those are important to following Jesus. Leave some time for Jesus to work with nothing particular going on. Give God space to work.

I was working on this part of the sermon late at night. I took a break and went into the kitchen where I was all set to make some toast, upon which I was going to put Nutella chocolate spread. I was thinking about Jesus living my life, through me, and how it is supposed to happen even in ordinary things, like making lunch, or a snack. And then, I felt quite clearly that he was telling me something like this: “I don’t want to put that Nutella toast into this body of ours at this time.” This is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about: Being willing for Jesus to direct us and live through us, even in ordinary things. I didn’t hear a voice or anything, but I knew what Jesus wanted. That’s how the guiding of the spirit works. So, I put the bread away. I must admit, if I hadn’t been preaching on this, I might not have done that.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a preacher.

However, I don’t want you to miss a point here. I have been trying to control my late-night snacking, without much success. But, simply giving Jesus permission to decide what goes into my/His body somehow made it easier to not have the toast. I’m not trying to stop myself from eating delicious, rich, chocolate coated, toasted, home-made, crusty white bread. I’m giving Jesus permission to live through me, and that includes him deciding that my body won’t have that right now. I’m not gritting my teeth with will-power. I’m surrendering, and letting Jesus say “no,” since I don’t have the strength to say “no” on my own.

 I think he’s OK with a little watermelon soon, though, so that’s nice.

Also, as you noticed, along with making it easy to eat healthier, he gave me a perfect example of how everyday life looks with the yoke of Jesus. So, he even made my sermon easier. That’s because, as he says, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. It’s a piece of cake (or, maybe, watermelon).

Why don’t you try it right now? (Not the watermelon, or the cake. The lifestyle of living crucified.) As the psalmist says:

​​​​Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! ​​​​​​​Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, ​​​​​​​for those who fear him have no lack! ​​​ (Ps 34:8-9, ESV)

REST FOR YOUR SOUL

rest

Our own expectations are a burden to us. Our demand for Jesus to behave the way we want him to turns our spiritual life into a wearying struggle. There are other things that wear us out, also: our own goals and ambitions for this life, our attempts to control circumstances and relationships, our attempt to hold onto things that we know are sinful and wrong. Jesus says, “Drop all of that! Take on me, and me alone, and you will find rest and ease for your souls.” This is not a word of judgment, but of grace.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 37

Matthew #37 . Matthew 11:7-30

Last time we considered how Jesus failed to meet the (quite reasonable) expectations of John the Baptist. Jesus responded essentially by saying, “Look back to the Bible and trust what it says. You are blessed when you aren’t upset because I don’t act like you expect me to.”

We pick up this time as John’s disciples are leaving to give him the message. Jesus continues his thoughts by talking to those who are left about John.

John has been overshadowed in history by Jesus, but during his life, and for an entire generation during after his death, John the Baptist was a very influential figure. Many of his followers did not make the transition to following Jesus, and instead, they formed a powerful sub-segment of Judaism until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Jesus clearly acknowledges John’s greatness. He explains John’s place in the history of God’s people: he is a prophet and more than that, he was the one predicted by Isaiah who would come before the Messiah and announce him to the world. In fact, Jesus calls him the greatest man alive. Then Jesus adds two interesting thoughts. First, he says that in spite of John’s greatness, “the least in the kingdom of God” is greater than him. This is puzzling, and there are several possible things that Jesus may have meant. It could be that what Jesus means is that John represents the old covenant, the one which the people of Israel never could keep, and by which they could never be reconciled to God. In this scenario then, John was the greatest man who could live by the old covenant, but the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ is a completely different and greater righteousness. The most pathetic one who is justified by faith in Jesus Christ is closer to God than even the most diligent and self-denying law keeper of the old covenant.

Another possibility is that Jesus means that those who have died and gone on to glory are greater than even the greatest living man. This fits somewhat with what we learned last time, where John was anxious about his present circumstance. Jesus might be saying, “John’s greatness in this life is nothing compared to what he will experience once he dies in faith and fully enters the kingdom of heaven. He is concerned about temporary salvation, but the eternal salvation I offer is so much greater.”

The second strange thought that Jesus shares is this:

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John; 14 if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come.

I think what Jesus is referring to here is the widespread belief, perhaps also held by John the Baptist, that the Messiah would bring physical and political deliverance from foreign oppressors. In fact the Jewish people (and possibly John as well) were expecting a violent Messiah. This may sound shocking to us; we know what actually happened, what Jesus actually did and taught. But at the time Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish people sincerely believed that the Messiah would arrive to do violence to their enemies. Jesus is not affirming this. In a continuation of what he said to John, he is explaining that he will not meet those expectations. The idea that the Messiah would preach love, and seek to reconcile all human beings to God (even Romans and foreign soldiers), was completely unique and unexpected to the people at the time.

In fact, for most of the rest of Chapter 11 Jesus is pointing out that he is not meeting expectations. The people criticized John for overt, severe self-discipline; then they turned around and denounced Jesus for not showing overt, severe self-discipline. Both C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton have observed this continuing habit of criticizing Jesus and Christianity for opposite things. One the one hand, people say that our faith is merely wish-fulfillment and pie-in-the-sky; we are too optimistic. On the other hand, Christians are frequently criticized for the doctrine of original sin and the future of the world; we are too pessimistic.

When Jesus speaks to the towns ins verses 21-25, he is continuing with this same theme. The towns he mentions are all in the area of Galilee, where he has been ministering. His point is that he has done amazing miracles, that he has fulfilled many prophecies about the Messiah, and yet the people in these towns have not accepted him. Most likely, the reason they did not was because he did not behave the way they expected the Messiah to behave.

It’s hard to believe that the culture at the time thought the Messiah would be a violent man of war. But what are the common strange expectations of our time?

Our culture believes that God asks nothing from us, and holds us to no personal moral standard. We expect to do as we please, and then be welcomed into heaven when the time comes. To the extent that our culture believes in Jesus at all, it believes that Jesus died to show us love, and that now we should continue our lives unchanged and unaffected by that sacrifice. In fact, Jesus himself calls us to die to ourselves and surrender to Him and His purposes; we’ve seen that already in the book of Matthew. Just as the people at the time ignored what the Scripture actually said about the Messiah, so also our culture ignores what the Bible actually says about Jesus.

Our culture believes that Jesus preaches a kind of universal religion, no different from anything else in the world, when in fact, Jesus’ own words proclaim that he is unique, and that our entire future hinges on our response to him, and him alone. Of course, there are elements of truth in other religions. But Jesus makes it clear that he himself is the ultimate revelation of truth, and that our choice to either receive him or reject him is of eternal consequence.

When we hear the words of the Bible, do we receive them and surrender to them, or do we, like the towns in Galilee, reject the truth because it does not conform to our expectations?

Jesus closes this discourse with one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, HCSB)

Our own expectations are a burden to us. Our demand for Jesus to behave the way we want him to turns our spiritual life into a wearying struggle. There are other things that wear us out, also: our own goals and ambitions for this life, our attempts to control circumstances and relationships, our attempt to hold onto things that we know are sinful and wrong. Jesus says, “Drop all of that! Take on me, and me alone, and you will find rest and ease for your souls.” This is not a word of judgment, but of grace.

Just to make sure we have the picture correct, let me explain what Jesus meant by “yoke.” A yoke was a kind of farm or work implement. It was a piece of wood that was somewhat curved and could fit over the necks of animals or human beings. If the yoke was for a human, the ends might attach to a harness, which then could be attached to a plow or a cart. The man with the yoke across his shoulders could then use the leverage of the yoke to pull the plow or the cart. Alternatively, a load could be hung from each end of the yoke, balanced across the shoulders of the man. Picture a man with a bar across his shoulders, and a bucket hanging from each end of the bar, and you get the idea. There were also yokes made for animals. Some of them were double-yokes in which, say, two oxen could be fastened, and using the yoke, their strength could be combined to pull a load.

I think there are two things we can get from this image, both of them appropriate. The first is the straightforward meaning of Jesus’ words, which is that the burden or work involved in trusting him is light, and even restful for the soul. Picture a yoke with no weight or harness attached to it. The point is, when we give up our own expectations or demands, and surrender to Jesus, and to living life his way, it is restful and healing for our souls.

The second image is that of the two oxen pulling together. Jesus might be saying: “Hitch yourself to me, and let me do the pulling. When I do the work alongside you, you will find it easy and restful.” The idea is that we trust Jesus to do what needs to be done, we let his strength take the weight of the burdens that we face.

I like to picture it like this. Imagine that you are wearing a large, hiker’s backpack. The pack is absolutely stuffed with equipment and all sorts of things that you might reasonably think you need for the journey. It weighs 60 pounds or more. Now you meet Jesus standing by the trail. He is holding a very small, comfortable -looking pack. As he hands it to you, you feel that it is maybe 5 pounds. There is no way it could hold anything more than perhaps food for your next meal.

Now, you are carrying so much weight and bulk that when you try to add that 5 pound pack from Jesus, you find it is considerably harder than before. Jesus laughs at you. “No, silly! Get rid of your big old pack and carry only my pack.” The key of course, is to trust that if we take on only the 5 pound pack, Jesus will be with us to give us the other things we need, when we need them.

You see, I think so many Christians do not find following Jesus to be restful. The reason is, they try to follow Jesus, and at the same time, try to maintain their own control, their own goals, ambitions and expectations. This is not the rest that Jesus offers. The rest and peace come when we give up our own burdens and take his yoke, and only his yoke, upon ourselves. The way to lightness and ease for our souls is to take the yoke of Jesus on ourselves, leaving our own “yoke” behind.

I invite you to do that right now. There is no time like the present. Are there expectations that you have of this life, or of Jesus, expectations that the Holy Spirit is now calling you to release? Are you holding onto the weight of controlling your own life? Is it possible that your own ambitions and plans are a burden to you? Is there some way in which you are insisting that you get what you want, or that you must get it in your way?

These are all heavy burdens that Jesus is calling you to release. In exchange, he offers you just one light, ease-filled, restful burden: to trust him, and to let him be in control. Let him pull the weight, while you relax and trust him.

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