Every pastor has favorite Bible verses. By now, you should know mine – I have been preaching and teaching to you for over 30 years. Luther’s favorite passage must have been Matthew 11:28: “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” If you read Luther’s sermons, he seems to figure out a way to include this passage in nearly every one of them. Maybe this is one of your favorite passages as well. I understand why it might be. Jesus is offering us rest in a busy and restless world, for hearts that are stressed and upset, for minds that are worried and confused, and for bodies that are tired and weary. We hardly need to be told to come to Jesus if this is what He offers.
We live in a world that is a constant test to our endurance, a constant challenge to what we believe, and a constant threat to all that we hold dear. Who among us has not longed for the refuge and peace that Jesus offers here? Ours is a cruel world in which children are shot, babies are killed in the womb, and the aged treated as a burden to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. It is not simply the fringes of our lives that are under attack but life itself. We will mask up and vaccinate and keep our distance to save our own lives but we seem unwilling to raise a finger to protect the lives of others.
Ours is a world of danger because we no longer can clearly define good from evil, right from wrong, truth from error. We have so confused things that some treat the body as if it were an enemy of their identity rather than a reflection of it. We have made sex and amusement the highest goals of life and tolerate work for the paycheck it provides to pay for our entertainment. We are not sure what a man or a woman is, pretty sure it does not matter with regard to marriage, and confident that marriage is for our amusement as well. Who does not long for a rest from this weary state of confusion and denial?
Ours is a selfish world in which the individual matters most of all and the refusal of the group to support the individual in his or her preference or predilection is the ultimate offense. None of us is willing to do what we don’t want to do and few of us are willing to talk ourselves into what is right. We live and die by our feelings, by our quest for happiness, by the unsocial media that now tells us the news, allows us to comment on it, and provides a forum for our self-expression. Who would not long for rest in the midst of such a world curved in upon itself?
Progress is not our answer. Improvement is not our answer. Christ is telling us what our answer is. He is our answer. The words of Jesus are not simply about what makes us weary and what burdens press upon us but about the only One who can deliver us from all of these things. Jesus refuses to surrender us to the despair and upset of all that is wrong around us and in us. He points us to the one thing needful – He points us to Himself. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. That does not mean life is a breeze but that He is the answer to all that is wrong – to the sin that corrupts our thoughts, words, and deeds; to the world so filled with cruelty and conflict; to the threats of the devil and unseen evil; and to the death that waits patiently for us all. This is not about finding a fix for the wrongs in us or in the world but about recognizing and rejoicing in Christ whom the Father has sent to us to be our Savior and Redeemer.
Christ does not show us the rest but He is the rest for the weary and the relief for those burdens. Our weariness is not just being overwhelmed with injustices or inequities around us but sin. The sins of the world that rebels against God’s rule and ways and the sins of our own consciences that may be secret to others but knows to God and known to us. The thoughts that we cannot stop and the words we do not control and the actions we will not control. Sin is no small thing but the rust and decay that works death in our bodies while we live and that turns us to dust when we die. This is the rest Christ is for you and for me and for all who believe in Him.
Rest in Scripture is interesting. Rest is the root of the word and concept of Sabbath. On that day God rested and called us to rest from all our labors to right what is wrong in us and our world and to reflect upon His steadfast love. But in Christ we have this rest in flesh and blood. He accomplishes salvation for us so that we might rest in Him without sin to condemn us and death to make us afraid.
The Sabbath rest that God called us to in the wake of creation and the Sabbath rest that is His promise in revelation is not about a place or a state of mind but about the Lord Jesus. He is our rest. In Him out hearts so out of control with desire and our minds so filled with fear find the answer. He is that answer. In Him our world meets the strong man who binds the enemy and gives to us peace and liberty for eternal life. He is our Sabbath. We do not set aside one day from seven for the Lord but God owns all our days, all our hours, and all our minutes – having purchased and won them by Christ’s death and resurrection for you and me.
He is our Sabbath rest, the promise and preview that we have already now but not yet in fullness and the future that cannot even be imagined. We meet this rest here where water is the womb of our new birth into Christ Jesus. We meet this rest here where holy absolution forgives and restores us when we fall. We meet this rest here when the voice of the Good Shepherd speaks and we hear it, know it, and follow it to everlasting life. We meet this rest here when He sets His table in the presence of our enemies to feed us the bread of His flesh and the cup of His blood, real food and drink now but only a foretaste of the fullness to come on high.
Christ is here. He bids us come. He promises rest. He takes the burden of our sin and its death upon His innocent body. He lays in the cold darkness of our gave that death might be for us the door and gateway to everlasting life. He give us freedom from the shame and guilt of secret sins that come with such high maintenance costs and in Him we have the liberty to focus on how then we shall live, walking in lives worthy of Him who loved and saved us. Christ is here and because Christ is here, this place is filled with rest, relief, and hope. But it also is filled with courage to go forth in His name, with peace that will not abandon us in trouble, with comfort bigger than our pain, and with a future that death cannot steal. Christ is here and so we are here. We might never leave the safety of His presence here but He promises that He will never forsake us and His comfort will accompany us though life to life everlasting.
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.