The Road to Rest
Do you live your life promising yourself, bribing yourself, fooling yourself, that after I get done with this, past that, finish this, or get that, then I can rest? If you do, you find what the donkey does. The carrot on the stick is always one step in front. You never get to rest; you're always on the road to it. In our text, Jesus sets before you the road that gets to rest.
The road to rest is invocation in the face of failure. Read the verses before our text. They contain last week's reading about the ministry being sent into a hostile world where the Church is small, Jesus learning of John the Baptist's doubt, and Jesus denouncing cities who rejected Him. And our text is Jesus' answer to that rejection. You can't tell this because the insert translates "Jesus said." No, the Greek is "Jesus answering said."
The answer to a world where even disciples doubt, the ministry fails, and Jesus is rejected is invocation. The response to the world going on in hard-hearted impenitence embracing the meaninglessness that springs from evolution and the deadness of abortion and gay sexuality is prayer. Jesus answer to failure on earth is invoking the Father, Lord of heaven and earth.
There is no place for the Christian to rest in a virulently un-Christian, anti-Christian world that: regards you as intolerant because you want the Sodoms of the world to repent; regards you as unloving because you love the unborn as much as you do the mothers who are to bear them; regards you as Hebrews 11 describes the faithful: destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground. Not much rest here.
Somewhere way, way over the rainbow, in the heaven of Your Father is rest. Invoking His name, Jesus, your brother "goes there" and what He does when He gets there is startling. He praises the Father in heaven for how He works. Jesus praises Him for hiding the things of salvation, of forgiveness, of mercy, of a world without end from the wise and learned but unveiling them not to "little children" (That's the Reform's translation showing their prejudice against babies being able to believe.) No, the heavenly Father reveals the things of the faith to infants. Rest isn't in what you do but in what your Father in heaven does. His good pleasure is to conceal from the wise and learned and reveal to infants.
The road to rest passes through invocation in the face of the apparent failure of the Gospel message, and it passes through revelation in the face of Christ not the hidden God. How many times do we read this truth: "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father"? In the mysterious depths of the One who is Three and the Three who is One, in the counsels of the One who appears to let evil triumph and unbearable tragedies occur, who knows what He is thinking, planning, doing in your life? Paul goes to heaven and says he heard things which a man is not permitted to speak: Did he hear cancer, accident, death, disease, tragedy? When the 7 thunders speak in heaven might not you hear things that could kill you on the spot?
There is no rest in the hidden God. There are only questions upon questions and the answers might do to you what they did to Daniel in the Old and John in the New Testament. Lay you out sick and all but dead for days at a time. No, rest is not found in the bare revelation of God. First, Jesus says that no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son. That leaves you locked out, but then Jesus breaks the conundrum: The revelation of the Father is in hands of the Son and He can reveal Him to whoever He chooses.
How many times do the Scriptures bring us to the realization that no man has seen God at any time but the only begotten Son who is in the lap of the Father has made Him known? Why can't we just be content with Jesus words, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father?" Why can't we cease to pry into the blinding glory of God and be content with what Paul says: The glory of God is found in the face of Christ?
Moses was restless on Sinai. God had said as a result of the Golden Calf incident that He was withdrawing His presence from the Old Testament Church in the wilderness (See Exodus 32-33). Moses begged for God to reveal Himself, but His glory would have killed the sinful Moses. So, God makes it so he could only see what He wished to reveal to him: and this was that the Lord is compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He revealed to Moses the Lord revealed in the Sacrament of the Altar; the One whose "mercy endures forever."
The apostles are restless in the upper room after Jesus has revealed that every one of them is going to desert Him. Jesus reminds them that as they believe in the God they can't see they are to believe in Him they can. This only causes more restlessness, so Philip says, "Show us the Father and that is enough." That's when Jesus says, and He has to have said this in a sad voice, "Have I been so long among you and still you don't know Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father."
There's no rest for you in the hidden God. No rest for you in what the Almighty might or might not do for you, to you, or for or to your loved ones. There's no rest for you in the how great the God of rolling thunder is. There's no rest with the God who promises "No man can see My face and live." But that's not where Jesus bids you look. Rest is found in the revelation of God in the face of Christ not in the hidden God whom you cannot see, know, or relate to.
Rest is not found in doing that one last thing, or getting by or done with this one big thing. Rest is not found in the topsy-turvy world around you becoming calm because no sooner does one storm pass then another is blowing. No, rest says Jesus is found invocation, revelation, and invitation. Jesus invites you to come face to face with rest. The simple words "come to Me" that Jesus utters are heavy with meaning, with comfort. The simple English preposition to' conveys motion in the direction of a particular location. In Greek, it conveys face to face-ness. The fireman leading you out of a burning building, the policeman leading you along a narrow, elevated ledge both say the same thing: "Look only at me." Your Lord Jesus says, "Don't look at the what if's, the why's, the how's, or the mountains being shaken into the heart of the see. Look only at Me, the one who suffered, bled, cried, and died willingly, happily for you."
Look whom the Son specifically says He invites: all those wearied by their toiling and all those who have burdens they can't ever see being able to put down. You know how babies fight sleep, and you think it silly when they're exhausted. Yet, we fight against Jesus' invitation to come to Him and leave off toiling. "Just let me try one more time; let me do just this," we insist.
Ever carry a backpack only to find hours of hiking later that you had carried things you could have left at home? Those things that burden you about life about death, about your sins or someone else's, that you insist you need to carry from here to eternity, Jesus says you can come to Him with them. He has way for you to put them down.
He wants to teach you that "you will find rest for your souls" in Him. He literally says, "You must learn from Me and only Me." The Law says you can be at rest when you have done all God requires. The doable Law says you can be at rest when you have done the best you can. The unbeliever's law says you can be rest whenever you feel like it. That works as long as you have a peaceful, easy feeling, but so long as you're standing on the ground and not in the Father's heaven where God's glory is safely revealed in Christ's face, that feeling won't last long.
The Gospel doesn't say the road to rest is in doing everything that is required of you. It says, the road to rest is the path that Jesus cleared for you to the Father. The road to rest isn't in you doing anything, but in what Jesus has done, does, and will do for you. It's not in you washing Jesus' feet but Jesus washing your feet. It's not in you feeding the hungry but in Jesus feeding you. The road to rest is not you doing your best, but in Jesus having done everything perfectly in your place. At the cross, Jesus didn't say to His followers or enemies, "Get up here. This is where you belong." No, He said, "Father forgive them."
Remember the scene in "Forest Gump" where the girl who had been abused goes back to the empty home of her abuse, and throws rock after rock at it, till she stumbles in exhaustion? Forest Gump sagely observes, "Sometimes, I guess there just aren't enough rocks." There aren't enough rocks to throw at yourself, at others, your sins, or their sins for you to find rest for your soul. That's only found in the One who gave His perfect Body and Soul over to all the punishments you deserve for your sins and others deserve for theirs.
Rest for sinners such as us in a sinful world such as this is impossible, but our Jesus speaks some impossible words. He promises the impossible. An easy yoke and a light burden. Rest for you isn't found just over that hill where you get everything done, or just this one thing over, or finally deal with that or this. That sort of rest is that of the Law, and believe me it never, ever arrives. And if you think it has, beware you've just saved yourself which is no salvation at all.
Rest for you is being yoked by Baptismal waters to the Shepherd who carries sheep. Rest for you is bearing about in your body the Body and Blood of Jesus. Quit being a baby fighting sleep; be the infant to whom Jesus reveals what rest is. Unpack your backpack. You have no need for all those rocks. There aren't enough rocks in the world for you to find rest by carrying or throwing them. Rest for your soul is found in the invocation, revelation, and invitation of the Rock of Ages. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20170723); Matthew 11: 25-30