Rest Area Ahead?
A familiar usually welcomed sign on the freeway is "Rest Area Ahead." If you have kids, I guarantee you have an idea how far the next one is. What relief these rest areas provide. And on Life's Highway couldn't we use a rest area as the media, politicians, and businesses repeatedly, solemnly, but vaguely say, "in times like these." But just as you seldom find a Rest Area on the left as the bulletin cover indicates, so Jesus rest area is not where you think.
First, you have to know the context. The text itself tells you this is important by saying, "At that time." At what time? At the time Jesus denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for not repenting though they had seen the miracles done by Jesus. He said that if what had been done in those cities had been done in the Old Testament towns of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, those would've repented. Jesus said those very cities would rise up on Judgment Day against the cities that had rejected Him. So, the context is: judgement, damnation, sending people to hell. And what does Jesus do? Weep? Plead? Forgive? Nope. He praises the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth for this! He praises the Father for hiding His salvation from the wise and learned. People who are too smart for God. People who are admired and praised in the world for their brains. Jesus praises His Father for hiding the saving Gospel from them.
And why does Jesus say the Father did this? He doesn't say that God did it because they were too smart for their own britches. He doesn't say God did it because they were unbelievers. Jesus says the Father did it "because this was Your good pleasure." Jesus isn't like me. He doesn't try to pry into the why and wherefores of God. He doesn't get upset because God damns so many and saves so few. He doesn't get on His self-righteous high horse saying, "What about the people in those cities who never heard about you?" O how loving and wise that sounds, but it's really damnable since it claims to be more loving and wise than God. It's saying you'd be more loving to people than God is. You wouldn't damn those never hearing, and you'd be smart enough to make sure all actually heard.
So what Jesus words of praise really expose isn't that the people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum thought they were wise and learned, but that I do! The good pleasure of God isn't good enough for me. No, there must be some standard, some law, some information that is above God to which His actions and will conform. God, in my judgement, must conform to something outside of Himself in order for me to judge what He does as wise and loving. But God never conforms to my thoughts, ways, or expectations. When I think of the Lord of heaven and earth doing things, "His way," without any explanation other than, "that's the way I like it." That scares me. It might be His good pleasure today to damn bald people. Tomorrow His good pleasure might be to pop up a volcano in the Gulf and sweep the coast with a tsunami. His good pleasure might be for me to have a wreck on the way home. You can talk to me all day about being, little children, non-speaking babies literally. I can't be that. The good pleasure of God scares me too much.
There's no rest in God "in times like these" or any other if you approach Him from what He may or may not do. The only way Jesus points us to God is through Himself. Our text shows Jesus taking our side and speaking to the Lord of heaven and earth. Although Jesus Himself is the Lord of heaven and earth, He takes His place beside us speaking to God from earth, from our dirt and dust. But then this Dirt of our dirt, Dust of our dust, reveals Himself to be God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten from eternity not made in time like us. He tells us that all things, judgement, damnation, salvation, heaven and earth and hell too have been handed over to Him who walks in our dusty feet. And He assures us that He is the only One who really knows the Father.
Someone once said you're afraid of everyone else's father but not your own if he is a loving father. That's because you know your own. O he may be big, rough, and hairy, but you know His big hands have held you; His rough voice can be tender; and you know you can rest your head on his hairy chest. And so Jesus knows the Father who is hidden to us behind damning so many and His stark good pleasure. Jesus says that anyone He chooses to reveal the Father to can know the Father as He does: not in fear but in praise and in joyous agreement with Him. What Jesus says here is what He will say on Maundy Thursday. You can only come to the Father by Me, and you who have seen Me have seen the Father. Then after Jesus tells us anyone He chooses to reveal the Father to can know Him as He does, He says, "Come to Me."
First, Jesus spoke to the Lord of heaven and earth. Next, He told how this Lord has committed all things to Him and how He could make Him known to whomever He chooses. Then, in conclusion, Jesus invites us to Himself. If you want to know the Lord of heaven and earth, the only way is through the Clay of Jesus. If you want to know the Father who rules all things according to His good pleasure with no explanations or apologies, the only way is to know the Son who looks no different than any other son of man.
Are you weary and burdened trying to explain God's ways? How can an all-loving God send people to eternal hell? Why doesn't God stop Covid-19? Why does God allow there to be so many different churches if there is only one truth? How come God lets babies die and murders live, helpless children suffer and evil adults prosper? How come, why, what for? It is so wearisome to try to explain for God! There is no rest area here; that's for sure! But Jesus promises rest. Jesus promises He is the place, you can literally stop and drop your load. What a relief when you finally can set down a heavy backpack. You can drop those big heavy questions people dump on you like: "How can God damn people who have never heard about Him?" And, "Why does God allow children to be abused?" You don't have to defend, explain, or understand God. You can drop that weight on Jesus.
Jesus will teach you that the Father who scares so many by His omnipotent damning and by His inexplicable good pleasure is really gentle and humble at heart. Jesus will teach you the Father doesn't desire the death even of the wicked (Ez. 18:23); He isn't willing that any should perish but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Pe. 3:9). Jesus shows you the Father who says to sinners depressed by their sins, "Cheer up; your sins are forgiven you" (Mt. 9:2). He says to worriers about tomorrow, "take no thought for the morrow" (Mt. 6:34). He says to bedeviled people, "You are free." Jesus wants to teach you of His heavenly Father, the One you're afraid of. The One you think might have secret plans to damn you, hurt you, make you pay for your sins. Jesus says, "Learn from Me by being yoked to Me." A young ox was yoked to an older ox to learn how to plow. If you've ever seen an oxen yoke it's hard and heavy. But not so Jesus' yoke. He says it's easy and light.
Being yoked to Jesus you go where He goes, and what do you see? You see the Father's wrath and damnation, but it's all directed toward the Son. It's the holy Son that the Father forsakes on Good Friday not the guilty you. It's the pure Son who bears the wrath and lash of men and God, not the dirty you. It's the unblemished Son, the Father sends to hell not the pimpled you. But the Son doesn't stay in hell or in the grave. He rises to preach forgiveness of sins in His Name to all nations. That's the message the Father wants preached: forgiveness to sinners not because they are sorry, try hard or even because they believe but just for Jesus' sake.
"In times like these" or any other where Sin, Death, and Devil anguish us with our past, terrorize us with our future, or agonize us with our present, we get the idea of 2 different Gods. There is Jesus, kind and merciful toward sinners, humbly accepting the fellowship of filthy wretches like us, and gentle with our sinful weaknesses. And then there's the Father who is a jealous God visiting His wrath upon sinners: neither gentle with sinners nor humble in heart. He's the 800 pound gorilla who does what He pleases, where He pleases.
No, no, no! There is only One God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This one Triune God wills to provide rest for your soul. This rest isn't provided by means of satisfying your curiosity, answering all your questions. No, the rest provided is for infants. You don't approach infants through their intellects but through their ears, mouth, and skin.
That's how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit come to you. On your skin, the Waters of Baptism bring you into the Triune God. Into your ears comes God's Word of forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting. Into your mouth, the Body and Blood of God the Son is placed and God's immortality swallows up your mortality. Who can understand how Water, and Words, Bread and Wine can do such great things? We can't understand these miracles anymore than Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum could understand those done by Jesus among them. Neither do we know why we rejoice in these miracles and others reject them and are lost.
There are some questions only a Father can answer. But once you're firmly rooted in the fact that the Father is head over heels, over the top, in love with you through the Son, the answers aren't nearly as important nor the questions nearly as frightening. Once you've rested in the unconditional love the Father has for sinners, that is, once you've been washed in Baptism, forgiven by Absolution, and fed by Communion you too can say with Jesus, what pleases God that pleases me. His good pleasure can't be against me. There is rest in this area in every circumstance, place, and time. Even in, no especially in, "times like these." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20200719); Matthew 11: 25-30