Rest Area Ahead
A familiar 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 little areas of rest provide. A place to stretch your legs, get a drink, use the restroom. Jesus speaks to us of a rest area today, and boy do we need it.
First, you have to know the context. The text let's you know this is important when it begins, "At that time." At what time? At the time Jesus denounced Chorazin, Bethsida, and Capernaum for not repenting though they had seen Him do miracles. He says that if what had been done in those cities had been done in the Old Testament towns of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, those would have repented. Jesus says those very cities will rise up in judgment against the cities that rejected Him.
So the context of our text is judgment, damnation, sending people to hell. And what does Jesus do? Weep? Plead? Forgive? Nope. He praises the Father for this! He praises the Father for hiding His salvation from the wise and learned. People who are too smart for God. People who think since they can ask questions that God doesn't answer they're smarter than God. People who are admired in the world for their brains. Jesus says, "I praise You Father that you have hidden repentance from the likes of these." And why does Jesus says the Father did it? He doesn't say 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 hid repentance from the wise and learned "because this was Your good pleasure."
Jesus isn't like me. He doesn't 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 horse saying, "What about the people in those cities who never heard about You?" O that sounds pious and loving, doesn't it? But it's really impious and damnable since it claims to be more loving and wiser than God. "Yes, I would be more loving to people then God is. I wouldn't damn those never hearing, and I would be smart enough to make sure they all actually heard."
Do you know what Jesus' words really expose? Not that the people in Chorazin, Bethsida, 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 judgment, 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," the way He sees fit, without any explanation other than, "That's the way I like it." That scares me. Why? Because it might be His good pleasure today to damn bald people. Tomorrow His good pleasure might be for earthquakes to shake Texas. His good pleasure might be for you to have a wreck on the way home. You can talk to me all day long about being a little child whom God reveals Himself too. I can't do that. The good pleasure of God scares me too much.
Well, don't approach God that way. The only way Jesus points us to God is through Him. Our text opens with Jesus standing with us and speaking to the Lord of heaven and earth. Although Jesus is also Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn't grab on to that title but takes His place beside us speaking to God from earth, from our dirt and dust. Then this Dirt of our dirt, this 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 does that by telling us that all things, like judgment, 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 has said you're afraid of everyone else's father but your own. 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 behind damning so many and His unsearchable 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 is really saying 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. That's why right after Jesus tells us anyone He chooses to reveal the Father to can know Him, He goes on to say, "Come to Me."
First Jesus speaks to the Lord of heaven and earth. Then He speaks to us about how this Lord had committed all things to Him and how He can make known this Lord 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 from trying to explain the ways of God? How can a loving God send people to hell? Why doesn't God stop this from happening? 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! What God does and why God does it is such a heavy load! You need a rest area, don't you?
Jesus promises one. Jesus promises He is the place you can stop and drop your load. There's no better feeling than being able to 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 dump all such questions on Jesus.
Jesus will teach you about the Father who scares so many with His eternal damning and inexplicable good pleasure. Jesus will teach you that this Father is really gentle and humble at heart. Jesus will teach you the Father doesn't desire the death of even the wicked; that's He's not willing that any should perish but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. The ministry of Jesus shows us that the Father says to sinners depressed in their sins, "Cheer up; your sins are forgiven you." He says to adulterers caught in their sins, "Neither do I condemn you." 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, "You can 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 a yoke for oxen it is hard and heavy. But not so the yoke of Jesus. He says His is easy and light.
Being yoked to Jesus you go where He goes, and what do you see? O you do see the Father's wrath and damnation, but it's all directed toward the Son. It's the Son that the Father forsakes on Good Friday not you. It's the Son who bears the wrath and lash of men and God, not you. It's the Son the Father sends to hell not 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.
If we would enter this rest area, we've have got to get over this picture 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. Then there's the Father who is a jealous God visiting His wrath upon sinners: neither gentle with sinners nor humble in heart.
No, there's is only One God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and these 3 agree. They want to provide with rest for your soul. Now They don't provide rest by means of satisfying your curiosity or answering all your questions. They don't provide rest by letting you remain in your sins. No, the rest They provide is fitting for infants. You don't approach infants through their intellects but through their ears, mouth, and skin, and you don't leave infants in the mess of their diapers or the dirt they've gotten into.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit come to you. On your skin, they pour baptismal Water to wash away your filth and bring you into the Triune God where you are reborn a new creature who wants nothing to do with his old sins. Into your ears They preach forgiveness of your besetting sins and impart the courage and strength to break with them. Into your mouth, they place the Body and Blood of God the Son, and God's immortality swallows your mortality. And faith says, "Amen; I am truly freed of this living death."
Who can understand how Water, Words, Bread, and Wine can do such great things? We can't understand these miracles anymore than the people of Chorazin, Bethsida, and Capernaum could understand those done by Jesus among them. Neither do we know why we rejoice in these miracles of grace and are saved while many others reject them and are lost, nor why we enter the rest area of Jesus and others do not.
There are some questions only a Father can answer. But once you've rested in the unspeakable, unconditional love the Father has for sinners, that is, once you've been washed in Baptism, fed in Holy Communion, and forgiven in Absolution, the answers aren't near as important, and the questions aren't near as frightening. Then you can say with Jesus, "What pleases God that pleases me" because His good pleasure can never be against me. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20110731); Matthew 11: 25-30