The Yoke's on You
You know the sermon title is not a typo. You know I know the expression is "The joke's on you." You know based on the text that I'm making a play on words with "The yoke's on you." What you don't know is that I'm making more than a play on words; I'm making play for your souls.
The joke's on you because God is at work in this divine comedy. The Divine Comedy is Dante's epic poem. Two thirds of it is spent in Hell or Purgatory, only one third in Heaven. That proportion or worse is our experience in this fallen world. We see this in our text. Jesus words are introduced by, "At that very time." At what very time? At the time John the Baptist was having agonizing doubts about Jesus being the Christ; at the time John's and Jesus' ministry were being rejected; at the time the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were showing incredible impenitence.
Jesus' ministry is being rejected two times or more often than it was being received. Yet what does Jesus say? "I praise You, Father." Jesus isn't bummed by the poor results of His preaching and teaching. He praises God for both revealing and concealing the things of salvation. He doesn't say, "Back to the drawing board. We have to find out why the majority of the church leaders rejected the Baptism of John and My preaching. We need a better evangelism program in the cities." No the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus' name was hidden by God from the wise and learned and only revealed to babes with nothing in their head, heart, or hand to offer God.
And look where Jesus leaves the matter. When I see the Gospel rejected in impenitence or unbelief, I try to sort out the reasons for it, tease out an explanation, make some sense of it. The joke's on me. Jesus leaves such weighty matters in the hidden God's good pleasure. He says "yes" to the good pleasure of God to conceal His saving Gospel from brains and to reveal it babes. I say, "It doesn't make sense; I can do better; why doesn't God do this or that?"
The joke's on me because the hidden, unknowable God who scares me with a good pleasure I can't get my head around is at work only in the visible Person and Work of Jesus. Isn't that what Jesus says in our text? "All things have been committed to Me by My Father." I like the translation "handed over to Me" better. All things are in Jesus' hands now. And those hands have nail holes.
Too soon? Too soon to head for the Gospel. I think not. When you're talking about God's hidden will and God's good pleasure to conceal salvation from anyone, that' troublesome; that's a trip through Purgatory if not Hell. So stop me from seeing all things in the hands of the God who has no hands, in the hands of the God who is hidden from me, in the hands of the God who throws lightening bolts, quakes the earth with a touch, and seems to use hands He doesn't have to cover His ears to my prayers. No, show me all things in the hands of the God with hands.
All the Laws of God that expose me and convict me of the serious sinner that I am were put in Jesus' hands and He kept them. Here's the list said the invisible Father, and the Son took it in hand and went to work on it. You know how good you feel when you can check a to-do list off? This is one list you could never have checked off even one thing, but Jesus did one after the other.
But the Law doesn't just command things; it demands punishment when those things aren't done. This too was placed in Jesus' hands. That's why they are nail pierced. The Law exposes what you did last summer or as Scripture says it put your secret sins in the light of God's countenance. And God's wrath can't but break out against them. Just as the arrows of God's wrath are flying out of the darkness to strike you, to kill you, to damn you Jesus steps up and says I'll take those. "For Thine arrows stick fast in Me," Jesus says in Psalm 38. Though Job said the following only Jesus really felt it: "For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me."
All things pertaining to the salvation of fallen humanity were placed into the hands of the only God with physical hands. Into the hands of the One whose hands grew in Mary's womb; into the hands of the One who worked with His hands as a carpenter; into the hands of the One who would not use His hands to snuff a smoldering wick; into the hands of the One who spread those hands to be nailed to a cross in your place were placed all things concerning your salvation.
The joke's on me. Here I thought the heavy, scary things of salvation were in the hands of the God I can't see, but they're really in the hands of the God who hands me Baptism to give me salvation, who hands me Absolution to send my sins away, who hands me His Body and Blood to seal the deal. But then I quit laughing when I hear, "No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Just when I think I'm safe from the hidden counsels of God, I hear that the Son chooses to reveal the Father to some.
Is the joke of my salvation back on me? This last part really could tip the understanding of this text "in an exclusionary direction" (Gibbs, 589). It's totally up to the Son to whom He will reveal the saving Father. Maybe it will be to me; maybe it won't be. But Jesus saves us from the joke being on us by the yoke being.
If you stop with it being up to the Son who gets salvation revealed to them, you might end with a gulp. But Jesus doesn't stop here. The thought introduced in the first paragraph and seemingly reinforced by the Son in the second is that only some see the Lord's salvation. But Jesus says "Come to me, all." Just as we head into the pit of uncertainty not just at the hands of the hidden God but God revealed in Jesus, Jesus jerks us back by saying, "Come to me, all," not "some," not "most," not "many," but "all."
Jesus even defines His terms. He tells you who the "all" are. Are you weary with your sins, your self, your fears, your responsibilities, with trying to justify yourself? Then you're invited to come to Jesus for rest. Are you burdened? I don't think "burdened" does the Greek word justice. It's a perfect, passive. That means the load is put on you and it's staying there. The Law can do that to you; your own conscience can do that to you; others can do that to you. Are you burdened this way? Then you can know for certain that Jesus wants you to come to Him for rest.
Then Jesus says a strange thing. He unites rest with learning. This is an apparent contradiction of Scripture and is definitely one in life. "'No other teacher, since the world began, has ever associated learn with rest.' Learn of me,' says the philosopher, and you shall find restlessness'" (Vincent, I, 69). I don't recall one class in college that didn't make me restless, but that's not surprising what's surprises you is I said Jesus' promise of rest from learning is an apparent contradiction of Scripture. Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 12:12, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." Wearies is the opposite of rest.
So is the joke really on us because Jesus here apparently contradicts Scripture? No the joke's not us, well not if Jesus' yoke is. First we have to get of our heads the image of animals being yoked together, of Jesus side by side with us plowing the field of life. I've never been yoked to anything or anyone, but I've carried my end of a four man litter, and there's no way the guy next to you makes your load any easier. If you can't lift your 25%, the only way the guy next to you can help is to take all if it not some of it.
Jesus doesn't point you to being under an animal yoke with Him. He says, "Take My yoke upon you." The Man Jesus Christ isn't talking about an animal yoke; He's talking about a human yoke. These were made of wood, fitted to the shoulders making it easier for a person to carry a load. You might have seen them in movies where someone is carrying water or grain or even meat on either end of a wooden yoke balanced on his neck. A human yoke is not a two-man tool. So, gone is the picture of you and Jesus sharing a load. Okay, then how can Jesus say His yoke is easy and His burden light?
Back to the joke being on you. Virtually all English translations have Jesus saying, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart." The "for" is causal; sometimes it's translated "because." "Learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble." Neither in the Greek translation of the Old nor in the New Testament are there examples of "learn" followed by the casual "because." There are two places where "learn" is followed by a statement of what is to be learned. So Jesus invites us to learn something about Him and promises the result will be rest (Gibbs, 583-4). Jesus says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me that I am gentle and humble."
Learn not because Jesus is gentle and humble learn that He is. He's not the Medieval Jesus who delights in casting sinners into hell. He's not a hidden God who leaves you unsure of how He feels about you. He's the Good Samaritan who won't turn away from bloodied sinners; He's the Father who welcomes prodigals stinking of their sins; He's the king who invites all to His wedding feast and freely forgives debts. He's the God who forgave Peter's denial, Paul's murder, and us for crucifying Him.
Learn that Jesus is gentle and humble not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus wants to teach you in sermons, in Bible classes, in the Waters of Baptism and in the Bread and Wine of Communion that there is no sin that you have committed, no Law that you have broken, no doubt or temptation you have that He cannot give you rest from. Slip this Jesus on and the yoke will be on you while the joke will be on the sin, the Law, the doubt, or temptation that is powerless to rob you of the rest of your salvation. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20140727); Matthew 11: 25-30