November 16, 2010
Reading the gospels in massive chunks is and interesting challenge. All I really want to write about tonight is 11:28-30, in which Jesus talks about rest, but it seems like cheating. There is some difficult stuff in these chapters, a lot of stuff that I don’t understand. But what’s the point of setting out to read the whole Bible if you only focus on the bits you like?
So, I shall have to admit that Jesus uses a lot of strong and difficult words in Matthew 11-13. He tells unrepentant cities that they will be judged heavily (11:20-24); warns that bad trees bear bad fruit (12:33-37); uses the refrain ‘this evil generation’ whole lot; and says that ‘evildoers’ will be thrown into a fiery furnace on several occasions. Scary stuff.
He also tells a lot of parables in chapter 13. It turns out that the kingdom of heaven is like loads of stuff! A mustard seed, yeast, a net, a merchant… Jesus is concerned that we know that God’s kingdom is powerful and valuable, these stories entice us to go after this kingdom. They come thick and fast, and in varying degrees of comprehendibility. It’s like an onslaught of cryptic wisdom! When Jesus asks the disciples if they have understood all his parables in 13:51 they say “yes”…but I’m not convinced they really did…does anyone?
But among all the warnings and woes, parables and prayers, Jesus makes what is, for me, one of his most powerful speeches;
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (11:28-30)
When I read these words it’s like my whole being breathes out. Relief floods me. God is offering me refuge, rest.
These gentle words defuse the otherwise harsh impact of much of what he is saying in chapters 12 and 13. His warnings of wrath are preceded by an offering; an offering of another way of living. An option for the world-weary to choose rest.
A God that offers rest. That’s the kind of God we need. Yes he is angry with the spiritual blindness of many, yes he doesn’t mind telling them how it is, but he is not a God who demands only submission. He also offers to take our burdens.
The world demands constant activity, unceasing productivity. We are valued by how much we do, not who we are. Being “self-sufficient” is something to aspire to. Being busy has become synonymous with being a good person. But Jesus’ measure is very different. He asks if you are with him (12:30), he asks if you value God’s kingdom above all else (13:44-46).
Accepting the invitation to lay down your burdens is a radical thing to do. To stop implies a deep trust in God; that he will do even if you don’t. It also requires you to stop caring about what the world thinks for a minute, or a day.
So rest a while. Be still and know that He is God. Trust that life will go on while you pause. How better to choose the ways of the kingdom of heaven?