The text for our consideration is the Gospel reading we just heard. But before we get to that we’ve got to hear what came right before this.
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes… 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day…”
Sounds like no one was interested in what Jesus was offering. He had done His “mighty works” among them, but they weren’t impressed. And some were downright offended. They might have been interested in adding a bit of ‘spirituality’ or ‘eternal perspective’ to their otherwise ‘mundane’ and ‘live like there’s no tomorrow’ life.
But Jesus was calling them to a FULL BLOWN REPENTANCE, a STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN. He was offering them NEW WINE that required NEW WINESKINS. But they said, ‘thanks, but no thanks. We’ve gotten used to the darkness. We’re pretty sure that the gods that we put our trust in can’t actually give us what we really need – but we’re committed to them – and the thought of dumping all that to follow You is more than we’re interested in.” Or something like that.
All this is in utter contrast to the people of Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom – OF ALL PLACES. These are names that stand out for their full-blown rebellion against God and God’s ways. “They would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” if He had done His “mighty works” there. They would have said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your King is coming to you…”
So, what’s the difference? Why does one say ‘What gives you the right to judge us’ and the other say as we just sang, “Jesus, lead Thou on till our rest is won…”? (LSB #718)
Now we’re ready to hear our Gospel reading for today. “At that time, (that time when “He began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent…”) Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will…”
We might have expected Jesus to “question” His Father and wonder why, after all the work He put in there was so little to show for it. “I did everything You sent me to do Father. And they took offense. They wanted to throw me off the cliff. Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Father?”
But no, He THANKS the Father for THE FAILURE. All things are proceeding according to the Father’s “gracious will.” God is in charge and at work and His ways are not our ways. To those who think that they’re too smart to actually believe that God’s way is actually the RIGHT way and the ONLY way – to the “wise and the understanding” He hides His way.
But to those who are like ‘little children,’ ‘infants,’ those who have seen His “mighty works,” no, have been the beneficiaries of His “mighty works” and say, “yes Lord. I’ll take up my cross and follow You,” to these the Father “reveals” His Son. And they respond to Jesus with the poor, the blind, the leprous of every age – “Kyrie, eleison.” “Lord have mercy.” And they get just that.
This is the way of God, not the way of man. It is the blind who are given sight while the seeing do not see. It is the little children who are given wisdom and understanding while the wise and self-confident remain the fools that they are.
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” In other words, there is no way for the Father to get to you apart from His Son. And there’s no way for you to get to the Father apart from His Son. You can’t have God without Jesus. But with Jesus you get the whole Trinitarian godhead.
And so it is as “little children,” like those from Tyre and Sidon and Sodom, that we hear and receive the Word of the Son, “Come to ME, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Let that little word “all” be as big as the whole world. The invitation is meant for you, whether you’re from Tyre, Sidon or Sodom, or from Chorizin, Bethsaida or Capernaum… whether you’re Muslim or Buddhist or Jew or Atheist, Democrat or Republican, White or Black, Gay or Straight – “Come to Me, ALL who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
This is not a speech or a campaign slogan. This is the Father’s urgent plea to His prodigal sons and daughters whom He loves – Come to Me! It’s the Husband’s cry to His adulterous bride whom He loves – “Come to Me!” It’s the Brother’s cry to His estranged brothers and sisters whom he loves – “Come to Me!”
He sees how ‘weary’ we are. ‘Weary’ from the ‘heavy load’ we’re carrying. And what is this ‘heavy load’ that ‘wearies’ us – that wearies “ALL” who are made in the image of God? Honestly, Jesus doesn’t identify it.
So here’s where the preacher has to make a decision. Does he address ‘heavy loads’ in general without identifying anything in particular? Or does he pick one of the many ‘heavy loads’ that burden the flock and focus on that? And today the preacher chooses to focus on ‘GUILT’ – which certainly applies to ALL. In particular, that ‘subjective’ FEELING of guilt that is the byproduct of that ‘objective’ guilty act.
Who hasn’t felt the ‘heavy’ burden of ‘guilt’? And who hasn’t carried it? And who doesn’t know how ‘guilt’ can drain the joy and the peace and the life right out of us? Who doesn’t know how ‘guilt’ can separate us and alienate us from those who we are ‘guilty’ of betraying and injuring – even God – especially God.
Luther has us tick off a long list of ‘guilt producers’ in his Small Catechism explanation on Confession:
Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?
We all know what guilt does to us. It sends us into hiding from others and even from God. When Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden it the cool of the day, what did they do? “They hid themselves.” Isn’t that how we deal with our guilt? We try to hide ourselves from the person we’re guilty of offending- even God Himself. And the Lord God “called to the man and said to him, ‘where are you’?” “Come to ME! And I will give you rest.”
When the prophet Isaiah ‘saw the Lord,’ he immediately identified his lips as the source of his guilt. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” And which of us can’t identify with him? And the angel touched his lips with a hot coal saying, “see your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And the Lord God said, “Come to me! And I will give you rest.”
Sometimes the guilt that we carry and that wearies our soul is the evil that we have done. But sometimes it’s good that we failed to do. And old Calvin and Hobbes comic illustrates what we all know very well. Calvin, a little boy, is hurtling down a snowy slope on a sled with his friend Hobbes, a tiger. As they speed along, the conversation between the two goes like this:
• Calvin: I’m getting nervous about Christmas.
• Hobbes: You’re worried you haven’t been good aren’t you.
• Calvin: That’s just the question. What’s Santa’s definition of ‘good’? How good to you have to be to qualify as good? I haven’t killed anybody? That’s good, right? I haven’t committed any felonies. I didn’t start any wars… Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty good? Wouldn’t you say I ought to get lots of presents?
• Hobbes: But maybe good is more than the absence of bad.
• Calvin: See, that’s what worries me.
“Come to ME! All you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
It seems as though there is a lot of attention being paid to ‘guilt’ these days. In addition to the ‘guilt’ we carry for what we have done and for what we have left undone, we being loaded up with the guilt of what others have done and have left undone.
We’re all pretty good at laying ‘guilt trips’ on others, even on ourselves – WHETHER THE GUILT IS DESERVED OR NOT. We feel guilty about working too hard and guilty about not working hard enough. We feel guilty about having too much fun and guilty for not having enough fun. And who isn’t weary of it?
How different is the voice of Jesus, who, contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe about Jesus, has not come to lay a ‘guilt trip’ on us – but who has come to set us free from it. “Come to ME! All you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Rather than adding more guilt, WHETHER IT IS DESERVED OR NOT, Jesus takes all of our guilt THAT IS MOST CERTAINLY DESERVED off of us.
A man named John Bunyan wrote a book called “A Pilgrim’s Progress.” The main character is a man named ‘Christian.’ There’s a scene in the story where Christian is carrying a ‘heavy load’ on his shoulders up a steep hill. He ‘labors’ under his ‘heavy load’ until he reaches the top of the hill, which is really not very high at all. At the top the hill there is a cross, and down below, on the other side of the hill is an open grave. As Christian comes to the top of the hill with his heavy load, it is suddenly lifted from him where it drops to the ground and rolls down the other side of the hill and falls into the empty grave.
It shouldn’t be too hard for us to see that “Christian” is actually Christ Himself, who carries the guilt of the whole world on His shoulders up that hill called Golgotha. Pontius Pilate declared, “I find no guilt in this man…” No, that’s our guilt He is carrying.
So when you hear Him cry, “It is finished,” know that He has taken all of your guilt from you and buried it His tomb – and all because it is the Father’s “gracious will” that you might not “labor” and be “heavy laden” with your guilt anymore – that you might have “rest for your soul.’
• Only Jesus can lift your guilt from you and take it away – as far as the east is from the west.
• Only Jesus can revive your soul, and set you free from the ‘waterless pit’ of guilt, and make you His “prisoner of hope.”
He begs you, “Come to me…” “Take My yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
• What could be better than the burden of His cross which unburdens us of our guilt?
• What could be easier than the yoke of His Baptism that carries the one who wears it?
• And what could be lighter than the burden of His Holy Supper that “lifts up your heart” and strengthens your weary soul as you eat it?
These are the “mighty works” that He does here, in this place. Let us say, “Jesus, lead Thou on till our rest is won…”