Reading: Matthew 11:25-30

Question: Why is the Christian faith so widely attractive AND so widely hated?

I believe that the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in the passage we’ve just read hold the answer. About these verses Bishop J.C.Ryle wrote “There are few passages in the four gospels more important than this. There are few which contain…. so many precious truths.” Here Jesus makes the most astounding claims, and he gives the most wonderful invitation. So as we come to these words, let us pray….(Prayer)

Key to understanding the significance of these verses is “revelation” – that is, the way God reveals himself to human beings. The Bible shows us that God discloses himself to us in many ways; through human intellect and values, through conscience, in nature, and in history. But “the centre of all God’s self-disclosure is Jesus of Nazareth. He fulfils all the hopes of the Old Testament: he is the heart of all revelation. In a dark world lit by candles and lamps, he comes as a searchlight”, (Michael Green writes). Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:25-30 make that clear. Our Bibles divide the passage into 3 sections, each of which has revelation at its heart.

Jesus says “these things” are revealed – to the childlike. What things? He probably refers to the situation he had just spoken of in vv20-24. Jesus had done wonderful things in Galilean towns like Capernaum and Bethsaida – preaching, teaching, healing, casting out evil spirits. These things clearly pointed to the coming of the kingdom of God. But many, perhaps most people had refused to respond to Jesus with repentance and trust. In particular, many of the religious leaders rejected Jesus and his message. They considered themselves as “wise and learned”, especially favoured by God.

So Jesus’ words in v25 were a bombshell! God reveals himself and his ways, not to those who pride themselves on their intellectual standing, but to “little children” or “infants” – people who have a childlike attitude (not a childish attitude). In Matthew 18:3 we find Jesus telling his disciples “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, expresses the same truth: “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards… But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things… so that no-one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

And Jesus says that this is pleasing to God: in his wisdom, he intends us to depend on him and his revelation.
Please note that God gives us our minds to be used, not to be left on the shelf. Jesus tells us “love God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). But we do so, not in pride but in humble dependence on him.

Because these things are revealed, Jesus says, to childlike disciples.

Jesus says God the Father is revealed – to and through his Son. Jesus speaks of the perfect union between him and his Father. In John’s gospel, this is emphasised. “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” “The Father knows me and I know the Father.” “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 3:35; 10:15; 14:9)

When the great Indian holy man Mahatma Gandhi was dying, one of his relatives came and asked him, “Babaki, you have been looking for God all your life. Have you found him yet?”
“No,” was the reply. “I am still looking.” Gandhi’s humility, earnestness and honesty shine through his reply.
But what a contrast with Jesus’ words: “No-one knows the Father except the Son”. Not just “knows about God”, but knows God absolutely. And because of that Jesus, & Jesus alone, can perfectly reveal the Father to us, to anyone.
This is the most astounding claim that has ever been heard on human lips. It reminds us of other words of Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Is that why the Christian faith is so widely attractive and so widely hated? In 21st century Britain, many people think that to make such exclusive claims is arrogant, even obnoxious. Our culture tells us “You should be tolerant”; “There is no such thing as absolute truth”; “If there is a God, there are many paths to him/her/it.”
Please note: we should not make exclusive claims for any particular expression of Christianity. We should point people to the exclusive claims of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God is revealed fully, Jesus says, only to and through him.

3. JESUS’ INVITATION (vv 28-30)
Jesus’ heart is revealed – to all who come to him and learn from him. This wonderful invitation is found only in Matthew’s gospel.

a) Firstly, What is the Invitation?
It is simple: “Come to me”; like the invitation to those first disciples “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19). On another occasion Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

b) Secondly,  Who are Invited?
All who are growing weary, all who are heavy-laden. Jesus was probably thinking particularly of people weighed down by the demands of Jewish legalism. Later he speaks of the religious authorities tying up heavy loads and putting them on people’s shoulders (Matthew 23:4).
I love verse 28 in The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me.”
Jesus invites not only those burnt out on religion, but also those exhausted by their search for truth, those burdened by guilt or bitterness or regret. In fact, Jesus invites all who know they need to be rescued.

c) Thirdly, What does Jesus Promise?
Rest: soul-rest.
Hundreds of years earlier, at Mt Sinai God had promised rest to Moses and the Israelites, on their way to the Promised Land. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14) That rest did not mean staying where they were and taking life easy, but it meant journeying with God, trusting and obeying him.

Likewise, the rest that Jesus promises does not mean sitting back and doing nothing. In fact, Jesus says, it means work! “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” The yoke was the wooden collar which oxen wore to enable them to pull the plough. Jewish wisdom literature spoke of “the yoke of the law”: that could be very burdensome. So Jesus here contrasts that yoke with the yoke that he offers – the yoke of being his disciple. “Learn from me”, he says; like a young ox learning alongside a more experienced one. To be a disciple is to be a learner from Jesus. L plate.

And Jesus’ yoke is not harsh, but well-fitting. In fact, it’s what we were made for.
And to take Jesus’ yoke is to discover Jesus’ heart. This is the only place in the Bible where his heart is described – meek, gentle, humble, lowly.

Jesus’ heart is revealed – to all who come to him and learn from him.

Like many invitations, this one carries an RSVP. How will we respond?
We can come to Jesus by faith, expressed in prayer.
“Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come, Jesus, I come;
 into your freedom, gladness and light, Jesus, I come to you.”

We can take his yoke upon us and learn from him, above all through reading or listening to his word and putting it into practice. We need to be intentional about this. Are we soaking ourselves in Scripture? Are we thinking about it and applying it to our lives every day?

To take Jesus’ yoke is to discover his heart, God’s heart, As we do that, his Spirit changes our hearts to become more and more like his.
But, if we follow Christ there is a cross to be carried, there are trials to be endured, battles to be fought. So is Jesus’ yoke too difficult?

I close with some more words from dear Bishop Ryle:
“Jesus’ yoke is no more a burden than feathers are to a bird.”

Prayer (words from a much-loved hymn)
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, O weary one, lay down your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in him a resting-place, and he has made me glad.

Category: Lent , Prayers , Sermons , Services , The Bridge