Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I will give you rest. Who doesn’t want rest? For me, as a parent of three young kids and especially with a two month old in the house, even just a little more rest sounds like a great thing. I’m not even the one who gets us most of the time in the night to feed Olivia, but I still feel like I could use more sleep. A couple of weeks ago Leah took the kids up to my parents’ house and spent a Saturday night there. I was on my own at home. Leah probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I got the best sleep I’ve had in months that night. It was great. The only problem is that now I know what I am missing every other night. That one good night’s rest just makes me want more!
It’s not just the kids either. Sometimes my mind just doesn’t want to turn off and rest is hard to find. Instead of resting I’m worrying about this or that, trying to solve a problem, making plans, or even writing sermons in my head. My head isn’t always a very restful place. Maybe you can relate to that too.
I know it’s not just me who wants more rest because over the last few months I keep hearing ads over the radio for some kind of fancy pillow. The makers of this pillow promise that if you just try their pillow you will never lose another night of good sleep again. It seems a little over the top, but it’s what people are looking for, a good rest. Everybody wants rest.
Everybody is looking for rest and, in our gospel reading today, Jesus offers up that rest. “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. Of course, Jesus is talking about much more than a good night’s sleep. Jesus is not talking about comfy pillows or sleep that isn’t disturbed by over active brains or restless children. Jesus is talking about a much deeper, much more significant rest than that. The rest Jesus is talking about is a rest for body and soul. It is a total complete rest for our whole being. Sleep is great for the body, but it doesn’t do anything for the soul. Jesus offers rest for the soul. The song we sang at the beginning of our service had a nice way of describing that kind of rest, I think. It said this, “What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all—Here in the love of Christ I stand.”
When fears are still, when strivings cease. That is real rest. That is wellness and wholeness of body and soul. That is peace. When our fears, the things that frighten us, are stilled like the waters of the Sea of Galilee as Jesus brought the storm to an abrupt halt with His Word. Or when our strivings, the things that we chase after, no longer seem so important like how the disciples who once argued about which of them was the greatest watched as Jesus, their lord and master, washed their feet and the died on a cross. When fears are still and when strivings cease. This is real rest, rest for the soul; the rest that Jesus brings.
We may not realize it and most people in the world certainly do not realize it, but we are all looking for exactly this kind of rest. Every religion in the world offers some kind of inner peace or rest. There are self-help books galore offering you the same thing. Everybody is looking for it, but no one seems to know where to find it.
In Jesus day people were looking for this kind of rest too. And, at least on the surface, it would seem like they were looking in the right place. They looked to God’s Word, to the Bible, to the Old Testament Scriptures, and to God’s commands to try and find this rest. If only they could live out these commands and follow those rules, then they would have this rest for their souls. Or so they thought.
You can’t find rest that way though. It will never work. You can try all you want, but it will never bring this kind of rest. It’s not like there is a problem with God’s commandments or anything though. God’s commandments are good and holy. The problem is in us. We can’t keep those commandments. Try as we might we will always fail. If this is the way to find rest then we will never find it. But there is another way.
The whole point of what Jesus is saying in our gospel reading today is that this is not the way to find rest. You can’t find rest for your soul through trying to keep God’s law with all your might, the way to find rest is by coming to Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The most important words there are “me” and “I.” “Come to ME,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest. Don’t look anywhere else, don’t try to find rest for your soul somewhere else, come to me.”
The question that confronts all of us today then is, where do we try to find rest? We try to find rest in all kinds of different places. We think things like, “If I only had a little more (fill in the blank: more time, or money, or vacation days, or family time, or alone time, more leisure time, a more understanding family, a better job, a comfier retirement, better health, or whatever else) then I would have rest.” We tend to think that there is something out there that if we had more of it we would have rest. But the more we get the more we want and the rest is always missing. What we really need is the rest that only Jesus gives.
To understand the rest that Jesus gives and how much we need it we need to understand first where our restlessness comes from. Why does rest seem so elusive, so hard to find? Why do we all feel this need for rest?
The world was not meant to be the restless place that it is. God did not create it that way. In the beginning everything was very good. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden, the worked to take care of the garden, and life was not a chore. Their work was not a burden. Life was filled with rest. But then they sinned and the whole thing fell apart. After they ate the fruit God said this to Adam:
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Life changed when Adam and Eve ate that fruit. Paradise ceased to be paradise. Life became a chore. Rest became hard to find. Life would be hard, working the ground would be painful, by the sweat of their faces (their hard work and effort) people would eat something as simple as bread. Rest would be hard to come by. But even way back then the promise was made that God would undo this whole mess by sending His Son who would bring the rest of heaven to His people.
“Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” When Jesus says those words He is pleading with us, begging us, to come to Him for rest. Rather than turning to someone or something else Jesus invites us to come to Him directly and enter into the rest that He has prepared for us. He begs us to come to His table today and receive that rest right now.
Through His death on the cross Jesus has opened up the rest of heaven to you right now. He gives you this rest, the wholeness of body and soul, right now. It comes to us through the forgiveness of our sins. The curse that was laid on Adam and Eve after they sinned has been undone because Jesus has taken that curse upon Himself. He has suffered the reality of life in this world of sin so that we could enter into the rest that He has prepared for us.
Jesus brings rest to you right now. He brings you the rest of knowing that you do not have to work to get right with God. He brings you the rest of knowing that all of your sins, each and every one of them, are freely forgiven. He gives you the rest of knowing that no matter what happens to you in this life, no matter how dark things get, no matter how much anxiety builds up, not matter how much fear seems to surround you that nothing will be able to separate you from His love, nothing. He brings you the rest that comes from knowing that He has died in your place and risen from the dead so that you will never die eternally but with rest with Him in paradise. Jesus brings this rest to you.
Fancy new pillows or a night without kids or some other thing might help you get a good night’s rest, but real rest comes from Jesus. Everything else is just a band aid. Band aids are good, but they just cover up the problem, they don’t bring healing. Jesus brings healing, He offers a cure. He offers rest to you today for free, there is no cost, “Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest.” In Jesus name. Amen.