Of all the stories written about Jesus, Matthew’s gospel is probably the best study of his humanity and his divinity. He was a human being. He had birth, growth, career choice and the burden of suffering for what he said.
Mathew depicts Jesus as worried, weary, burdened. Most of us know the feeling. His cousin John the Baptist was in prison for being critical of King Herod because he was sleeping with his brother’s wife. He also carried within himself all the power and grace of God the Father and God the Spirit..
John was told that great multitudes were following Jesus, his cousin. John sent a question. “Are you the long-expected Messiah, or will that be somebody else?”
Meantime, Jesus was burdened with the multitude’s perception. They were like children whose expectations cannot be met. Have you ever heard children say, “There’s nothing to do around here” – meaning, “I’m bored. Can we go somewhere exciting?”
“We played wedding music for you but you wouldn’t dance. We played funeral music and you wouldn’t wail. What game do you want to play?”
Jesus had a following, but they were discontent. The crowds were not satisfied with his apparent message. When Jesus was in town, he went to parties and banquets and they called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Some people cannot be pleased. In other towns, he had done mighty works, but the people did not believe what they had seen. Above all, they did not believe he had authority to tell them to repent. All these incidents, and more, were worrisome to Jesus.
How can you keep your self-esteem when everybody is asking questions about whether you had picked the right career? Jesus had a source of strength that no one knew about. It is this: he knew himself. He knew he was sent from God the Father on a mission of mercy, love, and self-sacrifice.
Jesus knew his relation to the father gave him a totally unique power and unmistakable approval. The voice from heaven made it plain: “You are my son with whom I am well pleased.”
In this setting, with difficulties on every hand, Jesus must have wondered how he could appeal to those who rejected him, even though they needed him. He thanked his Father in heaven that these things about him were hidden from wise and understanding people, and revealed to babes.
In spite of John’s questions and the poor attitude of the crowds, Jesus knew he was sent from God. He knew his mission was to show God’s love to people in trouble. He was a true friend, and he was willing to tell painful truths to the crowds around him.
Yet, he was misunderstood. How many times has a mother wanted to take her child’s hand for safety, only to have the child pull away to show independence? How many parents wish such refusals were limited to crossing the street?
Jesus of Nazareth, now the resurrected Christ of all ages, wants us to have confidence in him. He is the son of God, the promised Messiah, the sacrificial lamb of God, the healer of our diseases, the bearer of all our burdens, and he asks whether we believe in him, and will we take his help? Or, do we look for something more from God?
After all, God has a funny way sometimes. He terrified Moses by calling him from a bush burning in the desert. He drove prophets into a frenzy so much that Jeremiah, for instance, despaired of his own life.
God selected a people at Mt. Sinai, with a lot of smoke and thunder that frightened them, but then he made an everlasting covenant with them. A few years later he watched while they were herded to Babylon in humiliation. Can we have confidence in him?
The strangest thing God did was to visit us on earth in the flesh, in the body of his Son. And he knew how to relate to people. For instance, when Jesus came to town one day, our favorite sawed off little crook climbed a tree to look over the crowds. Zacchaeus knew he was a crook, knew he was a sinner. He was afraid of what Jesus might say, how he would humiliate him in public. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, he said, “Come on down, invite me to lunch at your house and we’ll talk about the way you cheat people when you collect taxes.” Zacchaeus knew he was a public and moral disaster; Jesus loved him anyway, and that’s the point of that story.
In the same way, Adam and Eve were sure God was after them. They hid from God because they knew they had offended his holiness. They were afraid to admit their disobedience, certain that God would dangle them over the fires of hell. Did God let’em have it? No, he said something like, “Well, you’ve ruined the garden and upset my plans. But we’ll work things out,” except that God did all of the working out.
Judgment in the bible always means the saving judgment of God’s presence. When he comes in judgment, it is only to take hold of our wrong direction and turn us toward himself.
His judgment does not take our life, condemn us to death, but he takes our rush to death and turns it toward life in him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus wants to give us, the burdened, the heavily laden, the misunderstood, the misfits, the victimized — he wants to give all of us the gift of himself. He challenges the winners and comforts the losers. He indicts the righteous and forgives the sinner. To celebrate his victory he seeks the defeated.
God always finds some way to show up on the side of the one in trouble, the one who has fallen down, the one who’s having trouble getting up. Has anyone you know been there?
When the woman who was sleeping around, (passed around would be more accurate), when she was brought to Jesus, he didn’t say to the crowd in its offended righteousness, “You’re right. Let’s punish her.” According to prevailing laws, written by men of course, she should be punished. But God is always on the side of the one who is taking a beating. Jesus found a way to shield her from further hurt. He challenged her accusers to show whether their own self-righteousness could measure up to God’s expectations. They slinked away.
When we fall on hard times, can we have confidence in Jesus Christ? Can we get in touch with God’s love and power by dealing with the carpenter from Galilee?
We are taught in Luther’s catechism, “Not by my own understanding or effort can I believe that Jesus is my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel.” It’s the sin of our humanity to think that we need to win God’s favorable attention with some kind of merit or worthiness of our own. We find it unbelievable that nothing disqualifies us from God’s mercy. Nothing. None of us, sinners every one, has any special status before God.
Here is the whole gospel in a single sentence: Only God’s grace-filled mercy, without our aid, can bring us to the resurrected son. The Son who gave himself on the cross in our place, in love and total unselfishness, is always with us. He comes not to judge with cruel and unrelenting justice. He comes in love and mercy, asking us to accept his direction, to accept his way, his leadership. He asks us to have confidence in him.
By his own death and resurrection, our Lord overcame all the consequences of our sin, overcame all the sting of death so that death is now the door to eternal life. He overcame all the empty promises of the devil and exposed them for the lies that they are.
In giving himself totally to God’s care, he overcame his final burden, the burden of our sin. Now, he who is forever the victorious lamb of God, is the one who is saying, “Come to me…shoulder my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
It is to the living Bread from heaven, that we come. He gives us rest for our souls. With burdens of worry, anxiety, illness, bereavement, guilt, sins, knowing that we have hurt other people, sometimes, the people who love us most, and with desperation, hope, and not nearly enough faith (we think), we come and hold out our hands so that our souls may be nourished on the Bread of Life.
He says, “Come unto me ,” and we answer yes. The Son of God gives us an easy burden. He is gentle. He is humble in heart. His burden is light. With him alone shall we find rest for our souls. O Lamb of God, we come. We come.