It is weird out there, is it not? I mean yesterday we celebrated the 244th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a moment in history that radically changed the course of world events. Those brave and daring colonist flexed their muscles of freedom and independence and were willing to go to war to have it. Independence Day is marked every year by great celebrations, by fireworks and parades and barbeques and picnics and concerts and baseball games and family gatherings. But not this year. No, this year the beaches are closed and the fireworks shows have been cancelled. Gatherings and parties and celebrations have been discouraged as the plague of coronavirus fears continues to keep America socially distant from one another.
It all gets exhausting, does it not? This weird and unsure time we live in. We go from fear, to encouragement to the opening of things to going out again, back to more fear and new rules and facemasks and closures and around and around it goes. And what we would love is some rest. Not a nap in the middle of the day, but that sounds like a good start. What we want is true rest where you do not have to worry where you can simply enjoy a real lasting peace. Rest, rest is that elusive thing we spend a lot of time seeking and not a lot of time finding. We may want rest from the fears of a virus or the injustice of our land, we may want rest from the confusing news and the confusing political agendas that seem to drive it, but achieving it is another thing. To just be at peace, to have comfort and assurance, that is the rest we want.
For many, when they think of their faith, they think of rest. The people of God tend to turn towards the practices of their faith to find that elusive peace in our lives. But over the past few weeks we have heard time and again the stark and shocking words of Jesus who says things like, “Do not think I have come to bring peace on the earth, I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). He even says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). The call of discipleship is not one where we will find rest in this world, at least not rest in the company of those who do not share our faith. But they are all around us. These are the very ones we work with, the ones we care about, the ones we call friends and family, we love them and care for them. So, even though we may not want to admit it, there is tension felt within our lives because of our faith. Your faith sets you at odds with others, it does not automatically give you rest, in fact it seems that most of the time it will bring your trials and suffering.
Our longing for this rest and the pressures for our age that seem to always deny us from possessing it, cause us to go on a search for the best means to get a hold of it. If it does not simply come by having faith, if it is not a given in our life, then we figure there must be something needing fixing, something we must overcome if we are going to finally reach that rest. And the quest begins. We know there is a way in which we are to live as the children of God, there is a measure, a standard for your lives. God established His Ten Commandments, not ten suggestions for Christian living. They are commanded. They are expected and we figure the lack of peace in our lives, the lack of rest is due to your failure to keep the Law, to walk the narrow way, to be faithful in your thoughts, words and deeds. So, if you are going to have rest you need to get to work.
If only you could stop those lustful thoughts that cloud your mind and increase the anxiety of your heart, then you might find rest. If only you were able to speak the truth in love and not bend the truth to suit your own needs to make sure you were always kept in the best light, perhaps then you would find rest. If only you were able to forgive others, if you were able to find a way to let go of the rage and hurt lurking deep within your own heart, maybe then you could have that long awaited rest. And as you begin this journey inward you find that if you are honest with yourself it gets bleak in there. You root out one sin, one point of failure and drag it into the light in hopes of finding some rest only to find there is another one lurking behind it, and another one behind that, and another behind that.
All the while, as you set about your task to clean out your life, God Himself stands over you, watching you. Eventually He clings to your back to point out the next sin and the next one and the one after that. Slowly you begin to realize it is not any use. There is no end to this endeavor and so there will not be any rest for you. You are sinners, every one of you, sinners through and through. Underneath every sin lies a hundred more. Like cockroaches they scurry off into the darkness to multiply and grow. You have a problem, a huge problem that will not allow you to have any rest, and His name is God. If God is your problem where will you run? Where will you turn? What hope is there for you to find any rest now?
Our Lord speaks to us today about receiving this rest, about locating and possessing true and lasting rest. He prays to our Father in Heaven and says, “I thank you, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, father, for such was your gracious will” (Matthew 11:25-26). These things, these means of rest are hidden from the wise and understanding. It is not grasped by strength or power or this age. Instead, it is revealed to little children. This gift of rest is something given by God, not earned, not discovered but revealed by His mercy to you.
Now, He goes on to describe the movement of this gift in a bizarre and curious way. It is certainly something that is outside of our ability to control or manipulate. Your works no matter how spectacular and praiseworthy do not seem to be the key to accessing them. Jesus says, “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” (Matthew 11:27). That, to me, sounds like a closed system between the Father and the Son and the gift of rest lies safely inside of it. You are decidedly on the outside of the whole affair. The only chance you have, the only hope you are given is if the Son choose to reveal it all to you.
They way to get Him off your back, the way to be done with the quest to cleanse yourself of sin and shame, does not lie in your strength or wisdom or courage but in Christ alone. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30). See, He has called you by name. He has spoken His promises into your ears. He has washed them over your heads and fed them to you in His gifts. He has revealed to you the rest of the Father. For in Christ you are reconciled, restored as the children of God, and made whole again. You are forgiven all your sins.
There is no rest for you in this age, no rest in your works, no rest in your good intentions. But in Christ you are given rest. For in Christ all the work has been done and salvation is yours right now.