Our series: Jesus…the Equal Opportunity Offender picks up with this question:
“What if we struggle to accept Jesus’ offensive ways?”
(If you haven’t checked out the previous posts, find them here.)
Jesus addresses those dissatisfied by His methods in the next verses of Matthew 11:
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. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 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. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Jesus is saying in as many words, “Woe to you who see good works, who hear the testimonies of the church, and act like dissatisfied children who don’t repent.”
Apparently, being offended by Jesus includes a lack of repentance.
Now in this context, the dissatisfied children Jesus is speaking about are the religious leaders (the wise and understanding). They had been kept in the dark. They were the confused and dissatisfied (with how John had come, with how Jesus had come).
But it is God’s gracious will that His way has been revealed to little children:
“25 At that time 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. 27 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.'”
To the children who are ready to accept his potentially offensive ways…
to the children who are in the wilderness looking for Him…
to the children who are willing to hear the abrasive message of repentance…
to the children who wrestle and submit in repentance…
to the children who are suffering, hurting, enduring the discomfort…(all of us, really)…
He makes this grace-filled invitation:
“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus is such an amazing poet. He’s been talking about all of His offensive methods for the entirety of the chapter…and then this verse!
We have come to hear it in church and immediately exhale…”ahhh, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest… YES!”
But upon careful inspection, Jesus continues in the same way as the previous verses using an image of slavery and controlled labor to give a message of freedom and mercy. The same imagery is seen in the message of the cross: an instrument of death through which we are given life.
It’s more wilderness, more uncomfortable clothing…a backwards method. It’s Jesus’ way of doing things. But, if we accept the offense, it’s a gracious and merciful invitation to LEARN from Him.
When we yoke ourselves to Jesus, He does the heavy lifting.
Imagine a little boy and his daddy cutting the grass with a push mower. The boy is not really doing anything. The daddy is doing all the work. Yet, the son is receiving the satisfaction of completing the hard task and he is learning from his daddy how to cut in straight lines and turn the mower around a tree.
Or, imagine moving furniture with someone who is 10x stronger than you. You really aren’t doing much. They are carrying the brunt of the couch, but you gain the satisfaction that comes form completing the task. You also learn how to work with others, how to watch the corners when going up the stairs, how to flip a mattress on end to fit through a door. You learn things from the experience that will allow you to be more of a help when the next friend needs help moving.
As mentioned in posts 1 -3, in our weariness or burdens we can ask, “I hear stories of this Jesus…has He really come? I don’t feel any relief from the pressures of this world!” Jesus answers us , “Yes! See all that I’ve done and continue to do!”
But, knowing our weakness and proclivity to dissatisfaction, He warns against discontentment–not being satisfied with Him, not trusting his “backwards way of doing things”.
He always has our best interests in mind.
Not all suffering comes from the Father, for sin has produced all kinds of suffering and trials that I believe He would rather us not endure. BUT, we cannot forget Romans 8:28:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
He gives us an illustration that through suffering, He will carry the heavy load of it for us. We will get to be a part of the suffering, because there is good stuff to learn in it…meekness and lowliness of heart to name two… AND, the satisfaction that we made it through.
We gain the irreplaceable experience that makes us an asset to the body of believers. So that when those around us are tempted to look to another, we can share a story that bears witness to Jesus’ power.
If I needed to move furniture and someone came in and just did it for me, I wouldn’t gain anything, except softer hands (like the softer clothing mentioned earlier in Part 2).
Jesus doesn’t want us to be soft-handed wimps. We are to be servants, down knee-deep in the nitty-gritty.
In fact, later in Matthew Chapter 23, verses 2-4 he addresses a crowd of people and his disciples speaking of the pharisees saying:
“(they) sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
He doesn’t want us to be like the pharisees, unwilling to lift a finger. That’s not how He does things. The people wanted an earthly king, but Jesus came as a servant. The people wanted a religious rule-follower, but He broke all the rules to show mercy to others. We often want Him to come and make our suffering disappear and avoid any lifting at all.
But instead He says, “It’s good for you to walk through this. I will be with you…carrying most of the weight, in fact, but it’s good for you to have that cart behind you. I will send my messengers into the wilderness. I will dress you in uncomfortable clothing and give you a hard-to-receive message.”
But we have…to… trust… Him.
There is good not just at the end of our suffering but good while we are in it, and He provides rest for us, and a light yoke to Him in the midst of it.
HOW does He make our burdens light???
When the downpour of all the rain in our area last October finally ceased, at first glance, our yard appeared brown and dry and malnourished. It looked as if under the weight of all that water it had been damaged. However, it wasn’t brown grass that I was seeing.
It was pine needles.
The weight of the water knocked thousands of tiny, lightweight needles out of the pine trees putting a protective blanket over the grass. In all actuality, the grass was thriving from the abundant moisture. From the outside, it looked like it had suffered terribly, but within, it was experiencing great growth.
So it is with suffering and the burdens that lie in our carts. With an untrained eye, it can look like the world and our lives have gone to pot.
But upon closer look, with great intentionality and training, we can see the good lying beneath…under the suffering.
We can see that while from a distance the blanket of needles looks overwhelming and suffocating, in reality, each needle is feather-light.
It is Jesus and His word who train our eyes and hearts in seeing this distinction.
This is how our burden becomes light: He unveils the good and helps us deal with one needle at a time.
When we feel weary and burdened, it is especially essential to invest time yoking ourselves to Him so that He can carry the brunt of our load. We do this by spending time reading and learning from His word, listening to Him in prayer, and worshipping Him with our hearts.
But remember, it’s a yoke! So it might feel offensive at times. His words of truth might challenge us, might steer us onto a different path than we would have ourselves go.
Does He have our attention? Will we let Him offend us and our worldly ways? Will we sit still long enough for Him to put on the yoke? Will we allow contented suffering due to His promise of true rest?
Spend some time with me ‘yoking’ to this:
“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5: 5-11