Come unto Me (Matthew 11)
1. We come into our Gospel reading this morning right in the middle of a sermon being delivered by Jesus. It started because John the Baptizer sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Coming One. Jesus uses the question to launch into a full-fledged sermon to the crowd gathered around Him. He upbraided the self-righteousness of His time and started denouncing some of the major cities in the region, saying that some of the most despicable places destroyed by God in the Old Testament would have repented if Jesus' miracles had been done in them. Right before our reading starts, He was telling Capernaum, His travelling headquarters, that Judgment Day would go better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them. And you remember what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. So what is Jesus saying?
2. He first says, "I thank You, Father, ... that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding" (v25). Jesus denounces cities where He has preached and they've not listened. Why wouldn't they listen? They didn't believe the message. In fact, Jesus says that the truth of the Gospel has been hidden from them. Why would God hide His saving Gospel from them? They didn't want it. They were trying to devise ways to get to Heaven by themselves. Jesus saw this everywhere. Nothing's changed in two thousand years. We still see people trying to think their way into Heaven. Everyone seems to have some philosophy to help you "be a better you" or "live your best life now" or "do what is within you." They try to logically make sense of the world around them and market that logic to the masses seeking direction in their lives. Philosophy has always been an enemy of the Christian faith. After the Israelites come out from Egypt, they lose track of Moses for forty days and decide they need another god. They make a golden calf like those they saw in the temples in Egypt. "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:5, 8). YHWH, who appeared to them with thunder and lightning, they couldn't handle. YHWH was too wild a god. Now this golden calf they could handle. They could see and touch this god without being scared. The only problem is the true God is a scary God. People, especially those who consider themselves wise and intellectual (or even academic), want to get rid of the scariness of God. But if you take away the terrors of God, how does that affect the Gospel message? Without the terrors, all the sweetness of the Gospel is gone. It's the theological equivalent of replacing sugar with salt. Try eating a pie that has had the sugar left out and replaced by salt. I'd bet you wouldn't make it through an entire piece--if even a bite. Human reasoning and philosophy try to make the Christian faith into a five-step process: confess, repent, believe, be baptized and walk as a Christian. It takes the sweet gift of God and makes it something that you earn by doing these certain things. Making the sweet gift of God's grace the payment for the sweat poured out in His name. But St. Paul says so much against that, especially in his epistle to the Romans. He says, "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23) and "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (7:15). The harder the intellectual, wise academic works and thinks about his salvation, the further away from God he finds himself. That doesn't just apply to people who don't have Jesus as their Savior. It also applies to the people who sit in the pew every Sunday morning listening to the Word of God being proclaimed. The Christian faith is not an intellectual exercise. It's a gift received and grasped by faith--even the faith of a small child (Mark 10:15).
3. So Jesus says, "You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children" (v25). These little children, really infants, are characterized by Jesus in this statement as opposite the wise and intelligent. These infants do not have preconceived ideas about God from their own thinking and understanding. These infants are those that Jesus had earlier classified as "poor in spirit", "meek" and "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:3-6). They recognize just how empty they are and their need for someone to fill that emptiness. What does Jesus say about these infants? "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven", "they shall inherit the earth" and "they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:3-6). God looks for those who are empty so that He can fill them. That's His grace. Nothing is required of us. Everything is done by God. If we needed to be wise and understanding to receive His salvation, those who aren't and can't be wise and understanding would never receive salvation. The Gospel makes all men--whether wise or not--infants in God's sight. The Gospel empties you of all your own ideas and fills you with God's Word. Through that Word, Jesus shows you that He is truly in charge.
4. Jesus says, "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father" (v27). This is the same statement that Jesus gives right before His ascension into Heaven: "All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:18). How can Jesus, being God, have anything handed over to Him? He's confessing that He's also true man, as we confess in the Creed: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, and true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord" (SC II, 4). Luther says elsewhere, "By this He indicates that He is true man, who has received them from the Father. For neither would God deliver all things to on who was only man, nor would one who was only God receive them from another. For neither is it possible for one who is only man to be over all things, nor for one who is only God to be beneath God. Thus in this one person true God and true man are joined together" [Lenski 454]. When were "all things handed over" to Jesus? When He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Why were "all things handed over" to Jesus? So He can reveal the Father to you.
5. Jesus says, "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" (v27). No one KNOWS the Son except the Father. No one KNOWS the Father except the Son. Jesus isn't using the typical word for knowing. This isn't an intellectual exercise like two plus two equals four. It's not that kind of knowing. Jesus says the knowledge shared by the Father and the Son is a more intimate, relational knowledge. This knowledge is deep and penetrating and can only be received by having a relationship. The closest we can come to it in our lives is the marriage relationship. It's not a perfect correlation, but it's the closest. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one and the same essence. Man and woman become one flesh in the marital union. The relationship knowledge comes through communication. What do you have when a husband and wife don't communicate? You have a strained relationship and a lack of intimate knowledge about the other. Now, imagine, if you can, a marriage relationship where the husband and wife are always communicating and always completely intimately knowledgeable of the other. That's a small glimpse of what Jesus says about the Holy Trinity here. There is such perfect knowledge that there can be no more intimate relationship than there is between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But Jesus gives you a great promise here. You can know--REALLY know--the Holy Trinity but only if the Son chooses to reveal these things to you. And that's the very thing He's chosen to do for you. Jesus wants us to know about the Father. That's why He gave us the prayer that begins, "Our Father ..." That's why He continues to talk about the Father as "My Father" and "your Father who is in secret" (Matthew 6:6) and "your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). His mission during His Incarnation was primarily to reveal the Father to you. And this He does through His invitation to everyone.
6. "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (v28). Jesus promises to refresh anyone who comes to Him. He's bringing in the same ideas He said about the wise and the understanding a few verses earlier. Those "who labor and are heavy laden" (v28) are the same people as the wise and the understanding. They are laboring trying to find their own way into heaven. They are heavy laden with the burden that of their uncertainty of whether they've done enough works or not. The more they labor and toil, the more unceratin they feel. It is to these people that Jesus sends His invitation. If they will come to Him, they will receive rest. Everyone receives this invitation because everyone struggles with this burden of uncertainty. It's the uncertainty of striving after what is missing in our lives. But Jesus invites us to see that He will fill our emptiness with His rest. This peace, Jesus says, is "not as the world gives" (John 14:27). This peace comes only from Jesus and His invitation. The "labor" is the "contrition, anxiety, and terrors of sin and death." Coming to Christ happens when you "believe that [your] sins are forgiven for Christ's sake" (Ap XII, 44). So, in this invitation, we have the entire cycle of repentance. Jesus is calling everyone to repentance. The forgiveness of sins is the rest that He offers. His forgiveness relieves you of all the burdens of "contrition, anxiety, and terrors of sin and death" (Ap XII, 44). All He requires is that you take His yoke upon you.
7. Jesus says, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (v30). What is this easy yoke and light burden? It's the Christian life and hope. How is the Christian life easy? Everything's been done by Christ. Your Christian life is simply the reflection of the faith that has filled your once-empty soul being lived out in this world. We reflect the love that has been given to us in everything that we do. The commandments of God no longer weigh us down. We see them as expressions of God's will for us in which we delight and look for ways to express our thanks to God for His blessings of grace. Your yoke is light because you are strengthened by your Lord to carry the burden so that it does not weigh you down. The question remains, "Why? Why should I take this easy yoke and light burden?" Jesus replies, "So that you may learn from Me." It is when we do take the yoke and learn of Him that we find great comfort in passages like our Old Testament reading: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! ... Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation" (Zechariah 9:9). And then we can truly see the wondrous beauty of St. Paul's statement: "Wretched man that I am! who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25). Then we can pray like we did already this morning, "help, save, comfort and defend us, gracious Lord" ("Kyrie", LSB p. 153).
8. Jesus is able to do all this because He is "gentle and lowly in heart" (v29). His gentleness and lowliness are seen so well that He came down to become man so that He could take away our sins. Jesus could have been one to say, "No Father, let them work out their own salvation. I'm busy right now." But He didn't. He said, "Not My will but Thine be done" (Matthew 26:39). May you learn just how gentle and lowly He is as you take His easy yoke and light burden upon you so that He may refresh your soul and give you rest from all your worries. Amen.