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When You Are Weary / Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 11:25-30

28Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

One of the amazing facts about people is how alike we are. We share the same hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes. Even in a world of almost 8 billion people, there are certain universal things that most people agree on.

To prove this, I’m going to read a series of statements. If you agree that a statement is true in your life, raise your hand. Or maybe don’t.

Here’s the first one: I’m a really good singer in the shower or in my car.

Here’s the second: My pet understands me when I talk to it.

Or: my pet is smarter than the average person.

Or how about this one? I punch the elevator button more than once, even when I know it won’t do any good.

When driving, I turn down the car stereo so I can see better.

Calories don’t exist on birthdays or holidays.

And here’s the final one: Everyone needs a nap sometimes.

Isn’t it reassuring to know that we all agree on certain vital issues?

In our Bible passage this morning from Matthew 11, Jesus addresses another issue almost all of us can agree on: we’re weary and heavy burdened. And we need relief.

A mom from New Mexico wrote to Reader’s Digest to share her preschooler’s advice for dealing with one of the major stresses in life–work.

When her mom said she was too busy with work to play right now, her preschooler replied, Mom, I have advice for you. When people tell me to do work, I don’t listen to them. Then I don’t have work to do. It works for me. You should try it. That child may be a genius, but something tells me real life doesn’t work that way.

There has never been a time in human history when people have lived stress-free lives. But the accumulated, unrelieved stress that many of us experience in our daily lives makes us particularly weary. It becomes a physical, mental, and spiritual burden. And we complain, why can’t my doctor help me with my fatigue?

The Commissioner of the Medical Board of California was responsible for giving oral examinations to young doctors who were applying for their California medical license. He says he was surprised how few of them realized that fatigue is commonly caused by stress. In almost every exam, the young physicians gave him a list of physical illnesses caused by fatigue, but almost no one suggested stress as a source of that fatigue. Doctors are still being taught the disease/drug equation; for every disease there is a drug or will be soon. But we already have something more powerful than any drug ever devised, and it’s exactly tailored to our needs; [it’s] our spirit. Unleashed, the spirit can be a whirlwind of health, happiness, and success in life. When your spirit is weak you are filled with pessimism and gloom; you feel small and helpless; you wonder if it’s possible to find any joy in life.

I believe that he may be on to something very real and very promising, but how do we unleash our spirit? The answer can only be found in the One who created our spirit. So, the answer begins with giving our weariness to Jesus.

That brings us to our text for today. I want us to hear these words as the average Jewish citizen in Jesus’ day might have heard them. Because I think we’ll discover that their burdens were like ours. They faced all the normal burdens we face daily financial strain, family issues, health concerns. Plus, they were burdened by the demands of a legalistic religious system that convinced them they could never do enough to be righteous in God’s sight. So, their religious life may have been a source of guilt and stress, too. And then, imagine their relief, and their wonder, when they hear Jesus say, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

This is more proof to me of the awesome and gracious relationship God has with us. This relationship is not a one-way street. And we don’t have to bring our “best selves” to God. We can bring our weary, anxious selves to Him and exchange our burdens for His rest. The Greek word used in verse 28 for “give you rest” is also translated as “refreshed.” Have you ever been so weary that even sleep and down-time don’t restore your energy? The rest Jesus is offering us is true refreshment, where body, mind and soul are energized, restored, and at peace.

Jesus follows up this invitation with the words, Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Animals that are yoked together work more effectively than either animal could do alone. The yoke keeps the animals facing in the same direction-forward. The yoke helps them to share the weight of the load. And the yoke keeps them walking in step with each other. I want us to examine how being yoked to Jesus gives us rest for our souls.

First of all, when we are yoked to Christ, we have the assurance that we are never alone.

The second thing we discover when we are yoked to Jesus is that He offers us His strength to carry our burdens. We are not alone, and we don’t have to rely on our own strength. Paul demonstrates the joy and relief that come from relying on Jesus’ strength in Second Corinthians 12. Paul has been struggling with some kind of burden that is so overwhelming he begs Jesus to take it away.

But Jesus answers him, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Paul goes on to say that he will boast about his weaknesses so that Christ’s power would rest on him for “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10). We rarely appreciate the incredible gift Jesus is offering us until our own strength is depleted and we are ready to give up.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was on the brink of giving up. It was 1956. He had received a telephone call threatening his life. He had received such calls before, but the accumulation of threats to his life plus the knowledge that his wife and children were at risk as well, caused him to wonder if he should throw in the proverbial towel and walk away for good.

But, at midnight, he bowed over the kitchen table and began to pray. These were the words he said: I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.

As he prayed, he said he experienced the presence of God as he had never experienced Him before. He reports that it seemed as though he could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.

And that is exactly what he did. And the rest, as they say, is history. When we are yoked to Jesus, He offers us His strength to carry our burdens.

The final thing we discover when we are yoked to Jesus is that He offers us His peace. Finding the rest for our souls is what Jesus promised. Jesus embodied the goodness and faithfulness of God. Our peace comes from Jesus living in us through the Holy Spirit, continually reminding us of these qualities. Meditating on the goodness and faithfulness of God defends us from anxiety and fear and hopelessness.

A man was in the cardiac ICU a few years ago. The man had experienced complications from a recent heart surgery, and he was scared, exhausted, helpless. As he contemplated his life, he realized that he had never been at peace. Peace was the one thing he needed most.

Then one morning, the hospital chaplain stopped by for a short visit. The chaplain made some small talk, then offered to read a Bible passage and pray with the man. The man was hardly paying attention to the chaplain’s visit until he heard the Bible passage the chaplain had chosen. It was Jesus’ words from John 14: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

The man said that these verses struck him “like a spiritual hammer.” The hospital chaplain had no idea of this man’s struggles. Yet he just happened to choose the very words of Jesus that spoke to this man’s deepest need. Peace. The ICU patient realized that the peace he needed could only be found in Jesus Christ, and he began that day to yoke his life to Jesus, to walk in step with the Master, and he found the peace that could be found in no other source but in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.

Jesus never said He would protect us from all problems. He never said He would make our lives easier. But in John 16:33, Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. When we yoke our lives with Jesus, when we walk in step with Him, we are taking on His perspective on our lives, His purpose, and His promise that in Him we will find rest for our weary souls.