Help for the Burdened
By Pastor Vince Gerhardy
There are a whole lot of endings to the sentence that begins, “You know it’s going to be a bad day when ….” Here’s just a few of them
You know it’s going to be a bad day when you turn on the shower on a cold winters morning and all you get is cold water.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when you drop your toast and vegemite and it lands vegemite down on your clean trousers or skirt.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when your wife says, “Good morning, Bill”, and your name is George.
You know it’s going to be a bad day when your car horn goes off accidentally on the way to work and remains stuck as you follow a group of leather jacketed and bearded Hell’s Angels.
In 1976, 22 year old Irishman, Bob Finnegan, was crossing a busy road in Belfast, when he was struck by a taxi and flung over its roof. The taxi drove away and as Finnegan lay stunned in the road, another car ran into him, rolling him into the gutter. It too drove on.
As a group of people gathered to examine Finnegan, a delivery van plowed through the crowd, leaving in its wake three injured bystanders and an even more battered Bob Finnegan.
When a fourth vehicle came along, the crowd wisely scattered – and yes you guessed right – only one person hit was Bob Finnegan. In the space of two minutes Finnegan suffered a fractured skull, broken pelvis, broken leg, and other assorted injures.
This one is the best. A terrorist, Khay Rahnajet, didn’t pay enough postage on a letter bomb. It came back with “Return to sender” stamped on it. Forgetting it was the bomb; he opened it and was blown to bits.
Are there times when you can’t see how you are able to cope with everything that is happening in your life?
Have you ever felt cornered by a chain of events that appeared to back you deeper and deeper into a situation from which you could see no escape?
Have you felt depressed and despondent because of the turn of events in your life?
Are there times when you are literally driven crazy with feelings of guilt and shame or helplessness and confusion?
What about times when you have been thoroughly puzzled by the events in your life and wonder what on earth God has in store for you?
I have departed from the set readings today for my sermon text because it seems that at this time when there are many people burdened with one thing or another it is good to sit at Jesus’ feet once again and to hear his invitation, “Come to me”. To all of us who are carrying heavy loads of one kind of another Jesus is gently calling, “Come to me …and I will give you rest” (v. 28).
Sometimes we can feel secure and safe – everything is going so well. And then out of the blue there is a turn of events. Jesus knows when this happens. He knows how desperately we need comfort and hope and so today he says this to us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, 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 your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vv. 28-30).
There are two parts to this text: firstly, Jesus calls us who are weary and burdened to come to him to find rest, and then secondly, he calls us take upon ourselves his yoke.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” In love Jesus calls to you and me, burdened with daily life, burdened with the question “why”. Don’t think for one minute that Jesus is talking to someone else here, he is making this offer directly to you and me. Jesus made a point during his earthly ministry to lift the heavy burdens the people he met were carrying.
Let’s take Zaccheus as an example. Zaccheus was a tax collector, a very dishonest tax collector. Zaccheus heard about Jesus passing through the town and being a little man, he climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. To cut a long story short, Jesus lifted the burden of Zaccheus’ dishonesty, his burden of guilt and shame from his shoulders. It was as if Jesus said to this taxman: “Zaccheus, you’re weary and burdened, come to me, and I will give you rest.” In the light of his new freedom, he became a new man.
Again and again we hear Jesus giving rest to people in all kinds of trouble. He said to those who were hopelessly afflicted with a dreaded disease and called to him for healing: “Your faith has made you well!” (v. 22). Jesus has the power and the authority to say to all of us in any situation, and it doesn’t matter how utterly hopeless we think that situation appears to be, “Come to me….and I will give you rest”.
Come to me in faith and I will give you rest from the worries and troubles that plague you. Isn’t that a fantastic offer! I know you have your fair share of troubles, just I have my fair share of them, and here is an invitation in plain and straightforward language. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Come! You’ll be glad you did.
An understanding of the setting in which Jesus spoke these words enriches their meaning even further. When Jesus was talking about those who were weary and burdened, he was especially conscious of those who were weary and burdened from doing the works of the law. The Pharisees insisted that everyone strain and work like mad to measure up to the demands of the law. But the more we try to this the more realise that we even our best intentions are all messed up by sin.
We hear St Paul’s frustrations when he realises that even though he wants to do good, as hard as he might try, he fails. Listen to him: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice” (Romans 7:18,19).
That surely is the ultimate burden – to be weighed down with anxiety that in spite of all our efforts we can’t get things right. To have really tried to consistently do the right things for the right reasons with and for the right people and to still get it all wrong, can lead the best of us to become weary and burdened. This constant failure can be very depressing, can eat away at our confidence, cause us to be negative and hard to get along with.
Jesus says to us, “Come to me … and I will give you rest”. And that’s exactly what happens. We go to Jesus in prayer and hand over to him all that burdens us. He is ready and willing to graciously and generously wrap his arms around us, support us, carry us if necessary. All authority and power has been given to him. There is no problem in our lives that he cannot help us with.
“Here let me take that. Let me take that burden of sin and shame and guilt and fear. Let me take it to the cross with me. I’m going there for all those who are weary and burdened. There are no limits to my love for you and I am happy to put all your sin and trouble on my shoulders”.
“Come to me … and I will give you rest”. That sounds good!
“Just trust me,” he is saying, “have confidence in my love for you, and you will soon realise that at no time will you walk through any of lives traumas alone. When the time comes I will even walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” with you, nothing fearsome will happen with me by your side. I will not allow it!” Even though the worst disasters can shake us up, we can rest secure and safe in the knowledge, that come what may, nothing can shake the love that Jesus has for us.
When I opened one of my books to prepare for this sermon I found a book mark from the Tract Mission that had these words, “Whatever awaits you around the corner, God is already there”. That about sums up the relief, the peace, the rest that Jesus gives.
Jesus emphasises the kind of help that he is offering by referring to the yoke. He says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me” (v. 29). A yoke was a wooden instrument that yoked two oxen together and made them a team. They didn’t work independently; they worked together. Jesus is saying, “Become my yoke-mate and together we will pull the load. The heavy labour will seem lighter when you allow me to help you with it”.
Jesus urges us to take his yoke upon ourselves. The yoke that Jesus offers you is not the kind that is burdensome or heavy, that chafes and rubs, but it is a yoke of love.
Here Jesus is offering you a yoke, a partnership, a relationship, fellowship with himself, the opportunity to learn from him the art of gentleness, warmth and assurance. Being yoked to Jesus means to walk with him and do the things he does – to be gentle and lowly, putting the cares and needs of others before his own.
We are yoked to be servants of one another, just as Christ is a servant to us all. When we take on his yoke, we speak and act and think as Christ does.
There is a legend that summarises what this text is all about. It tells us that at first birds had no wings and that they rebelled when wings were fixed to their bodies because they seemed to be such an extra burden to carry around. However, when they stopped seeing their wings as burdens but as a whole new world of opportunities, they were lifted to the sky by what was previously a burden.
Now, you know the problems and burdens of this life, but when you answer Christ’s call to come to him, to find rest and relief in him, you will be lifted to the sky as he opens new doors of service and joy. As one person said to me, “Lying in hospital I couldn’t see any sense in my illness. In fact, I was angry at God, the doctors, everyone. But look what opportunities have been opened to me since. God is using my burden to help lift the burdens of others.”
What a fantastic offer there is for every one of us from Jesus in our text! It doesn’t matter what is wearing us down he says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” What Good News to take with us as we step into another week.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2004 Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.