Rest Area Ahead
Restless? Looking for a place to catch a breather from troubles, worries, the headaches and heartaches of your sin and sinfulness? Everyone, I think, has been on a trip where they find themselves looking, hoping for a rest area. Every mile crawls by, going up every hill there's hope; cresting the hill and seeing no sign "Rest Area Ahead" brings irritation. Well, we've just come to the top of one of life's hills and lo and behold there's a sign in the distance announcing, "Rest Area Ahead."
An internal if not external sigh follows when you at last see the "Rest Area Ahead" sign you've been looking for, but don't be fooled. There are rest areas that aren't really areas for rest. Texas has hundreds of them. This was something new to me when I first came here. In Michigan, there's no such thing as a rest area without a restroom, water fountain, phone, picnic table, and shade. This isn't the case in Texas. You see, "Rest Area Ahead," give that grateful sigh, but find that the rest area is no more than a half moon gravel road without restroom, water fountain, phone, picnic table or even shade!
There's precious little rest in these so-called "Rest Areas." If you try to you rest here, you'll not only fail, you may find yourself arrested... if you know what I mean. Still a rest area without rest on a highway is not the end of the world. It's a more serious matter on the road of life. There are rest areas in life that provide little rest. Booze, money, possessions, sex, power, relationships, and work all come to mind. But you know where most people think they can find rest but really find none? God.
I know, I know you're going to point me to literally thousands of get well, sympathy, and encouragement cards directing persons in need of rest to "God." But "God" is just not good enough. Our text shows why. It takes place right after Jesus has spoken to the crowds about how the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence now, how violent men take it by force, how people had considered John the Baptist to be demon possessed and Jesus to be a glutton and a drunk. Then Jesus goes on to pronounce judgment on the cities where He had preached but they had not repented and believed. Jesus says it will be more tolerable on Judgment Day for the horrible, detestable, heinous Old Testament cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom then it will be for the New Testament cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
Then our text begins telling us that "at that very time" Jesus literally answered the unspoken questions brought up by what God was doing. Jesus answers the Jews unbelief and rejection of Him and the horrible judgment of God that would be visited on their cities for this with praise for the Father and acknowledging these things were His "good pleasure."
So tell me. Can you find rest in a God who hides salvation from people? Can you find rest in God who is well pleased to send a worse judgment on a city than hellfire and brimstone? Can you find rest in a God who is going to damn every single soul that ever lived who doesn't cling to His crucified Son? Wouldn't it be so easy for God to make it easier for others to believe? You've all known people whom you've loved or cared for. Nice people. Good people. Kind people. Yet these people wanted nothing to do with the perfect life and innocent death of Jesus. They thought their niceness, their goodness, their kindness was enough, and you know what? They were pretty good, in fact very good by the world's standards, yet these people were heading for hell.
Can you find rest in a God who hides the righteousness that is necessary to go to heaven under a Man rejected by the organized church and crucified by the government as a common criminal? Can you find rest in a God who confounds the best, the wisest, the noblest thoughts of man? I can't, and Jesus didn't either. All Jesus did was praise such a God, and that's all we can do.
There's no real rest in God apart from Christ. God in His majesty does things that confound and mystify us. If you've lived anytime at all, surely you've seen this? Youth struck down at the flowering of their lives. Families enduring tragedy after tragedy. Senseless deaths in war; the apparent fickleness of disasters. There's no shade, no place to sit, no water, no rest in God's majesty. There are only incessant questions of "why" that echo into a void with no answer coming back.
But God in Christ is a rest area, and that's where Jesus points us. Right after praising God for hiding things from the best and brightest, Jesus directs everyone to Himself. "All things," He says, "have been committed to the Son by the Father." And, "No one knows the Father but the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." Let's take Jesus at His Word here. When He says the Father has committed "all things" to Him, all means all. Heaven and hell, life and death, sin and judgment, your past and future, glory and tragedy have all been given by the Father to the Son.
Moreover, you can only know the Father by the Son. So, when you look at what God in His majesty does in tragedy, disaster, or judgment, you only think you know what He's doing. All the restlessness that comes from such "wise" questions as, "Why are so few saved?" "Why is the little boy born to pagan parents damned?" "Why did God take this person when He did?" is really out of place. You don't know, you can't know, you won't know what God is doing except in Christ. And Christ is not one of these phony, Texas rest areas. He's a full service one.
Jesus is there for all not some, not most, of the wearied and the burdened. Jesus is a rest area for you even if your own sins and sinfulness are what make you so wearied and burdened. And whether you know it or not that is the case. You might think it's your life, your job, your spouse, your kids, your future, your health that are burdening you, but it's really your sins. Remove your sins, and what do you have? Everlasting life, a God who is on your side, and a whole new world because as Luther said in his explanation to the Lord's Supper, "Where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation."
In Jesus there is most certainly forgiveness of sins. He was born under the Law to redeem those under the Law by keeping the Law in their place. If Jesus fulfilled the Law, all the Law, every single 10 Commandment, should you be burdened by those Commandments as if they still hung over you head unfulfilled? Why should you be burdened by Commandments, requirements, good works that Jesus already did in your place for you?
Jesus was sent into the world as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. If Jesus went to the cross bearing the sins of the world, then surely He went there bearing your sins too. Or do you perhaps believe of all the sins in the world, yours fell off? Or of all the sins in the world yours was the one that was just too sinful, just too heavy, just too shameful for Jesus to carry away? Why do you weary yourself trying to explain, defend, or make up for sins that Jesus already carried away from you for good?
Yes, you're starting to feel like you're in a real rest area now, aren't you? Jesus is a real rest area that provides water. Baptismal Water brings to you the new life Jesus lived in your place. Jesus is a real rest area that provides a place to put down your burdens. Jesus provides the Words of Absolution that have the power to forgive sins that the devil, others, or even yourself weigh you down with. Jesus is a real rest area that provides food. Not snacks, but a full meal of not just Bread and Wine but of His Body and Blood. The man or woman who eats and drinks of this can travel in the strength of this Food all the way to heaven.
Rest Area Ahead. Here it is within these hallowed walls. Here Jesus is present for you in Word and Sacrament. Here He teaches each Sunday and even during the week. Here He provides Water for your soul and Bread and Wine for your Body and Soul. In Jesus the path to rest is not doing but learning. Isn't that what Jesus says? "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me... and you will find rest for your souls."
God in His majesty, God apart from Jesus is no true rest area. And neither is a Jesus who says the path to rest is doing. The churches, pastors, or books that offer you a rest area in Jesus after you do something aren't offering you a true rest area. If they tell you'll find rest for your souls once you find God's purpose for your life, they're telling you the path to rest is found in what you do. If they tell you'll find rest for your souls, once you get serious about finding your spiritual gift or serving your church, they are pointing you to what you do for rest. They are not pointing to a Jesus who promises that in learning from Him you will find rest.
In this season of growth, Pentecost, I'm begging you to rest. Rest in the Jesus whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. If Church is a burden to you, if coming to hear His Word is a chore, a have-to, if eating and drinking Jesus' Body and Blood is something you must be holy enough to do, then you've got the wrong Jesus because He says He's gentle, humble, easy and light. Be restless with a Jesus, with a rest area, that doesn't really provide you with any rest. If you go out of Church with your sins still clinging to you, with your sins till commanding you, with your sins still bothering you, then you're at the wrong church, a fake rest area, or you haven't really pulled all the way into a true one, gotten out, stretched your legs and walked around. Here there is Water, Food, and Rest. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VII (7-3-05); Matthew 11:25-30