Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1369
October 7, 2018 Matthew 11:7-30
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“Come to Jesus”
The No-Win Situation 7-19
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Jesus is one tough cookie. That might not be what you expected me to begin with today, but as we look at this familiar passage of the invite to come to Jesus, I wanted to back up a bit to see in what context Jesus spoke those words. Most of us like to just pluck verses 28-30 out of Matthew 11 and get to the rest Jesus offers. Let’s start back at the beginning of this section. In verse seven He begins by challenging the crowds about John the Baptist. What did you expect to see? What is it that drew you out to the Jordan River to hear this man dressed in the latest camel haired fashions and eating this newfangled locust diet? Have any of you tried that diet? Not like the Daniel Diet or the other biblical diets out there today. Jesus tells them what they expected – a prophet. But I think the tone of Jesus’ questions and the questions that are asked are somewhat sarcastic. They wanted a prophet in the sense that they wanted a show and a showman. Jesus is challenging the expectations of the crowd. He challenges us in the same way. What do we expect to see in Jesus? What do we expect to see in God and the Spirit and the Bible? Our expectations do not set the criteria for what is seen in Jesus or the Bible? Jesus and John and Paul and Peter and the Bible itself sets the agenda and sets the purposes of God that are revealed within these pages.
Jesus is one tough cookie. He challenges and surprises and inverts our thoughts and expectations. Back to the story...Jesus really starts to slam the people with his question about this generation. “To what shall I compare this generation?” Imagine Jesus asking that question today! I really don’t believe the answer would be any different.
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
It does not matter what one does, the crowds are not going to like it. The special interests groups are coming after you. The anti-Christian folks are going to criticize no matter what we do. So Jesus summarizes their hypocrisy: when John comes fasting, you say he has a demon. When I (Jesus) coming eating and drinking, you say I am a glutton. I was going to title this first point of the outline with something stronger than no-win situation, even stronger than darned if you do and darned if you don’t. You get what I’m saying. It does not matter what people of wisdom do in their deeds, the world will not like it. It does not matter what believers in Jesus Christ do as far as the world is concerned, they will oppose it.
Jesus is not coming across in this first scene as a “nice” and “loving” person that the worldly gospel of toleration expects. Jesus is one tough cookie and He does not hold back from telling the truth.
Jesus Isn’t as “Nice” as You Think 20-24
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.”
It does not get any nicer in this scene either! Jesus does not call us to be nice when nice means the truth is not proclaimed or defended or lived. Jesus did not call us to be nice for the sake of tolerating everything under the sun. Jesus is not being mean here, but he is proclaiming truth and judgment upon an unrepentant people. They have had more signs and wonders and grace proclaimed in their midst than all the cities mentioned here, and yet, those cities that were utterly destroyed are better off than these to whom Jesus has appeared.
Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! Jesus includes Capernaum in there as well, one of the towns where He did a lot of ministry. These towns are all around the area where Jesus spent a lot of time and did a lot of miraculous things. You know what “woe” means? Death! Jesus is not telling these people that they are just fine and He is accepting them just as they are. No, He is judging their lack of repentance. We live in a world today filled with a lack of repentance. Many people know nothing of repentance today because they know nothing of sin. Our society holds no common understanding of sin, of right and wrong, of righteousness and holiness. We rode by a tent revival at Glen Lyn Friday and the comment was made that you don’t see many tent revivals today. One problem is that the culture has moved so far away from its Christian roots that tent revivals have less effect. Most of those revivals preach about sin, a concept once shared among Americans, but no longer.
The lack of response in these cities is perhaps symbolized in the reasons we don’t see more revivals, people do not respond to Jesus then and now, in many cases. Woe to you, Washington D.C.! Woe to you, New York! We could list many cities across our nation and we might even dare to add Princeton as well from time to time.
Jesus gets tough with these people and towns and He does not hold back a prophetic warning to them. Jesus gives the truth and the grace. Folks would do well to respond to both.
The Simple Truth 25-27
And it is not that hard to understand…
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.
God has revealed the truth to little children. Now Jesus is not literally speaking of children, although many children certainly believed, but He is helping us see that those who think they know better, those who think they have all the answers to life, and especially those who think they can know any truth apart from God have had the things of God hidden from them. It is why so many people hungry for power or money or glory cannot see God’s truth, because they think themselves wise and understanding apart from God.
But God does reveal Himself to those willing to receive, to those chosen, to those humble enough to repent and turn away from sin and evil. Perhaps many people in the world today are blinded by their own perceived intelligence. Some are blinded by ambition and control and power. Some are obsessed with riches and status and getting along with the latest fad or idea. It is as if God cannot get through to them.
Doesn’t this prayer sound a little strange, that Jesus would thank the Father for hiding the truth from those who really need it most? It’s because those who cannot see have become hardened and arrogant and living only for themselves. We can look at the news and the world and see who might be prime candidates for the “wise and understanding”. It is not that God never reveals to rich people or smart people, but here God is certainly holding something back from self involved people.
In the final section, Jesus’ tone seems to changed drastically. He sends out a general invitation to any who would listen. The simple truth is found when we come to Jesus.
Come to Jesus 28-30
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Come to me. Come to Jesus. Come. Are you tired? Are you burdened? Come. In Jesus Christ there is rest. You will find rest for your souls. That’s a deep rest, soulful rest. When the soul is at rest I believe the physical body can also rest. How do we come to Jesus? We come first in repentance. We come in self-denial. We come in love. Come in the word. Come in prayer. Come in worship. Come in service. Come in silence. Come in faith. Come in hope. Come in surrender. When we come we can expect rest.
This is not a new invitation in the Bible. Check out Isaiah 55:1-3a
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live;
We might call this the Old Testament come to Jesus moment. Come. Come to Jesus. Come to God if you are thirsty and hungry and tired of laboring for that which does not satisfy. In verse three...that your soul may live. Sounds a lot like Jesus saying that your soul may rest.
The Bible ends this way too. Revelation 22:17, The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price...
I want this water of life! I’ll bet it gives rest.
Rest is mentioned twice in the passage, vs. 28, 29 of Matthew 11. We know ways in which we need rest. Sometimes we need to stop an exercise in order to rest. Sometimes we stop our work in order to rest. Sometimes we need to retreat from the busy life in order to rest. I also want to think about this rest as a rest from sin and death. It is a rest from addictions and striving. It takes a complete yielding of the self to Jesus. In this rest we no longer seek to hide from God!
We have a day of rest – the Sabbath. It is built in to the rhythm of our weeks. It is commanded in the Ten Commandments. It is rekindled in the teachings of Jesus. It is both a physical and a spiritual rest. It is a gift for the sake of our well-being and the wholeness of life in God.
Jesus claims to give rest as a gift as well. In the case of Matthew 11 it is a rest of labors, just as the commandment gives, and also a rest from heavy burdens. Of course, that too could be considered a part of the Sabbath rest. This rest is only possible because of the yoke we share with Jesus – a yoke that is easy and light. We do not work with yokes and I guess the closest thing I could think of would be when we were young and did a three legged race. You tie your legs together and share the work of running a relay. The yoke of Jesus enables us to share the load, to share our battles, and to share in the rest as well.
What if we looked at this rest as less about work and Sabbath, and more about rest from our burdens of fighting sin, anxiety, sadness, depression, addictions, emptiness, sickness, bad decisions, grief, pain, injustice, hopelessness? What if this is also a rest from the other sections of Matthew 11, rest from thinking too highly of ourselves, rest from not being satisfied with what God has done. The rest offered here is the only way the people who criticized both John and Jesus can find rest in their lives. It is the only way people who refuse to repent will find rest. It is the only way protesters of our time will find rest, the only way sinners and the power hungry and people who think they know better than Christ will find rest. This is because this rest is only possible in the person of Jesus Christ. We find it easy to say “those” people need to come to Jesus, and they do, but the truth is that we also need to come...every day. We come to Jesus to remind us to whom we come. We come to rest and to love and to give thanks and to do all that we do in Christ. We also need to invite others to come...if possible, every day. They may not come with the first invitation or the second, but we keep asking and quoting this verse from Matthew 11. Come to Jesus and you will find rest for your souls. Amen.