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LSB Proper 9A Sermon – Matthew 11:25-30

July 22, 2014

July 6, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, 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.”

“Rest for your souls.” That’s the benefit which the LORD promises to give to His people. “Rest for your souls.” It’s an interesting phrase. You know what the soul is, the component part of you as a human being. And you know what rest is. Some of you may have found a good dose of it during this past Independence Day weekend. Or maybe the late evenings watching fireworks, entertaining company, and travel may have brought a lack of rest.

But what is this “rest for your souls” all about? What does the soul need to rest from? What causes the need for souls to be refreshed and restored? Perhaps we can think of the phrase not just in terms of the soul, but in terms of the inner being: what we also call conscience or heart or mind. Jesus is speaking about giving a rest to that. He is noting that a person does not only tire in body or get physically worn down. No, Jesus indicates that people also experience the tiring of their souls, of their inner being.

That tiring can take up various forms. Our readings for this morning either alluded to it or vividly expressed it. Think on the Old Testament Reading from Zechariah’s prophecy. The LORD tells His people that they should be glad: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!” But the LORD doesn’t only give a command for the people to exult, He also tells them the reason: “Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

You can hear these words and wonder why this is such great news. What is so important about that statement which the LORD makes? The LORD is telling His people that He is about to give them rest from their oppressors: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Israel had been overrun and occupied. There was no king in that nation. The LORD’s people had been either put into exile or enslaved. They had a despot and tyrant ruling over them. They had suffered the effects of warfare. And the LORD is saying that this will come to an end. That is the reason for joy.

But this is not just relief for the body. In this promise is also rest for the soul. The occupation and exile of Israel was more than just a geopolitical event. It was a spiritual one, too. The LORD had promised the land to His people. He had promised that they would have a descendant of David rule eternally over them. This was part of the Covenant that the LORD had made and added to and reaffirmed. But it all looked like none of this would be so. When that happens, hearts, minds, and souls are put into turmoil. The questions arise: “Is the LORD trustworthy? Is His Covenant worth anything? Have we been forgotten? Are we under eternal, divine wrath?”

So what does the LORD say to His people? “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” He lays out the promise that will give rest to their souls. The LORD displays His knowledge of what the people are undergoing. And He makes the solemn pledge of what He will do for them to remedy their status.

In the Epistle Reading, the turmoil of Paul’s soul was made evident in his vivid words. The statements you heard are some of the most recognized words that the apostle wrote: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate….. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out…. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Paul’s words are the expression of frustration. It is the type of statement that one makes to a counselor, whether spiritual or temporal. There is both anger and sorrow in his words. It is at both times a lament about himself and a condemnation of himself. No one who read what Paul wrote would come to the conclusion that everything was serene and settled for him. In fact, Paul made it very clear that his inner being was actually at war with his body. There was an active struggle for him involving his soul.

Note how that passage ended. Paul makes the poignant statement about himself: “Wretched man that I am!” And he follows that up with a cry of desperation: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This comes from the mouth of one of the LORD’s chosen, one of those whom He appointed as an apostle. So how will the LORD answer him? The answer isn’t given in an explicit promise like it was in the Old Testament Reading. But it is there. It is implicit in the statement of thanksgiving that Paul makes after describing the turmoil of his inner being and his desperate cry: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” With those words, Paul points to the source of his aid. For it is in Jesus Christ that he will receive rest for his soul.

Both of these readings are directing you to see what Jesus is talking about when He makes the promise: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, 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.” The promise is extended to you who have troubled hearts and minds, who have your souls in turmoil. Jesus says that He will give relief for that.

But what is it that plagues you? How are you like the ancient Israelites who heard Zechariah’s prophecy or the apostle Paul? What tires your hearts, minds, and souls? The very specific particulars will not be exactly the same for each of you individually. Yet, all of you do suffer in the same way. The LORD declares through the Scriptures that this world is not acting according to His will. He shows you the errors that you have committed by violating His Law. He points out the tyrant and despot that is actively usurping His authority. These are what trouble you who have been given to know what the LORD reveals. This knowledge is given to you, and you understand that not all is right.

When the LORD reveals this, your inner being begins its turmoil. You know the LORD’s will and that it is good, but you also see how the world rebels against it. You know the Law that you should keep, but you see how your breaking it brings eternal condemnation. You know that the LORD is sovereign and supreme, but you see Satan and other usurpers working to overthrow the divine rule. All this becomes burdensome.

In response to what you experience, there is the desire for it not to be this way. You can take up the quest to work against all that is opposed to the LORD’s will. You can seek out all sorts of remedies to try to relieve your guilt. You can pick your own fight against Satan and evil. But nothing is truly successful, either individually or corporately. No matter how much resolve and effort, the result is frustration: the LORD’s Law is broken again, guilt returns, wickedness prevails. You end up in the same place as the ancient Israelites: “Who will deliver us from pagan Babylon?” You end up like Paul: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

It is then that Jesus’ promise is spoken, so that you can hear Him: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, 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.” Is is not a mantra to repeat to give some sort of serenity. No, He points to Himself as the source of the relief that you need. He shows Himself as the solution for you. He has borne your sins and iniquities, taking them to the cross. He has worked against death, bringing resurrection and life. He has begun the task of casting out the usurper and restoring the divine order to the world. Jesus has taken up the burden of doing what you could not. And through that, He becomes the source of your soul’s relief.

The King whom the LORD promised to Israel: that’s Jesus. The blood of the LORD’s Covenant that has been poured out: that’s Jesus. The Man who not only wills to do what is good, but actually does so: that’s Jesus. The One who can deliver from the body of death: that’s Jesus. The Son who knows the Father and reveals Him to others: that’s Jesus. The Person who possesses all good things from the Father and can distribute them: that’s Jesus.

This Jesus invites you to share in all this. Instead of telling you to try harder and becoming frustrated again, He bids you to come to Him. Instead of having you chase after other failed solutions, He says to place His yoke on you. Instead of letting you fall into total despair, He works for your benefit and says to trust in Him.

You share in what Jesus provides when you are baptized, when you hear the accounts of what Jesus has done, when you receive His absolution, and when you come to eat in remembrance of Him. That’s how you have forgiveness for your sins, how you are placed into Jesus’ kingdom, and how you are brought from death to life everlasting. You have come to Jesus and receive the promised rest for your souls. You will no longer be under divine wrath. You will no longer be wretched. You will no longer be heavy laden. For when the Lord Jesus returns in the fullness of His glory, as the King who has no limit to His reign, you shall have the complete and eternal rest that your souls desire.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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