Rest for the restless

May 28th, 2017

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Someone has rightly called Matthew 11 the chapter for the contemporary church. At first glance, you might not see it that way, but let’s look a bit closer. This chapter actually begins a new section of Matthew’s Gospel. We learn in the first verses that John the Baptist is in Herod’s prison. Hearing of our Lord’s teaching and healing ministry, John sends messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

Jesus answers the Baptist’s questions by recounting the work God is doing: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (11:5). Poor John, languishing in a dungeon, hoping with every hope that Jesus is the promised Messiah, but wondering, if he is, why imprisonment, questions, and soon, death?

Then we come to our text. With rhetorical puzzlement, Jesus asks, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn’ ” (11:16-17).

In other words, we are fickle and restless; unfulfilled in laughter and unmoved by sorrow. We act like spoiled children, never satisfied but often complaining.

Do you see now why some see this chapter as a commentary on the contemporary church? When contemporary worship was all the rage, every church, no matter what its history, had to have a contemporary worship service. Several decades ago, the rage was gifts of the Spirit. In other times, books on Revelation, filled with half-baked ideas on the world’s end, flew off the shelves. In one season, spirituality is popular; in another, music; in a third, mission endeavors; and in yet another, recreational binges. Perhaps it has always been so, but ours seems like such a restless, moody, unsatisfied generation of Christians.

After some time Jesus, weary from all the restless roamings of his followers, looks up to heaven and prays. The substance of his prayer offers thanksgiving to God that the basic, core meanings of life are really simple, rooted in a childlike faith built on trust. That trust, according to Jesus, is found when we cast our restless lives on God’s unchanging, faithful presence.

Hear again the invitation of our Lord: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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” (11:28-30).

There are no more elegant, winsome, nourishing words in all of scripture. What is God saying to us?

First, nothing—no thing—can hold the place reserved in our lives for Jesus Christ. “Come to me” is still the invitation our Lord extends to each of us. Why do we chase after things that can never satisfy? Choose your worship style. Embrace whatever theological opinion of the day seems important. Read the latest book written by the touted, best Christian mind of the day, and you will still long for a personal, heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus Christ. When our restless lives plop exhausted in the uncomfortable spiritual chair of our own making, we will still long to come to Jesus.

Second, come to Jesus in your exhaustion and weariness. Our Lord recognized this restless tendency in us. Psychologists call the urge to travel “wanderlust.” In my judgment, every human being is infected with spiritual wanderlust. We look here and there for meaning and, without fail, find ourselves exhausted in every search that does not include a personal connection with Christ.

Viktor Frankl survived the horrors of Auschwitz and wrote a book that now, years after his death, is still printed and reprinted. Man’s Search for Meaning is Frankl’s story of courage and survival in which human beings came through to the other side of the Nazi madness with meaning. How? Simply put, Frankl believed that the supreme need in every life is not for pleasure, as Freud suggested, or for power, as Adler proposed. But rather, the highest need in every life is for meaning. All of us long for meaning that transcends our work, every success, and life itself.

Our Lord invites us to find in him the energizing, vital meaning that life offers. That discovery begins when we come to him, acknowledging that we are exhausted and empty from spiritual wanderlust that has taken us places rather than to a person.

Third, our Lord promises rest for the restless. We are a generation that longs for answers, solutions, neat formulas for success. Here, our Lord offers rest. “I will give you rest.” When life implodes on us, when death robs us of a loved one or disappointment snatches a friendship from our future, when even faith seems hollow and answerless, our Lord offers rest for our souls. Think about it: if you have answers but no rest, what do you have but a string of words? God in Christ offers us a much better gift.

But how? “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” (11:29). A wise pastor once said that when we begin to follow Jesus, we enroll in the School of Jesus and never graduate. The Christian journey is one in which we are lifelong learners—disciples—of this one who loved us even unto death. The rest for which we long can finally and supremely be found when the one who loved us all the way to Calvary and beyond becomes the one in whom we learn to trust now and always.

At the end of the day, or the week, or even a life, there will be one who welcomes our wandering, confused, and restless lives. I commend this one to you today as the Lord of life, the Lord of love, the Lord of all, even Jesus Christ. 

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