Rest in Jesus

This morning we are wrapping up our short series, I’m Fine. The truth is that in many times of our lives, we aren’t fine. We might profess to the contrary, but we know what’s going on inside and we don’t like it. We can put in place good habits to help keep some of those hard emotions at bay, but sometimes not even that seems to do the trick. In this last part or our conversation we’re talking about the ultimate solution to being not fine. Read on to find out what it is.

Rest in Jesus

There are some tasks you can’t accomplish on your own. This is not necessarily an easy-to-accept reality in our culture. The stories we have long celebrated most are the stories of individuals overcoming incredible odds to accomplish monumental tasks on their own. But this doesn’t make it any less true.

A few months ago, we got a new tv stand for our living room. We found it at Sam’s and immediately knew it was the piece we’d been looking for to put there. As we looked at the size of the stand and the box it came in on the rack, we debated back and forth whether or not we were going to be able to put it in the van with both of us and all three boys and all the other groceries we had picked up on that trip (because I think it may actually be against the law somewhere to come out of Sam’s without a full cart that costs you a semester’s worth of college tuition). We ultimately decided it was just not quite going to fit. So, we drove back home, called and bought it over the phone, and I jumped in the car to drive back to Sam’s in order to pick it up. As for what we would do when I got back home, I figured I’d probably be able to manhandle it into the house by myself. Heh.

The first clue that was probably not going to happen was when they loaded the box into our van with all the rear seats down directly from the forklift. Yes, they forklifted it up to the right height and shoved it into the van. Work smarter, not harder. Standing next to the box on the forklift, though, I started to get a little nervous. It was a big box. Like, a big box. Happily, it fit in the van. Barely. Driving home, though, feeling the weight of the thing in the back, it dawned on me that I was not going to be able to get this in the house by myself. Lisa and I together were not going to be able to get it into the house. So, I called Kevin.

Kevin met me at the house, I opened the back of the van, we pulled a little on the box and realized that the two of us together weren’t going to be able to get this thing into the house. It was a whole lot heavier than I had even imagined. We barely managed to lift the box off the floor of the van to scooch it out a bit. So, we both got on the phone and called for help. He called Hunter, I called TJ. Both were available and arrived at the house in a few minutes. Then, the four of us together heaved and hoed and struggled and just managed to get the thing through the front door and out of its packaging. Let me tell you: It was no small task. I could have wanted to do it on my own with all my heart, but it wasn’t going to happen. Ever. I needed help. Have you ever needed help?

This morning we are in the final part of this journey we’ve been on together over the past three weeks called, I’m Fine. For this brief season we’ve been talking about the fact that while we might make a claim to the contrary when someone asks, there are many times in our lives when just the opposite is true. We aren’t fine. Our goal over this series of conversations has been to address reality for what it really is and then look at some ways we can deal with it.

Well, in the first part of our journey, addressing reality was exactly what we did. With the help of one of the sons of Kohath, a family of worship leaders in ancient Israel, in Psalm 42 we addressed the fact that sometimes we aren’t fine. But if we will turn our attention toward our heavenly Father, we will find the hope and strength we need to at least take the next step forward. Sometimes that’s all we can manage in the moment, but one step in the right direction is all we need to worry about at a time. When anxiety comes, focus on the Father.

Then, last week, we started talking about solutions. Specifically, we talked about some things we can be doing to prevent those hard emotions we experience from taking root in our hearts in the first place. The apostle Paul guided us from out of his own experience, recorded in Philippians 4, to see that if we will invest ourselves in developing some habits which are more in line with God’s character than perhaps what we have in place right now, we will find a greater sense of peace than we’ve ever known. Peace is found in developing habits of righteousness.

But.

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there? Don’t you hate that? It’s still true, though. But sometimes that doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Right? Sometimes you’re in a good place with good habits and you still get blown over by some terrible situation that’s completely out of your control. Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe it’s COVID. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s a layoff or a piercing betrayal or who knows what else. Sometimes life looks at all our little habits of righteousness, laughs a big belly laugh, and then slaps us back down onto the ground. We’re like the kid who’s always gotten good grades suddenly running smack into a problem he doesn’t know how to solve. We need help.

Enter Jesus. One day, when Jesus was teaching and preaching like He normally did, He said something that speaks right into this tension we are feeling; this tension in which we’ve been doing everything right and trying our hardest and yet life is still more than we can manage. You can find this in Matthew 11:28. If you’ve got a copy of the Scriptures, find your way there with me. You’re going to want to see this for yourself. On this particular day, Jesus looked at the group of followers gathered closely around Him and said this: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can we just pause to take that in for a minute? Should I read it again? “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That’s amazing, right? You see it, don’t you?

Jesus says three things here that all amount to one incredible idea: If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus. If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus. And that’s not me saying you should. Jesus did. Are you weary? Worn out by life? Have you noticed being a bit more worn out by life lately than you used to be? I think one of the effects of the COVID season is that everything we do is done with just a bit more pressure or anxiety than it was before. We’re living in limbo; never quite sure what tomorrow may bring. Live like that for a few days and we just work through it. Live like that over the span of several months and the cumulative effect begins to just wear you out. Let’s own it: We are weary. And we don’t even need to start talking about burdens.

Well, Jesus said to come to Him. He said if you are weary and burdened, you can go to Him. In other words, you and you and you and you and you and me where we are right now can go to Him. And what did He say He’d do? Give us rest. And He’s not just talking about a good night’s sleep. He will give us rest; rest for our very souls. Okay, but how will He do this? By sharing His own burden with us. But wait, doesn’t that just swap one heavy burden for another? I mean, He’s the Lord of all creation. How are we supposed to bear that? That’s not what He’s doing.

He’s inviting us to learn from Him. Learn what? Well, look at how He describes Himself there. Jesus said, “I am lowly and humble in heart.” Now, your first reaction to this may be a big, “huh?” but stay with me here for a second. I know it seems prideful to describe yourself as humble, but Jesus isn’t trying to talk Himself up. He’s offering Himself out as an example. You see, so often when we are carrying a burden bigger than we can bear, the reason is that in our pride we have tried to shoulder more than we can manage. It’s like if I had gotten home from Sam’s that night with the tv stand insisting that I could get it inside all by myself. I would have been characterizing myself as noble or self-sacrificing or selflessly refusing to be a burden on anyone else, but the truth is that I would have just been being prideful; pride that would have likely left me with a sore back.

Jesus doesn’t try to carry any load but His own. Now, His load is really, really big compared with ours, but He’s made for that load. He is Jesus after all. It is when we have the humility to ask for the help we need and don’t try to bear what we weren’t designed to carry that we begin to experience more of the soul rest Jesus is offering. He wants us to lay down the heavy loads we have been carrying in our hearts and just rest.

You know something of what that feels like. Remember that time you were carrying a heavy physical load for a while. Maybe it was when you had young kids. I remember carrying Noah around the Jamestown settlement when he was little in one of those backpack carriers. My body thanked me heartily when I finally set him down after a couple of hours’ worth of walking around…and then the next day it punished me for it…and the day after that…and the day after that. But eventually, once my burden was relieved, I recovered and could function normally again. That’s what Jesus is offering here. He is offering to share with us His burden of simply being who God designed Him to be. When we manage to hit that mark instead of running around trying to be all things to all people or holding ourselves up in our pride to some standard we’re simply incapable of maintaining for very long, we will know this rest, this peace, this wholeness that only He can bring. If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus.

And that’s the critical thing here: Only Jesus can do this for us. You and me? We can’t do this on our own. Maybe you know this, but if you really want to experience what Jesus has to offer, you’ve got to own it. If you want to truly find the rest you are seeking, you can’t rely on your own efforts. Those habits of righteousness we talked about last week are still important, and they’ll serve us well, but they’re only going to get us so far. Their real worth is putting us in a place where we are being shaped by the Spirit to be more receptive to this help Jesus offers. Friends, this is the Gospel right here before us. It’s good news, but we’ve got to take it on its own terms, or it can’t do anything for us. If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus. Don’t look anywhere else. You won’t find what you need there.

But.

Another one? This is a good one, I promise. Every passage comes with a context. Jesus didn’t just say this out of nowhere. If you’ve got a copy of the Scriptures handy look at it for a minute. What is the section heading at the beginning of chapter 11? In my Bible it’s this: “John the Baptist Doubts.” Okay, so why does that matter? Go home and read this to see it for yourselves, but let me give you the short version. At the beginning of chapter 11, John the Baptist was sitting in King Herod’s royal prison waiting to learn his fate. While he was there, he got word to some of his followers and sent them to ask Jesus a question. You can see this in Matthew 11:3: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Okay, but still, why does this matter? John was Jesus’ cousin. So, he doubted his family member like all the rest of Jesus’ family did. Big deal. There’s more. John’s birth was foretold by an angel just like Jesus’ was, and this angel told John’s father that he was going to be the herald of the Messiah. In other words, he was the guy who was going to get people ready to receive Jesus. As Jesus himself notes in His response to this question, John and his ministry was a fulfillment of prophecy; specifically the last real prophecy the people had received from the Lord on the lips of the prophet Malachi who promised that the prophet Elijah would return to prepare the people before the coming of the Lord.

In other words, John’s entire life was planned out by God and he spent his whole life telling people about Jesus. Jesus Himself would call John the greatest man who ever lived. In other words, John was getting life right about as profoundly as anyone ever has. If anyone was right with God and in a place where the peace of God’s kingdom was dwelling richly in his life, it was John. And then he punched a bit above his weight class when he publicly criticized King Herod for some immoral behavior, and Herod had him arrested and thrown into prison. There he sat for months waiting for the arrival of God’s justice. But it never seemed to come. And he grew more and more depressed and despondent and doubtful until he sent his followers to ask Jesus this question. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Do you see it yet? If anyone was doing everything right it was John, and yet here he was rotting in prison. Life had looked at all his good habits, had that belly laugh we talked about earlier, and slapped him down into a literal dungeon. But he did just what we’ve said to do this morning. He went to Jesus. He was weary and he was burdened and he went to Jesus. And what did Jesus say? Did He slap him down for being so weak? Did He scold him for his lack of faith? He had some tough words for the folks who refused to turn to Him in spite of the ample evidence He’d given them of who He was—evidence that John had spent his own life and ministry offering—but for John? There was this tenderness and compassion. Jesus affirmed him and said, “Yep, come right on to me.”

Listen, church: if you’re not fine, you can do the same thing. If you’re in a place where life has turned you around in all kinds of circles that don’t make any sense, you can follow John’s example. You can follow John’s example and Jesus will give you the same response: Come to me. If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus. That’s what He said to do. He said that if you’re hurting or struggling or doubting or even despairing, go to Him. If you’re like John the Baptist and you’ve been doing everything right as far as you can tell and life has slapped you in the face anyway, go to Him. If you are so tired of trying to carry on that you can barely lift your head up off the pillow in the mornings, go to Him. If you are convinced your worth just isn’t what everyone’s been telling you it is, and you’re doubtful you really matter to anyone anymore, go to Him. If you are just exhausted from the stress and strain of work and school and church and just life, go to Him. If you just aren’t fine no matter what you keep telling the people around you, go to Him. Go to Him. Go to Jesus. If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus. He will give you the rest you need. And when He does, you may not be fine still. That’s okay. But you will have rest, real rest, that will enable you to keep moving forward—with Him—to receive the abundant kingdom life He has in store for you. If you are weary and burdened, go to Jesus. Fine or not, go to Jesus. Faking it or making it, go to Jesus. Go to Jesus. Go to Jesus.

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