“Wise Up and Rest”
July 6, 2008 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
They “advanced with ease.” That’s what news reports said yesterday about the Friday 200 meter races of three current Olympic champions. Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix and Shawn Crawford. One report said that Gay “practically jogged to the finish, looking around him for anyone who might be closing in. Nobody was.”
We’ve all seen athletes make feats that would be impossible for you or I look easy. Whether it’s a four-minute mile or 300-yard drive in golf, superstars often appear to do it effortlessly. They just walk out on the track or the course and perform. Yet behind that seeming ease there are two factors: natural giftedness and countless hours of practice and concentration. The champions make it look easy because they’re genetically blessed and because they’ve learned superior skills, an athletic wisdom that goes way beyond what ordinary duffers like you and I are willing to work at.
In the first part of our text, verses 16-19, Jesus claimed a similar spiritual wisdom for Himself and John the Baptist. Evidently, some of the crowd were complaining that Jesus’ spiritual life was too easy. He wasn’t trying hard enough. He was “a glutton and drunkard.” He was hanging out with the wrong people. He couldn’t possibly be a spiritual champion without putting in a little more effort.
On the other hand, there was John the Baptist, who Jesus says in verse 18 was “neither eating nor drinking.” John’s efforts were visible to all. He rigorously restricted his diet in a regimen calculated to enhance his spiritual ability. And the crowd didn’t like that either. Like skeptics who think every star athlete is taking steroids, they felt John must be cheating somehow to do without good food and drink. “He has a demon,” they said.
Nothing satisfied the crowd. Neither John’s heroic spiritual pains nor Jesus’ natural spiritual ability. In a little parable/poem in verse 17, Jesus compared them to bored children who aren’t happy with any kind of music played for them. Give them happy music and they won’t dance. Give them sad music and they won’t cry. Like modern children clicking through every song on an Ipod, every game on a Wii, nothing interests them. They were dissatisfied and restless, looking for something they couldn’t find.
At the end of verse 19, Jesus declared their lack of satisfaction is to be a lack of wisdom. He quotes a proverb: “Wisdom is proved right by her actions.” John and Jesus demonstrated their spiritual wisdom in what they did. Their different forms of spiritual life are two poles of a balanced wisdom like the combination of natural ability and practiced skill for athletes. Strong spirituality combines disciplined sacrifice like John’s and grateful celebration like Jesus offered. You and I wise up and find our balance as we learn to both live sacrificially and celebrate joyfully. Then our restlessness comes to an end. Then we start to feel satisfied.
We learn that restful balance, that peaceful wisdom, from Jesus. By ourselves, we always go to one extreme or the other. We either work too hard or play too much, or like children become so discontented that we end up doing neither. We become numb, mindlessly flipping channels or zoning out to the music playing in our ears, with none of it making us happy, none of it bringing rest. Without Christ balancing us out, we can’t find the way to wisdom. That’s why Jesus is so harsh in the next few verses.
With verse 20 we move from a parable about bored, restless children, to a fiery condemnation of specific towns. Korazin and Bethsaida were quiet rural villages. Bethsaida was the home of Peter, Andrew and Philip. Jesus did miracles there, but the people weren’t interested. So He compared them with two Phoenician cities on the coast. Tyre and Sidon had reputations like Las Vegas or Amsterdam. They were “sin cities.” But those wicked pagan cities would be better off on judgment day than little villages in the heartland of Galilee. If the sin cities had seen Jesus’ miracles they would have repented of their sin. Bethsaida and Korazin saw it all and ignored it.
Jesus reserved His meanest denunciation for the place He lived, Capernaum. Verse 23 compares it to Babylon in Isaiah 14, imagining itself “lifted up to the skies.” Instead, like Babylon, it will be brought down to Hades. Even ancient Sodom would have responded better. Sodom would have repented if Jesus had gone there and done His miracles. Capernaum paid no attention to the fact that God was walking in its streets.
Apathy is a great failure of wisdom. To encounter Jesus and pay little attention is worse than never meeting Him at all. Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and they were even raised the dead. Yet Capernaum was untouched. Business as usual. They thought they were wise, but didn’t care about the glory right before their eyes.
In verse 25, Jesus turns from condemning those who fail to notice Him to praising the Father for those who did receive Him. In effect, He’s been hidden from the “wise” of the towns of Galilee, but revealed to those who are like little children. That, Jesus says, is His Father’s “good pleasure.” Like athletic ability, wisdom begins in a gift, given to those willing to receive it.
Jesus acknowledged His own debt, like an athlete being thankful for the natural ability she was born with. Jesus is wise because wisdom was given to Him. Verse 27 says, “All things have been committed to me by my Father.” Even for Jesus, spiritual wisdom began in a gift He received from God the Father.
“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.” It’s a closed system. It doesn’t matter how much we practice and workout, most of us could never run as fast as Galen Rupp or Jordan Hasay. We aren’t gifted enough to start with. Neither can we practice, work hard and figure out God. It starts with a gift. Access to the Father or the Son comes by grace. We can only be wise, only have divine wisdom, if it’s given to us. No one knows God, except “those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
The good news is that Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father and all the divine wisdom to anyone who will hear and receive a gracious, gentle invitation found in verse 28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” The Son of God chooses to reveal His Father to anyone who is willing. Revealed wisdom is not exclusive, but includes everyone who accepts it. God’s restful wisdom is given through Jesus to all who want it.
Yet the rest, the ease of which Jesus speaks, is like a fine athletic performance. It’s not just giftedness. It’s not lying down. It’s not doing nothing. It’s that beautiful balance of gift and practice, of celebration and sacrifice. In verse 29, Jesus doesn’t offer a couch to flake out on, but a yoke to carry. Through the gift of knowing God in Christ, we are invited into the discipline of serving God in Christ.
In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell’s understanding of the yoke offered here is that it is Jesus’ own interpretation of Scripture, His understanding of God’s Word as a rabbi. Instead of the myriad rules and regulations the other rabbis found in the Bible, Jesus offered a lighter, better fitting yoke, a gentler interpretation which is easier to live by. That’s a good insight, but it’s actually only a couple hundred years after Jesus that we find evidence of anyone speaking of the “yoke” of a rabbi as his interpretation of Scripture. The yoke Jesus offers is more than an understanding, more than just an interpretation, it’s the actual discipline Jesus Himself carried out. It’s that balance between celebration of a gift and the offering of sacrifice. We don’t just give thanks for a kinder, gentler vision of God. We learn to live out in sacrifice what that vision is. And part of the gift is that Jesus came to help us do that.
George MacDonald writes that a friend taught him what is meant here. Jesus is not asking us to take upon our necks a yoke which is merely like His. He asks us to take His yoke, the very same one He is carrying. He’s saying, “Take the other end of my yoke, doing as I do, being as I am.” Christ the Lord does not lay upon us any burden which He Himself is not also, at the very same time, lifting with us.
The Christian is not just carrying a yoke. We are in yoke with Jesus, He at one end and you at the other, walking along the way of life together. Every burden, every struggle, every hard road that you encounter is being carried and met and walked by Jesus right beside you. We find our rest, our easy exercise, through a Savior so gentle and humble in heart that He willingly carries our burdens with us.
Jesus’ yoke is partly easy for Him because He enjoys all the natural gifts of being God’s Son. Yet that need not make us jealous or envious, like some of us might be when we see those fit young bodies flying down the track or leaping over the bar. Jesus came to offer us the very same gifts of God’s grace and wisdom which He enjoys. And then He comes right alongside us to help us live those gifts out in loving sacrifice.
Ability and practice, celebration and sacrifice. That’s the wisdom that can only be perfectly achieved in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ. His own life was the absolutely perfect expression of that wisdom. He celebrated. He ate and drank good food and wine, enjoying the gifts of God. He went to weddings and parties and synagogue services, rejoicing in the grace of life. And He sacrificed. He gave Himself up in service to others, healing them, feeding them, and finally dying for them. That’s His balance. That’s His wisdom which brings rest for the soul. That’s His yoke. And He invites you and I to carry it with Him. He carries it with us.
If you are restless today, then I invite you into the yoke of Jesus. Maybe you just need to get back into the harness, return to that restful rhythm of celebration and sacrifice in Christ. Or perhaps you’ve never really been there before, never really felt what it’s like when Jesus carries one end of the load. In either case, I welcome you back into that discipline, into that joy. MacDonald says, “Bearing the same yoke with Jesus [we learn] to walk step for step with Him… drawing the cart laden with the will of the Father…, and rejoicing with the joy of Jesus.”
There is no other way to wisdom, no other route to rest. No burden will be truly lifted, no weariness really relieved until we come to Jesus and take His yoke, receive His help, walk in His way. We cannot find such wisdom, such rest on our own. It’s a gift. And our humble, gentle Savior offers it to you now.
So in a moment we turn to one half of that balance. At our Lord’s Table we celebrate the gift of grace we all are given. We eat and drink with the same joy our Lord did. Then from this Table, we go out, filled with that joy, to live for another week in yoke with Jesus, sacrificing ourselves alongside His sacrifice for us. We rejoice in His grace and we serve in His strength. Celebration and sacrifice. It’s the real rhythm of life. It’s wisdom. It’s rest.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj