+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 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. 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.””
Jesus spoke these words of peace and comfort just after He had spoken some rather harsh words against the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. “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. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades.”
Of all the cities of the ancient world, these three, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, were among the most blessed of God. Many of the mighty works of Jesus were done in them. In Bethsaida Jesus healed the multitudes, including the blind man at the pool. He also fed the 5,000 in Bethsaida. In Capernaum He healed the paralytic who was lowered down into His presence through the roof into the living room of a homeowner. In Capernaum He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. In Capernaum He walked on the sea. Finally, in Capernaum He preached His great sermon on the Bread of Life found in John 6. "I am the bread of life (He said). Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
And yet, by and large, the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum rejected Jesus and the Gospel He preached. Rather than repent of their sins and turn to God humbly for forgiveness, they went their own way, the way that ultimately ended in death and destruction. In fact, of the three great cities of the ancient world, virtually nothing remains of Chorazin and Bethsaida, while only faint traces remain of Capernaum.
I’ve taken the opportunity to reach back a few verses before the Gospel reading appointed for this morning, in part, because these verses set the stage for what Jesus says in today's reading. But also because, in some ways, these three cities help us relate better to today's reading, mainly because they were a lot like the cities of our Nation today. The Gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection flows freely through the streets of our cities, down the highways and byways, into the ivory towers of Wall Street and into the darkest slums of Chicago and LA and elsewhere. No people on earth, it would seem, have been blessed with the outpouring of the Gospel and with as many providential gifts of God as have we Americans.
And yet, in many ways, as a Nation, we have rejected repentance and grace for the more palatable doctrines of permissiveness and tolerance. The only great vice is to condemn the vice of someone else. Love, that most difficult sacrifice that Jesus says is the fulfillment of the entire Law of God, has been morphed into such a strange form that it is no longer even recognizable. Consequently, we, like the great ancient cities, are called to repent of our wanton disregard of God’s Word and of His gracious care of our people and of our land. In the end, our land too will lie in ruins, for such has been the fate of every nation ever conceived. What though will be our epitaph? "Here was America, a land of God's great blessing and a people devoted to His name," or, "Here was America, a land of God's great blessing and a people who went their own way?"
Self-righteousness though is as grievous a sin as waywardness and it’s only cheered on and encouraged by sermons about all those other people out there who have made such a mess of our country. If we are to hear Jesus’ kind invitation for the weary and heavy laden to come to Him for rest we need to first see ourselves as the problem and not as the solution. The fact is, while our nation may seem to have turned away from God to go it’s own way, you and I do the very same thing in a multitude of ways in our own personal lives.
In the Epistle reading for this morning, you heard the Apostle Paul lamenting that very same thing in his own life. “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 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.”
What Paul confesses about himself is systemic. It’s something that invades his whole being. It is something he can’t understand, much less master. There is a part of him that delights in God. That part is there because he’s a man of faith, faith in Christ, the crucified! But, there’s another part of him that wages war against God! It makes him captive to the sin that dwells in him. Paul, like every Christian, was a living contradiction! While he wanted one thing, to love and serve God, he often did another! “I do not understand my own actions (he says). For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Paul’s conflict is mirrored in the untold times that you have visited the same sins in your life over and over again. You confess them to God! You ask Him to cleanse you of your sin and to change your heart. You have so longed to conquer your sins, to find victory over them, to be the new man in Christ that only faintly even remembers the deeds of the old man. And yet, you remain a living contradiction, a Christian who delights in the law of God, but who violates that law time and time again.
In the end of his confession in Romans 7, Paul says he’s tired!! He’s tired of himself!! He’s tired of the inner conflict! He’s tired of the contradiction! Perhaps more than anything, he’s tired of his actions that so often seem to deny God! “Wretched man that I am (he says)! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul’s answer, of course, was in Christ. “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!” “He delivers me from this body of death!” So it is, when you grow tired of yourself, of your waywardness and your inner conflict, there is the voice of the One who calls you to come to Him for rest. “Come to me (Jesus says), all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
That rest many not come in the cessation of the conflict within! In fact, to the day you die you will be at one and the same time a saint and a sinner. Still, you have rest for your soul. In the very first verse of chapter 8 of Romans, the chapter right after the reading for this morning, Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” To such a wonderful promise we’re inclined to say, “yeah, but…” “Yeah, but I did it again.” “Yeah, but I got angry when I shouldn’t have.” “Yeah, but I failed to help someone in need when I could have.” Finally, the “yeah, but’s…” become a terror to your conscience and strangely enough, they become a way for you to try to atone for what you’ve done. And they never end! And you grow tired!
Before you this morning is this Savior who calls you out of yourself that you might find rest in Him. “Come to me (Jesus says), 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.” Jesus’ body and blood, broken and poured out for you, absolves you of your sin. It silences the “yeah, but’s…” You see, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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