One of the things that we talk about in catechism class is how the triune God makes Himself known. We talk about the way that God makes Himself known in the world around us, within our thoughts, and by His revelation in the Bible. The Apostle Paul also speaks of these three ways of knowing about God.
The Apostle Paul has this to say about what human beings can learn about God from the world around us: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19–20) In other words, the complexity and size of the universe points to a design, and a design points to a designer.
What can we learn about the designer when we look at creation? We can look at the motion of the objects in the sky. We can examine the complex language of the DNA that we find within the cells that make up our bodies. We can look at all the things that must be just right in order for life to thrive on this planet. We can look at these and thousands of other facts. As we contemplate these things, we must conclude that the intelligence behind all this is way, way, way, bigger than we are. The attention to detail and the massive scale of the universe are staggering. The beauty and grandeur of creation are inspiring.
At the same time, creation is very dangerous. Natural disasters come in all shapes and sizes: earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, diseases, predators that want to eat us, and so forth. If we rely only on what we see in the world around us, then we must wonder why did this intelligent designer make such a wonderful, beautiful world that is also so deadly.
Then there is the evidence for God that lies within us. When God created Adam and Eve, they knew everything that they needed to know about Him. But Adam and Eve corrupted that knowledge when they ate of the forbidden fruit. Never the less, even the leftover broken pieces of that knowledge are still with us. Again, the Apostle Paul said, “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:14–15) These words teach us that the law is still there in what we call the conscience. The existence of this law within us points to a law giver.
The human being with a conscience observes the danger in the world and must come to one conclusion. The intelligent being who designed and created all this must be angry with me. Why else would the creator make something that is so wonderful and deadly at the same time? Even though the original knowledge that Adam and Eve had at creation is now corrupt, there is still enough to trigger guilt. This combination of a beautiful, but dangerous creation and a guilty conscience is at the heart of the religions that spring from mankind’s imagination. Somehow, mankind must keep the gods satisfied so that they will bless us and not bring disaster upon us.
The works that mankind must do to keep the gods happy can be very brutal. When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, they abused themselves to get Baal’s attention. They cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. (1 Kings 18:28) Others even sacrificed their own children. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. (Psalm 106:37–38) The point is that when you must earn your own way into the favor of the gods, it is a very heavy and onerous burden. False religions demand a heavy price.
Physical sacrifice is not the only example of sacrifice given to false religions. Some religions require their members to make copies of all their tax forms and give them to the church. The church then compares the giving record of the member to the income reported to the IRS and will kick the member out if they do not give a certain percentage of that income. Some false religions do not allow their followers to celebrate birthdays or Christmas or any other holiday. Some religions do not allow blood transfusions. The list goes on and on.
What do all these acts of sacrifice and torture tell us about humanity? It tells us that it is natural for humanity to believe that there is something or someone out there that is way bigger than we are, AND that someone or something is very powerful and very angry. We need to do something to satisfy that someone or something so that he, she, or it is not angry with us, but is favorably disposed toward us instead. This is the hard labor of all false religions.
The nasty truth about this hard labor is that it is never good enough. No matter how hard you work, things still go wrong. Tragedies still happen. The crops still fail. Plagues still strike. People get sick. People get injured. People die. Nothing is ever good enough. Never the less, the followers of false religions redouble their efforts when tragedy strikes. They try harder. Their labors are never over. Either that, or they just give up in despair and hopelessness.
There is, however, a third way that we can know about God. The Apostle Paul describes this way with these words, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) This way is the best because it is God Himself teaching us what we need to know about Him. The other two ways depend on us … what we observe in the universe, and what we feel within. Since God transcends this universe, those two ways are never enough. But when God Himself teaches us about Him, it is everything we need.
When we hear to the words of God, we hear something completely different than what we learn on our own. Jesus declared, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30) This is unlike any other religion in the world. Here is a religion where God tells us to lay down our burden of self-justification. Here is God telling us to rest. Here is Jesus telling us that He will take the heavy burden. He will take the hard labor. He will take our hard yoke and make it easy. He will take our heavy burden and make it light.
The reason that Jesus can say this is that He is the Son of God who entered history in order to save us from our own sin. While we can do nothing to please God, everything that Jesus does is pleasing to God. While we cannot endure the punishment that will satisfies God’s justice, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross totally satisfied God’s justice for you. Jesus is the one who takes our hard yoke on Himself and gives us the easy yoke of forgiveness in its place. He is the one who took up our heavy burden of sin and replaced it with the light burden of His righteousness. He has taken the labor and burden of false belief and replaced it with the rest of true faith.
Jesus has done all the work that makes us right with God. The blessings of that work become available to us when the Holy Spirit works faith in us. The Holy Spirit establishes the faith that receives the gifts of God – forgiveness, life, salvation. At the same time, the Holy Spirit creates a new being in us – a holy child of God. We now have the easy yoke of Christ’s forgiveness and the light burden of His righteousness.
The forces of evil hate Christ’s easy yoke and light burden. They will try to entrap and enslave us to a life that struggles to earn God’s favor. Our old sinful nature is still around. Christ has earned our forgiveness and the Holy Spirit applies that forgiveness to us through His gift of faith. The Holy Spirit has made us holy, but our old sinful nature constantly trys to turn us back to the broad road that leads to spiritual destruction. We become battle fields and the temptation is for us to try to do the fighting.
Never the less, Jesus continuously invites us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) He says, “I am your champion. I have already won the war. The holy, sinless life that Jesus led … His innocent suffering and death … His resurrection and the ascension … all these, Jesus did for you. Through His holy life and sinless death, He won forgiveness for you. With that forgiveness come life and salvation. He has taken all our sin … all our guilt to the cross, including those sins we commit even after we are a child of God.
As God’s children, we mourn the fact that we daily sin much. At the same time, we rejoice in the free, abundant and overwhelming forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ.
The life of the Christian is a battle, but we have the champion who has defeated all our foes, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Amen
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