What are you working for? Think about it. Seriously. Some of you are working harder than others. Probably all of you work harder on some days than on other days. But all of you work hard at something. What is it you are working for?
And what is it that you’re worried about? What is it that weighs heavy on your heart and mind?
What are you looking to find? What is it that you want? What is it that you’re trying to achieve and accomplish? Is it safety and security? Peace of mind? Rest and relaxation? Or, finally, some kind of relief from all of your burdens of body, soul, and spirit? A chance to live without fear?
But just think, how odd it is that you would drive yourself into the ground and work yourself to death, in hopes of finding rest. And how often it is that, in your efforts to find peace, you agonize and worry about every step you take, every decision you make, and every potential outcome.
The fact of the matter is that real life, and real peace, and real rest are found only in God, your Creator, in His Word and Holy Spirit. And all of this is given to you solely by His grace, by His divine charity; not by your works, but by the Word and work of His Gospel. Thus do you receive His Life and His Salvation, and thus do you have peace and rest, by faith alone in Christ alone.
The Lord your God reveals Himself and His Christ, and He gives Life, not to proud, independent, self-sufficient adults, but to infants and toddlers. To the little ones, who are so weak and helpless, who do not rely upon themselves because they can’t. They must depend on others to do and provide everything for them; else they die.
It is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs. It is to such as these — little children, babes in arms, infants even in the womb — it is to them that God reveals Himself in Christ Jesus.
And the Son reveals the Father to whom He wills. Not to the man or woman who works and strives, worries and frets, but to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. He does so, where and when it pleases Him, solely by the Gospel of His Cross, by the preaching of forgiveness in His Name.
You do not have God on a chain or a leash. He’s not at your beck and call. Nor is He within your grip or in your back pocket. He gives Himself to you by grace. You cannot choose Him or take Him for yourself. You cannot even accept Him by any savvy, strength, or strategy of your own.
It’s not that you’re not trying hard enough. It’s not that you’re not strong enough or smart enough. All your trying, all your strength, and all of your smarts get in the way. Whatever you attempt to do by your own power is not only incapable of achieving life with God; it is counter productive.
Apart from faith (which is itself God’s gracious gift), all of your best efforts, all of your righteous deeds, and all of your good intentions are sinful and unclean. They drive you that much further from God. They do not bring you peace but anxiety, even despair. They do not give you rest but weariness and exhaustion, both mentally and physically. They do not bring you life but death.
Did you not hear what Jesus said? The Father hides Himself from all manner of self-righteousness. He hides Himself from those who try to seek Him by their own wisdom, reason, or strength. He will not be known except by His own grace. He does not want you to work your way to Him — as if you even could! He will not have it. If you make the attempt, you’ll be playing hide-n-seek with One who cannot be found (though you will not be able to hide from Him in the Judgment).
God hides Himself from every kind of self-righteousness, including your own. It may seem easy enough to pick on those who teach that man is justified by his good works or that he might earn or even purchase an indulgence for his sins. But you’ll not save yourself, either, by pointing out the errors in your neighbor’s confession, faith, and life. Rather be concerned about yourself and your own ways and means of self-righteousness. Examine your heart, mind, and life; and repent.
Confessing the doctrine of the Apostles and living within the fellowship of the Church are essential to your faith and life with God; for it is among those who hear and receive the Gospel that Christ reveals Himself and His Father and pours out His Holy Spirit. But are you living by such faith in the Gospel of your Lord? Or do you imagine that you have done Him a favor by going to church and giving up some of “your time” to let His Word pass over you, in one ear and out the other?
How is it that you live from Sunday to Sunday? When you get up in the morning, how do you go about your day? That’s how you know where your faith and trust really are, whether you are living by your own works and your own worries, or by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
How do you spend most of your time? What is it that occupies your thoughts? Where and how do you expend your energy? That tells you where your god is to be found, and what your god is.
Where is it, and how is it, that you invest or spend your money? Your treasures and your talents? Your riches of whatever kind? Where and how do you invest yourself? And to what end? Are you striving to make a life for yourself, in which no one tells you what to do, but you make your own rules, you pursue your own desires, and you reign as lord and god of your own kingdom?
Repent. You will not find what you really need by any of your schemes and selfish machinations. You will not find the one true God that way. You will not find life in His Kingdom by following your heart, sticking to your guns, or looking out for yourself, as though you were number one. And you’ll never find peace or rest like that. Not by your intelligence, knowledge, or academic achievement. Not by your hard work, and certainly not by wringing your hands in anxiety. Nor even by your religious piety. You won’t get yourself into heaven by going to church or doing what a Christian should do (though you will be in the right place and better off than those who don’t).
None of your own efforts will do the trick. The harder that you try to make it work that way, the further away and the more elusive the Lord and His Life and the Kingdom of heaven will be. Because the problem is not that you’re not trying hard enough. The problem is that you’re trying at all. You’re trying to do and accomplish what you are not called or able to do. Stop. Repent.
Everything that you need for life with God — for which you were created by God in love — it is all given to you freely. It is entirely by grace. It is the gift of God, to the glory of His holy Name.
It is all given to you in the Cross of Christ. And there’s the real irony. There’s the conundrum. “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says. And then, “If you would be My disciple, take up the Cross and follow Me.” Get nailed to the Cross, and die. But is that easy? Is that light?
It is only by the Cross that you have Life and Peace and Rest. But the Cross does not feel like an easy burden or a light yoke. The Cross feels hard, and heavy, and burdensome, and as though it were going to crush and destroy you utterly. The Cross confronts your old man as far harder than all of your hard work and best efforts. Which is why you deceive yourself, and the devil delights to deceive you, so that you despise the Cross of Christ and pursue your own passions instead.
The fact is, you cannot bear His yoke unless you learn from Christ to bear it by faith in His Word and promises. It is by faith alone, and not by works at all, because the Cross puts to death and buries all that you are, your ego and your pride, your savvy and your strength, your wisdom and intelligence, and all of your achievements and self-righteousness. The Cross puts all that to death, so that you might be reborn as a little child of God, and raised up to newness of life in Christ Jesus.
So, then, learn from Him. Disciple of Jesus, follow Him. Watch how He lives. Listen to what He says. He teaches you because He loves you. Learn from Him to bear the Cross in faith and love, in the hope and promise of His Resurrection. Learn humility before God, as Christ humbled Himself and became obedient unto death; and learn to be humble and kind toward your neighbor.
And learn to love your neighbor in the way that Christ loves you, who had nothing to gain for Himself, but He gave up everything for your sake. He bore the Cross for you, and He bore all of your burdens, all your griefs and sorrows, all your iniquities and sins, and all the sins of others against you, in His own Body on the Cross, in order to save you for life with His God and Father.
So does He also come to you now; and it is by His coming to you, that He enables you to come to Him in faith. That is the point in the Word He speaks to you this morning, His gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That is not a command, a word of the law to burden and accuse you. It is a precious promise of the Gospel to strengthen and sustain your faith against the lies of the devil, and against all the doubts and despair of your own sinful heart. You come at His Word, not as though you are worthy, nor as though to earn and achieve something from Him, but because He has called you and welcomed you to Himself.
It is His good and gracious will that you should have peace and rest and life in Him. That’s what He wants! His desire is that you have life with God in body and soul; that you know His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Him. He has reconciled you to God by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. And He has made you His beloved child by your Baptism.
Come to Him, then, and take His yoke upon you. Not by working, but by receiving what He gives.
Are you weary? He gives you rest, because He has worked for you. Are you anxious? Are you afraid? He gives you peace, because He has borne your burdens, all your fears and frustrations, all your anxieties and stress. And He has done all things well. He has made everything right.
Don’t quit your job. Don’t stop working. Don’t abandon your stations in life. The rest that is yours in Christ is not a permanent vacation or a neverending party. It does not mean that you’re now free to stay in bed all day, or that you’re at liberty to fritter away your time and energy in pursuit of false gods and idolatry. It rather means that you now go about your work and do your job as one who lives in Christ. You rest in Him by faith in His Gospel. You have peace with God in Him, even as you labor and sweat to love and serve your family, friends, and neighbors. You do not work to save yourself, as though your life depended on it, but because life and salvation and all good things are yours in Christ. Thus are you free to live your life in love for God and man.
If you are a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, then you have such peace and rest, and you are able to love as you are loved. For right here and now, by the Ministry of His Gospel, He gives Himself to you. He not only reveals Himself, but He gives Himself to you. Into your ears, and into your mouth, into your heart, and into your body and life. He gathers you to Himself, in much the way that Kelvin, Nicholai, and Nathaniel will take their newborn infants into their arms, and hold them with tender love, and protect them with the strength that God provides, in the months ahead.
Your dear Lord Jesus welcomes and receives you as a little child, a babe in arms. And He gently schools you in the way of life. He teaches you to live, and how to live, by giving you Himself and His Life. He saves you from yourself and from all your good intentions. He saves you from your wretched thoughts, your divided heart, and your body of death, by revealing His Father to you, by pouring out His Spirit upon you, and by giving you His own holy Body and precious Blood.
He washes you with His Word of the Gospel; He clothes you with His own Righteousness and Holiness, His Innocence and Blessedness; and He feeds you like a baby at your mother’s breast.
Don’t try harder to work for any of this. But do come and rest yourself here in the Liturgy of the Lord. Taste and see that He is good. For all things in heaven and on earth have been handed over to Christ Jesus by the Father, and here He hands them over to you by the Ministry of the Gospel. Eat, drink, and be at Peace, and find your Sabbath Rest here in the Body of Christ, given for you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.