The Rest of Christ

Christ Carrying the Cross, Hans Holbein the Younger (1518)

Pentecost +5 2020
Rev. Doug Floyd
Zechariah 9:9–12, Psalm 145, Romans 7:21–8:6, Matthew 11:25–30

Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

This is good news. Exceedingly good news. Think of the Hebrew slaves under the burdens of Egyptian rule. Pharaoh ordering Hebrews babies to be killed. The people groaning under the weight. The Lord comes to their rescue and through His servant Moses breaks the power of Egypt, defeats the forces of Pharaoh, and leads His people out of the house of slavery and into the land of promise.

This story undergirds much of the good news we hear in Romans. Like the ancient Hebrews, all humanity is enslaved: Jew and Gentile alike. We are enslaved under the power of sin and death. With or without the Mosaic law, humanity lives under the burden of sin and death.

Outside the grace of God, humans erect systems of power that always crush the weak. These systems operate not simply in our government but in the human heart. In his book True Believer, Eric Hoffer demonstrates how every prophet, every revolt, every group claiming they will bring a new and better world, often becomes yet another form of oppression.

Though each of us knows pain and suffering to some extent, we also become instruments of pain and suffering for other. Even in our youth. Children can be sweet and loving and kind. Children can also be cruel and unjust and mean.

In our Gospel reading today from Matthew 11:25-30 and our reading from Romans 7:21-8:6, we see the grace of God entering into a world that has turned away from God, a world that lives under the power of sin and death. When Jesus calls out, “Come to me,” He calls us out of the dark and into the light. He echoes the sound of the wisdom calling on the corner,

          “To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
                      O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
                      Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
                      for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips. [1]
Jesus calls out, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). He is wisdom enfleshed, and he leads us in the way of truth for he is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus calls out to those under the burden of sin and death, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

Those disciples who hear His words and obey His call, those disciples who have been gathered by His Spirit and who call upon His name, enter in His rest, His Sabbath: the very rest of God.

In a time when our world feels weary and wobbling under the pain of sickness and anger and oppression. In a time when our society feels divided and broken and stumbling along the path. The disciples of Christ follow Christ into the world with His Good News upon their lips and His grace of reconciliation in their hands.

In order to go out, we must encounter Him inwardly. We must behold the Lord of love and light. Without His grace to guide, our search for justice would reek death and destruction instead. Consider the Apostle Paul: a Hebrew of Hebrews, blameless under the law. And yet, his zeal left a wake of death and destruction. The justice he sought brought death not life. On the road to Damascus, he encounters the Lord and ends up beholding Jesus Christ. He comes to know a love beyond knowledge. A love that compels him to pour out his life in love to the Jew and to the Gentile.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells us that the act of Jesus coming to rescue us was and is an act of love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[2] Through Christ, Paul came to see that humans were under the law of sin and death. Outside of God’s grace revealed in Christ, the law of Moses could not deliver us from sin and death.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.[3] This is the same image we see in our Gospel reading, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hans Holbein the Younger paints an image of Jesus under the weight of the cross. When I see this image, I think of the image of Atlas carrying the celestial spheres on his back. Yet Atlas cannot compare with the image of Jesus who freely carries the weight of sin and death upon Himself.

He can invite us to a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light because He has born the weight of our sin and death. In so doing, He has made a way for us to enter rest His rest of love.

There are icons and Medieval images of Christ rescuing people from sin and death. In the image, He takes hold of the wrist not the hand. What does this image mean? We cannot grasp his hand. We cannot assist in our deliverance from sin and death. He takes hold of us and lift us up into His life. We have been grasped by love. This is the beginning of true to discipleship: to be grasped by the love of God in Christ. Dallas Willard tries to communicate the very core of God’s engagement with us is a love we cannot comprehend by writing,

“So we must understand that God does not “love” us without liking us—through gritted teeth—as “Christian” love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core—which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love.”[4]

The disciple can abandon all things and even take up her cross and follow Christ because she has encountered a glimpse of the riches of God’s love. Joseph Ratzinger writes,

“Discipleship is a way through agitated, stormy waters that we can follow only if we are in the gravitational field of the love of Jesus Christ, if our gaze is fixed on him and therefore supported by the new gravity of grace that makes possible for us the way to truth and to God that we would have been unable to follow by our own efforts.”[5]

The image we eventually see in Romans is that of adoption. We have been adopted into the family of God. Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”[6]

As adopted children of God, we rest in Christ. He has become our Sabbath. In Christ, time and space are reordered. As we move through time and space, we move from love toward love. We receive and we give. We become agents of reconciliation. We no longer regard people according to the flesh. We not only love our family and friends, but in Christ we love our enemies. As Ambassadors for Christ, we carry the message of reconciliation to the people around us.  

We work for the healing and restoration of our culture and world by loving and listening to the anger and hurt and brokenness in those around us. We bear witness to the love of God in Christ even as we stand against powers of darkness in high places. We both address the oppression and injustice of our society even as we cry out to the Lord in prayer.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”[7]

May we not grow weary in well-doing, in well-loving, and in bear witness to God’s unsearchable mercy and unbounded love. In the midst of the COVID crisis and the cries for justice in our streets, many churches from around the world have begun to sing the Levitical blessing over their communities. It is a powerful image of the people of God serving as a priestly people praying for blessing upon their land. It is worth watching and may inspire all of us to bear witness to the Creator who has revealed Himself by His Spirit in Jesus Christ.[8]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 8:4–7.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:8.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:2.

[4] Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy (p. 74). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[5] Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 140.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:15.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 10:3–6.

[8] See “The New York Blessing” < https://youtu.be/0JZlqkAanhA>. “The Blessings” was originally released by Elevation Worship from Elevation Church in March 2020. In three short months, it has become an anthem for churches from over 20 nations around the world, singing a blessing to the people of their nations in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis (see – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blessing_(song).

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