daily biblical sermons


Christ brings relief and peace of heart to those that are weary and heavy laden but come to him with humble faith
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, 14th Sunday of the Year, July 05, 2020
Zechariah 9:9-10, Psalm 144, Romans 8:9, 11-13, Matthew 11:25-30


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one 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’” (Matthew 11:25-30).

 

 

Often people consider Christianity to be a difficult and demanding religion and so are put off by it, feeling that they would never qualify as an acceptable Christian, because they know their own sinful lives all too well. To most of these people who feel unworthy and unqualified to be an acceptable Christian, it would probably come as a surprise to know that according to the Scriptures, Christianity is presented as an easy religion. You don’t have to pass any difficult exam to be admitted, nor do you have to have had high grades in school, nor do you have to have a letter of recommendation, indicating that you are an upright, respectable person with a life of admired achievements behind you.

 

 

It is just the opposite. There is no entry test at all, no distinguished curriculum vitae is required, nor even letters of recommendation from respected pastors and Church leaders. In fact, the people that often enter the Church are those that would be rejected by the academic world, the business world, and the elite social world. Many Christians would receive no rewards for anything that the world admires or treasures. In fact, Jesus himself was rejected by the respected religious leaders of his day, the scribes, Pharisees, chief priests, and Sadducees, as well as by the political leaders, Herod and Pontius Pilate. The men of learning and distinction of Jesus day for the most part looked down on him and his ragtag group of followers who had no academic, social, political, or military credentials or achievements whatsoever.

 

 

It was simple sinners like Mary Magdalene and the tax collector Matthew, whose profession was despised by the Jews, who most readily followed him. Even the fisherman Simon Peter told Jesus to leave him, because he would never qualify to be his follower. “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus called him anyway to be an apostle, in fact, to be the chief of all the apostles.

 

 

We Christians have the Scriptures as our primary guide to what Christianity is all about, and our greatest theologian, St. Paul, teaches us that we are justified by faith, not by our good moral works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). Usually people sit up in surprise when they hear this doctrine of St. Paul, because they had figured that they wouldn’t be able to make it as a Christian, when looking back on their sinful life. How could they ever stand justified before God on the basis of their own life, when they feel overwhelmed by their sins?

 

 

So it probably comes as a surprise to many people outside (and even inside) the Church that justification comes as a free gift of God to anyone and everyone no matter what kind of life they are living or have lived if only they put their trusting faith in Jesus Christ. Christ would do the work that justifies them. In fact, he already did the work that justifies the whole world, but the catch is that Christ’s work of justifying the world has no connection with the ordinary everyday sinner today. So Christ’s justification of the whole world is no help to them, unless they come to trusting faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

Then, if they do put their trusting faith in Christ, the greatest miracle of all occurs, namely that they are justified by their faith, not by their works. This means that God declares these ordinary ungodly sinners righteous, when they put their trusting faith in Jesus Christ. And what is this work that Christ does that justifies us? It is his work of dying for our sins, for “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 5:3). Christ died for our sins so that our sins might be punished not in our flesh, not after our death in hell, but in his flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4).

 

 

When Christ did this, he fulfilled one of the greatest and most important Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah, namely that God would put our sins on him and then wound and bruise him in punishment for them so that we might be healed: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Once our sins have been placed on him, then “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

 

 

When we put our faith in him (Jesus Christ), God justifies us – declares and thereby makes us righteous – something that we could never do to ourselves, because we are too sinful. But since our sins have all been duly and justly punished in Christ’s flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3-4), when we put our faith in him, we have no unpunished sins left for God to punish. So what does he do with us? He considers us to be righteous, and if God considers us to be righteous, we are righteous indeed.

 

 

And not only that, but God reckons his own righteousness to us (Romans 4:5) so that we former ungodly and unworthy sinners now shine with the righteousness of God himself. And this comes to us not because of our achievements in keeping God’s law, for we were ungodly sinners lacking in good works, but rather through our faith in Christ, without any good works at all on our part to merit this wonderful gift of justification that transforms us.

 

 

Furthermore, this grace of justification not only makes us righteous, but it also strengthens us and gives us the power to live a new life. St. Paul speaks of being transformed from an “old man” into a “new man” (Ephesians 4:22-24). God, through our faith in Jesus Christ, because of what he did for us on the cross, now makes us “new men” with a new ability to live in a new way that is pleasing to God and to us. A life of sin is not pleasing to us, because after we sin we are depressed by guilt and fear of God’s punishment and fear of death and of what will happen to us after our death because of our sins.

 

 

Justification frees us from all that. It removes our guilt. It gives us new life, God’s own life in us, and so now we seek and even want and are able to live in a new way that is pleasing to God, that is in accordance with his will, and that gives us deep inner peace of heart, instead of remorse, sorrow, depression, and guilt. God has even given us an operator’s manual showing us how to operate this new life. It is called the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ other moral teachings in the New Testament.

 

 

This is what today’s gospel is all about. Jesus has come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance and new life (Mark 2:17). He has hidden these things from the wise of this world that pride themselves on their worldly wisdom and success. These things have been revealed to babes, to ordinary sinful people like you and I. Jesus prays to his Father today, saying, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will” (Matthew 11:25).

 

 

And now that these things are revealed to us by the Son, we come to know the Father in a completely new way, not as a demanding judge ready to strike us down and punish us, but as a loving Father who sent his Son to save us from our sins and give us a new life of inner peace and joy, in place of depression and guilt.

 

 

So Jesus says to us ordinary sinners, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We are heavy laden from our sins and from the difficulty of living in this world without God in our life. But now Jesus has come to give us rest, “And I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus will give us rest in the first instance by justifying us through our faith, not through our merits or good works. That will give us the true rest of our soul that we seek so much and can find nowhere else but in him.

 

 

Then he tells us to take his yoke and his burden, which are easy and light, so that we might find rest for our souls. His yoke and his burden is to live in a new way, according to his will, as made known to us in his normative biblically revealed moral law, which the grace of our justification now enables us to keep, making it even easy to do. So he says, “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” (Matthew 11:29-30).

 

 

“He [Jesus] interposes no hard conditions. He speaks nothing of works to be done first, and deservingness of His gifts to be established. He only asks us to come to Him just as we are, with all our sins, and to submit ourselves like little children to His teaching” (JC Ryle, 1856).

 

 

“Mark who they are that Jesus invites. He does not address those who feel themselves righteous and worthy. He addresses “all you who labor and are heavy burdened”” (JC Ryle, emphasis in the text).

 

 

“There is rest in Christ, rest of conscience, and rest of heart, rest built on pardon of all sin, rest flowing from peace with God” (JC Ryle).

 

 

 

“The beginning of the way to heaven, is to feel that we are in the way to hell, and to be willing to be taught of the Spirit” (JC Ryle).

 

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