Grace for the Weak and Weary
Text: Matt. 11:25-30
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the most scandalous things about Christianity—something that’s been stumbling block for unbelievers and believers alike—is the concept of God’s infinite and pure grace. It’s scandalous because it does two things. First, it locates our salvation and everything good we have from God in the fact that He wants to give us every good thing as a gift. Second, it takes away every scrap of credit that we can claim for ourselves. The doubter that lives in the heart of every single fallen child of Adam and Eve will refuse to believe that God could give us anything good—especially not something as magnificent as eternal life—without expecting something in return. And the Pharisee that lives in the heart of every mortal scoffs at the idea that they can contribute nothing to receive these gifts.
And yet, it’s this grace—undeserved, unearned—that sits at the heart of God’s goodness toward us. It’s not because He owes us anything. It’s not because we’ve done anything to be rewarded. It’s simply because this is who He is and this is what He desires to do. Or, as Jesus has said to us this morning, “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.” This gift is not for the wise, those who know every right answer to the questions and mysteries of the faith. It’s not for those who have constructed their logic flowcharts to explain God and faith and salvation in confident knowledge. It was not for those who uncover arcane secrets and convoluted codes and regulations. In fact, we all too often see these self-taught, self-declared wise men buried under their own self-determined wisdom. It has instead been the Father’s good pleasure to reveal it to little ones, to infants at the baptismal font, to children singing “Alleluia” and “Amen” from the bottom of their hearts.
Nor are these gifts of God for the strong. He does not hand over eternal life and His goodwill and gifts as if they were trophies going to the victors or best contenders. No one can pry open His hand and tell Him that they are owed these things because of their willpower or the fact that they’re better or stronger or more triumphant than anyone else. In fact, our Lord tends to put the mighty in their place. As He proclaimed through the prophet Zechariah this morning: “I will cut of the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off.”
Nor is God’s good pleasure earned by those who do the right thing enough of the time. This is where the scandal of grace become especially prickly for us. Eternal life, bliss in God’s presence forever, is nothing earned—not even by those who work for it. Indeed, those who try to earn it on their own only find themselves further away from it all than when they began. Or do you think that St. Paul, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, was speaking only of himself when he described the dilemma of trying to be perfect enough to earn it all on one’s own: “For I do not understand my own actions,” he writes, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not what is what I keep on doing…So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
It is a scandal to the world, and to our fallen natures, that God’s grace is instead for the broken. It’s for the heavy laden, weighed down by sin, guilt, shame; by could-haves and should-haves. God’s mercy and grace is for the tired, the ones straining to hold up the slipping mask of being OK in front of others. His grace, His peace, His forgiveness is for the sinners—even more shocking, for the sinners who admit it. And as for those who insist on their own righteousness, their own strength, their own wisdom; well, Jesus has some very different words for them. He speaks words of woe. He warns them. He gives them a taste of the outer darkness, the weeping and gnashing of teeth that will be theirs if they cling to the filthy rags of their own efforts and strength and wisdom to the bitter end.
But leave those words for those who need to hear them. Instead, to the broken, the humble, the humiliated, the ones who need rest from the demands of the Law and expectations of the world, to you Jesus says, “Come to me. 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.” He tells you to come to Him, because He has come to you. Your King has come to you, righteous and having salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey. As He rode into Jerusalem to save you, it was not in a chariot or on a war horse, it was not in a display of shock and awe, it was not for the strong and victorious. It was humble, on a donkey’s colt, unintimidating, clothed in weakness on the way to His cross. And before that He came to you in surprising words of teaching, as a humble wandering rabbi and teacher, without a place to lay His head, speaking to the crowds of people who were sheep scattered, waiting for their Shepherd. And before that, He came to you humble, born of a virgin who was the whispered talk of the town, all so that He could meet you in your weakness, so that you could touch Him in humility and gentlest grace.
So we, the sinners who have admitted that we are poor and miserable, we the sorrowful, the tired, the grieving, the foolish, the weak, we sing to our King, humble and coming to us. We sing as they did before, when He was humble and mounted on a donkey, “Hosanna! Save us, we beg you! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!” It’s no accident that His words, “Come to me” are in the stained-glass windows above the altar here, where He comes to us. This is where we meet Him, at the Communion rail, where we receive Him who has invited all of us wretched men and women, coming to Him in what St. Paul has called our body of death so that we can trade it for His living body and blood of life. We come to His never-ending life here. And from here, our King goes with us, breaking the weapons of the enemies who would harm us, silencing the accusations that would pile up on our shoulders again throughout the week. We come to Him and receive a foretaste of our final rest, where we will rest in the Lord. And then, and only then, our good works will follow us, a testimony to all that the Lord has done for us and through us. Come to Him now and find rest for your souls. In the name of Jesus, who gives us limitless grace. Amen.