If you’re anything like me you get caught up in the busy-ness of the moment. Too many things to do, too little time to get them all done. You’re pressed by demands on your time and energy and resources from every side – and you want to do right by all of them. But there’s only so many ways to slice the pie, and some of those slices are awfully thin.
I always kind of look forward to a little break around Christmas time, but what am I thinking? It just gets even busier. So, let’s take a moment this morning and take a breath and pause to rest in the assurance of God’s love. Nothing thought provoking, nothing to go and do, just a reminder of how much you are loved and what God wants for your life.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:29-30)
Doesn’t that sound inviting? Rest for your souls – we could use a little rest, a place of peace, someone who loves us just like we are and takes us right where we’re at.
In Isaiah 9, you’ll remember that beautiful description of the coming messiah: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)
Prince of Peace. It’s an awesome description when you think about it - that in God’s kingdom, it is a place of peace and Jesus rules over that peace, he fosters that peace, he protects that peace.
When you think of the nature of kingdoms and nations, they are universally drawn to conflict – conflict without as they establish and defend their borders, as they attempt to dominate and subjugate other nations. Even within their own realms there is conflict within governments – sides are drawn, agendas are pushed, animosity poisons the air.
Within our families we experience conflict and estrangement. Husband against wife, parents against children, brother against brother, sister against sister. And if you have experienced that, you know how it tears your heart apart and exhausts your soul.
Perhaps worst of all is the conflict that we experience within ourselves. Paul described the war that is raging within us and casualties that Satan leaves in his wake as he works his destruction through sin and selfishness, through doubt and despair, through broken promises and shattered dreams. I meet people every day who are walking wounded – they have lost hope and they see little chance of change. And so they live with a cloud that hangs over their soul – a brooding sense of disquiet and unrest.
Part of our problem is that we think we’re all alone in our struggle – just me against the world. And we feel so isolated, not just from people but from God. I think of David’s feelings that he expressed in Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps 42:1-6)
I think of Elijah after his victory on Mt. Carmel, when Jezebel threatened his life and he fled into the wilderness, how he cried out to God: “I have had enough, LORD, take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Later on Mt. Horeb he faced God and said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” But what was God’s response? “Go back the way you came… I have seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed their knees to Baal.” He told him – you are not alone.
If your soul is troubled, if you carry the weight of the world, if you feel alone and abandoned – others have been there before you, and they found their peace and their hope in God.
I think most of us are hungry for peace, for a haven of rest for our souls - where we have a place, a person to come to and know that we can experience peace. As the Prince of Peace, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
I’d like to tell you it’s an easy fix – come to Jesus and all of your problems will disappear, all of your anxieties will evaporate, that your relationships will be healed and peace will reign in your life and over your soul. But it’s not a magical panacea, a cure-all, or a formula for happiness. But it is the place to begin – not a place – the place, the only place to begin.
As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death, and the time that he would no longer be with them in person, he said this: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth…. [Just a note on this original Greek word for “Counselor” – it is Paraclete - “One who is called alongside” – This “Counselor” isn’t just one who gives advice dispassionately from a distance, but one who comes alongside and walks with us and guides us personally.] The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:16-17, 26-27)
Peace comes with the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We have that constant abiding presence of Jesus through God’s Holy Spirit, whom God sent to be with us to help us, to comfort us, to guide us, to teach us, to assure us. Paul wrote in Romans 8:6, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Do you remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the young preacher, Titus? But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
Washing, rebirth, renewal by the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t just slap a coat of paint over your troubles and tell you to get over it. He begins with the heart – he gives healing and renewal, refreshing and rebirth. He reaches deep inside at the source of your stress and pain and anxiety and deals with the real issues that underlies them all.
That could be a scary thought, though, because some of those issues are pretty embarrassing, even condemning. We think, if God really knew me, he couldn’t possibly love me. He would write me off and kick me out.
But the truth is, God does know exactly what’s troubling your soul. The Hebrews writer says there is nothing hidden from God’s sight. Like a surgeon he “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
But here’s the amazing thing –knowing everything he knows about us – all the dirt, all the shame – he loves us. And more than that – he saves us by his mercy, he justifies us by his grace, he makes us his heirs with the hope of eternal life. God knows exactly who you are and what’s going on inside of you – and he loves you anyway. And he wants you to experience the peace that comes when you find your rest in him.
When Jesus began his ministry, he began with a sermon from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isa. 61:1-3)
It was a definitive statement of his purpose for coming – not to give them a new religion, not to add more laws to the old, but to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Do you hear what he’s saying? He didn’t come to increase your burdens but to relieve them. He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. He didn’t come to bring guilt, but grace. He came to tell you about God’s love and to remind you of how special you are to him.
A few weeks ago I got one of the best compliments I ever received. We had served breakfast to the homeless on a Saturday morning down in our fellowship room. And after we let them go through the line and get what they want, all of us who cook follow them and get a plate and sit down and eat with them and talk and get to know them. We’ve been doing this now for five years. It was afterwards, when we were cleaning up that one of the guys came up to me and said, “I just want to thank you – not just for making us breakfast, but treating us like real people – you look us in the eye and call us by name and talk to us like we matter. And we don’t get much of that.”
And I thought, “that’s what it’s all about.” You see, Jesus came to give us a home and a family and let us know that we matter to God, and that there will always be a place for us at his table.
Posted on Sun, December 15, 2013
by John Roberts