Summary: Looking at our burdens and Christ’s.
Last time I was here many of you were away at Easter People. While you were off enjoying your holiday, or your hard work, or a spiritual break, I was stood up here talking about the disciple Thomas. I finished the service that morning by asking all those here to write down your greatest fears or doubts about your own Christian life. Since I did that, I have been asking the same question to many other Christians, and repeatedly the reply from them is the same. “I am worried that when I get to meet Jesus, I will not have done enough, or been good enough since I became a Christian to make Him happy with me”.
Now I did not read the slips that you placed under the cross at the front here, but I would guess that many of you here have the same worry or fear about your own Christian life. I know there have been many times when I have done.
This seems to be something that Paul was very aware of in his own life especially in his former life as a practicing Jew. Maybe not in the same words, but it obvious from our reading today, that he realised that he was not living the life that God wanted him to live. He wrote in Romans 7:14-15: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” And then again “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” And one more time in verse 19: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.”
Doesn’t this sound familiar to many of us, and isn’t it one of the main reasons why we worry that we are not good enough Christians to receive the eternal life that is offered?
In Matthew Chapter 11, Jesus is speaking to a people who have been placed under a great burden. For many years they have had Pharisees and Levites telling them all about how they should be living their lives. It wasn’t enough for them to try and keep God’s law, these people had invented their own hedge of laws that they must obey just to make certain that they kept God’s law. The prophet Isaiah had written a couple of hundred years earlier: “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, "This is the resting place, let the weary rest"; and, "This is the place of repose"-- but they would not listen. So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there-- so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. (Isaiah 28:11-13).
To give you an example, the Jewish writing called the Mishnah describes how this hedge works. Or at least how it should have worked. The Old Testament states that the Shema, the great prayer should be recited on a certain day of the year. The Mishnah – the Jewish book of verbal law, goes on to describe exactly when this should be done:
1:1 From what time in the evening may the Shema be recited? From the time when the priests enter [the Temple] to eat of their Heave-offering until the end of the first watch. So says Rabbi. Eliezer. But the Sages say: Until midnight. Rabban Gamaliel says: Until the rise of dawn. His sons once returned [after midnight] from a wedding feast. They said to him, "We have not recited the Shema." He said to them, "If the dawn has not risen ye are [still] bound to recite it. Moreover, wheresoever the Sages prescribe ’Until midnight’ the duty of fulfilment lasts until the rise of dawn." The duty of burning the fat pieces and the members [of the animal offerings] lasts until the rise of dawn; and for all [offerings] that must be consumed "the same day," the duty lasts until the rise of dawn. Why then have the Sages said: Until midnight? To keep man far from transgression.”
In other words, the hedge of laws that were built around the Old Testament law were there to make sure that Jews kept God’s law. The trouble was that they had not had this effect. Instead of doing this, people were left under the burden of thinking that they had even more laws to obey. Is it any wonder that these were the people to whom Jesus called ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened’. They were weary and burdened by the law that had been designed to bring them freedom and release. This is why Paul wrote, “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” He knew the law, both that given by God, and that put in place by man to help prevent people from disobeying God’s law. Yet he also knew that he could not obey all of these laws. Paul was one of those who were wearied and burdened in his attempts to do what God wanted. It did not matter how hard he tried he could not do it.