How does a person ever become a Christian?
That’s a question you might be asking if you’re here this morning, but you wouldn’t yet call yourself a Christian. You’re interested in the person of Jesus. He’s starting to make sense. But somehow, you’re not convinced. How do things come together enough so that you can take that first step of faith? How do you reach the point where you’re ready to sign up?
It’s probably a question you also ask if you are a Christian. You are convinced, but many of your friends are not, maybe members of your family are not. Jesus all seems to clear to you. Why can’t they see it? What does it take to bring them to the point where they can join you, following Jesus through life.
It’s also a question we’re asking as we’ve been reading through Matthew’s gospel. We watched Jesus perform many miracles. He’s wowed the crowd with his teaching. But last time we saw that the towns where Jesus performed most miracles were slowest to believe. Why? If they couldn’t see Jesus clearly, how will anyone? How does someone come to the point where they can become a Christian?
Matthew’s going to tell us. I’ve got 3 headings for us this morning.
Problem – Our Smart Cleverness Hides Jesus
Let’s start with the problem. And that’s this: Our smart cleverness hides Jesus. Our smart cleverness hides Jesus.
Verse 25: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
Jesus prays to his Father. We get a little glimpse of the close relationship he has with God the Father. Orthodox Jews might have prayed collectively, to “our Father”. Jesus just calls him “Father”. The Lord of heaven and earth is the one that he can address as “Father. We’ll return to that in a moment.
Here’s what he says to the Father: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned”. “These things” refers to who Jesus is, and why he came to the earth. The things that the towns of his day had missed. We looked at that last week: Chorazin. Bethsaida. Capernaum. They’d seen Jesus’ miracles, but they hadn’t joined the dots. They’d missed who Jesus is. They’d failed to respond.
Why did they fail to grasp these things? Jesus tells us: Because God the Father has hidden them. “You have hidden these things.” But why hidden? “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned.” He’s hidden them, because the people were too clever for their own good.
Which means the key question is this: What does Jesus mean when he calls them “wise and learned”.
He’s not talking about education. We can see that from Matthew’s gospel. Whole towns rejected him. Not just the intellectual elite. Not just the graduates. Everyone, with only a few exceptions. We can see it from Matthew’s gospel.
We can also see it from our own experience. There are a great many very clever Christians in the world. There are some massive brains out there, who love Jesus dearly.
No, he’s not talking about education. So he must be talking about someone’s approach. This is not about who comes to Jesus, but the way in which we come.
If we come to Jesus on the basis of how clever we are, we’ll miss him completely. If we come to Jesus on the basis that we can work out what to make of him, we’ll miss him completely. If we come to Jesus full of our own ideas about God – that we expect him to fit into, we’ll miss him completely.
That’s a mistake that it’s possible to make if you’re extremely clever. It’s equally possible to make that mistake if you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer. It makes no difference how bright you are, what grades you got at GCSE, what secondary school you went to, or whether you went to university. If your approach to Jesus is that you’ll only follow him if he makes sense, if he fits with what you think God ought to be like, then you’ll miss him completely.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use our minds as we come to Jesus. Jesus taught us to love God with all of our minds. We use all the powers God gives us to know Jesus more, to love Jesus more. But if our attitude is: Unless I understand him, I won’t follow him, then we’ll never follow him. He’ll remain hidden.
One little known mathematician is Oliver Heaviside. He was massively under-appreciated in his day. He developed some ground-breaking techniques, which eventually unlocked the design for a long-distance telephone. But he wasn’t rigorous enough for his contemporaries. He couldn’t show them quite why it worked. So he was sneered at and dismissed. But he’s famous for one line he said in reply: “Shall I refuse my dinner because I do not fully understand the process of digestion?”
Unless you’re an advanced biologist, you’d starve if you refused to eat unless you fully understood exactly what goes on when you do so.
Yet that’s what many people do with Jesus. Unless I fully understand this Jesus, I won’t follow him, feast on him, come to him.
And Jesus says that God quite deliberately hides Jesus from people who do this. “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
God wants us to be humble.
Our smart cleverness hides Jesus.
That’s our problem.
Answer: God the Father points us to Jesus
Second, let’s look at the answer: God the Father points us to Jesus. God the Father points us to Jesus.
Look with me at how Jesus goes on: “… hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
There’s only person who truly knows Jesus, God the Son. And that’s God the Father. “No one knows the Son except the Father”.
And there’s only one person who truly knows God the Father, and that’s Jesus, his Son. “No one knows the Father except the Son”. It’s back to that very close, very exclusive relationship between Jesus, God the Son, and his Father.
But, although none of us knows God automatically, that doesn’t mean we can’t know him at all. Because Jesus says: “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus knows God the Father. Because he just does. He’s always known him. But wonderfully, he can choose to draw others into that relationship.
We’re thinking a lot about the Queen at the moment. Very few people know the Queen. Properly. Prince Philip does. And her children. And her grand-children. A few people get to meet her, or to see her in person. I’m sure she has total integrity. She won’t be someone different in private from the person she is in public. But there’s only so far you can get to know her from seeing her or meeting her in public.
But now, Prince George is going to a regular pre-school in Norfolk. As he gets older, he’ll start having friends round for tea, or for a sleepover. He’s family. Of course he knows William and Kate, Charles, the Queen. But so will others, people who know him, and so get an introduction to our Royal Family.
Jesus knows God the Father. He’s family. Of course he does. But so will others, people who know him, and so get an introduction to the Triune God.
So by getting to know Jesus, we can know God the Father. But how do we get to know Jesus? That’s what the people of his day were missing.
There are two answers in our passage, and they’re different ways of saying the same thing.
The first is that we come to Jesus like children. “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” He’s talking about his disciples. Time and again in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus likens his followers to little children. We don’t come to Jesus on the basis of how clever we are. We simply come to him to get to know him. As simple as that.
And the other way Jesus puts it is that God the Father shows Jesus to us. He pulls back the curtain, so we can see him clearly. See him for who he really is. We can only know God the Father if we get to know Jesus. And we can only get to know Jesus if God the Father allows us to see him for who he is.
They’re two ways of saying the same thing. It just so happens that the people who come to Jesus like little children are the very ones that God is pleased to introduce to Jesus.
So there’s the answer. Ditch our smart cleverness. Come to Jesus like little children. And we’ll find that God the Father is pleased to reveal him to us. Jesus will no longer be hidden. And then, as we get to know Jesus, so we have the privilege of getting to know the whole family: Father, Son and Spirit.
God the Father points us to Jesus.
Invitation: Come and take the yoke of Jesus
We’re asking how anyone ever reaches the point where they might become a Christian.
We’ve found the problem: Our smart cleverness hides Jesus. And we’ve found the answer for that: God the Father points us to Jesus.
The last step is the invitation. We become a Christian when we hear Jesus’ invitation, and we respond. Here’s his invitation: Come and take the yoke of Jesus. Come and take the yoke of Jesus.
We need this final step. Otherwise, God might sound like a closed book. You need Jesus to introduce you to the Father. You need the Father to reveal Jesus to you. If you’re not careful, we’re left feeling powerless. Unless God chooses to reveal Jesus to us, we’re trapped. God cannot be known.
But Jesus’ invitation is not closed. It doesn’t shut God away. It’s wonderfully open. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This invitation is open to all of us. The only qualification is that we are weary and burdened. The only qualification is that we need the thing he offers to bring us.
And to respond to his invitation we need to come. To come, and “take my yoke upon you,” verse 29.
What does Jesus mean by his yoke? Today, the word only makes us think of eggs! Back then, a yoke was a device to help carry something heavy. There were yokes designed for humans. A wooden bar you’d balance across your shoulders, to which you’d attach heavy loads. There were yokes designed for animals, where you’d join several animals together with a yoke so that they could pull something far heavier than they could have done on their own.
Jesus asks us to take his yoke. To carry his load. To live as he asks us to. To go through life following him. Which means we need to learn from him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Following Jesus is about lifelong learning. Jesus invites us to come and do an apprenticeship with him. To learn from him, and to go through life living the way he shows us, the way he tells us.
Are you weary? Are you burdened? “Then come and take my yoke upon you”, says Jesus.
Now I don’t know about you, but I have to confess that that leaves me a little disappointed.
Some of us did the North Downs Challenge last weekend. That was a long walk, but we didn’t have to take that much stuff. If you’ve ever had to carry a full backpack, you’ll know it gets really tiring. If you’ve climbed a mountain – tent, food, water. Pounds and pounds to carry. It makes such a difference that you weigh everyone’s rucksacks before you start, so nobody is having to carry an unfair amount of weight, to slow them down further.
And then you get to your lunch stop. You sit down to eat your sandwiches. And the most glorious bit of all is that you get to take off your rucksack. Take the weight off your shoulders.
Which is why it’s a teeny bit disappointing to hear what Jesus says here. “Are you weary? Are you heavy-laden? Are you burdened? Then come to me,” says Jesus. “Let me take that load off you.”
So far, so good. But then he says, “And here, carry this instead.”
Which is why we need to read on. Verse 30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
There’s the paradox. All the other loads we carry through life are heavy. They weigh us down. But taking Jesus’ yoke on our shoulders is easy. It’s light. It’s the best path through life that there is.
And there are two reasons why it’s easy. Why it’s light.
There’s the character of Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”. Or you could even translate that as “kind”. Jesus is not a despot. He’s not a task master, who seeks to weigh us down for his own amusement, use us to make his life easier. He’s incredibly gentle. He’s wonderfully kind. He doesn’t give us anything to do, except he also gives us the help and strength we need to carry the load.
The character of Jesus. But also the character of his teachings. The teachers of Jesus’ day loaded people up like packhorses with a thousand things they had to do before breakfast. The minutiae of all God’s Old Testament law, and a bucket-load of their own rules and requirements thrown in to season the menu. Whereas Jesus calls us to have hearts that love God. We love God, so we pore over our Bibles to find out what pleases him. But we’re living in a relationship with the living God, not trying to tick the boxes of a rulebook.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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.”
That’s the destination for everyone who comes to Jesus, takes his yoke upon him. True, lasting, rest.
This is so much more than a holiday, or a nap.
Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, like on earth has been marked by pain. Marked by frustration. Marked by futility. The story of the Bible, from Genesis 4 on, is God inviting his people to join him in the rest that he’s been enjoying since the world was made. First came Noah. His name meant “rest”. Perhaps he would give us rest at last. But he didn’t. After the flood, his sinful heart led people astray just as quickly as before.
Then God led his people into the land of Canaan, a land of rest. But they were unfaithful, so they didn’t stay in the land. They were kicked out. And so the pain, the captivity, the frustration went on.
Until now at last, Matthew chapter 11, Jesus comes and offers us true rest. Finally, here is someone who can deliver on that promise. He promises actual release from all that spoils life. We get a taste of it in this life, as we get to go through life with his glorious light load on our backs. And then one day Jesus will return. And when he does so, all pain and suffering, all death and sorrow, will cease. And then our lives will be the true rest for which we were made.
That’s the invitation. Are you weary? Are you burdened? Don’t be smart. Be like a child. Come to him. Take his yoke, because it’s light. And find rest for your soul.