Come to me

Matthew 11:28-30

4 March 2005

Cornhill Training Course

Sermon practice (Evangelism and Church planting)


Religion is hard work, isn't it?

And what about this picture caption from a recent copy of the Metro. I'll spare you the actual picture for reasons that will become clear.

A religious devotee pierces his tongue with a power drill bit at a Thai ceremony yesterday [and it's not a small one either; judging by the picture the drill is a foot long and half an inch in diameter]. Participants can pierce themselves with anything, even bicycles [picture below] to shift evil spirits.

Religion is hard work, and I would have every sympathy if you were thinking along the lines of "I don't want to hear about religion; I've got quite enough on my plate already, thank you. Life is hard enough as it is without you burdening me with more stuff to do" . That's why today I actually want to look at the antidote to religion in the shape of: a person, a problem and a promise.

We find the antidote to religion as we look at the words of Jesus we read earlier. He is talking to the religious people of his day and he wants to contrast their way of doing things with his way of doing things, so he says, Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you restref. "Come to me" introduces the person; "all you who labour and are heavy laden" identifies the problem; "and I will give you rest" states the promise.

The Person

So, the first thing Jesus says to religious people is, Come to me...ref

It's striking isn't it? He doesn't say "make this sacrifice" or "perform this ritual" , does he? He simply says, "come to me" . No rituals, no rules, no laws.

So we see that Christianity revolves around a person, the person of Jesus Christ. He was a real man who actually lived, 2000 years ago. But the reason he is at the heart of Christianity is that he was, of course, more than a man. Jesus has a unique relationship with God. We see him spell it out in the previous sentence to the one we're looking at, numbered 27, where he says All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.ref

The Father is God the Father, and the Son is Jesus, so in short he's saying, If we want to know God we must come first to Jesus.

Misconceptions about Christianity abound, both inside and outside the church. Does being christened as a baby make us Christians? What about being confirmed? Does going to church every week make me a Christian? Am I a Christian if I try to love my neighbour as myself? How often do I have to go to Mass or Communion to be a Christian?

In a recent newspaper debate one correspondent wrote: " I am a Christian, admittedly not a churchgoer although I do say the Lord's prayer every night" .

Is any of this really Christianity? Well, Christianity revolves around a person, the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not interested in our rituals, he is interested in our relationship with him. "Come to me" , he says. Come to me if you want to know God. It's an extraordinary invitation, isn't it? And we'll look a bit later on at how Jesus can back it up.

So, we have a choice. If we want to know God, we can try to do it either with or without Jesus. The rest of this verse shows us the consequence of each approach.

The Problem

First, trying to know God without Jesus leaves us with a problem.

Jesus says Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden...ref. Jesus recognises that religion is not the solution to our problems, it is a symptom of our problems.

As I said earlier, the people Jesus is talking to are the religious people of his day. They are the ones who want to know God. They are sincere in their desire to serve him. So they diligently try to follow the laws that the religious leaders had laid down. Laws about how far they could walk on a Saturday; laws about how much to give as offerings; laws about how to wash and when to wash. Rules upon rules upon rules.

Jesus says later on about these leaders They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders.ref In our verse he describes the people as labouring and heavy laden. In Morocco I've seen tiny donkeys carrying enormous loads on their backs, towering high over them and wide enough to block the streets as they go by. This kind of scene would have been familiar in Jesus' day, and is exactly the image he wants to bring to mind: each of us trudging along under an enormous weight of religious rituals and obligations we need to perform if we want to come to God.

The underlying problem for every one of us is that by nature we are morally unacceptable to God. God—the God we learn about in the Bible—is perfect. He is holy. He is awesome. He is almighty. The burning heat of God's moral perfection is so great that nothing imperfect can survive exposure to it. And which of us can claim to be morally perfect?

It is the work of religion to try to make us acceptable to God again. As we try harder and harder we are supposed to get closer and closer to God. But it can never work!

For mortal people like you and me the presence of God is a hostile environment. In Old Testament religion only the high priest—the holiest of all the people—could enter the most holy place in the temple, and even he could do that only once a year, and only then after the most elaborate rituals and sacrifices. And he wasn't even actually meeting God, only getting a little closer than the rest were allowed!

If God is this holy, this other than us, then it's no wonder that religion is a burden. No wonder we have to labour and work hard to purify ourselves to try to be acceptable to him. No wonder we can't just stroll into his presence. We'd like to believe that if we could be just a little better then God will be pleased with us. But that's only true in the sense that jumping up and down makes us closer to the moon.

We can imagine approaching God is like diving into the ocean; the further we go the higher the pressure, and the more religious baggage I need to sustain me.

With my lightweight snorkel and my swimming trunks—perhaps I'm only a religious dabbler—I can only make it a few metres deep. With heavy duty SCUBA gear—perhaps a committed religious person's load of baggage—it might be possible to go three hundred metres deep. If I want to go really deep I can use a fully enclosed pressurised diving suit weighing 500 pounds (that's almost three times my weight)—a seriously religious amount of baggage, such as a monk or a nun might take on. But even this would get me less than a kilometre down, which in the ocean is barely scratching the surface. Imagine how much religious gear we'd need if we really wanted to explore the depths of God. Humanly speaking it's just not possible: none of us can survive at depth; none of us can endure the presence of God.

So, Jesus' invitation is to those who really want to know God—they are sincerely trying hard, but are simply unable to do it. Trying to know God without Jesus is only ever a burden: it never achieves its goal. This is the religion problem.

The Promise

If the first option is to try to come to God without Jesus, which leaves us with a problem, then the second option is to come to God trusting Jesus, which guarantees us a promise.

Jesus says to those who want to know God Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.ref And he says, you will find rest for your soulsref.

If we come to Jesus we can have rest for our souls because he will take the burden of religion from us. We don't need any longer to try to please God by what we do, because Jesus has done that for us. That is what Jesus was doing when he died on the cross. That is what his coming back to life from the dead confirms.

If you've ever wondered why Christians make such a big deal of the death and resurrection of Jesus, now you know. It is because in going through these things he is solving the religion problem. We can't make ourselves worthy before God, but Jesus can do it for us.

It is as if we were struggling under a huge unpayable burden of debt towards God. On the cross Jesus has paid that debt for us: it doesn't need paying again, does it? We no longer have to labour to pay it ourselves.

Because of what Jesus has done we can now enter freely into the presence of God: no rituals, no rules, no laws. We can have rest for our souls: no longer striving to make ourselves acceptable to God; no longer worried about whether we've done enough to please him.

All that Jesus asks of us is that we come to him and take his yoke upon us. This means that we must recognise him for who he is, the very Son of God, and we must commit ourselves to living his way, not ours. That's what it means to take his yoke upon us. Like oxen hitched up to a plough working for a farmer we submit ourselves to Jesus as our master, committed to doing what he wants of us, to going where he wants us to go.

But Jesus' promise is that he is a gentle master; that the burden of serving him is easy and light. That's because serving Jesus is not a return to religion with its ritual and rules, but it is entering into a lifelong relationship with him. If we come to him he takes from us the unbearable burden of having to please God on our own merits, and replaces it with the light and joyful burden of relationship, with God the Son and God the Father.

So, Jesus offers us rest; rest for our souls. This is not putting our spiritual feet up; it's the contentment of learning to live life the way it is supposed to be lived. Saying to Jesus, I'll live my life not my way, but yours.

After Jesus has lifted the burden of trying to bridge our separation from God from off our shoulders then we are free to enjoy the very things that we once found such hard work. So prayer becomes a pleasure because it is now about talking to a friend, not a ritualistic incantation. Bible reading becomes meaningful, because it is now about hearing from someone who loves us, not learning a set of rules. Going to church becomes a joy, because it is now about meeting with our family, not making sacrifices to appease our God. My yoke is easy and my burden is lightref.


To summarise what we've seen, Jesus says, if you want to know God, come to me. Access to God revolves around the person of Jesus. So we are faced with a choice.

If we want, we can ignore Jesus and carry on doing things our own way. This is the natural way for all of us. We'd always prefer to do things our own way. But it leaves us with an insoluble problem: we are just not capable of carrying the load of religious obligations placed on us if we want to be good enough for God.

Alternatively, we can choose to come to Jesus and to take his yoke upon us—that is, to put him in charge of our lives. As we do so he will lift the burden of religious duty from us, and we can truly know God, the Holy, Almighty, awesome God of the universe.

Some here will be ready to make that decision today. Perhaps you've been trying to find rest for soul for a long time now. Perhaps you've tried meditation, you've tried crystals, you've tried tai chi you've tried feng shui, but you see now that none of them have the power to bring you to God. None of them can truly give you peace.

Maybe you have tried hard to be a better person, to love your neighbour as yourself. To do unto others as you would have them do to you. You try sincerely, but never quite manage to be the person you want to be. Where does that leave you with God?

Or maybe you've been coming to church for years, but in the end it's all been about your own efforts—the services you've attended, the prayers you've said, the rituals you've performed, the committees you've sat on, the money you've given—and frankly it just seems like hard work. Well, Jesus' invitation is for you too.

Come to me, all who labour 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.ref