Come To Jesus
We come to the big window. We see it as we enter this sanctuary and come down the aisle. Jesus is before us, reaching out his hands with the prints of the nails that held him to the cross.
This window is also visible from the outside at night. We have it specially lit so those who drive by can see it.
Last year I received this note from a woman in the community:
Dear Pastor Hughes,
My father has been seriously ill since late September. He has been in the hospital for the past five weeks with little improvement.
When I come home each night after long hours at the hospital, I drive past your church. I see the beautiful stained glass of Jesus Christ illuminated brightly and I am filled with peace. I know with Christ our family will work through this hardship and loss.
Thank you for sharing the beautiful stained glass with our community. It has lightened my burden and blessed me with hope!
This window is a witness. And the words in this window are about peace and lightened burdens.
The Scripture verse in this window from Matthew is from the King James Version of the Bible. The words of scripture in the other windows happen to be from the New International Version. That doesn’t make one better than the other. It is just an observation and piece of information.
It begins, “Come to me…” Jesus’ words are an invitation. The outstretched hands of our Lord and Savior in this window seem to be echoing those words, don’t they? “Come to me.” Jesus doesn’t say “Come to God…” because that is who he is. He doesn’t point to some principle or idea and say, “Come to that…” No, Jesus invites us to himself because it is Jesus who we need.
The invitation is to all who “labour and are heavy laden.” Or, as it reads in many Bibles, to all who are weary and burdened.
We can be tired, can’t we?
Our bodies get tired. We don’t sleep well. We keep long hours. We get older. We work too much. We are caring for others. We try to cram in too much into our lives and go as fast as we can. And we get tired.
Our minds get tired. We have so much to think about. Don’t tell me about it because I can’t think about one more thing. Information comes at us from every angle. There are too many decisions. I mean, have you ever seen all the varieties of toothpaste at the grocery store? Just make it simple for me.
We get tired from trying to keep up appearances and working more on our image than our character. We get tired from trying to be something we aren’t.
For some people – and this may be you – our souls get tired.
Our souls are the most important part of us and are what tie together our mind, bodies and wills. Just like our phones have an operating system that ties together all the apps and functions, so our souls are our operating system. Our souls connect our intentions, our thoughts, our feelings, our values, our actions, our appearance. When we are connected with God we will have a healthy soul.
But our souls can get tired when we are trying to behave right so God will be good to us. We are trying to earn our way with God. Or we imagine there are all kinds of things we have to do to be a Christian. Or we aren’t sure if God loves us, really loves us. Maybe we carry deep guilt.
Life with God becomes reduced to religious effort. One more thing to do amidst everything else in our lives. We aren’t truly connected to the Lord. It seems like a burden.
When Jesus spoke the words that we have in this window he was speaking about religion.
You see Jesus was Jewish. He grew up in a synagogue. He read and heard the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament. He saw the Jewish leaders: the Pharisees, the priests, and teachers of the law.
Jesus taught and did deeply challenged the religious system of his day. He did this from his claim of being the unique Son of God and having authority that only God has. Right before these words 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.” Jesus came to bring a true understanding of what life with God was all about. He came to bring a true understanding of who God is. And it was nothing like what people were hearing from the religious teachers of that day. Trying to find God had become a heavy burden.
The Pharisees were deeply legalistic. Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said that the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” They keep piling it on but they don’t even carry the pile themselves.
The heavy burdens the Pharisees were placing on people was teaching that went beyond the Bible. They thought they were making the scriptures relevant to life, but the massive obligations they were teaching had become burdensome and oppressive.
Take the Sabbath day, for example. God says to keep the Sabbath, but the Pharisees added on rules and regulations to what that meant to the point where you couldn’t help a hurting person because it was too much work on the Sabbath. You couldn’t pluck grain out of a field if you were hungry because the Pharisees said that was work.
So Jesus says, “Come to me you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”
A yoke is the wooden frame that is placed on the neck of an animal, often oxen, for plowing or pulling heavy loads. It became a metaphor for the law. It became a metaphor for the teaching of a rabbi. You submitted to his yoke if you followed what he taught.
The Pharisees had added layers and layers to the law of the God. Their interpretations created a large list of things people had to do that were almost impossible to keep. It became a crushing burden.
But Jesus said to take his yoke. Take his teaching. He is gentle and humble in heart. His yoke is easy. This is the only time in the Bible the word “easy” is used. Jesus uses it to speak of his yoke. His teaching is not like the Pharisees. And if we take Jesus’ yoke, we will find rest for our souls. “Easy” is a soul world.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation of the Bible, Matthew 11 reads:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
That is a great way to put how Jesus’ yoke is different from every other yoke. We learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Jesus brings a life not under the forced pronouncements of legalism, but the unforced rhythms of grace.
Robert Farrar Capon was an Episcopalian priest who preached and wrote so much about grace. He said,
“The life of grace is not an effort on our part to achieve a goal we set ourselves. It is a continually renewed attempt simply to believe that someone else [that someone else being Jesus] has done all the achieving that is needed and to live in relationship with that person, whether we achieve or not. If that doesn't seem like much to you, you're right: it isn't. And, as a matter of fact, the life of grace is even less than that. It's not even our life at all, but the life of that Someone Else rising like a tide [in us].”
Following Jesus is not supposed to be burdensome.
Jesus’ yoke is light because he bears it with us. He walks with us. A yoke is a walking instrument, not a sitting instrument. Living with Jesus is about walking in obedience as we learn from him.
That is why I read the Bible. I need to hear his words so that I can know how I am to walk. I need to see what Jesus is about so that I can follow his life.
And Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. He is a patient teacher. His correction is tailor-made for us. He will stoop to our level. He knows what we need to learn, how we need to learn it, and when it is right for us to do that.
Churches can sometimes be guilty of putting yokes on people that become too hard to bear. I think many people are turned off by faith and coming to a church because it can be so complicated. Churches have to have a way of living together. But sometimes, and I think our Presbyterian tribe can be guilty of this, we spend more time on the system than the relationship we are meant to have with our Lord.
People are thirsty, but not for a lot of religion. They are thirsty for connection with the God who made them for himself. They are thirsty to know that they are significant, that they have purpose, that they are loved. They are thirsty for grace, mercy, and peace.
Churches and worship and religious practices are avenues to that. They are the cups that hold the water, but Jesus is the water.
There are some forms of Christianity that are highly disciplined and strict and is often labeled as “biblical” or being faithful. Very high standard of morals and list of things that one needs to do are preached. The faith of Jesus Christ does have standards and it is a certain way of life. It requires faithfulness. But this strict Christianity can breed a harshness and spirit of judgment. It beats people down.
Jesus shows us that obedience isn’t about making us morally tougher but making us more humanly merciful. People matter to God.
When he said “you will find rest” he didn’t mean he will bring a life of ease where we recline in a Lazy-Boy all day and we will never get physically tired. Everyone’s life has challenges and painful things. He spoke of “rest for your soul.” Jesus gives soul rest, rest to that deepest part of us.
We may be physically fatigued. We may be emotionally done in because of grief, conflict or worry. But our souls can be rested and strong.
During the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56, which was set off when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus and move to the “colored” section, black people who had cars organized car pools and ride systems. Some started walking more, obviously. It took longer and more effort, but the conviction that they were tired of being treated with such injustice motivated them to walk instead of ride.
As the months went on and the miles added up, people did question whether they should give in and start riding the buses again.
One circle was particularly concerned about an older woman who had to walk to her cleaning job and to the store and everywhere else. She was rather frail and they were concerned about people like this who were paying a high cost with the boycott.
So they asked her if she was tired of walking and if she wanted to begin taking the bus again. And the answer from that old, battle-tested, church-seasoned saint was classic. She said, “My feet are tired, but my soul is rested.”
We can be physically tired, but spiritually rested. In your fatigue, in all the things coming at you, in the weariness of your body and mind, is your soul at rest?
Do you know the rest of Jesus?
Yes, there’s a lot coming at me. Yes, I have problems. Yes, life has been a bit heavy. But there is someone who walks with me helping me to carry the load, and in that I have peace.
The woman whose father was dying in a hospital and saw this window as she drove by each night found peace in the Lord.
Amidst whatever problems you are carrying do you know peace with the Lord? That deep, down, abiding peace that the world cannot touch?
Do you know the rest the Psalmist spoke of in Psalm 62 when he said,
Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
These windows are beautiful. But they don’t mean a thing if the One who is depicted in these windows isn’t Lord of this place. It doesn’t matter how much we like them if Jesus isn’t our Lord and Savior.
His invitation is “Come to me.” We come to Jesus when we place our life in his hands. When we trust what he has done on the cross and by rising from the dead. When we allow him into our lives every day, with all its mess and goodness. When we surrender our lives to him. When we learn from him by following him.
Because its not about religion but relationship. To be a Christian is to be in relationship with the living Lord. Part of that relationship is worship. And this space is dedicated to that.
When you enter and you gaze at this window, come to Jesus. He welcomes us to himself.
As we end and before we sing our final song just take a moment and look at that window. Take a deep breath. Think of the rest Jesus gives. As best as you can, just rest in him.
I am going to leave a time of silence for us to look at all that is in that window and let it speak to us.
 Soul Keeping, John Ortberg, pp.42-43  Ortberg, p.126  From Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace.  Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Matthew vol. 1, p. 439  Bruner, p.146