Welcome to the daily podcast from STC Sheffield. It’s the beginning of a new week, a new month, and a new season. My name is Helen, and I’m part of the staff team here at St Thomas Crookes, and it’s lovely to have you join us on our journey through the book of Matthew this autumn.
In this new season we are also doing something new with our podcasts. Hopefully you will have noticed that each week, on a Wednesday, we are introducing new voices, new people, to unpack God’s word for us. This week, I’m really excited that Laura McClean, our under 5s worker, is going to be sharing her thoughts with us – so do make sure to listen in.
But for now, let’s turn our attention to today’s Bible passage, which is Matthew 11 vs20-30. Before we look at 2 specific verses from this passage, I’d like to look at the context and content of chapters 11-13 as a whole.
In these 3 chapters the overall theme is one of challenge.
Firstly, Jesus himself is a challenge. People are not sure who he is, or where his power comes from. They constantly ask questions about what he says, and what he does, or who he claims to be. Jesus challenges people’s thinking and their preconceived ideas about what the Messiah will be like.
Secondly, there is the challenge from the Pharisees. These are 3 chapters where there is a clear sense of growing tension and anger – it is in Chapter 12 that the Pharisees begin their plot to kill Jesus.
And finally, in these chapters we also see the challenge Jesus faces – his growing frustration and sadness about those people who have seen his miracles and heard his teaching; but do not turn to God.
In Chapter 13, Jesus expresses this challenge with these words, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear.”
We ourselves are living through challenging times.
We are living in challenging times because our thinking and preconceived ideas about what life will be like are being shaken to the core.
We are living in challenging times because there is a growing tension and anger about government policy and decision making.
We are living in challenging times because we can’t sing in church or lay hands on people as we pray for them, and it’s challenging having to learn to see, and to hear and to meet Jesus in a new way.
And so this week I’d like us to look at these chapters and unpack what we can see, hear and learn about Jesus from them, and how this can help us to develop a more Christ-centred response to the challenges that we face.
Today, we’re going to start by reflecting on the fact that in challenging times Jesus promises rest, focusing on verses 28 and 29 of Chapter 11:
“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 soul.”
To the human race, throughout the course of history, rest has been elusive – much prized but rarely achieved.
We can easily think that our hunger for rest stems from the busy, loud, frenetic and constant pace of life in the 21st century.
However, if this were true, then it would make absolutely no sense whatsoever for Jesus to say, “Come to me……I will give you rest…….you will find rest for your soul” to the crowds that gathered in 1st century Galilee.
But he does. So, whilst society was clearly very different then, there was obviously still a busyness, a noise and a constant-ness to the chores and activities of everyday life that left people hungry for rest.
And so from Jesus’ words we learn that our desire to find rest is not about the century that we live in, or the state of our to-do list; our desire to find rest is part of our human condition, and it reflects the state of our soul.
Jesus promises rest for our souls because he knows that we need it.
We need to rest because we are made in the image of God……and in the opening verses of Genesis Chapter 2, God rested.
We need to rest because it is something that God commands us to do. In your Bible you can find it in Exodus Chapter 20.
We need to rest because Jesus rested. We can find examples of Jesus taking a break from the crowds, and his to-do list, to spend time alone, or in quieter places. He even takes a nap on a boat!
So now you might be thinking, ‘Yes, this is great, thanks, I understand that, I know it’s important to get some down time and some rest.’
However, resting is not something that God thought up because he knew that we would be totally shattered and need a break from work, and so we might just want to collapse on the sofa for a while and watch Netflix, or sit down with a cup of tea and a good book to read.
These things are relaxing, and they are not in any way bad – but they are not necessarily resting.
When Jesus promises us rest for our souls, he does not mean that he will provide a self-care package for us.
The real meaning of rest is to pursue holiness and develop a closer relationship with God. And this is why, and how, Jesus can give us rest for our souls.
Coming to Jesus helps us to grow in holiness and have a personal relationship with God. Through Jesus we will find the rest that our soul longs for.
Resting is therefore not something that we should squeeze in if we can. Instead of being an add on, or a special treat, resting is something that we should prioritise, and put first, above our to-do list and above our paid employment.
And when it comes to finding rest for our souls in challenging circumstances, we can’t change the times we are living in, or the situations that we face, but we can change our priorities and our response.
We can decide to come to Jesus. We can prioritise pursuing holiness and developing a closer relationship with God.
And when we do this Jesus promises us rest for our souls, even in the most challenging times.
As you meet in small groups via Zoom this week, or perhaps in person in a group of 6, ask each other these questions:
In this challenging time, where does my soul need to find the rest that Jesus gives?
In this challenging time, how am I pursuing holiness and developing a closer relationship with God?
In this challenging time, am I making coming to Jesus a priority?
Jesus, we thank you that you promise us rest for our souls. In the busy-ness of life, in the challenges that we face, help us to make coming to you a priority. And Lord, in these challenging times, show us new ways of pursuing holiness and developing a closer and a deeper relationship with you. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 11:20-30
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’
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.
‘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.
‘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.’