Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
When I was in middle school, my mom drove the school bus. This means I was the first to get on and the last to get off. Guess what… I started to hate riding that bus! So in the afternoon, when the weather was nice, my mom would let me off at an earlier stop and I would walk about three miles down a country road to our house. I’d only get there a few minutes before she did but at least I wasn’t riding that terrible bus.
One day, just as I got off the bus to start my walk, a lady who’d noticed me walking decided to do something nice for me so she gave me a huge watermelon from her garden. I was delighted as I started down the road with my enormous, sweet prize. It was heavy but that just meant it was big (and big means better right?). I believe the first mile was pretty smooth as I experimented with different ways to carry it- on alternating shoulders, on my head, bear-hug style, rolling it with my feet, etc. Then gravity and my cramping muscles started to conspire against my triumphant brain. The blessing slowly and steadily became a curse that I wasn’t prepared to cope with. It’s a wonder I didn’t throw that watermelon in the ditch! Looking back, I barely remember the lady who gave it to me and I have no memory at all of actually eating it, I only remember the burden and the struggle and the blessing that became a curse.
The people Jesus was speaking to understood this type of situation. They were a people chosen by God and given God’s perfect Laws- great and sweet Laws of goodness and blessing- and all they had to do was carry them out faithfully. That’s all they had to do. Easy right? That’s what I thought when I first grabbed the watermelon.
When you first read the Bible quote kicking this off, you probably identified with some heavy weight in your life. That’s what I’m guessing anyway. I would (I did in fact). And there are many heavy burdens in this life: illness, loss, addiction, shame, failure, pride, hate… The list could go on and on. And all these burdens seem like they will stretch out into eternity… It “seems” like they are overwhelming but they do pass… However, the real burden I am concerned with doesn’t have anything to do with what happens between the flash of existence from birth to death (don’t get me wrong- there are some important details in that scant bit of time to me) but what’s following the grave. If you think we cease to exist at death, keep reading for fun (why not?) and if you don’t, keep reading for fun (why not?).
The heaviest weight of all- yes, all time winner– is the burden one bears when their life is laid open (in front of them) to the holy and perfect God of all creation. I’ll just be frank: that’s a watermelon I can not carry for any distance. And what is this burden called- this heaviness that engenders so much fear from a good God? Well, it’s the opposite of good of course… And God gave it the name “sin.” Those who do it are called “sinners” and those who don’t are called Disney characters [or Jesus, but He doesn’t really count here because He was also God].
The truth is, we’re all sinners. Yes, I typed it- we’re ALL sinners. Period. That doesn’t mean we all go on shooting sprees at the mall, but it does mean that none of us is perfect and we do mess things up (sin) in various ways on a pretty regular basis. We just can’t uphold God’s perfect Law perfectly. And if this rubs you the wrong way, you have bad company- the teachers of the Law (professional–experts) and Pharisees (holier-than-thou-guys) who thought they were actually carrying that watermelon just fine! Jesus didn’t skirt their situation, He just came out with it: “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” And instead of going light on His Father’s Law, Jesus ramped it UP: “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” And: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We could just skip all these earlier quotes from Matthew 5 and cut right to the heart of the matter though: “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Wow. Try carrying that burden!
This is not to say that God’s Law is bad but that we are weak and sinful. And we are. We inherited a broken nature and we’ve invented new brokenness on top of it as well. And I don’t mean “we” as the human race (the big picture- though that also applies) but as individuals. We are all, individually, guilty failures when set against God’s perfect nature.
Still reading? Maybe you can feel the real heavy weight? I know I can because I’m such a failure! And this is good news for you because if someone like me (a REAL sinner and a REAL failure with sins I don’t even want to talk about) has hope, then why shouldn’t you? Oh snap- why does someone like me (who assumes a worse condition than you, anonymous internet sinner) have any hope at all? To be honest, I shouldn’t have but I do because of what the rest of that Bible passage hints toward.
Jesus said to bring our burdens to Him and that He would give us rest. Our burden of sin… He takes it on Himself and He also takes the punishment for it on the cross. Our burden of righteousness… He takes it as well, living in perfect obedience and placing His righteousness on us (His yoke). Jesus saves us through His death and His life. I believe it makes perfect sense to say God loves us like crazy! It’s a divinely insane, costly, beautiful, awesome, humbling, mind-blowing affair! It almost seems too good to be true and, in the natural way, it is… this is an all-out Miracle (capital M mind you!) of reckless, furious love.
You might think I got a little carried away in that last paragraph but I didn’t. I held back. To go 3 miles with a watermelon is nothing- I measure burdens in years now (and 3 is such a tiny number). The relief that Christ brings to me in this passage is beyond words. That God would love a sinner like me is staggering all by itself but… to love me so much that He took my punishment and gave me His righteousness (the perfect teacher totally cheating for me on the final exam out of sheer love)… Oh, I could type for hours! It’s pretty awesome to be so loved by God.
I guess the moral of this post is: don’t give watermelons to little kids. Or, if you do, love them enough to carry it for them all the way home. That’s what God did. God did it for me and He did it for you too. God loves you so much it would freak you out! And don’t think for a second that it’s a coincidence you read this far… God is already speaking to you. Stop trying to carry what you can’t and give it to Christ. You are God’s love song.