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My Burden Is Light

Matthew 11

Lesson audio

The diligent student will note, from verse 1, that this action takes place with the disciples absent. It is necessary; why would anyone ask a disciple for healing or forgiveness when the Christ is present? A question which has its uses even today.

Note also that, after the disciples have left, Christ Himself goes about preaching and healing. They have no one to run back too until He meets them again. What we see here is that which Lord does without His attendants. We would do well to remember that sometimes we, too, will be alone before the Lord.

John the Baptist

When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. "This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. "And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

(Mat 11:1-15 NASB)

A Theologian’s Debate

Among the early church fathers a debate arose about this passage – concerning the motives of John the Baptist. There are three stated possibilities:

  • It may be that, alone and imprisoned, John is losing faith, wondering if it was all a fool’s errand. So he sends to be reassured. This seems incompatible with the statements of Christ concerning John’s greatness. In modern times this has become much more acceptable; I attribute this to a lack of recognized lordship in modern thinkers.
  • Another interpretation, much debated in early times, was that John was contemplating his own death. He therefore sends to Jesus to ask if He, too, will allow Himself to die – and thus require John’s services as a herald in the underworld. This theory seems to have come and gone in fashion as the years passed. This is favored by the more theoretical (e.g., Jerome) and discounted by the more practical (e.g., Chrysostom).
  • The third theory was this: John was contemplating his death. He seeks a way to turn his disciples over to the Christ. If he simply tells them again that he is less and Christ is more, his disciples might have been inclined to attribute this to a modesty fitting a prophet. Therefore, he sends two of the most trusted so that they might themselves see and hear, and so convince the others.
Christ’s reply

It is interesting: in the face of the Pharisees He has no hesitation in proclaiming Himself the Christ. But to the disciples of John, looking for the “expected one”, He simply points them to the prophecies concerning the Christ – and the evidence that those prophecies are fulfilled. Some things he cites are miraculous; others ordinary – but the thought behind this is simple: look with your eyes, hear with your ears and judge for yourselves. The same method may be used today.

No offense taken

Christ’s parting words to John’s disciples are a keen insight into human thought. Some of the most painful human conflicts come between two good things. My bunch is a good bunch; I’ll stick with my bunch.[1] My team’s quarterback is better than any other. It’s a natural human reaction, and commonly used to inspire performance. It’s often hard, therefore, to see the best when the glare of the good is in your eyes. Indeed, we are often offended by someone touting some other leader.

Christ, however, is the rock of offense and the stone of stumbling. All other great religious leaders seem to have happy endings; Christ ends on a cross, like a common criminal of the time. If you consider the shame of His death, it would be hard to accept Him as Lord; therefore the Christian must despise the shame and glory in the Cross.

For the crowd

Jesus does not address the crowd until John’s disciples are gone – He has no reason to offend them, but his blunt approach to the crowd might have distracted them from their mission. When they depart, Jesus answers the question in the minds of the onlookers. For their questions are rather different. From their perspective, they’d like Jesus to clear up John’s status with them – and Him.

Jesus then points out to them a very human characteristic: whatever God says or does, it will be held against Him:

  • Did you go to see a reed swaying in the wind? Someone who pleases your ears with the latest and greatest in inoffensive sermons? Hardly.
  • Or did you go into the desert to hear this man because he’s part of the religious or political establishment? To ask is to answer at once. Absurd.

So Christ points out the problem as it applies to John and to Himself. John is the classic prophet – camel hair coat and locust and honey diet. Official reaction: this guy must be nuts. So Jesus comes along, partying hearty with the common sinner – and the reaction is that He’s a drunk and a glutton. There is just no pleasing you people, is there?

John is…

Almost as an afterthought, Jesus explains John’s role. He is the prophet prophesied as the forerunner, the messenger.[2] In a phrase of distinct honor, he is named as Elijah – the consummate prophet of the Old Testament.

Elijah – if you will accept it. John’s testimony is either that of a desert crazed nut case or a prophet of God. The authorities were in no doubt whatever; a nut case can be safely ignored.

A fortress besieged

John preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. To understand this passage correctly, we may picture the kingdom of heaven as a fortress under siege – surrounded by the violent and wicked who want in. They know that they will never get in by fulfilling the Law, but now another way seems at hand. And they are only slightly premature; at the Resurrection the gates will open; at Pentecost the armies of heaven begin their march around the globe.

A Friend to Sinners

"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

(Mat 11:16-19 NASB)

Christ’s comparison here is telling even today. Just what does the messenger of God appear to be?

  • If he’s one of those austere, self sacrificing souls who holds prayer vigil, fasts and is possessed of extremely little – then he’s a nut case.
  • But if he’s an ordinary guy – including the eat, drink and be merry part – then obviously he can’t be God’s messenger. How ungodly this man is; he eats and drinks with the common sinners.

God just can’t get it right, can He?

Not a new story

This is not a new story. For 1500 years God – through His prophets – tried to teach the nation of Israel just what He is like through the means of the Law of Moses. The result was a wretched confusion of interpretations, most of whose adherents were hypocrites.

So God finished that by sending the reign of Grace – which seems to have no idea of what we’re supposed to be doing. Forgiveness, it seems, is impossible. God can’t win, no matter what He does.

Wisdom by her children

The first reaction to the Gospel from the scholarly, intelligent and self-sufficient souls of this world is, “You’ve got to be kidding.” It seems so simple, indeed to the point of being foolish. It appears to be a complete paradox – and it is, as long as man thinks he is in the position to judge. For to pronounce judgment on Someone you must be somehow greater. As long as man thinks himself in such a position, the gospel will seem foolishness.

So what’s the average guy to do? The answer is the same one John’s disciples got: stick around and see. Wait for wisdom to show its results.

Woe to You

Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. "Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you."

(Mat 11:20-24 NASB)

One might ask why so vigorous a condemnation? This is, after all, the loving God, right? True enough, but it is also the just God. Perhaps it’s this way:

  • You didn’t keep the Law of Moses.
  • You didn’t even repent when you saw the miracles of Christ.
  • God condemned Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon without those advantages; is it not just to condemn you even more because you did have these things?

May I submit, for your thought, three failures that condemned the cities?

  • Failure to see the sin.
  • Failure to learn the lessons of history.
  • Failure to heed the warning signs of God.

America, anyone?

Burden is Light

At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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."

(Mat 11:25-30 NASB)

This begins with Christ’s confession. Kindly remember that confession has two meanings in the Scripture:

  • One may confess one’s sins, or
  • One may confess God’s greatness.[3]

Here, Christ gives us the example of proclaiming the greatness of God. And in particular, He uses this to explain to His listeners something of eternal importance: He is the only way to God the Father.

Only way? Modern Christianity has largely rejected that. Denominations that used to sing “Nothing but the Blood” now pass the time with “Kumbaya.” The idea is clearly taught in the Scriptures; the same spirit that accepts homosexuals as church leaders has no problem with this, either.

The authority of Christ

In the kingdom of God, you get responsibility from God – and authority to match. Christ here tells us that all things have been handed over to Him. From that, we may deduce that all authority is His as well. In this passage, however, Christ makes it clear that such authority is exclusive.

Thus the paradox: the proud in their own wisdom cannot see it, for it leaves no room for their own brilliance. The humble accept it as revealed. So it seems you either accept this as beyond you but blessing you, or you look around for another solution to the problem. Some of us have been looking for a long, long time.

Come to me

Christ’s appeal is simple: skip the theory, come to me. I am the One. See the steps:

  • Recognize that your burden is heavy (you are a sinner).
  • See that his burden is light! (Salvation is His free gift)
  • Learn from Him. Yes, there is much to know – but first things first, then your education.

Christ’s burden is the burden of grace – the burden of being forgiven. It will humble your pride to admit you have something to be forgiven; you must have the humility of repentance. But even in that He does not shame us – He restores us. Truly, this burden is light.

[1] Even if I go bananas trying. (Sorry, just couldn’t resist that one).

[2] Malachi 3:1. Note that the word translated “messenger” can also be translated “angel.”

[3] Matthew 10:32-33

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