“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11

THIS IS NOT A REPEAT. DO NOT STOP READING. Rest is a commodity in our society and worthy of not one, but two days of discussion. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of working Americans – or nearly 41 million people – are sleep deprived. Over 50% of the Americans say they don’t get a good night sleep. Rest is hard to come by these days and as you can see from today’s (and last Thursday’s) scripture, it was just as difficult to get some rest in Jesus’ time.

Come Back to God

As we looked at yesterday, those verses are why some of you are here. Those verses are why some of you have come back to God.  You were weary and tired and burdened and you needed rest so you ran back to church. But there are others of you, who long ago, ran away from church for the very same reason.  You didn’t run to church because you were weary and burdened.  You ran away from church because it was church that made you weary and burdened.

I know this sounds odd, but it’s a reality.  In fact, if you go back to the time when Jesus said these words, these were the people he was talking about.  He was talking about people who were weary and burdened and worn out by church.

There were a group of people in Jesus’ day who were running the church and they were all about the rules.  The Pharisees were so focused on do’s and don’ts that the people were burnt out.

Religious Rules

Let me give you one example. The Bible says to rest on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees took this wonderful command that was intended to give people a break and they and turned it into a burden. They turned it into a set of rules that you could not do on the Sabbath.  For example:

  • You couldn’t pick up a bucket on the Sabbath. That was considered work.
  • You couldn’t use a certain weight of fork on the Sabbath.  Light forks were okay, but you couldn’t use a heavy fork.  That was considered work.
  • You couldn’t gargle (So I guess everyone on the Sabbath had bad breath).

That might sound strange to some of you. To others it doesn’t. That was the church you grew up in. Maybe you grew up in a church that had a long list of rules for you to follow.

A former pastor from Seattle named Mark Driscoll asked his people this question on Facebook and twitter.  What are some religious rules that you have personally experienced in your church life.  Let me give you some of my favorites:

  • Ryan couldn’t wear blue jeans because doing so would “give the impression of rebellion.’
  • Cara wasn’t allowed to wear black polo shirts to her private Christian school because “if you wore black, you loved the Devil.”
  • Cassie had a friend who couldn’t trick-or-treat on Halloween because it was Satan’s birthday.
  • Josh knew a boy at his public high school who gave away all his shrimp when they served it at lunch because he thought he would go to Hell if he ate shrimp.

Some of us grew up in places like that. Places where if you really want to be spiritual you have to: do your devotions, pray 20 minutes a day, go to church three times a week, get a haircut, and the list goes on and on. That was my church growing up. I had this great mullet, you know all business in the front and party in the back, and they wanted me to cut it.  I could never understand that.  I had to get a haircut even though every picture I ever saw of Jesus, He looked just like a young Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings movies.

When Jesus talked to the people in his day that needed rest, he was talking to people who had been burned out on religion; people just like Josh, Cassie, Cara, Ryan, and maybe even you.  Jesus is calling out the religious leaders who made knowing God into a set of rules and regulations.  Sometimes when you hang out with Jesus it gets awkward and uncomfortable.  And it’s about to. Check out Matthew 23:23:

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

These people were so rule focused that they tithed out of their spice rack!  They didn’t have compassion for people but they made sure that God got 10% of their cinnamon sugar.

God never called us to a set of rules.

He never called us to be the enforcers.  He called us to be in relationship with him. Maybe today the joy you once had at church is gone and has been replaced by anxiety about whether you are doing enough, praying enough, reading the Bible enough, going to church enough. What happens when religion has become just another burden? Or when you are suspicious of church because of how badly you’ve been treated in the past?

He says come to me.  If work has burned you out; come. If your schedule is crazy; come. If you have been trying to earn your way into being good enough; come.  Come to me.  I will give you rest.  I won’t lay a heavy guilt trip on you.

Grace Based Love

His love for you isn’t performance based. It’s based on his grace. Grace doesn’t mean God looks the other way when you sin. It means he paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross so you don’t have to perform to earn forgiveness and rest.  Jesus calls you from the burden of performance to the freedom of grace. Doesn’t that sound great? Won’t that be a relief? So today stop worrying about what other church-goers have to say and find rest in Jesus.