03/10/2010 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
ďCome to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you restĒ
Father, help us to understand your word and to put it into practice, for Jesusí sake, Amen.
The other night on the news it was reported that a better cure for angina was being trialled Ė a new form of stent which, because it later dissolves, cures the problem without leaving anything behind. The surgeon called it amazing. And we do thank God for the many ethically developed treatments and cures. Did you know, for example, that in 1996, 473 million prescriptions were dispensed in the UK. Ten years later 912 million prescriptions were dispensed, including 36 million prescriptions issued for antidepressants. Depression is increasingly being diagnosed, especially among those in their 30s and 40s. Apparently the mid life crisis now starts at 35 and many are feeling lonely, weary and burdened. Perhaps thatís you.
Now weíve inherited a great medical tradition, which goes back to Hippocrates. When joined with Christianity, it flourished in a totally new Christian way. The Hippocratic Oath, contrary to the ethos of the time, had prohibited abortion and euthanasia. The early Christians, too, were known for their opposition to abortion and there was soon a christianized version of this Oath. Jesus Christ was the great healer. His followers were told to heal the sick. And they wanted to do so in a Christian way. Their oath was called, From the Oath according to Hippocrates in so far as a Christian may swear it. It reads:
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever and ever; I lie not. I will bring no stain upon the learning of the medical art. Neither will I give poison to anybody though asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a plan [ie no euthanasia]. Similarly I will not give treatment to women to cause abortion, treatment neither from above nor from below. But I will teach the art of medicine to those who require to learn it, without grudging ... I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment. And in purity and in holiness I will guard my art. Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will do so to help the sick, keeping myself free from all wrong-doing, intentional and unintentional and from fornication with man or woman. Whatsoever in the course of practice I see or hear (or outside my practice in social conversation) that ought not to be published abroad, I will not divulge, but consider such things to be holy secrets. Now if I keep this oath and break it not, may God be my helper in my life and art, and may I be honoured among men for all time. If I keep faith, well; but if I forswear myself may the opposite befall me.Thatís how Christian medicine began. The Hippocratic Oath and the Christian Oath used negatives, outlawing abortion and euthanasia. But today Christian medicine is under threat. Parts of the oaths are ignored by many, even by some Christians and undermined by the law. The medical profession is increasingly seen as less of a vocation and more as a job. Some Christian doctors face losing their positions over taking a stand on moral issues and that can lead to stress and exhaustion. Christian pharmacists could face similar pressures. Nurses have been suspended for praying with patients or for wearing a cross. Jesus Christ the great healer and the one in whose name hospitals have been founded across the world is increasingly being marginalised. Patient care can suffer. The plan to liberate the NHS will not work if itís being built on sand rather than on the rock of him and his word. No wonder there are problems and various degrees of chaos and confusion today. We need to turn to the Bible, to Matthew 11:25-30 for help. So first
1. THE DISEASE
Jesus here is making some general observations about fundamental problems and issues. But what is the fundamental problem? Well the message of the Bible is clear. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Itís Ďsiní. Itís a spiritual infection or disease. And itís a disease of the inner-most being. Later on, in Matthew 15:19 Jesus says:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.The Bible says that everyone has got a spiritual heart disease. Sometimes it has very obvious symptoms. But often it does its destroying work unnoticed and relatively symptom free. You may be relatively self-controlled and self-adjusted. But by nature you are, because we all are, self-centred. This is the essence of original sin. The fundamental problem is that you and I are "me-centred" and not "God-centred". And whatís the result of that? You are what Jesus calls "weary and burdened" and you lack "rest" (v28). And isn't that the modern world?
But itís not just rest "for this life" that is needed. Far more importantly it is rest "for all eternity". Jesus says you need "rest for your souls" (v29). God isn't a God who tolerates sin. He is just. He canít simply sweep it under the carpet. Jesus has just been teaching about "the day of judgment". He has been addressing his respectable hearers - the people of Capernaum (which was the Palestinian equivalent of Jesmond or Gosforth). He says (v24): it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you... unless you repent and accept me and my words. The greatest sin is to reject Jesus and the result or wages of sin is eternal death in hell. Notice two symptoms of this spiritual disease that Jesus mentions. First, ignorance of God's truth. V25:
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.The problem is that "these things" - the truth about God and the reality of the eternal world and his purposes for this world - "are hidden". People are ignorant of them. And they don't want to know.
The second symptom is pride. Jesus contrasts "the wise and learned" with "little children". Heís not saying that only the young can learn about God. Nor is he saying that all intellectual people are shut out of God's kingdom. No! But he is saying that if you trust in your intellect (or money or status or background), you won't get anywhere. You need to distrust your own abilities and, like a child, be humble and willing to learn from him. And Jesus says, v 26:
Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.This is all part of God's plan. Why? Surely because God knows you need to come to an end of yourself. You need to admit thereís a problem. You won't go to a doctor unless you think you are ill. Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Matt 9:12). Whoís at the end of a road this morning? Well, Jesus Christ is the great physician. You need to go to him. So
2. THE PHYSICIAN
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.This is an amazing statement. The one making this statement has to be the incarnate Son of God - God come in the flesh. You say, "how on earth can you make sense of such a God-man?" Jesus tells us the incarnation is a mystery. He says here: "No one knows the Son except the Father." So you, a mere human, will never fathom it. But don't be so proud that you only believe what you fully understand. I donít understand the insides of computers, but I know they work Ė usually! If God is real and true, there will be much you don't understand. But you can go to Christ without understanding everything about him. And you need to go to him if you want healing for this spiritual disease. He says, v27:
All things have been committed to me by my Father.What does he mean? Well the Bible puts it like this: he has the keys to heaven, he is the door through which you must go, he is the good shepherd, he is the bread of life, he is the light of the world, and he is the Lamb that was slain. If you want to know God, Jesus is the only one who can help you. V27 again:
Öno one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.Yes, there is general revelation. Romans 1:20: "the eternal power and divine nature of God" can be known from the created world. And there is common grace. God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good" (Matt 5:45). General revelation meant that Hippocrates was able to understand some truth in respect to our physical bodies. But even there human perception is perverted through sin. Thatís the human tragedy and thatís why there is a desperate need for special revelation and saving grace. That comes in Christ, and in Christ alone. Why? Because he alone truly reveals God, our heavenly Father; and he alone is the one sufficient sacrifice for sin. Later on in Matthew's Gospel you come to the cross. Thatís at the heart of Christ's mission and ministry. He came to die, in your place and in my place, for your sins and my sins, to bear the judgment we deserve. Mohammed didn't do that. Only Jesus the incarnate Son of God could do that. And he rose from the dead which proved who he was and is and that Ė that sin and death have been conquered.
He is the only real Physician who can deal with this spiritual disease. So what is the prescription - what is the cure? Well that is my third and final heading.
3. THE CURE
Itís very simple. Jesus says (v28-30):
28Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Thatís an invitation from Jesus Christ that is still open to us today. Who is invited? "All you who are weary and burdened" - all who need rest. There is no postcode lottery with Jesus. He invites all who are weary and burdened. That meant, and still means, those who are weary and burdened by a consciousness of guilt and who are trying to keep religious rules and regulations. People then, and now, think you can get right with God by doing religious things. No! says Jesus. By themselves they weary you and burden you. So Jesus says: "Come to me". He doesn't say: "do this" or "go there". Nor does he say: "wait" until you have some spiritual experience. There are no waiting lists or times for Jesus the physician. Heís not like the doctor who says to the patient who thinks heís going to die in 59 seconds, hold on Iíll be with you in a minute! No, Jesus implies heís waiting for you: "come to me" - come (by faith) with all your problems, all your guilt, and all your worries. And the promise is: "I will give you rest now and for eternity." Who needs to do so this morning? Some for the first time.
But there are others who have "come" already, yet are still "weary and burdened". Sin doesn't completely go away once youíve been forgiven and received God's Holy Spirit. Thereís still a struggle, but now it can be with God's strength. And in Godís strength Christians can take a stand. God is faithful.
Others are "weary and burdened" by the stress and strains of this life or by sadness or sickness. Many health care professionals face stresses and strains, but others do too. Well Jesus is calling anyone who is wearied with lifeís burdens. To all such he says, Come to me and I will give you rest. And I will refresh you. Come to me and I will enable you to go back to the task with new vigour and purpose (living for Christ and obeying his word in his strength). The government want to liberate the NHS. True freedom and true rest only come through faith in Christ, through coming to him.
And Jesus wants "all" to come. He says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened." Once you have come to Christ for the first time you need to keep close to him. If you drift away, you need to Ďcome backí to Jesus. Perhaps some of you here this morning need to come back to Jesus and know his rest and refreshment. And you need to obey him:
29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.There is a stress and strain in too much liberty. Christ's yoke is easy for it gives unity and direction to life. And his burden is light. Why? Because Ďit carries the man who carries it.í
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