Light as a Feather

Ox pulling plowLight as a Feather

Overloaded

Do you feel overloaded by life?

  • That there is too much expected out of you by your boss?
  • That there is too much expected out of you by your friends?
  • That there is too much expected out of you by your family?
  • That there is too much expected out of you by your spouse or significant other?
  • That there is too much expected out of you by society?
  • That there is too much expected out of you at work?
  • That there is too much expected out of you at home?

My guess is that unless you are younger than a teenager it is very, very likely that you have said yes to one or all of those.

And I suspect that I could changed “expected” to “demanded” in all of those and you would still say yes to at least a couple of them.

Does your neck feel crushed and your shoulders feel very, very heavy with the burdens put on them?

At times mine do. Some of it is my own fault. Bills I shouldn’t have created. Tasks I shouldn’t have volunteered for.

However, even subtracting those and the fact my wife has fair expectations of me…sometimes I feel overloaded…like what I am yoked with is too heavy for me to handle. The burden can overwhelming.

But I have some really, really good news for you and me. 🙂

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Religious Burdens

You may have noticed in my list of “that there is too much expected out of you” I didn’t include anything having to do with religion.

  • Do you feel there is too much expected out of you by your church?
  • Do you feel there is too much expected out of you by your faith?
  • Do you feel there is too much expected out of you by your God?
  • Do you feel there is too much expected out of you by Jesus?

I am not as confident we’ll have such a universal set of yesses to those additions, but I do suspect, at least at times, our religion can seem more of a burden than a blessing.

Which leads us to our first, and primary Scripture for today…

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Do you labor and feel heavy laden?

Then Jesus is speaking directly to you. Not to some mythological or hypothetical person.

You.

And what does He say?

That He will give you rest. That His yoke is easy. That His burden is light.

What does he mean by His yoke being easy and burden being light? Perhaps by contrasting it with the opposite, we can better understand. Let’s turn a bit further to Matthew 23:1-4:

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Jesus said His burden was light. Here He says the Pharisees’ burden is what? [Heavy.]

And what did the Pharisees do?

They took what the Lord commanded and added to them. For instance, when the Bible said to not work on the Sabbath, they added a zillion other regulations to what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. In “The MacAurthur New Testament Commentary,” John MacArthur writes:

The Talmud devotes twenty-four chapters to Sabbath regulations, describing in painfully exhaustive detail what was and was not permitted to be done. The result was a ridiculously complex system of external behavior restraints—so much so that one rabbi spent two and a half years studying just one of the twenty-four chapters.

For example, traveling more than 3,000 feet from home was forbidden. But if one had placed food at the 3,000 foot point before the Sabbath, that point would then be considered a home, since there was food there, and allow another 3,000 feet of travel. Similarly, a piece of wood or rope placed across the end of a narrow street or alley constituted a doorway That [sic] could then be considered the front door of one’s house, and permits the 3,000 feet of travel begin there.1

Wild, eh?

Yet, just think of the stories of them waiting to catch Jesus…of all things…healing on the Sabbath! (See Mark 3:1-6.) They not only added myriad rules, their rules sometimes negated God’s commandment. You should read all of Mark 7:1-13, but verses 6 through 8 state:

6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

” ‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

7  in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8).

Heavy burdens. Hard to bear. Manmade expectations. False expectations. Impossible expectations.

But not Jesus.

Jesus’ Burdens

We know about the overwhelming burden the Pharisees put on the first century Jews…and we have heard Jesus say His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

When it comes to religious rules and regulations, what exactly does Jesus require?

Does He require we observe all the feasts outlined in the Old Testament?

No.

Does He require we follow all the dietary restrictions as the Jews had to?

No.

And, of course, I could go on. Even without the Pharisees putting them on steroids, God gave Israel a whole bunch of rules to follow.

I think of them as emergency measures. For their own good.

But still emergency measures. Not the way God wants to interact with His followers.

And then Jesus came.

When it comes to religious rules and regulations, what exactly does Jesus require?

I would suggest two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Can you think of any others?

Seventh-day Adventists might add foot washing…but even if they are correct that brings us to a grand total of…

Three.

Compared to how many chapters of just Sabbath regulations in the Talmud?

Twenty-four chapters…of which one chapter might need two and a half years to study.

Was Jesus correct in saying that His yoke is easy and His burden is light?

Well, at least when it comes to the dos and don’ts of religious worship.

But, don’t listen to me…listen to one of Jesus’ apostles in Acts 15:6-11:

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

In the early church there were Christians who wanted to have everyone follow the rules they had grown up in as Jews. What was Peter’s inspired reaction.

They were putting God to the test by placing an unbearable yoke on the neck of the disciples.

Versus Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden.

Jesus’ Salvation Burden

Let’s stop now and be honest. If we feel a religious burden it’s ultimately tied to our insecurities around our salvation.

What must I do to be saved?

What must I do to remain saved?

If we feel a burden from our church, from our faith, from our God, from Jesus…that is probably why.

We fear we aren’t saved.

We fear we have lost our salvation…or could lose our salvation.

Doubt’s yoke is hard and burden is heavy.

And we want assurances that we are good with God…and as humans our propensity to complicate things draw us to versions of Christianity that promise us salvation if we’ll just pat our heads and rub our bellies at the same time. Reading from a sermon I preached years ago called “Ockham’s Razor”:

As humans I believe that we like to complicate things.

  • We’d rather believe conspiracy theories instead of accepting that one lone demented lunatic shot President Kennedy.
  • We’d rather believe that we are constantly visited by aliens so advanced they can travel light years to earth (but not advanced enough to always hide their ships or at least remember to turn the lights off) than to accept that natural phenomena and/or manmade aircraft can mix with our limited eyesight and imaginative minds to lead to sightings all over the world.
  • We’d rather believe our teacher purposely made the questions difficult on the test so people would get a bad grade than accept we just didn’t study enough.
  • Someone like me would rather spell “Ockham” O-c-k-h-a-m than use the simpler (and more common) O-c-c-a-m because the former looks neater. 🙂

The sad thing, however, is that we humans also are attracted to religions who will provide us a lifetime of rituals or acts or beliefs or duties we need to do in order to be saved and remain saved.

Some of it is a fair reaction for those of us who recognize just how sinful we are. Our infractions are so great and so perpetual that there must be some cross motion to make, some prayer to repeat, some mantra to chant, some direction to pray, some penance to make, some food to avoid, some donation to make, some infidel to kill, some candle to light, some whip to use on our backs…

But our Lord…the same Lord who gave William of Ockham the brain to understand and promote his Razor…kept it simple.

Look at any other religion and ask it, “What must I do to be saved?”

If they reply, “Nothing” (the answer of an atheist or a universalist)…then they have fallen for the one potential flaw in over-applying Ockham’s Razor.

And short of that kind of useless (and wrong) answer, every other religion will give you a far more complicated explanation of what you must do to be saved.

Take all those complex explanations…put them in a list…and then put “Believe in the Lord Jesus” at the end.

Read through all of them.

Follow Ockham’s Razor—the simplest one is the right one.

Believe in the Lord Jesus.

You do not have to pat your head and rub your belly (metaphorically) to be saved and remain saved. Don’t believe me, let’s look quickly at Acts 16:30-31:

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Please realize the full importance of what we just read. What was the very specific and concise question?

“What must I do to be saved?”

And what was the reply?

“Believe in the Lord Jesus.”

Now, that is an easy yoke and a light burden!

And do you remember what we just read Peter say? After rejecting all the burdensome regulations, he wrapped up with:

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (Acts 15:11).

Or as Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

What must you do to be saved? To receive salvation thanks to the grace of God.

Believe…have faith…in Jesus.

So simple it is hard to accept.

Fight your instinct to complicate things. Fight your instinct to try to do things for yourself. Fight your insecurities.

Fight those who, like the Pharisees, would like to burden you with useless rules and regulations that work against your salvation, not for it.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:13-15).

Fight those who, like the Pharisees, would like to burden you with useless rules and regulations that work against your salvation, not for it.

Fight your instinct to complicate things, to do things for yourself, your insecurities, the Pharisees in your life.

Salvation is not complicated. You cannot save yourself. Jesus will do what He promises. Don’t listen to other men, listen to Jesus.

Just believe…have faith…in Jesus.

So simple it is hard to accept.

Accept it. 🙂

Next Week

At this point I hope that some of that burden you feel on your shoulders has been lifted, but if you are like me you probably still wrestle with all the mistakes you constantly make…the sins you constantly commit.

Next week we’ll tackle that together and see how much more of your religious yokes and burdens we can remove.

For now…

Just believe…have faith…in Jesus.

So simple it is hard to accept.

Accept it. 🙂

Footnotes

1MacArthur New Testament Commentary (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2016, from https://books.google.com/books?id=kXjJN9pptcIC&lpg=PT1976&ots=R6vh-SJuU2&dq=%22first%20century%22%20%22sabbath%20regulations%22&pg=PT1977#v=onepage&q=%22first%20century%22%20%22sabbath%20regulations%22&f=false


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