Accomplishing a difficult task is burdensome. It wears on you, creates anxiety, headaches, and hardships. We aren’t, however, the first to experience burdens. People have been shouldering heavy burdens for centuries. Sometimes those burdens are self-inflicted, while other times they are man made.
The Burden of the Scribes and Pharisees
In Mathew 23, we learn the people were shouldering heavy burdens as a result of the scribes and Pharisees. In verse 4, Jesus says,
“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.” (Mt 23:4)
The imagery Jesus uses is that of a task master who carelessly ties the heavy packages their slaves or beasts would have to bear. Doing so made their lives harder than was needed.
That’s exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. They carelessly laid burdens on the people. Burdens that made their lives harder than was needed.
How did they tie up heavy burdens?
They did so by adding additional laws to the Law of Moses. In order to keep people from breaking the actual Law, they built a fence around the Law. Not only then did the people have to keep the Law of Moses, but they also had to keep the additional rules of the scribes and Pharisees.
These additional rules turned times of rest, joy and celebration, times like the Sabbath and Holy Days, into burdens, creating anxiety and labor instead of rest and celebration.
When the people complained the additional laws were burdensome, the scribes and Pharisees did nothing to ease the burden. Instead they continued to pile more and more on the people, while at the same time creating exemptions for themselves.
While living under those exemptions, they weren’t willing to even lift a finger – to exert the minimal amount of effort – to help the people. Instead they remained unsympathetic. They did so because they didn’t care about the people. They only cared about the recognition they received.
Jesus, on the other hand, is completely opposite. His burden is light and He provides rest.
The Burden of Religion
So herein lies the difference between religion and the gospel. Religion – and what I mean by religion is thinking keeping certain rules merits you grace or favor with God – does nothing but create heavy joyless burdens.
I am not sure if you have ever read the story of Sisyphus. It’s the one where a corrupt king is sentenced to roll a heavy boulder uphill for all eternity.
Everyday he would work and work and work to get that boulder up the hill. After a hard days work, at the end of the day, when the man would sit back, admire his accomplishment and rest, the boulder would roll back down the mountain to the spot where he started.
You know what the worst part of this man’s lot was? It was that at the end of the day, when he had accomplished his task, he couldn’t truly rest because he knew he had to get up and do it all over again the next day. He was stuck in a vicious cycle and he couldn’t get out of it.
That’s religion. It’s a vicious cycle. There is no freedom, only slavery. There is no rest, only toil.
You see, when you have to work for God’s grace, you can’t rest. It’s impossible because you always feel like there is more to do.
The Gospel Takes Our Burden and Give Us Rest
The gospel on the other hand is different. Instead of us working, Jesus works for us. His work resulted in death. Death on a cross. His work did something ours can never do, it satisfied God’s wrath.
So today if you are tired of working, if you need rest, if you need your load lightened, your burden taken, turn to Jesus. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He cares for those under His care. He offers freedom. Don’t toil any longer, don’t spend another anxious, joyless moment, instead turn to Jesus now and receive rest. For He is the only one who can give it.
Question for Reflection
- Have you found your rest in Jesus?
Sermon adapted from my latest sermon: Self Worship – How People Seek It and How We Can Avoid It