Sermon 01-19-20: “Resolution #1: Lose Weight”

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The Atlantic magazine had an article last month that began with these words:

One of the truisms of modern life is that nobody has any time. Everybody is busy, burned out, swamped, overwhelmed. So let’s try a simple thought experiment. Imagine that you came into possession of a magical new set of technologies that could automate or expedite every single part of your job.

What would you do with the extra time? Maybe you’d pick up a hobby, or have more children, or learn to luxuriate in the additional leisure. But what if I told you that you wouldn’t do any of those things: You would just work the exact same amount of time as before.[1]

From the Carousel of Progress: “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow…”

That’s precisely what a new study concludes. We’ve bought a lot of time-saving gadgets over the past hundred years—like refrigerators and freezers. Food keeps much longer, therefore fewer trips to the store. Therefore more time, right? Wrong… We spent that extra time at this new thing called a “supermarket” in order to keep the refrigerator well-stocked. But surely washer and dryer saved us a lot of time, right? No… We just ended up buying a lot more clothes and doing laundry much more frequently than we used to. Vacuum cleaners just put pressure on us to spend more time cleaning floors. You get the picture. Work expands to fill the available time. So we never get ahead.

The author’s point is, if we wanted to live a lifestyle identical to 1890, then all of these time-saving innovations would have helped us. But we weren’t satisfied with living like it’s 1890, so we had to work harder to meet expectations.

Another thing that adds work to our lives is taking care of kids… even though we’re having fewer of them these days, the time we spend with our kids—raising them, teaching them, driving them around, helping them with schoolwork—has doubled. And it’s because we’re more anxious about “competitive college admissions and a cutthroat labor force.”

So here we are in 2020… Don’t we desperately need what Jesus is offering us in verses 28 to 30:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Just as the most popular New Year’s resolution by far is to lose weight, our most important need is also to lose weight… The weight of worry, stress, guilt, anxiety, and fear. That’s mostly what this sermon is about. 

To get there, let’s first deal with the hard part of today’s scripture, verses 20 to 24. Jesus says that the three cities around the Sea of Galilee, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—cities where Jesus had performed most of his miracles and did most of his preaching—he says those cities will face harsher judgment on Judgment Day than three notoriously sinfulcities mentioned in the Old Testament: Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. If those three cities had seen and experienced Jesus the way the other three cities had, they would have repented. Unlike cities with people who knew Jesus the best—who had witnessed so many of his miracles and heard his preaching; most of these people, Jesus warns, are bound for hell.

And by the way, Jesus included in his condemnation the city of Capernaum—literally his hometown when he was an adult. He knew these people personally, by name; he loved them. Even most of them, Jesus says in verse 23, will “brought down to Hades”… because even after witnessing the greatest miracles ever performed and hearing the greatest sermons ever preached, they failed to repent and believe the gospel.

How is that possible?

Look, I realize I’m mostly talking to people, unlike most people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, whose lives have been changed by the gospel. Some time in the past you repented and received Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord. Most of you are already saved—I know that. And yet I also know that as long as we are living and breathing on this side of eternity, there are places in our hearts in which we still need to repent and change. There are parts of our lives that we have not yielded to the Lordship of Christ.

Why is that? Haven’t we—like the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—experienced enough of Jesus already to know that he deserves every part of our lives?

I’ve shared this testimony with many of you, but it bears repeating. Months after my conversion to Christ in February 1984, I attended youth camp with my church youth group, the Briarcliff Baptist Church, right here in Toccoa, Georgia. We were staying in cabins at the Baptist center. And one night we had returned from that night’s worship gathering—where we sang, listened to testimonies, and heard preaching. And it was lights out. I was lying in my bunk bed. And I encountered Jesus and his love in a powerful way. And I didn’t have the vocabulary—as a 14-year-old recently born-again Christian—to describe what was happening to me at the time—but I now know that it was an experience of being baptized in the Spirit, or receiving an impartation of the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit—whatever you want to call it. It was real. It was sweet. It felt like wave after wave of Jesus’ love rushing over me. I felt so close to Jesus… and I’ve had these experience since then—and I know many of you have as well. 

But that happened right here in Toccoa… And I don’t know… something about being back here. I think the Holy Spirit, who worked powerfully in my life back then, is going to do something powerful again right here at Toccoa First. I believe it!

But my point right now is that what I experienced back then may not be a miracle, per se, but it was something. Right? Something supernatural.

So haven’t I experienced enough of Jesus to know that I can surrender my life and my will to him completely? Haven’t I experienced enough of Jesus to know that I can trust him completely? Yet hardly a day goes by when I don’t get irritated because things don’t go my way… because I don’t get what want… because things don’t work out according to my plans.

Like, who am I? Haven’t I experienced enough of Jesus to know that I’m not supposed to be living for myself anymore… for my own glory. I’m supposed to be living for him and his glory. What did John the Baptist say? “He must become greater; I must become less.”[2] But I want to be great, too! Why do I feel that way after all these years? Have I not—like Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—also experienced the supernatural power of Jesus?

So even though I’m saved from hell, I still feel the pinch of the judgment that Jesus pronounces on those three cities in verses 20 to 24. Maybe you do, too. And this is one way in which Jesus is using his Word, right now, to get me to repent and change. And he wants to do the same for you.

Okay, so Jesus has just pronounced God’s judgment against most of the people living in these cities—including many people he knows personally. Do you think that this makes him happy? Of course not! I’m thinking, for example, of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark chapter 10. A rich man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the ten commandments. The man says he’s done that his whole life. And in verse 21, Mark writes, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’”[3] And of course the rich man couldn’t do that because he had made an idol out of his wealth. But notice Mark makes a point of telling us Jesus loved this man—even as he was walking away, perhaps rejecting the gospel forever and spending forever separated from Jesus and his love. Later in the gospels, as Jesus considers the judgment that’s coming upon Jerusalem because of their inability to repent and believe in him, he weeps.[4]

Elsewhere in scripture, the very Spirit of Christ inspired Ezekiel to write that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and instead wants people to turn from their sin and live.[5] The Spirit of Christ inspired Paul to write that the Lord “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”[6] The Spirit of Christ inspired Peter to write that God doesn’t wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”[7]

Maybe all this seems obvious to us, but I think we can all agree: it breaks Jesus’ heart when he pronounces judgment in verses 20 to 24.

But if that’s true, how do we explain Jesus’ seemingly strange words in verse 25? “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” 

Do you see how strange that is? On the one hand, people whom Jesus loved were rejecting the gospel, and we all agree that this brings Jesus great pain and sadness. On the other hand, Jesus thanks his Father—in spite of the pain and sadness—because he knows that somehow everything is working out according to his Father’s will. A similar thing happens to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he was arrested and eventually crucified. Jesus, in his human nature, wanted to avoid the suffering that lay ahead, if possible. But even more he wanted his Father’s will to be done: “Not my will but yours be done.” “You know what’s best, Father. I’m going to trust you and your will—even though doing so will cause me great pain.”

Jesus can be thankful to his Father even for something that hurts.

How about us? 

I suspect that we’re not very good at it.

If so, let’s notice again Jesus’ comforting words in verse 28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus wants to give us something as a gift: rest. In this context, he’s offering an alternative to what the scribes and Pharisees were offering people. They were teaching that in order to be saved, you not only had to follow all 613 laws of the Old Testament, but all of these extra-biblical laws—just to be safe. And they weren’t lifting a finger to help anyone do it. There was no love, no compassion, no grace. And as we discussed last week, no one can be saved following God’s law; the main purpose of the Law is to convince us that we’re helpless sinners who are in need of a Savior! 

So the gift of rest is nothing other than his gift of salvation, made available by Christ’s life of perfect obedience to the Father and his death on the cross in our place. He fulfilled the demands of the Law for us, so that we can be free from the Law.

So that’s the gift of rest that’s given to us for free… But notice verse 29: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find”—what?—“rest for your souls.” Most of us in here have the first kind of rest that we receive as a gift; what we need is the second kind of rest, which we find as we submit to the Christ’s Lordship.

Notice how counterintuitive this is: We would think that rest is something we only find when we take a break from our labor. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about. We still have a burden to carry, even if it’s light, and there’s still a yoke to put around our neck so we can carry that burden. A yoke is something you put around two oxen, for instance, to enable them to carry a plow, or a millstone, or a cart. But Jesus promises to give us exactly what we need to be successful in carrying our burden. And what we need more than anything is to learn from him. See verse 29: “Learn from me.” 

And as I said earlier, we need to learn from Jesus to be thankful to God even for things that hurt. How?

Let’s look at Psalm 121:3-4:

He will not allow your foot to slip;

your Protector will not slumber.

Indeed, the Protector of Israel

does not slumber or sleep.

Is this promise really true? Doesn’t the psalmist know from experience that his foot does slip—often. The psalmist has surely experienced pain, setbacks, disappointments, heartaches, frustrations, loss… you name it. So he can’t be that naive!

But not so fast: the psalmist also knows something else: He knows the promise of Psalm 139:5: 

You hem me in, behind and before

and lay your hand upon me.

Therefore, if you’re a child of God, your foot can’t slip, unless God has a good reason for allowing it to slip. I mean, Jesus let Peter’s foot slip—or sink—when he walked on water during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. But that was a learning experience for Peter and the other disciples—and Jesus was right there to catch Peter when he fell!

The same is true for us. Listen: When we experience what feels like a setback, or a disappointment, or a heartbreak; when we endure a loss, or an injustice, or a painful trial, it’s always only temporary; it’s always only for our ultimate good; and it’s never—did you hear me?—never because our heavenly Father is slumbering or sleeping and wasn’t paying attention when this thing happened! His hand is on us; he’s guiding us. He’s on our side… always! “If God is for us, who can be against us?” No one… and nothing! Not your boss, not your employer, not your spouse, not your teenagers, not your in-laws, not your school, not your scary medical problems, not your bank, not your credit card debt, not President Trump, not Speaker Pelosi, not climate change, not the Ayatollah, not your denomination—Brent—not anything. God is on your side! He’s always working for your good! He’s always got your best interests. He’s always working for your best interests. Do you believe it? Do you believe it?

Rest in that! Be like a little child… verse 25. Your Father knows infinitely more than you do. Trust him!

[1] Derek Thompson, “Three Theories for Why You Have No Time,”, 23 December 2019. Accessed 19 January 2019.

[2] John 3:30 NIV

[3] Mark 10:21 ESV

[4] Luke 19:41-44

[5] Ezekiel 18:23

[6] 2 Timothy 2:4

[7] 2 Peter 3:9

2 thoughts on “Sermon 01-19-20: “Resolution #1: Lose Weight””

  1. I do totally agree that God loves us, has our best interest at heart, and guides all of history, including our personal history. I agree totally that every thing he ordains has some ultimate good end in view. But, of course, I also believe in free will, paradoxical as that may be. Consequently, what God ultimately ordains for me, or anyone else, has taken into account the state of my heart (and others’ hearts). Thus, while God’s punishments also have a good end in view, what those punishments and end may be is to some extent or in some fashion still dependent on the state of my heart–as a result of which it behooves me to have a better state of my heart. God works with me in that regard, but the truth of free choice somehow means that ball still lies in part in my court.

    1. I don’t disagree at all. “At this moment, given this set of circumstances over which you have at least some responsibility—including for your sinful choices—God is working in your absolute best interests.”

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