Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on April 23, 2017
“Lay Down Your Burdens”
Scriptures: Psalm 62:1-8 and Matthew 11:25-30 and 5:5
If a person wanted an accurate description of the human race, one way to acquire such information would be to take Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12) and turn them inside out. For the exact opposite of the virtues set forth in the Beatitudes are the very qualities which distinguish human character and conduct. Among people, we find little behavior approaching the virtues Jesus blesses in His Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7):
- Instead of mourners (Matt 5:40), we find pleasure seekers.
- Instead of mercy (5:7) we see cruelty.
- Instead of peacemakers (5:9), we observe resentment and quarrels.
- Instead of rejoicing at persecution (5:10-11), we observe retaliation with every weapon at one’s disposal.
- Instead of meekness (5:5), we find arrogance.
These negative qualities are the evils which describe the human race. Culture, education, a virtuous family life help to refine people slightly, but not enough to eradicate the evils. Sadly, these evil qualities are the factors which make life a bitter struggle. The combination of pride, arrogance, malice, greed, evil imaginings and countless other sins have caused more pain than all the diseases that afflict people.
Into this hurting and hating world, the message of Jesus’ Beatitudes is strange – yet welcomed. His words are the essence of truth and hope (Matt. 11:25-26). He does not offer His opinion (John 1:17, 8:32, 17:17). Jesus never uttered opinions. He spoke out of the fullness of the Godhead, and His words are truth (Matt. 11:27-27). Jesus is the only one who can say “Blessed”* with complete authority, for He is the Blessed One who came down from Heaven to confer God’s favor upon us. Speaking with Divine authority in His Beatitudes, Jesus declares that “the meek” are blessed (5:5). Later on in Matthew chapter 11, Jesus explains His meaning of being “meek.”
Being identified as “meek” is not a quality to which most of us aspire. We tend to equate “meekness” to a mouse inflicted sense of inferiority. Suppose the company you work for wrote a job description for its ideal CEO. Do you think “meekness” would
*Many people misconstrue the meaning of ‘blessed.’ “Blessed” (Greek, “makarios”) in the New Testament, does not mean ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate.’ For ‘happiness’ is an emotional condition and ‘fortunate’ implies chance or good luck. Jesus perceives ‘blessed’ as God’s favor upon a person. ‘Blessed’ is a state only God can confer.
appear on the list? Which of two recent Presidential candidates would have received more votes if they had used the slogan, “Vote for me – I’m meek”? We don’t want a meek person as our leader. We want someone who is dynamic, powerful, unyielding. Yet, Jesus surprises us by declaring that He is “meek and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29). Then He instructs us to pursue the same quality, “Blessed are the meek” (Matt. 5:5). What does Jesus mean when He directs us to be meek?
To understand Jesus’ description of “meekness” we must understand how He used the word and then discern how it applies to our lives. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus is recorded as saying,
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek* and humble in heart. And you will find rest for your souls.
You should immediately recognize that Jesus contrasts two things: a burden and a rest. The “burden” He describes is not a peculiar or unique one. Rather, it is the “burden” which every person shares in. It consists not of political pressure, or racism, or poverty, or hard work. Those are the burdens which governments attempt to address. The “burden” Jesus refers to is far deeper than that.
Jesus is referring to the crushing “burden” all of us bear, and to which only Jesus offers release. Our common “burden” attacks the heart, the mind and reaches deep into our soul. It assaults us in various ways. Permit to offer just two illustrations: First, there is the burden of pride; and second there is the burden of pretense.
Consider your “burden of pride.” Your heart and mind fiercely attempt to protect you from every slight which others express about you. You cringe at every criticism, smart at every negative slight, and spend sleepless nights tossing to and fro because someone has been preferred over you.
It is not necessary for you to bear this burden for Jesus calls you to “rest.” And “meekness” is His method for receiving that “rest.” Because the “meek” Christian does not care who is greater than she or he. The “meek” Christian has decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. Whenever the “meek” Christian feels slighted by the world, she or he develops a sense of humor about themselves and
*The same Greek word for “meek” (praus) is used in Matthew 5:5 and Matthew 11:29.
learns to say, “Oh, you’ve been overlooked again. And now you feel hurt because someone has said the very things you secretly say about yourself. Remember yesterday, when you were telling God that you were nothing? Where is your consistency? Come on, humble yourself. Cease worrying about what other people think. Remember what the world thought of Jesus!
Then there is the “burden of pretense.” By “pretense,” I do not mean hypocrisy. “Pretense” is the common human desire to put one’s best foot forward and hide from the world our inward poverty. There is hardly a man or woman who does not fear others discovering the sin and shame residing deep in their heart. The learned person fears meeting a person who will make them appear foolish. The rich person sweats under the fear that his car, her house, his job title, her clothes, will look cheap by comparison to a really rich person. The fear of our frailties, excesses and sins being exposed to others gnaws like a rodent in our heart.
To all the victims of this crippling disease Jesus says, “Become meek like a child, otherwise you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3-5, paraphrase). For little children do not compare; they simply receive enjoyment from what they have without relating it to something or someone else. Only as they get older and sin stirs within their heart does jealousy and envy arise. Then that destructive, humiliating burden of pretense never leaves us until Jesus sets us free.
Every person’s heart is breaking under this load of pride and pretense (Rom. 3:23). To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The “rest” He offers is the rest of “meekness”; the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and we cease to pretend. The “meek” person has accepted God’s estimate of their life. They know that in themselves they are nothing; but, in God, they are everything. They know that the world will never see them as God sees them. So they wait patiently for the day when their true worth will be on display – and “the righteous will shine in the Kingdom of their Father’ (Matt. 13:43). The “meek” are willing to wait for that glorious Day.
Accepting your “meekness” takes courage at first. But as you grow in grace and love you come to realize that you are sharing this “easy yoke” with Jesus. For He calls it “my yoke,” because He walks at one end while you walk at the other (Matt. 11:30).