The Jesus Alternative
The Jesus Alternative
One of my favorite things about going to the grocery store is going down the cereal aisle. I love going down the cereal aisle. One, because I really like cereal. I love the sugary kind of kids’ cereals, and Louise has kind of been telling me I need to eat healthier and have better cereal. So I like the healthier ones too, but going to get cereal is fun.
Another thing that I really get a kick out of—and maybe this says too much about me—but I love to go and compare the name-brand cereal boxes and the names that are on those boxes and the knock-off brands. I just get such a kick out of that, where you have the name-brand Froot Loops and then knock-off Fruit Hoops. And you have the name brand Cheerios and the knock-off, Happios. Lucky Charms—Magic Charms.
Many times when we think of an alternative, we think of something that’s worse. We think of something that’s worth settling for. Oh well, it’s not the main thing, it’s an alternative, it’s not quite as good, the flavor’s not as good, it’s cheaper, whatever it might be. So we can think of alternatives in that way.
This morning I want to talk about Jesus as an alternative. An alternative named Jesus. So I hope you found your place there in Matthew 11.
(Read Matthew 11:28-30)
Come to Me
Now, just to set the stage here, up until this point in Matthew it’s been relatively smooth sailing. We know the family tree of Jesus given at the beginning of this gospel, and Jesus has been baptized and gone into the wilderness, been tempted, and he has been going through his ministry. He has launched his public ministry. He has called Matthew, the guy who wrote the book. He called him with just two words: Follow me. So it’s all been relatively smooth sailing. He has been performing miracles and all of these things.
Then we get to this point now in chapter 11 and we are just coming out of the midst of a crisis in Israel. There is a crisis in Israel, and it’s not a crisis that’s physical; it’s not a crisis that’s agricultural. There’s not a famine in the land. But it is a spiritual crisis. Jesus speaks these words in the midst of a spiritual crisis.
You know, John the Baptist, who was the first Baptist—no, just kidding. John the Baptist has his disciples, and they probably saw Jesus be baptized. They saw the Spirit descending like a dove; they heard God’s voice. And yet the spiritual crisis is they do not recognize Jesus as Messiah. They don’t recognize who he is, his identity.
So Jesus, just before he says these words, “Come to me,” he says, “Woe to you. Woe to you, to this region, and Galilee.” He said, “You don’t even recognize me. Woe to you.” But as chapter 11 unfolds, we see that that’s not the last word. That “Woe to you” for not recognizing Jesus, that’s not the last word. His last word is “Come to me.” See, there’s still an opportunity for even those who have not accepted him thus far. So we will look this morning at Jesus as the alternative.
Verse 28, these words, he says, “Come to me.” “Come to me.” I wish I could have been there. Don’t you wish you could have been there to hear those words: “Come to me”? I wonder how it would have sounded if it would have been a harsh word. “Come to me,” as he was just saying, “Woe to you.” Or if it would have been almost a whisper, in a gentle whisper, “Come to me.” I wish I could have been there to hear that.
This phrase, “Come to me,” is something that we see all throughout the Bible but maybe in different ways. The Lord God says to Israel many times in the Old Testament, “Return to me, return to me.” He says to Jeremiah, “Call to me and I will answer, and I will tell you great and mighty things that you do not know.” And here he says, “Come to me and I will give you rest. Come to me.” These are comforting words.
All Who Are Weary
I want to draw our attention to verse 28 here where he says, “All who are weary and heavy-laden.” This is who he is addressing. It’s not just these followers of John, but it’s all who are tired, all who are weary, all who are laboring or toiling or working.
There is a distinction here between the way in which the world views work and reward, and the way in which Jesus talks about work and reward. You see, Jesus says, “Come to me as you are working, as you are toiling, and even in this working you will have a rest.” And this is a rest that is eternal, and it’s also a peace in our heart. It’s a joy in our step. It makes a difference in our lives right here and right now, doing what we’re doing.
But then, see, there’s a different way that the world views work and reward. So the world says you work, work, work, work, work, and you’ll get a reward probably, hopefully you’ll get a reward. You’ll at least get a paycheck, something like that. But that doesn’t endure. That is a reward that will not last. It’s a reward that could be stolen away. It’s a reward that is not eternal. And this rest that Jesus gives is an alternative kind of rest that is eternal.
I had a friend in college named Michael and he always used to wear this shirt that said, “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” And it kind of had a double meaning. It was spelled Know as in k-n-o-w, to know personally. So if you know Jesus personally, then you will know personally his peace. You will know this rest. But the other meaning on the shirt was n-o, “No Jesus, No Peace.” Without Jesus you will not have peace, you will not have this rest. And so we see that right here in this text. “And I will give you rest.” Aren’t you glad that God gives us this rest? It doesn’t say he’s compelled to, he has to. He freely gives this rest to us. He freely gives it to us. God is so generous.
Take My Yoke
Now, this language about “take my yoke,” that’s not something very common that we hear today, I don’t think. Someone said, “Hey, could you take this yoke upon you?” But this was a metaphor that was very common in the day of Jesus.
To take a yoke upon you was to be a learner or to be a disciple under a teacher. So this is a Jewish kind of a worldview; Matthew is coming from a Jewish background. So that was very common to be studying under a rabbi or under a teacher. So Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” but he draws this distinction again between the rabbis and the religious leaders of the day and himself. Jesus, Rabbi but a better rabbi, different kind of rabbi.
You know, when the Pharisees are spoken about in the New Testament, is it ever good? Are they ever getting a pat on the back for doing anything right? I almost feel bad for them because they’re many times the example of how not to be, what not to do.
So Jesus, again, he is drawing on a distinction here. The Pharisees put burdens on people. They weigh people down with these expectations yet they don’t lift a finger; they don’t do a darn thing. But Jesus serves us. There’s a distinction there. The Pharisees say, “Serve me,” and Jesus says, “I’ve already served you.” You can read Philippians 2, see how Jesus has been humble and served us. The rabbis, the religious leaders, are very arrogant. Jesus is humble. The Pharisees really like themselves.
I had a professor talk about self-huggification, and that if anybody was in danger of going out because of self-huggification, it was these religious leaders of the day. But Jesus is not that kind of rabbi, is he? He says, “Take my yoke and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
My Yoke Is Easy
Then he describes this yoke that we would bear as Christians. You know, reading this phrase I almost want to ask, Jesus, can you really mean this? I mean, in light of all that Christians suffer for your name, how can the yoke be easy, and how can the burden be light?
When even now in parts of China and the Middle East there are Christians who do suffer greatly for confessing Christ. It is being ostracized from your family to say, “I follow Christ.” You’re out. You become an enemy of the state—you’re out.
There’s a buddy of mine who goes to Truett with me and he’s from a Middle Eastern country, and it just totally blew me away. Because I was thinking about my minor kind of struggles—hopefully I can get this assignment done, hopefully I can do this—and he was saying in a conversation I overheard, “I really am at a crossroads here because my family is saying if I continue one more semester in seminary, they are cutting me off and I’m not going to be able to be a part of the family anymore.” And that flipped my perspective.
So how can this yoke be easy and this burden be light even when there’s such great sacrifices? And even for us as we maybe bear a little bit of scorn, people kind of laugh at us, because people say, “I wish you could just kind of loosen up and quit going to church and being all weird.” Because being a Christian is weird. It makes us stick out like a sore thumb, doesn’t it? It should.
It says, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And the key really to understanding this, this light and easy burden, is to think about where would I be, what burdens would I be carrying if not for the Cross?
See, I know for me I would be carrying a burden of trying to perform, trying to be perfect, and trying to keep a perfect standard. If not for the Cross, I wouldn’t know what grace is. I wouldn’t know what mercy truly is. And so this burden compared to that, compared to a crushing burden of trying to always measure up and be perfect, this is so light. This is a joy. This is something that I can live into and grow into.
Maybe if not for the Cross you’d be bearing a burden of people-pleasing. I fall into that sometimes. But thanks be to God that we work for God. We don’t work to please people, we work to please the Lord. So this is another kind of burden that is lifted from us. And if not for the Cross we very well could be bearing this burden of just people-pleasing and driving ourselves crazy to please everybody, which is impossible, by the way.
My Burden Is Light
Maybe there’s another burden. This is so prevalent in our age of consumerism and materialism. And if not for the Cross, I think I would be believing the lie that having more stuff leads to more contentment, and owning more stuff, having more possessions, that’s really how it is to be happy. But because of the Cross, we know that there is something so much sweeter, so much better.
Particularly with the consumerism, have you ever ordered a package, maybe on Amazon, and you’ve just been anticipating that it would come and you’ve been looking forward to its arrival, and it comes on your doorstep? And when this package gets here, it’s going to change your life. You’re going to finally be happy. You’re going to have this item; it’s going to be great. And then what happens every time you open up the box and take out the item? “Wait a minute, I’m still me.” Look in the mirror—I’m still me. I still have these issues. I’m still me, and what’s worse is I was placing some kind of satisfaction in owning this thing and I really feel let down. I feel more discouraged. I feel empty. Has anybody ever been there before? I’ve been there before. Whether it’s a tool that I ordered or a piece of clothing.
But Jesus sets us free from this. He sets us free from this lie that says to have more is to be happier. No, being content right here, right now, in this rest that God has given us. Amen. That’s it. That’s true freedom. So there is a great paradox here. It seems like it’s a contradiction, but it really does fit together, so it’s a paradox.
The paradox is, to have true freedom, we only find that when we are submitting to Christ. Only when we submit do we have freedom. And that seems at logger-heads with one another. How can that be? But really and truly this is something that we only can grasp as Christians in that day by day living out of our faith. We live it out, and it doesn’t really make that much sense, but when you know Christ, when you are walking with him, when you’re seeking to be obedient to him, there is such a freedom and a liberty. So that submission to him is freedom.
As maybe the world would render it in the world’s economy, maybe freedom would be “I get to do whatever I want, that’s freedom.” But that’s not true freedom. True freedom is found only in Jesus Christ.
Return with me to that grocery store cereal aisle and think about those alternatives. And how many times when you get an alternative, you’re settling. It’s something that is worse. You get what you pay for—maybe you’ve heard that before. So if it’s poor quality, well, you pay for poor quality. You get what you pay for.
But thanks be to God that with Jesus we don’t get what we pay for. Because what we’ve earned is eternal separation from God. What we’ve earned is not being in his presence because of our sin. But thanks be to God for his mercy and his grace and his love for us that we get something we could never earn. We could never pay for it. So we are getting something he freely gives, we could never get it. So thanks be to God that this alternative named Jesus is not worse but it is better, and it is best.
So as we close this morning I want to pose a question: Where would you be, what burdens would you be carrying if not for the Cross?
Coleman Reidling grew up in Plano, Texas. He completed a Bachelor’s degree in History at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas. Coleman is currently a second-year Master of Divinity student at Baylor’s Truett Seminary where he enjoys all things related to homiletics. He serves as the pastor of Spring Creek Baptist Church in Iredell, Texas.