A friend of mine who was raised in a fundamentalist home told me a disturbing story recently. One Sunday morning, the youth pastor at her church passed out three-inch galvanized nails to all the students in his care. He instructed them to keep these in their pockets at all times. Whenever they had an impure thought or disrespected their parents or sinned in any way, he told them to place their hand into their pockets and poke the nail into their finger. “That way you’ll be reminded of the pain you’re causing God,” he said, “and you’ll know how disappointed He is with you in that moment.”
This is a kind of “ouch” sort of story, isn’t it? But in some ways, also relatable. Many, if not all of us, have been sure God is disappointed with us. After all, how else is he supposed to feel when we sin?
The answer may surprise you, and we can find it in Matthew, chapter 11. verses 28 -30: Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Consider some of the ways Jesus invites through Scripture. The hungry and thirsty are invited to come and be satisfied. The guilty are invited to come and be forgiven. The broken and weary are invited to come, be lifted up and made whole. The sinner is invited to come to Jesus and be saved.
He says “Come to me.” “Leave what you’ve been used to,” he’s saying; “Stop doing what you always do in order to find favor with God. Instead, come to me.” This also means leaving something behind – a way of life, a way of thinking. Most certainly, it’s an invitation to leave our sin behind. We also should consider the audience he was speaking to when he said we are “weary and burdened.”
What kind of weary is Jesus talking about? What burden would have been on the people’s shoulders that Jesus was speaking to at the time?
The Pharisees – one of the major religious leader groups of that time – took rules and laws to the extreme. They were students of the Jewish law, and condemned those who failed to follow the law to the letter.
They condemned people who did not wash their hands before eating, while releasing people from their God-given obligation to provide for elderly parents. They had endless rules about what kind of work violated the Sabbath law and what work did not violate it. They were so concerned with the letter of the law, they often lost sight of the spirit of the law.
In a similar way, we also find ourselves under the “do good” law – the things we try to do because we know God wants us to do, but we do it because we think it will earn us points with him. Perhaps that’s why that pastor thought putting a nail in our pocket would help – it was a tangible (and painful) way to remind ourselves of what it looks like when we lose points with God.
The words, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened. . . . .” Jesus is simply naming the reason for his invitation. Because he knows we’re trying to do it all in our own strength and he knows we are failing. He knows we are weary and burdened. The reason the law does not save us is because we cannot follow the law. Is it any wonder we feel God is disappointed with us? We can’t even follow his simple commands.
But it is not God’s desire for us to be burdened by the feeling we have let him down. Conviction, yes. But not that we have let him down. This is why Jesus’ next words are “Take my yoke upon you.”
Studies of yokes on oxen have revealed that one animal is always the lead and pulls the bulk of the weight. This lead animal is stronger – perhaps even a more experienced one. So to take the yoke of Christ means to subject ourselves to him – not that we are even to him or subject to one another – but it means to walk as he walks – to rely on his lead.
He offers rest, not by inviting us to do nothing, but by leading us to the right activities. And they don’t involve putting nails in our pockets.
Jesus invited us to remove the yoke we’ve put on ourselves – take out the nails we put in our pockets – and says, “You know what? You don’t need to do it that way anymore. You’re with me. I’m here to bear your burdens.”
What nails have you put in your pocket? What are the ways in which you seek to earn God’s favor?
Do you think God is disappointed with you?
If so, he has an invitation: To come. To take his yoke, and to rest.
In Christ, Pastor Stephanie