How come we treat our relationship with Christ as equal to the church or equal to the work we do at church? In fact, it may be more accurate to say, why do we treat Christ as LESS important than church? Didn’t Paul say in Phil 1:23 that departing this life and being with Christ was FAR BETTER than the fruitful work for Christ, but it was NECESSARY for Paul to remain here for the sake of people? Far better vs. necessary. Underline that phrase–Far better. Don’t we reverse the order without realizing it? We say the fruitful work for Christ is FAR BETTER and we think it is kind of necessary to mention Christ on occasion.
Ministers are drawn to the life of Paul because he accomplished so much. He labored so much. There was so much fruit in his ministry. What minister or church leader doesn’t want to be fruitful in ministry? These are true statements about Paul, but pay close attention to our study of this letter to the church at Philippi and I think you will find that you can’t reduce Paul down to a church planting, missional, ministry machine. As much as Paul was fruitful visibly in ministry, Paul was most fruitful internally. In his heart, in his character, in his joy, in his love for Jesus. The fruit that was born internally as he abided in Christ and walked closely with Him was expressed in terms of fruitful work to be sure. But we must be clear. Paul pursued Christ, not church, not missions, not ministry, not the Great Commission, but his overwhelming pursuit was none other than Jesus Christ. Everything else flowed from his relationship with Jesus.
I want to get there. I want our church to get there. To say, Jesus, you are far better than anything this world has to offer or any spiritual experience or any fruit in ministry. Jesus, you are far better than a good marriage, a good job, family, money, fame. Jesus, you are far better than a thriving church. Don’t get me wrong–it is necessary for us to be engaged in fruitful work and labor to serve others and point them to Jesus. But, the order is important. Jesus has to be the number one priority. He is far better, far better, second place is not even close because Jesus has the supremacy. Brothers and sisters, shouldn’t that be our testimony?
I want to get to a place where the humility of Christ is not merely a concept that we learn about. Or read about. In Matthew 11, Jesus describes himself. This description is important because this is not someone else like Peter or Paul talking about Jesus. This is self-disclosure. Jesus is describing himself. He could have talked about many characteristics, but he chose two. Which two?
Let’s turn to Matthew 11:28-30. [READ]
Jesus describes himself in two ways, as 1) gentle and 2) humble in heart. Gentleness refers to how we treat one another. And this gentleness toward others flows from an inner character of humility. Have you met so-called Christians who are the complete opposite? Instead of gentle and humble, they are harsh and proud, yet they claim to know Christ? These people may know ABOUT Christ, but it is not possible that they know Christ. If Christ is gentle and humble in heart and you are following Christ and spending time with Christ and learning from him, you will become like him. You will become Christ-like. If you want to boil down the essence of Christian character, here it is. A Christian is someone who is gentle with others externally and visibly and humble in heart internally and invisibly because we have been in the presence of someone who embodies gentleness and humility.
The gentleness and humility of Christ–are these concepts you have read about or have you personally experienced that indeed our Lord Jesus is gentle and humble in heart? Can we testify, I know Jesus firsthand and He has been most gentle with me? When I mess up and go to him or I have been a prodigal for many years in a far country, I’ve gone to Jesus and he didn’t yell at me or condemn me, but he welcomed me back gently. That’s the difference between someone who knows about Jesus and someone who has experienced Jesus firsthand.
From Matt 11, we see that being in Christ’s presence also brings rest. Is rest something that is merely conceptual or have you actually entered into the rest that Jesus alone can give? Are you at rest, are you at peace right now, or has it been a while since you have experienced rest in Jesus? Not decades ago when you made a decision for Christ or years ago when you had a breakthrough, but right now, is peace a present reality?
How does Jesus bring rest to His children? Jesus says, MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light. You’ve probably heard many sermons from this passage. I bet many of us can break down and analyze this verse in your head. Many of us know what the yoke is. The yoke is a wooden crosspiece that went around the necks of a couple of oxen to keep them moving together in the same direction. And so when two oxen are yoked, joined, then together, as one unit, they can pull a cart or a plow. This is what it means to be yoked together.
Intellectually, we know that Christians are yoked to Christ. We are not yoked to an idea or a principle. We are not yoked to a lifestyle. We are not yoked to a church or to a group of other Christians. We are yoked to Jesus. Christ is a Person, not a theology or a religion. And might I add the obvious point that this Person is a living Person. We are not yoked to a fallen hero who saved us 2000 years ago. Jesus resurrected 2000 years ago and He is alive today.
How do you know whether you are yoked to a living Jesus instead of a dead Jesus or something OF Jesus or something ABOUT Jesus? It’s quite easy to tell. Your yoke is not easy. And your burden is not light. If you are not yoked to a living Jesus, then you are yoked to someone else or something else and therefore your yoke is hard, it is difficult, complicated, your burdens are heavy, burdensome. With a living Jesus, easy and light. Without a living Jesus, hard and heavy.
Please turn with me to Matthew 12:18-21. [READ]
This is a prophecy from Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The real Jesus is so humble and gentle that he will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick. Consider that picture. A bruised reed is on the verge of breaking. A strong wind could cause it to snap, fall off and die. A smoldering wick is even weaker. It is barely hanging onto life. A little puff of air and it will be out. Do you ever feel like a bruised reed (raise hands) or a smoldering wick? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life? Even when there is no crisis in your life, just mundane life of school or work and friends and family and juggling everything is a weight too much to bear. Ever feel that way? Then, you’re in good company. All of us have been there often, or perhaps we are there right now.
What are we to do? The answer is so simple. Just go to Jesus. He invites you to come to Him. Cast your cares upon Jesus. Throw off your burdens to Jesus. Let him carry the bulk of the burden, actually, all of the burden. Our only responsibility is to stay yoked to Jesus, draw near to Jesus, follow Jesus as closely as we can. Then, we leave the rest to Him.
This is the pattern of Christian life because it is precisely the pattern that Jesus himself walked. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death and he left the rest in the hands of God the Father. And what did God the Father do? God exalted Jesus.