On April 30, a young man did the unthinkable and shocked our whole community. Nathan Kleinschmidt, 17 years old and the son of one of our members, committed suicide. The circumstances were such that they permitted me to officiate with a clear conscience and a clear confession. His funeral was the biggest service I’ve ever heard of in our church. To give you some idea of the scale of that day, over 600 people got to hear the resurrection gospel — in a town with a population of 900. This is the sermon that I preached for that funeral. God grant that another town, another family, another church, will never have to experience that sorrow.
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
Perhaps both the shortest and the longest question in the English language is: “Why?” It only takes a few letters, a little breath, to say, but there’s a multitude of thoughts, doubts, fears, conflicts behind it. It’s the question that’s on the minds and hearts of many. I’ve heard it from your lips and I’ve asked it myself. When confronted with circumstances like these, how can you help asking, “Why?”
You can twist yourself up in knots, and almost drive yourself crazy, looking for answers at a time like this. Far better, then, to focus on what we can know; what our God has revealed to us, and what we can know for certain. Jesus Himself points us to what God has revealed to us when He says, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure” (vv.25-26)
Nathan knew the Lord. He knew the saving message of the gospel, what Jesus had done for him. He knew that Jesus had taken on human flesh in the Virgin’s womb for him, that Jesus lived His life under the crushing burden of God’s law because he could never keep that law. He knew that Jesus paid for all sins when He died on the cross, and His blood was shed to cover all sins – Nate’s too! He knew that Jesus rose from the dead to prove that all sins really, truly are paid for, and that all who trust in Him have eternal life. Nate knew that “old, familiar story”. He’d learned the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, how to recite the Apostle’s Creed and what it meant, both at Sunday School and at home. Nate knew the Lord. On this day, we have that for our comfort.
Add to that something far greater: the Lord knew Nate. Jesus had washed Nate clean in holy baptism. He had given Nate a name and a heritage in heaven. He knew Nate personally as His own child, because he was baptized into Christ, so that when the Father looked at Nathan, He saw, not Nathan, but Christ – Jesus’ perfect righteousness covering Nathan’s sins. The promises God makes in baptism have no asterisks – the Bible does not say, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved – EXCEPT…” , or, “baptism now saves you – UNLESS…” God does not simply yank those promises away with one foolish, sinful choice. He delights to show mercy and be faithful forever. The Lord knew Nathan.
Along with those comforts, Jesus gives us an invitation today. He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Rest feels like what we so desperately need at a time like this, and yet it’s hard to come by. We are accustomed to looking to different things for rest. There’s the kind of rest you get from taking a nap, or eating a good meal, or relaxing with friends; maybe surfing the Internet or watching TV. That’s not the kind of rest Jesus is talking about. The kind of rest Jesus is talking about is rest for your soul, true peace that can only come from the forgiveness of sins. The rest Jesus gives means that there’s nothing more to do to please God, no works left undone, no tears left left to cry or efforts that still need to be given – because Jesus has done it all. Simply trust that when He did it, He did it for you, and you have His peace. That rest is meant for each and every one of us here today. If you feel like you can’t go on, if you wonder how you’re going to make it through the day, if you feel weighed down and burdened, or simply numb – if you can’t even put words to everything you’re feeling – Jesus understands. He knows. And He wants to bless you with peace.
Jesus explains what His rest consists of. He says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (vv.29-30) It may be a while since you’ve seen a yoke, or thought about one. That’s the harness used to hitch oxen to a plow or a wagon. It consisted of a crossbar or crosspiece that lay across the animals’ necks, and straps or chains or some sort of collar that attached the bar to the animal. If the animals were evenly matched in strength, they would pull equally and have an equal share of the work and the load. If one of the oxen was stronger, he’d end up doing more pulling and work harder.
Maybe we can picture this idea of a light yoke in a different way. Picture a little boy who wants to help Mom or Dad with moving something – a heavy box, say, or an overstuffed basket of laundry. He’s so determined to help, in fact, that he keeps scampering in front of Mom or Dad’s feet, and threatening to trip both of them. So Mom or Dad says, “Okay, you can help. Put your hand here.” The little guy lays his hand on the side of the box and walks the last few steps. Mom or Dad sets down the box, then Junior struts away, happy because he got to ‘help’. How much weight did he really carry? Very little – none, in fact. Who did all the work? Mom or Dad did. Yet he gets to feel that he helped. Jesus says something similar here. He says, “Let Me carry the heavy end, and I’ll give you the light end.” So when Jesus says His yoke is light, what He’s really saying is He gives us the light end. He Himself carries the heavy end.
Now, some of you might be tempted to say, “Am I really carrying the light end here, preacher? When I feel so shattered, so drained, so weighed down by grief and sorrow? This is the light end? How can that be?” If you have similar thoughts, remember how much Jesus has done for you. He’s taken all your sins on Himself. He went willingly through death and came back again, for you. When Jesus spread out His arms on the cross, it was so that God could load all of your pain, your sorrow, your grief, your anger, and your guilt – all of your sin – onto Him.
Because that’s the problem here. We search in vain for something that someone may have said, or not said, some reason, some cause for the choice that Nathan made. We don’t always know what people are struggling with, or how they chose to deal with their struggles, and mental illness can be a terrible burden – but at any rate, if we want to know what the real reason this happened is, it’s because of sin. Sin led Nate to do what he did. And what are we going to do about that? Nothing, on our own – the only cure for sin is Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, what Nathan did was a sin. He broke the Fifth Commandment. But Jesus paid the price for all sin. He alone bore the world’s sins, including Nathan’s, and He alone has the power and the love to deal with them, through His sacrifice of Himself and His resurrection from the dead.
Which brings me to something I want to say especially to you young people here today. Don’t look at this – at what Nate did – as any sort of solution. It’s not. You may be tempted to notice all the attention paid to Nathan’s death, in person and on social media too – I haven’t really looked too much, but even I have seen quite a bit of it – and want some of that for yourself. You may imagine that what you see here today – a community coming together to support this family, and to remember Nathan – will be the way things always are. It won’t be. What you might not know, but I and other adults have seen, is that the attention is there…for a while. But sooner than you might expect, the social media tributes dry up, and everyone gets on with their lives. After a while, it’s almost like you were never there. The ones who remember the most would be your family, because their pain would be the deepest. That never goes away, in a sense. Killing yourself doesn’t fix anything. All it does is hurt the people that you love, and who love you.
You might feel like you’re under intolerable pressure. I wouldn’t invalidate that. You students are growing up with things and dealing with things that even people my age, and certainly in your parents’ and grandparents’ generations, never dreamed of. But no matter what your problem is – mental illness, eating disorder, broken family, what have you – it’s never bigger than Jesus. Jesus is always greater than any problem you face. He conquered death for you, and His tomb stands empty to this day to prove that nothing will separate you from Him forever. If that’s true – if He really did rise, just as He said He would – what will keep you from Him? What is stronger than He is? Nothing, nothing at all.
You have people who love you. Even though they may not say it all the time, or even seem like they want to show it – you are surrounded by people who love you and care about you, a great deal. And even if they were all to go away – even if every last one of them turned their backs on you and refused to speak with you ever again – Jesus is still there. He still loves you. He still walks in when the entire world walks out on you. His love is so great that it conquered sin and death, and now He promises never to leave you nor forsake you. Nobody but Jesus can keep that promise, because nobody but Jesus has risen from the dead. To Him be all glory, praise, and honor, forever and ever, through all ages, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.