Have you ever felt desperately alone and completely empty? You felt absolutely nothing inside. Your life was so empty that you could feel the hollowness. You were certain that no one really cared if you were alive or dead. The loneliness was so painful you knew it was obvious, but no one seemed to notice. There was no future because there was no "now." You felt like the earth had been jerked from beneath your feet and you were falling, plunging endlessly downward, and no way to stop falling.
If I had each of you tell me if you had ever felt this lonely and empty, I know that I would receive these three answers in some form. (1) "Preacher, I don't know what in the world you are talking about." (2) "David, I haven't had that experience, but I certainly know someone has had it--in fact he/she is having it right now." (3) "Yes, I have experienced that loneliness and emptiness. But I didn't think anyone knew how people like me felt."
Jesus came to a world filled with people living in loneliness and emptiness. Most of the world's population in his lifetime were people whose lives were consumed by such loneliness and emptiness. Many in the first century church had been lonely, empty people who reached for the Jesus who reached for them.
The letters in the New Testament strongly emphasized the urgency of Christians helping each other as they struggle. Several times those letters make this point: "Christ did the impossible for you when you were dying in your loneliness and emptiness; now you are to do the possible for each other as you recover from your loneliness and emptiness." "You are to treat each other as Christ treated you." "Christ is your example in helping struggling people; learn from him." Let me give you some specific examples. The letter called Romans was written to the church in the city of Rome. The Christians in this congregation had some major disagreements including the importance of Jesus, the religious responsibility of Christians, the importance of the laws of Judaism, the role of faith in salvation, the importance of grace, the meaning of baptism--they strongly disagreed about these things. After discussing these disagreements, Paul told them: Romans 13:8,10--Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. ...Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law (NASV). Romans 14:1--Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions (NASV). Romans 15:7--Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God (NASV). They needed this understanding: they were to help each other as Christ had helped each of them. The people who received the letter we call Hebrews were deeply discouraged. They were so discouraged that they were seriously considering renouncing Jesus Christ. They were so discouraged that they did not assemble as Christians (Hebrews 10:25). The writer urges them not only to assemble as Christians, but to encourage each other when they assemble. Listen to this instruction: Strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb that is lame may not be out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:12,13). "Do not fail to support the weak and the feeble, and make it easier for them to follow the path"--he is speaking of those who spiritually struggle.
I want to focus your attention on a whole group of churches that existed in a Roman province called Galatia. These churches as a group received a letter from the apostle Paul. Paul established these congregations--he was the first Christian to visit this area, and the first to teach them about Jesus Christ. He taught them about Christ, converted them to Christ, and taught them how to begin living for Christ. Most of the people who became Christians were not Jewish people. Shortly after Paul left Galatia to teach and preach in another area, some Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem and created some major problems. "Paul told you about Jesus, but he didn't teach you all of God's laws." "We have come to tell you from God's word what Paul did not tell you." "If you want to be real Christians, you must understand and do what we teach you." These new Christians were easily confused and deceived. "Paul didn't tell us that all these other laws of God existed." "What God said in ancient written scripture must be more important than what Paul told us about Jesus." "Paul placed too much emphasis on Jesus, his death, and his resurrection." "We need to learn the laws that God gave Israel through Moses; we need to learn the right rituals that let us honor the living God." When Paul heard that these new Christians left the good news about Jesus in order to learn and practice Jewish ritual, he was extremely upset (Galatians 1:6-10). "I cannot believe what you people have done--and did it so quickly!" Paul proved to them that the message he taught them came from the direct revelation of Jesus--Jesus personally gave Paul the message he taught them (Galatians 1:11-24). Paul proved that it had always been God's plan to use the Jewish law and the nation of Israel to create the means of bringing salvation to non-Jewish peoples (Galatians 3). Paul declared that non-Jewish people who accept Jesus are the true people of God, the true fulfillment of God's plan (Galatians 4). Beginning in chapter five Paul challenged their understanding. "God did not free you from your slavery to idolatry to create the opportunity for you to become slaves to Jewish rituals" (5:1-12). "God freed you from idolatry to give you the opportunity to serve each other through love" (5:13). "Do you really want to fulfill Jewish law? Then love your neighbor as yourself, and stop biting and eating each other" (5:14,15). "Let God's Spirit be in charge of the way you live your lives; do not allow your physical desires to dictate the way you live your lives" (5:16-26). "Do not let selfish, evil physical desires control the way you think and act." "Learn to think, act, and feel like people who are lead by God's Spirit." Please pay special attention to the beginning of chapter six. "You are going to make mistakes." "There will be times when someone does something that Jesus does not want them to do." "When that happens, this is the objective: those of you who did not made the mistake are to rescue the person who made the mistake; the goal is rescue. " "Seek to restore the person who made the mistake gently." "Keep a careful watch on yourself as you try to gently rescue the person who made the mistake." "Your effort to rescue someone who made a mistake creates the opportunity for temptation--do not violate what Jesus wants you to be when you try to rescue someone who made a mistake." "You want a law to obey? Here is a law to obey. It is not a Jewish law. It does not come from Moses. It comes from Jesus. This law is the law of Christ." "Here is Christ's law: bear each other's burdens." "If your mind works on the basis of law, then obey this law: bear each other's burdens."
In the context and content of this letter we call Galatians, what burdens? What burdens are we to help each other bear? "I worshipped idols before Paul taught me about Jesus Christ." "I knew nothing about the living God who is the Father of Jesus Christ." "I am so ignorant about God, God's nature, God's identity, God's will, and God's ways." "Just trying to learn about the living God is so confusing to me." "My burden is ignorance about God; I make so many mistakes because I understand too little about God." Brothers and sisters, help him bear his burden. "I am not a Jew. When Paul taught me about Jesus I had no Jewish background." "I never attended a Jewish place of worship." "I never heard the Jewish scriptures taught." "I don't know anything about Jewish history or about the ways that God worked in Israel." "I know absolutely nothing about Abraham, or Moses, or David, or Elijah, or Jeremiah." "Ignorance of scripture is my burden; I make so many mistakes because I know nothing about Jewish scripture." Brothers and sisters, help him bear his burden. "Before Paul taught me about Jesus Christ, I was a proselyte--while I am not Jewish by birth, I converted to the Jewish religion." "I invested a lot of time, effort, and hard work learning Jewish scripture, Jewish law, and Jewish ritual." "I know and understand a lot about Judaism, and I lived by what I learned." "I have a real problem when I contrast the demands of justice and law in Judaism with the kindness and forgiveness in Jesus Christ." "Sometimes I have a hard time believing that the God in Israel and the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ is the same God." "I really struggle trying to understand what God has done in Jesus, and I know that causes me to make some serious spiritual mistakes." "My burden is knowledge of Judaism and Jewish law." Brothers and sisters, help him bear his burden. "Before Paul taught me about Christ, I was a godless person--I didn't worship anything." "I did exactly what I wanted to do--and what I wanted to do was to indulged myself in every pleasure that appealed to me." "I indulged myself in everything--sex, drunkenness, greed, exploiting innocent people." "That lifestyle made a real slave out of me, and I want to completely escape it, but it is so hard and I am so weak." "The temptations and weakness created by my godless past are my burden." Brothers and sisters, help him bear his burden. Why, Paul, why are we to do that? Why is it the law of Christ that we bear each other's burdens? Why? Because Jesus bears your burdens. He bore our burdens on the cross. Our sins were placed on his body as he died (1 Peter 2:24). He bore our burdens when we were baptized. When in faith and repentance we were baptized, Jesus destroyed every sin we had committed by removing all those sins with his own blood (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:7). He bears our burdens every day of our life. As we daily confess our mistakes to him, he totally cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Jesus asks us to do for each other what he does for every Christian every day. And that is the "real" answer to loneliness and emptiness.
How long are you going to live with your burdens?
It's your choice. Give them to Jesus Christ. Let Him carry them. And find the strength to help someone else carry theirs.
Are you serious about bearing the burdens of those around you? When we are as serious about bearing burdens as we are about baptism, we will have more people wanting to be baptized!
Bring your burdens to Christ. Let Him destroy them. Lessen your burdens through the forgiveness of God and the love of His people.