Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
The Son’s invitation to rest
To whom does Christ reveal the Father? Jesus answers the question in the verses that follow. Two descriptions capture the kind of people to whom the Savior reveals the Father: Those bone tired and worn down.
You know what it is to work until you feel like collapsing. Your energy evaporates and your muscles give out. Another step is out of the question. No resources exist. You’re done. These are the weary. These people have attempted every possible means of finding peace in their consciences. From climbing mountains to doing every possible good deed they can think of and refraining from every form of evil they know. Constantly on guard, they obsess over whether they missed something. Their religion is torture and they set those around them on edge. And then, suddenly, like the rich young ruler and Saul of Tarsus, all at once they realize that the “doing” they did carries no value. With a swift stroke of Scripture, Christ crushed all pride. In a moment, their countenance changes to look decades older. All confidence from religiosity vanishes before the vast, insurmountable requirement of true righteousness. Weariness sets in and they feel the weight of their unworthy good deeds. Instead of earning favor with God, all that was done in the flesh only added guilt to the load. While they blindly thought they were discharging guilt, they heaped it higher and heavier. Now, at the very point of their weariness the crushing weight of unbearable guilt falls like a shooting star, burying them in the crater. The walls stretch up higher than anyone can climb and then weight of the heavenly stone holds them helpless.
And Jesus says, “Come, I will give you rest.”
Give up. Submit. Learn.
These three elements constitute the rest offered by Christ.
No longer will you need to labor in vain attempts to divest yourself of guilt. No longer will you need to keep a balance book and see if your good outweighs your bad. No longer will you need to worry about your inconsistencies. No longer will you need to obsess over legalistic standards to obtain a standing granted only through the risen Lamb of God!
The price of your guilt is paid. The load removed. All the bad things and all the ill-motivated attempts for the good things are cleared from your account. Freedom from guilt and freedom to serve are all yours in Christ!
Christ offers a rest that replaces worthless pursuits for eternally significant labor. He provides a yoke specifically designed for you to carry out the labor appointed in eternity past. Much work lies ahead (remember, the harvest is great), but Christ will place you in the exact spot fitted for you. Furthermore, he states that you will not be alone. He is with you to teach you and invites you to learn from Him, to be His disciple.
Notice how Christ arranges the invitation. Come. Submit. Learn.
Particularly the final two elements. The order is essential. You will not learn until you submit. No one learns from Christ until their will belongs to Christ. You must take the yoke of His commandments. You must commit to being tender-hearted, forgiving. You must commit to change your speech to match the Savior. You must commit to submit to the authorities God establishes. You must commit to following Christ in every way. Tangible points of commitment for believers include identifying with Christ through baptism, committing to a biblically faithful body of believers, choosing to submit to the leadership within the home and within the local church, and working hard to be reconciled to one another all the time.
God voids worship without submission. Until you submit to the yoke of Christ, you will not learn from Christ. You will sit under the preaching of the Word and be utterly confused and confounded. You will leave with your head spinning. You will be incapable of engaging in true fellowship with other believers. Christ calls you to take the yoke of submission as part of gaining rest for your soul.
Come. Submit. Learn.
New things often create anxiety. Meeting new people. Visiting a new church on vacation. Starting a new sport. Learning a new instrument. New experiences fill theme parks, each one requiring the setting aside of your fear to experience the thrill of the ride.
Submission to anyone other than ourselves is a new thing. We are used to controlling our destiny and responding certain ways when things get out of control. When you come to Christ, He requires that you hand in your old ways of thinking, responding and reacting. Paul often refers to himself and others as “servants of Christ.” The idea is a bondslave. A bondslave gives himself completely over to the will of his master. Finding rest for your soul requires resigning your will, your way of doing life, to the Great Shepherd of your soul. He alone knows what is best. Yes, it is a new thing, but you must trust Christ! Stubbornly clinging to your will calls into question whether you truly follow Christ. True followers understand that the remnants of their will remain and they grieve over exerting their own will. When Christ brings circumstances into their lives that reveal the exercise of their own will they willingly repent and submit. Stubborn resistance shoves the yoke of Christ off your shoulders, demanding that Christ conform to your will instead of you conforming to His. “Take my yoke upon you.”
Come. Submit. Learn.
A follower of Christ embarks on a new task. But a Guide is always there to teach. Christ does not recruit and release. He maintains constant contact.
Some teachers scold and fuss and create all kinds of grief for their students. Christ describes himself as gentle and lowly in heart. His teaching methods employ all the divine compassion that sent Christ to give His life on the cross. He gave His life to purchase you from the slave market of sin. Those who follow Christ are trophies of His grace. He wants only what is best and will guide toward what is best. Yes, at times that teaching will involve firm and stern rebukes and discipline to correct our wayward paths cut out by our flesh. But even in that discipline, He demonstrates His love and compassion.
Christ presents a contrast in the last statement of the passage to the weariness and load introduced at the beginning of the invitation. Instead of the labor and heaviness, His invitation brings a well-fitted yoke and a light burden.
Unlike so many false religions, Jesus does not promise a life of physical ease and luxury. He addresses the fact that life will be work and that burdens will exist. Peter fills out this theology as he writes to suffering Christians in 1 Peter: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And many other passages in the NT describe the difficulties that face believers, whether it be from physical maladies and bodily persecution or facing false teachers and the grief they bring in a local assemblies and among families. Life will not be a basket of flowers. But, having come to Christ, the heaviest burdens become light and the weightiest cares bearable.
Why does Jesus claim that His yoke is easy and His burden is light?
God sovereignly designed you to carry your sovereignly placed load. What you bear is no more than what God wills for you to bear. Before coming to Christ, you carried the incredible load of guilt from sin. God did not design you to carry that load. Carrying such a load would be comparable to a light pickup truck attempting pull the heaviest weight at a tractor pull. It is not going to happen! Guilt is foreign to God’s plan.
Many people carry the burden of the sins of others. They place unreasonable responsibility on themselves for others’ failures and even walk with God. Thinking that they are responsible for others’ salvation creates a crushing load. Jesus alleviates that load by directly telling us that the only way people come to Him is through the Father’s revelation. When Jesus places the yoke of making disciples on our shoulders, that yoke calls us simply to declare the truth of the gospel and clearly lay out the Scriptures. God does the saving. We can rest in the knowledge that we have done our duty and that Christ is the One Who must ultimately reveal the Father. His yoke is easy.
Furthermore, as we learn from Christ, we accept that He is the King of kings. All things reside under His sovereign care and authority. That realization frees us to simply focus on obeying Him. Obedience to His will right now is all that He requires. He simply wants us to do the next right thing. We need not be concerned with what lies outside of our realm of responsibility and care. And if we need to know what that realm includes, Christ will grant the wisdom to determine that through His Word and the counsel of spiritual leaders. His yoke is easy.
God commands us to bear one another’s burdens. That seems like a strange command. In context, Paul gives instruction regarding crushing burdens that disable believers. As Christians, and, more importantly, as a local body of believers, God calls us to come alongside one another when a fellow believer becomes ensnared. Perhaps that means being with someone dealing with grief. It might mean rebuking a brother or sister for a sin and pointing them to Christ for restoration. Sometimes bearing one another’s burdens means overlooking a personal offense out of Christ-like love. Coming to Christ includes carrying such burdens. But, Christ teaches us (thus He said, “learn from me”) and the opportunities to carry burdens are God-ordained. Moreover, Christ Himself always remains with us to help carry the load. In fact, based on our union with Christ, He carries us and the load. His burden is light.
Come. Submit. Learn.