Rest For the Weary.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT
These three verses are highly familiar to most of us. But how many of us know the context in which they were given? As is always the case when studying Scripture, context plays a huge role in helping us understand and apply what the Word is trying to communicate to us. Here in Matthew, we have Jesus addressing the question from John the Baptist regarding His Messiahship. He then launches a stinging attack against the cities of Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida. These three small cities sit on the north side of the Sea of Galilee and would have been regular stops for Jesus during His ministry there. Capernaum had become His adopted hometown and it was there that He based most of His ministry while He was in the region of Galilee. So the people living in these cities would have had regular glimpses of Jesus and heard His messages repeatedly. Yet Jesus condemns them for their unbelief. In spite of all the miracles He had done right in front of their eyes, they remained non-repentent and unbelieving. Jesus shocks them by comparing them to the cities of Tyre, Sidon and and Sodom, each with a well-known reputation for wickedness and godlessness. Jesus indicates that had He done miracles in these cities, they would have been convicted of their sins, repented, and believed in Him. But the hearts of the people living in Galilee were hardened, stubborn, and representative of the rest of the nation of Israel. Here was Jesus, the Son of God, working miracles in their midst by the power of God, and calling them to repent and return to God, but they refused.
Right in the middle of His stinging discourse, Jesus prays an interesting prayer. He turns to His Father and thanks Him for hiding the truth of His message from those who think they’re wise and clever, but for making it plain to the childlike. Jesus recognizes that this was God’s plan. Regardless of how many miracles Jesus performed, those who arrogantly relied on their own wisdom and knowledge would fail to see Him for who He was. The Pharisees and religious leadership of Jesus’ day are perfect examples of this kind of individual. They were self-righteous and unwilling to recognize their own sinfulness and repent of it. They saw no need for a Savior for their sins, they simply wanted a Messiah to set them free from Roman rule. But Jesus says that God reveals His truth to the childlike, those who are innocent, humble and trusting. It is to those individuals that God chooses to reveal His Son. Those whose lives are marred by sin, sorrow, and a recognition of their own helplessness and hopelessness are the ones who seemed drawn to Jesus and had no trouble believing in Him. The blind, the lame, the diseased, the outcasts, the chronic sinners – these are the ones who believed.
So Jesus offers them His well-known invitation. And it comes in two parts. First, He invites all those who are weary and weighed down to come to Him. His offer is to all who are burdened by sin and weighed down by the requirements of trying to keep the Law in their own energy. They are worn out by trying to carry the heavy yoke of the Law. It never was meant to save them, but to reveal their own sinfulness and incapacity to satisfy the holy demands of a righteous God. Jesus offers them rest. But then there is the second part to Jesus invitation. He invites them to exchange the yoke they are carrying for the one He offers. He describes His as an easy yoke, because in this yoke they will find they have a partner to help them pull the load. Jesus offers to come alongside them, teaching, training, and assisting them. Rather than arrogant and unloving like the religious leadership of the day, Jesus says He is humble and gentle, caring and compassionate. His yoke is easy to bear and the burden He gives is light. Yes, there is still work to do and effort is required, but rather than weariness and heartache, Jesus offers rest, peace and joy.
It seems that those who come to Jesus are the ones who are weary and worn out from trying to live life in their own power. They are beaten down by their own sinfulness and their inability to do anything about it. Like a blind man, they have no problem knowing they have a problem and that they are unable to fix it. Like a man who has a demon and is powerless to get rid of it, they will run to Jesus and beg Him for help. Jesus invites the weary to find rest in Him. But He also invites those same people to get in the yoke with Him, to begin focusing their efforts on accomplishing His will and living for His kingdom causes. He replaces our self-effort with His own power. He exchanges our heavy burden with His light one. He gives us an easy yoke in place of an impossible one. But it all begins with childlike, innocent, trusting faith in Him.
Father, I find that the degree to which I find rest in Jesus is directly related to my willingness to recognize just how weary I am from trying to live the Christian life in my own strength. I can get too wise and clever for my own good, and begin to believe that I can somehow pull this off in my own strength. But it is when I run out of steam that I tend to run to Him. Keep me childlike and dependent. Don’t allow me to become arrogant and self-righteous. Keep me in the yoke with Christ, living in dependence on Him and resting in His love, strength and grace. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men