Read Matthew 11:25-30
The streets are quiet. The city centres are empty. But the chaos of the world has not subsided. Think of the frontliners, dealing with the stress of coming into contact with potentially infected people everyday. Think of the parents, trying to juggle work alongside taking care of young children. Think of the students, trying to work out if they have the bandwidth and navigate remote learning. Think of the self-employed, who have turned into insomniacs overnight as they look at the bills. And of course, think of the sick themselves. Say no more.
And then Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We have no words left to say. But he does.
In this little portion of Scripture today, I want us to notice three little things. The first two are to do with the who, and the third has to do with the what. In verse 28, Jesus is not issuing a command. Neither is he issuing a warning. Rather, he is issuing an invitation. And notice, first of all, to whom the invitation is given. He’s not inviting those who have it all together, breezing through life’s challenges. He’s not inviting those who are well-adjusted, with little anxiety and worry. Rather, Jesus extends his invitation to those on the brink of burnout, with spiking stress levels and yes, who therefore find themselves often angry, sometimes doubtful, sporadically unkind, and irrepressibly self-focused. As J.C Ryle, in his classic devotional on Matthew, puts it: “He imposes no hard conditions; he does not say anything about work to be done first, or establish[es] whether we deserve his gifts”.
So today, are you feeling frazzled and fatigued? Are you dejected that once again, you know you’ve not been a “good” Christian and lived up to God’s standards? Do you feel unworthy, especially since you know the image you have of yourself as someone who is capable and adept is being shattered, piece by piece? Jesus says: this invitation is for you. In this time, don’t run away from me. Come to me.
And that brings us to our second who. Second of all, notice who Jesus is inviting them to meet. Himself. In verse 28, he says: “Come to me.” In verses 29-30, his statements are full of references to himself. “Take my yoke.” “Learn from me”. “For my yoke…and my burden…” This invitation is all about him. Now Matthew 11:28 is a verse many Christians have some familiarity with. But fewer Christians have familiarity with its immediate context. This section begins with a description of God himself. If verses 28-30 are full of references to Jesus, then verses 25-27 are full of references to God the Father. And Jesus reminds us of God’s majesty and sovereignty. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He knows more than even the wise and learned of this earth.
But to know this God, verse 27, there is only one path. Jesus makes that clear. It is only through knowing Jesus. For Jesus alone can reveal the Father – no one else. And that is why Jesus is inviting us to come to him. Do you want to know God, the Lord of heaven and earth, as your heavenly Father? Then come to Jesus. For when Jesus invites the weary and heavy-burdened, he is inviting us to come like little children. And that is exactly the kind of people whom God also wishes to invite into relationship with him (v.25-26): those like children, not those who know it all. He wants to care for us as a good Father.
And that brings us to the what. Third of all, notice what Jesus is inviting us into. Rest. Now that usually conjures up for us images of comfortable couches, sandy beaches, and long lunches. But Jesus turns our expectations upside down in verse 29. Take my yoke, he says. What?!? A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs, as oxen usually do, although they can be fitted to individual animals as well. That sure doesn’t sound relaxing or restful!
But that’s what Jesus promises his rest would be like. A yoke. But here’s the difference – verse 30 – his yoke is easy and his burden is light. So what is Jesus actually promising? Notice in verse 29 he talks about learning from him. And so his yoke is related to his teaching. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is often found teaching. In Matthew 5-7 he gives his famous Sermon on the Mount, and in Matthew 13, he will teach parable after parable about the kingdom. And Jesus is saying: when we receive the yoke of his kingdom teaching, we find rest.
So his promise is not that life would necessarily get easier. His promise is not that the chaos will disappear immediately. Rather, his promise is this: ‘Come to me, and receive my yoke. And I know it sounds paradoxical, but as you walk my way – you will find rest. You will find rest from knowing you are doing my will. You will find rest from knowing you are living for what’s meaningful. You will find rest from knowing I deal with you gently, as I did when on the cross, I cried to my Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’
For we were always designed to know him. So why not take Jesus up on his offer today? Perhaps you’ve been seeking rest in other things. The buzz of constantly working. The status conferred by doing something noble. The good name that comes from looking good to others. But Jesus alone offers true rest for our souls. As Ryle once again puts it: “he only asks us to come to him just as we are, with all our sins, and to submit ourselves like little children to his teaching.” Shall we seek rest in him today?
- Run to Jesus today, tell him about your tiredness, your problems and your sin, and then ask him to help you be humble, and to give it all to him. Thank him for his love demonstrated on the cross, and then ask him to help you submit to him and to seek his kingdom first, even in this stressful time.
- Pray for those especially who are in nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, prisons, and in other places where mobility is especially limited. Pray for God’s presence to be with the lonely, and to bring understanding to those who do not know why their family members are not visiting them. Pray for the staff members to not grow weary but to do their best to provide care.