“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.” (Matt 11:28-30).
As Jesus taught on the Kingdom of God, He brought in a new understanding of God’s Law and how He wants His people to live. In the verses preceding this well-known passage, Jesus has just rebuked some cities for their hardness of heart even in the midst of seeing great miracles from the His hand (20-24). He warns that their judgment will be severe.
Then Jesus breaks into praise, confessing the sovereignty of the Father in all things. In perhaps a manner that amazes us, He rejoices that the Father even hides things from some people and reveals them to others. In code language, he says that the Father has hidden things from the religious leaders and revealed them to those who followed Jesus as the Messiah. These “little children,” as Jesus called them, may not have been as learned or skilled or experienced as the “wise” religious leaders of the people, but they have come to trust in Christ (vs. 25-26). In fact, they have learned that the Father and the Son are the Ones who are truly in control. The Son reveals the Father to whomever the Son chooses to reveal Him (vs. 27). It is good that our salvation is under the control of God. In whose hands would you rather your salvation be, His or yours?
Then we get to the verses that draw our attention in this article, 11:28-30. Briefly, we see four things:
1. Keeping the Law is wearisome.
With their complicated system of laws and regulations, the religious leaders and teachers of the Law had put great burdens on people. “This is what God requires” was a common expression heard every day in the life of the first century Jewish person. It was not enough to try to keep all requirements of the Old Testament Law, the people also had to keep the interpretations and traditions of that Law given by the Scribes and Pharisees. This proved to be a heavy, indeed, impossible burden for anyone to fulfill and keep. But what else was there? To not keep the Law fully meant to be lost and separated from God forever. But who could do that? The result is that the average person was deflated, defeated, and desperate in his soul.
2. Jesus leads us to rest.
To the person beaten down from trying to please God in his own efforts – and utterly failing – Jesus offers good news. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.” We cannot please God on our own. We cannot fulfill the Law and the Prophets in our own strength. No one among us is good enough to receive God’s acceptance because of what he has done. But we can, indeed we must go to the One who is perfect. “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Jesus did all that God requires for salvation. He had perfect obedience to the Father, perfect fulfillment of the Law, and was the perfect sacrifice for sin. He says to the one lagging under the weight of law-keeping, “Come to me, and I will give you rest. I will give you the peace with God you so desperately desire. I will relieve you of the burden of trying to please the Father through merely human efforts.” Do His hear His loving voice calling you today?
3. Jesus is a gentle and safe teacher.
“Take my yoke upon you.” A yoke was a wooden crosspiece that was placed around the necks of two animals. This yoke forced them to work together as they pulled the plow or a wagon. Jesus wants us to join ourselves to Him. He puts His yoke on us and walks with us through the fields and trails of this life. It is not a question of whether we will have a yoke, it is the nature of our yoke. We are to throw away the yoke of human effort and religion and put on the yoke of Christ.
“And learn from me.” When two animals were yoked together, a new or inexperienced animal was placed with an experienced one. The experienced one would then lead and teach the younger animal how to work with the yoke and what was required to get the job done. The “wiser” one would pull and prod the younger animal and keep it on the proper path. Jesus, as our experienced “big brother, places His yoke upon us so that we can learn from Him. He wants us to walk with Him and learn from Him and be guided by Him. All of us have teachers in our lives, whether they are officially teachers or not. What teacher will you follow? Jesus is the Master teacher. He alone knows the path we should take and guides us on it.
“For I am gentle and lowly in heart.” Jesus is humble and gentle in His nature and His character. He does not wear people out with His personality. Some people are heavy to be around. They are heavy in their behavior, in their opinions, in their self-centeredness, in their demands on others. Jesus is light and gentle, not heavy and burdensome. His gentleness draws us to Him. It attracts us and does not push us away.
“And you will find rest for your souls.” The one who comes to Jesus gets refreshed in His presence. And think of the word, “Rest”! Doesn’t that sound good? There is a lot of anger, pain, worry, and anxiety in this world. But Jesus gives rest. There is so much striving and fighting and competition among us. Each person thinks he is the greatest or the most important. Jesus gives peace. Will you take His yoke upon you and receive His peace today?
4. Jesus has work for us to do.
If we have a yoke that we are to take on, that means that we have work to do as a Christian. But that work, designed and planned beforehand by God (Eph. 2:10), is to be done with the power of Christ working within us. As Jesus places His yoke upon us, He is the One leading us. He is the One in control of our lives. He is the One who can give rest even in the midst of work. You can resist him and live under the burden of your own responsibility. In doing so, you will wear yourself out. Life will be a burden and your joy will be robbed from you. However, there is a better way.
“For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” As you give your life to Jesus and follow His path, you have peace to walk with Him on a daily basis. There is joy in living for Him, in surrendering to Him, in doing things His way, in listening to His voice, and in sensing the pleasure of His presence. It is time to throw off your own burdens and take on the burden of Christ. Some reading this article feel burdened by life. You have a sick family member. You have doubts about your salvation. You are worried that you cannot meet your monthly budget. You feel like you don’t match up with others. You are afraid of the future.
“Come to me and I will give you rest,” Jesus says. He has borne the burdens of life – the worries, the weaknesses, the struggles, the pain, the doubts. Bring all of life and yourself to Jesus and lay it all down at His feet. Then take up the burden He has for you, His light and joyful burden of service in His name. It is a burden of sweet fellowship, daily obedience, joyful discovery in the Word, and praise-filled response to His goodness and grace. Come to Him. Take up His yoke. And experience the joy of heavenly partnership in His Kingdom service.