Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 (NASV)
One of the most beloved passages in the New Testament is Matthew 11:28-30. In it the Lord summarizes the invitation to discipleship that characterized His earthly ministry, but to understand the invitation of this passage, we need to understand the background.
In this passage the Lord was addressing the people of Israel who were burdened and weighed down with the externalism and the legal do’s and don’ts of the Pharisees, and with the consequences—the guilt, frustration, and dissatisfaction that always goes along with legalism.
Then, in Matthew 23:4, the Lord warned the people of the oppressive and legalistic ways of the Pharisees. He said, “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” He was speaking about the way they had hidden the true meaning of the Old Testament Law with all the religious rules and regulations that these religious externalists had instituted as the way to God, to true spirituality, and as a way to receive God’s blessing in life. They had codified the Mosaic law into 365 prohibitions and 250 commandments.
But even though the Old Testament Law was good, holy, and righteous, it did not bring liberty because it was weak in that it depended on man. It did not provide the means of fulfilling the law and thus it left man under the guilt and load of sin. Rather than freedom, it brought oppression. Paul called it an administration of death. Instead of a sense of release, it brought a sense of guilt and failure.
It is in the midst of this religious setting that the Lord makes a very gracious invitation to all who would want to experience the relief, joy, and the blessings of His life through a grace/faith relationship with Him. This is an invitation aimed at all, at the curious and at the convinced to bring them to a place of a deeper level of commitment in which they are to take His yoke and learn from Him as committed disciples.
But what does all this mean?
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden. Matthew 11:28a (NASV)
It expresses the desire and compassionate heart of the Savior and is His appeal for people to come to Him as a relief from their oppression. It is a call to turn from whatever they are presently depending on to Him. For those without the Savior, it is equivalent to a call to believe in Him. For those who know Him, here is a call to an intimacy of fellowship. This drives home one of the great concepts of Christianity that must be taught and grasped. Christianity is a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. This is not a call to a program, nor a system of religion, nor to a church, and certainly not to some human leader. While God uses churches, people, and theological systems, Christianity is an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.
“All” points to the universal significance of this offer. We are never to be partial to one group, or class, or nationality. In Christ, God reaches out to the whole world.
“Who are weary and heavy laden” points us to the objects of the appeal. Let’s note several things here:
The Savior obviously has in mind the Pharisees, but it would include the burden of sin as demonstrated so clearly by the Old Testament Law which shows us all under sin, its guilt, and its death, and thus also, the burden and frustration of any solution by which men seek to deal with their sin and emptiness without Jesus Christ.
To be “Weary” is to labor, toil, and expend great effort in hard and disagreeable work, to grow weary, tired; labor to the point of exhaustion. It undoubtedly describes man’s fruitless efforts to deal with sin, its guilt, and personal misery whether by some form of religious legalism, or by whatever method or human strategy he seeks to deal with the emptiness and frustrations of his soul.
And I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28b (NASV)
“Rest” means to refresh, rest up, but also to cease from labor. But how could Christ give rest? His solution seems no solution at all. After all, a yoke is a yoke. Right? No!
Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me. Matthew 11:29a (NASV)
This is a call to discipleship and the means by which men find rest.
Dear Father, please help us to realize Your great compassion and love for Your children. Help us to embrace the knowledge that there is none other like You and that if we will put our trust in You, our lives will be so much better and complete. Forgive us our foolish ways and bring us back to a right relationship with YOU. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.