Rest for your Souls (1)2
I cannot think of anything Jesus said that is as life-changing or hope-giving as what we read in Matthew 11:28-30 –
“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).
Seriously, were ever more glorious words spoken than these? I’m not overstating the case when I ask that question. This is not hyperbole. This is reality. To weak and weary and worn out souls, burdened by life and fearful of death, Jesus says: “Come to me. Learn from me. I’ll give you rest, both now and forever. Not just rest, but joyful, peaceful, glad-hearted rest for your souls. If you’ll come to me, I’ll never harm you. The burden that I put on your shoulders is easy because I will provide whatever strength you need to bear it. Come to me, and find peace in place of fear, and hope in place of despair, and forgiveness to overcome guilt, and acceptance instead of rejection, strength in place of weakness. Come to me.”
As I said, were ever more glorious words spoken than these? What a glorious invitation, indeed.
Think of it this way. Look at religious life in your city today. By the way, everyone is religious. Even those who never darken the door of a church are religious. Their “god” is their flesh. They worship at the altar of self-fulfillment. Whether or not men and women spend Sundays at church or in bed or on a golf course, they are all seeking “rest” for their souls. So, look at religious life where you live. What you’ll see is rich people and poor people, illiterate and well-educated, people of all races and stations in life, straining in countless ways to win the favor of whatever “god” they believe in and hoping against hope that what they “worship” will finally bring rest to their souls.
Jesus did not come simply to replace the fruitless efforts of one religion with the successful efforts of another. Rather he came to fulfill on our behalf the very demands that God’s holiness and law place upon us, and to give us eternal rest!
This breath-taking passage is rich and deep and thick. Let’s dig into it by asking a series of questions.
(1) To whom is this invitation made?
To whom is the invitation extended? “All!” But “all” does not mean everyone, but only those who meet the qualification. And the only qualification is a recognition of desperation and need and that Jesus alone can meet it!
The only qualification is that you acknowledge that you have none. Confess that you lack the energy to do anything in your own power pleasing to God. Admit that all your efforts to qualify have yielded nothing but complete spiritual and emotional exhaustion.
The only requirement is that those who come to Jesus must recognize their need for help and be willing to embrace his yoke and learn from him.
The weariness of which Jesus speaks isn’t physical. The burden you labor under isn’t financial. Rich people and Olympic athletes can come. This is spiritual and moral fatique.
Jesus is inviting the woman with three kids whose husband just received a diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Jesus is calling to himself the teenager who just lost her best friend in a tragic car accident.
The person invited to come is the man whose investments just tanked.
Jesus is inviting the pastor with a Ph.D. who is burned out from ritual and rejection.
This invitation is extended to the atheist for whom angry denials of God’s existence have left him empty and wandering.
Jesus is calling the man whose struggle with same-sex attraction feels overwhelming.
Jesus is calling to those whose experience in life has not matched up with their expectations of God.
Consider all who responded to this call. Observe how different they were: prostitutes, tax collectors, Pharisees, shepherds, shop-keepers, men, women, young and old, soldiers, political leaders, blind beggars, rich merchants. They appear to have nothing in common outside of the only thing that matters: a sense of spiritual weariness and utter desperation for Jesus to bring them rest!
Come to “me” says Jesus. Don’t go to a place. Come to a person. You can’t find what you need at a conference or in a program or in a recovery group. Neither will you find it in the temple in the first century or in a church building in 21st.
Come to “me”, Jesus the Christ, son of David, Son of God, savior of the world. If you go to Buddha, Mohammed, or merely another religious leader, you won’t find rest, but merely another long list of regulations to fulfill and conditions to meet and standards to attain. Don’t go to a philosophy, a movement, a political party, a blood sacrifice, or an OT prophet. Don’t come to a formula for success or a strategy to gain popularity or a revival meeting that promises power or a ritual that boasts historical pedigree. Come to Jesus!
(2) What does it mean to “come” to Jesus?
“Come” is a command. Thus there must be a response on our part if the promise is to be fulfilled. The rest Jesus offers does not come automatically or universally. Only those who obey the command will receive.
What does it mean to “come”? This is not a physical act. This has nothing to do with walking an aisle or raising a hand or even praying a prayer. A quadriplegic can come as easily as a professional football player. To come is to believe. But what must one believe? What are we being asked to trust?
That Jesus is who he claims to be. That Jesus has accomplished once and for all what he came to accomplish. That Jesus will do in the future what he promises to do. That Jesus alone can satisfy our desire for rest in a way no one else and no other thing can. That Jesus is a prize more precious and valuable than all earthly wealth or sexual satisfaction or political power or earthly fame.
Thus, “coming” means trusting that Jesus will in fact satisfy your heart’s yearning and longing.
Coming also means “leaving”. You can’t come to Jesus without leaving everything and everyone else. To believe him is to declare all others to be liars and inadequate and incapable of satisfying your need for rest. They claim to give you rest. To come to Jesus is to repudiate such claims.
I can’t come to Jesus while abiding or remaining in sin. To look to what sin offers as the solution for my soul’s needs is to stay away from Jesus. Thus, to come is to trust him to satisfy your soul’s cry for rest. To come is a whole-souled embrace of Jesus as Lord. To come is to abandon/forsake your confidence in intellect, money, sex, achievement, others, and in yourself. To come is to prize him and to treasure him and to value him and to hold him above all else as most worthy of praise and honor and glory.
“Believe me,” says Jesus. “Say yes to who I am. Cast your future hopes and dreams on me. Invest your one life in following me.”
Why would anyone not “come” to Jesus to receive what he offers? Because “they are enslaved to their supreme preference for other things” (Piper, 46; see John 3:19-20).
When you hear this call and don’t feel inclined to respond:
Cry out to God that he would give you spiritual eyes to see Jesus as irresistibly beautiful.
Pray that God would give you spiritual ears to hear the captivating truth that in Christ alone are all the treasures of life and wisdom.
Cry out to God that he would give you new taste buds that you might savor the flavor of the sweetness of his forgiveness and his presence and the hope of eternal life.
Earlier Jesus had invited the disciples to follow “after” him (4:19; cf. 9:9). Here, however, he calls them to come “to” him. This, then, is not so much a call to discipleship as it is a call to intimacy.
To be continued . . .