Intro: Our study this month is focused on God’s promise of rest. Understanding the OT through the words of Jesus. It is amazing how many of Jesus’ words come right out of the OT scriptures. His ministry is immersed in them. Recently, in my study of our theme passage for the month – Matthew 11:28-30, I found a fascinating connection between the words of Jesus and the OT scriptures.
1. These words depict what is often referred to as the “invitation of Jesus” – “Come unto Me”. It is seen on plaques and dishes at the religious bookstore. Certainly this is an invitation by Jesus. And they certainly speak to our study on God’s promise of rest. But we need to view this invitation and promise in the original context.
2. To whom did Jesus make this promise? Why does he promise them rest? What is the basis of Jesus’ invitation to come?
3. To view the context of Jesus words, go back with me to the beginning of Matthew 11. John’s disciples come to Jesus with a pertinent question –11:3 – “are You the one who is to come, or do shall look for another?”
I. Isaiah 61 – the OT key: Jesus goes beyond a simple yes or no. He finds his answer in the words of the prophet Isaiah. Read Isaiah 61:1-11
A. In the year of the Lord’s favor: Isaiah points to messianic period to come, when God will give relief to the oppressed, heal the sick, free the captive. He refers to the year of the Lord’s favor – a reference to the year of the Jubilee, when all debts were cancelled and the land lost to indebtedness was returned to the original owners. It was the ultimate time of Sabbath rest (a Sabbath of Sabbath years). Isaiah’s words characterized the time of the Messiah, and exemplify the image of rest we studied last week.
1. That day will be a day of judgment against those who rebel. Day of vengeance of our God (v. 2)
2. But it will also be a day when those who mourn in Zion will be comforted. Their mourning clothes (sackcloth) and ashes will be replaced with the oil of gladness and their faint spirit with the “garments of praise”. They will be made worthy to worship God.
3. The cities that had been destroyed by God’s judgment will be rebuilt. V. 4 – Rebuild… restore… renew. A picture of renewal and restored fellowship.
4. Isaiah continues to describe the Messianic age as a time when God’s people will rest from their labors – others will work their fields and tend their flocks. Their enemies will serve them.(v. 5)
5. v. 7-10 – The land will provide a double portion; more than enough. Joy will be their lot. God will keep his covenant with his people.
6. Righteousness will sprout up before the nations. (v. 11) A time of peace.
B. Jesus uses this picture of judgment and Sabbath rest in Isaiah 61 to answer their question. Jesus says this prophecy is being fulfilled before your eyes. To the Jews who were paying attention, it was irrefutable proof that He was the One Whom God had promised. Jesus’ ministry was punctuated with healings, many of them on the Sabbath. The year of the Lord’s favor had arrived.
II. Repentance that leads to Rest: One of the key common ingredients in Isaiah 61 and Matthew 11 is the place of repentance in the promise of rest. We noticed that Isaiah speaks of those who mourn in Zion being comforted, sorrow replaced by gladness. Those who come to God go from unworthiness to worthiness, as they are given garments of praise to worship in.
A. The preaching of both John and Jesus was a call to repentance (fruits worthy of repentance) those who were willing to repent could enter the kingdom where they would find peace and joy. Their mourning would be turned into gladness. But unfortunately not all Israelites responded to this message.
B. The events between the beginning of Matthew 11 and the promise of v. 28-30 help us see the continuing picture of rest.
1. v. 8-15; John was “more than a prophet”: Following his answer to the disciples of John, Jesus extols John and his ministry. He was more than a prophet, but the generation of those to whom he spoke had not responded to his message. Coming as the Elijah promised by Malachi, the prophet, John and his call for repentance was a marker for the time of the Messiah and His kingdom.
2. v. 16-19; “To what can I compare this generation?” Depicting those who were rejecting Him as spoiled children who could never be pleased, Jesus exposes their hypocrisy.
3. v. 20-24; “Woe to you, Korazin…” He rebukes that generation as those who refuse to accept the evidence placed right before their eyes. If the miracles done in the cities of Galilee had been done in the Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom, those cities would have repented in sackcloth. So. Just as Isaiah, Jesus tells them God is coming in judgment.
4. v. 25-27; Arrogance vs. Humility: Although the situation is bleak and God’s judgment is sure, there is hope. Jesus prays to the Father and thanks Him for hiding his message from the wise people of His day (those who were rejecting it forthright) and revealing the message to “little children” who will accept it. These simple and meek children know that Jesus has come down from the Father.
5. The immediate context of Jesus promise in v. 28-30 is a vivid contrast between those wise in their own eyes, arrogant rebels, who refuse to respond to God’s message and repent and those who are humble as little children, who believe the message and repent (mourn).
III. “Come to Me…” (Matthew 11:28-30)In the midst of Jesus’ resounding denunciation of the unrepentant and rebellious Jews of His day, Jesus offers an invitation. I am convinced that the words of Isaiah 61, and the image of the Sabbath rest are still in view at the end of Matthew 11. We will notice that the invitation of Jesus is to those who are “weary” and the Jesus promises them “rest”.
A. But who are the “weary and heavy laden”? The term labor refers to working to the point of exhaustion. It reflects those who have every reason to be weary and in need of rest. Albert Barnes comments that Jesus was addressing “the poor, lost, ruined sinner: the man “burdened” with a consciousness of his transgressions, trembling at his danger, and seeking deliverance.”
1. Burden of the Pharisaical traditions: Some suggest that Jesus had specifically in mind those who were burdened by the rites of the Law of Moses, particularly the burden of the Pharisaical traditions. Jesus said that the Pharisees “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matt 23:4) Strong’s says that the phrase “heavy laden” is used to denote those who are overburdened with ceremony or spiritual anxiety. This points to the contrast that Jesus is making. The religion of His enemies was a religion of exhausting, wearisome labor, which could not provide real peace or security.
2. Burden of Personal Sin: But I am convinced that the best understanding of the weary are those who are burdened with their own sin. The burden of sin can be viewed in more than one context:
a. The burden of moral guilt: A burden is also understood in the sense of a debt. The impact of sin is often pictured as a debt that we cannot pay, and as such is a true burden. Debt and debtor are used in a moral sense also as indicating the obligation of a righteous life which we owe to God. To fall short in righteous living is to become a debtor. For this reason we pray, “Forgive us our debts” (Matt 6:12). Jesus’ parable of the two debtors contrasted the debt we owe God with the minimal debt that we may owe each other. Sin is an insurmountable burden that we cannot bear.
b. The burden of the practice of sin: Paul relates the impact of sin as a bondage. Romans 6:12-14 – Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. “The way of the transgressor is hard.” We live in constant view of the tragedy of addiction in our society. How can free myself from myself? With the practice of sin comes the consequences. It robs us of our joy and peace. The sinner has no rest. (the story of the prodigal – wished he could eat the pig’s food). Rom. 8:6 – “to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
3. Jesus – more than anyone – cares about those who labor and are heavy laden under the awful burden of sin. He offers pardon to the guilty. He provides peace to the troubled. He wants to lift this burden from us; the burden of sin.
4. Jesus did not spend much time with the proud, the religiously satisfied or the hypocrites who willed not to believe. He addresses “all who labor and are heavy laden” because these are those who will come to Him. These are people who feel a load on their life – whoever they may be. These are people who know their anxiety and acknowledge their remorse and know they need rest.
B. “I Will Give you Rest”-The phrase “to give rest” means to refresh or revive, as from labor or a long journey. Jesus’ use of this term embodies all of the character we have noticed in its OT appearances.
1. This rest is more than a reprieve from physical work, or even anxiety. It is the promise of all the benefits of a spiritual relationship with God. This rest is the peace of forgiveness; the calmness of a reconciliation; it being right with God, free from the condemnation of law. I
a. Notice Paul’s description of this rest that we find in the blood of Jesus: Eph 2:13-17 – 3 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.
2. Notice that Jesus expresses this promise in two ways – both equally true.
a. Jesus will give us rest – we cannot have it apart from him
b. We will find rest if we come to Him – We must seek it to receive it.
C. “Take My Yoke Upon You and Learn from Me” – The key words here are “Yoke” and “learn”. These are the words that Jesus uses to describe our responsibility in coming to Him. Paradoxically, Jesus says he will give those who are burdened down rest by taking up His yoke. The consequence of taking the yoke of Christ upon us, is to learn from Him.
1. A yoke was a wooden device fitted on the neck of an animal to assist it in pulling a load. For obvious reasons, the term was widely used in the ancient world as a metaphor for submission. The yoke joined two animals in a common work and it was the means whereby the master controlled the animal. It was designed to create a submissive spirit in animals, thereby making them useful.
a. A student was often spoken of as being under the yoke of his teacher, and an ancient Jewish writing contains the advice: “Put your neck under the yoke and let your soul receive instruction.”Jesus is calling on the weary to submit.
2. Submit to what? How do I take on the yoke? I learn from Jesus. This learning is the heart of discipleship. In fact, the word learn and disciple come from the same word in Greek. A disciple is a learner. This reinforces the truth that Christ’s disciples are His submissive learners.
a. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, and no one can come to Christ without being taught correctly. But Jesus is more specific here.
b. What must I learn from Jesus? That he is gentle and humble in heart. What is emphasized here is the humility of Jesus. This again fits the context. Jesus will give rest to the weary who come to Him in humility because He Himself is meek and lowly.
c. There is no promise of rest for those who fail to learn from Jesus how to be humble before God. Jesus’ humility and Meekness was the key to His obedient sacrifice of Himself. HE learned obedience through the things HE suffered… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death… God highly exalted Him. (Phil 2:8-9) As one is taught he responds in obedience – this is the effect of the yoke he has placed himself under. Are you submissive to the yoke of Christ? There is no rest for those who “kick against the goads”.
D. “My yoke is easy; my burden is light” – Jesus is not saying that obedience has not price or sacrifice. But rather contrasting the burden of sin with the burden of obedience to Christ.
1. The word for easy here does not mean without effort, or easy to accomplish. But rather it denotes profitability. To furnish what is needed; good for its intended use. Jesus’ yoke of submissiveness is what is needed to accomplish the purpose. God’s laws are fitted to us. If we submit to Him we become what is best, for us and for others.
2. The word for light does mean “not heavy, easy to bear.” So the burden of following Jesus is light when compared with the burden of disobedience. It is also easy because Jesus has gone on before us and shown us the way of submissive obedience. This is a joining ourselves to His yoke that He has already taken on. He is not harsh and his rule is not oppressive. His law is not burdensome. He does not threaten or coerce. John says in 1 John 5:1– For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
3. This burden is light because it has the reward of rest. Rom 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Conclusion: Come unto Me… This is the great invitation. If we decide not to come to Jesus, there is no other way to find rest. There are no other alternatives. Because there are no other solutions, we must totally commit to Him…
1. “Try Jesus” – the Try Jesus Church – when everything else fails, what does it hurt – It might work for you. – This is not the invitation of Christ. The common call for men to “accept Jesus as their Savior” may also be a misrepresentation of His invitation. It seems to imply that God is awaiting our approval of His work and plan. If we will accept Him, He will bless us. When the true invitation is if we will accept His Yoke through obedience, He will bless us.