Pastor Scott L. Harris
August 1, 1993
Jesus’ Offer of Rest
In John Bunyan’s classic analogy of the Christian life, Pilgrim’s Progress, we find that the story opens with the character Pilgrim having a large and heavy burden upon his back. It weighs him down and makes everything that he does difficult. The first part of the story centered on Pilgrim’s efforts to find a way to get rid of the burden. It is not until Pilgrim comes to Jesus that he is freed. The rest of the story describes Pilgrim’s progress in the Christian life after he is freed of his burden.
The analogy of a heavy burden on our back is a good description of what life is like apart from Christ. Even for the Christian, when we are not walking with the Lord as we should and strive to do things in our own power, it can feel like the weight of the world is upon our shoulders.
This morning we are going to be looking at Matthew 11:25-30 and Jesus’ offer of rest to those who are burdened and heavy-laden. This is one of those sections of Scripture that is loved by all because of the obvious love of the Savior demonstrated by His offer. This is certainly one of those passages in which gracious words fall from Jesus’ lips. But before we can understand the offer of rest, we must understand the setting of the offer.
The Setting of the Offer
Look at the beginning of verse 25, “At that time Jesus answered and said . . .”. Some have tried to gain the time setting by looking at Luke 10:21-23 where Jesus prays almost the same thing. However, the two events are not the same. Let us be sure and understand that Jesus certainly would have taught and done some of the same things more than once. The similarity of the two passages is only that Jesus prayed the same thing on both occasions. Matthew does not give us a specific time, just the general setting.
What is the general setting? The twelve apostles have been instructed and sent out on their first missionary journey (Matthew 10). Jesus is alone now and ministering in the region of Galilee (Matthew 11:1). John the Baptist is in prison and was beginning to have some doubts. Jesus has given John confirmation that his original message was correct. Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Matthew 11:2-6). (See: Overcoming Doubt). Jesus has also given a wonderful tribute to John saying that no human before John had been greater (Matthew 11:7-15). (See: True Greatness). But Jesus has also begun to answer his critics.
In Matthew 11:16-19, Jesus answered those that were criticizing both Him and John the Baptist. They were saying that John was demonized because of his austere manner of living, while at the same time saying that Jesus was a glutton, drunkard, and a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners because he would socialize with the common people, and certainly, they figured, no truly holy man would do that! Jesus said that they were childish like the kids in the marketplace who could not decide what game they wanted to play. Nothing would satisfy them. These critics claimed to be the ones with wisdom, but wisdom is verified by its works – and their works proved them to be foolish. (See: The Critical & The Apathetic)
Jesus also gave a very strong reproach against the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because of their apathetic response to all that Jesus had done in those cities. Verse 20 tells that most of His miracles were done in those cities, yet they did not repent. Jesus’ words are stern and forceful. They would be judged harshly because they had rejected the great amount of grace that had been extended to them.
It is with this as a setting that Jesus now changes tone from His denunciation of His vocal critics and those that ignored Him. Jesus now gives his wonderful and gracious offer. In Jesus’ prayer found in Matthew 11:25-27, we find the prerequisites to receiving Jesus’ offer. In verses 28-30 we find the nature of the offer and its reward. Look at this passage with me.
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son will to reveal Him. 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 shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Prerequisites to the Offer – Humility
Notice that Jesus’ prayer begins in praise to the Father. That teaches us two things. First, praise is a fitting beginning to prayer. When we pray we are so inclined to jump right into petitions (asking God for what we want) that we often forget to praise God, which should be first and foremost. God is the creator of heaven and earth and worthy of our praise. He is not a cosmic vending machine whose purpose is to satisfy our every desire. We are here for His purposes, not He for our purposes. This is even signified by the word here translated as praise. It is not the normal word used, but instead is a compound word which has at its root meaning, “to agree with” or “to say the same thing.” Here we would get the sense of Jesus praising the Father rising out of His agreement, His unanimity, to what the Father has done. And isn’t it true that the more we become like Christ the greater our praise to God becomes because our increased understanding and agreement with what God has done and is doing?
Second, we note that Jesus does not begin with the phrase, “Our Father,” as He did when teaching His disciples a model of prayer in Matthew 6. He is not referring to God in the universal sense of Father as the creator. Jesus will addresses that in the next phrase, “Lord of heaven and earth.” Here Jesus uses one of His two most common phrases to address God the Father, “O Father” (“My Father” being the other phrase). It is a designation of His special relationship with God. It is a unique relationship that signified His deity. The Jews of the time certainly understood it that way, because often Jesus’ enemies sought to stone Him for blasphemy for addressing God in such a manner (John 10).
Jesus is the Messiah, God in human flesh, so it is no wonder that we find God the Son giving praise from a basis of unanimity to God the Father. The specific thing which was well-pleasing in the eyes of the Father and the Son was that “Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes” (Matthew 11:26).
What was hidden from some and revealed to others? All that Matthew has been presenting in the previous chapters concerning the kingdom of God. Jesus is the Messiah and this is His kingdom. Those who will enter that kingdom will be those that are righteous from the heart as expressed so well in the Sermon on the Mount. Those who have only the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (an outward conformity to the demands of a religious system) will not enter God’s kingdom.
That brings up the first prerequisite of receiving Jesus’ offer of rest. The offer may be universal, but only the humble of heart will hear and understand the offer being made.
We may wonder why Jesus is glad that the things of the kingdom were hidden from the wise and the intelligent. That does not seem fair to us. Is the kingdom then only for the foolish and the dumb? Those with a low IQ? The terms wise and intelligent here are used in the same way that Paul uses them in 1 Corinthians 1, “. . . the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.”
These wise and intelligent are those that think they can do it their own way. They do not think they need a Savior for they think they can figure it all out on their own and provide for themselves. It is a reference to the foolish pride of mankind which schemes, plots, and develops his own religion so that he does not have to trust in God and His mercy and grace alone, but can by his own effort achieve his own ends by his own means and methods. This was exactly what the religious leaders of Jesus’ time had done. They modified the Mosaic Law to the point that they actually thought they were keeping it, and therefore were pleasing God to the point that He would have to let them be part of His kingdom.
That pride is still very much present today. It is found in the false religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. It is found in the cults that speak about Jesus and use New Testament terminology such as mercy, grace, faith, hope and salvation, yet they have a different Jesus and/or they achieve salvation by their own efforts. Even Christian denominations that have at one time held the truth have lost their way in the same manner as the Jewish leaders of old. They replace the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone with salvation in some system of works. The Roman Catholic church added many doctrines through the ages that switched salvation through Christ to salvation through the church, from trust in Jesus to trust in Mary, from redemption from sin by God’s grace and mercy alone to redemption received by doing the meritorious works of the Sacraments.
Those within the reformation and separatist heritages are really no better because so many of them have traded the truth in for their own liturgies and pet doctrines. I can’t begin to tell you how many Baptists I have run into that believe they are saved because they made some sort of decision, walked an aisle, raised their hand, or prayed a prayer. Instead of placing their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone, they have replaced it with a trust in something they have done.
God has always resisted the proud while giving grace to the humble (Psalms 138:6; Isaiah 2:11, 12; Matthew 23:12; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). The person who refuses to come to God on God’s terms will be resisted and brought down. But at the same time, the humble, or as our text here calls them, “babes,” will be given grace and understanding. This is well-pleasing in the sight of God the Father.
The Prerequisites to the Offer – Revelation
The second prerequisite to Jesus’ offer of rest is revelation. Matthew 11:27 tells us, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” This verse should remove all pride from anyone seeking after God. You do not come to God on your own power by your own intellect. You come based upon Jesus’ granting to you the needed revelation to understand Him. And who is it that Jesus chooses to reveal such revelation? We already saw that in verse 25. It is those who are humble, the babes. But Jesus is ready and willing to reveal God to man. Hebrews 11:6 tell us that “[Those] who come to God must first believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after Him.”
This is really the same thing we saw in the beatitudes. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven is given to those who are poor / destitute in spirit. They know they have nothing to give and nothing to offer God so they come to Him begging for mercy. (See: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit). God grants not only that to them, but also satisfies their hunger and thirst for righteousness. (See: Hungering for Righteousness). There is no room for man’s pride in any of this, but Jesus is more than willing to reveal the Father to those who humbly come seeking Him.
The Nature of the Offer – a Call
The Nature of Jesus’ offer is found in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus’ offer is a call to all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to Him. The word here is a compound word meaning literally, “here” plus “come.” Jesus is calling out to these people and saying, “Come here to me.” Such a call involves a change in direction, and hence a change in life. In a word, it involves repentance and conversion. It is a change of mind resulting in going from one direction to now going in another.
The picture that is being drawn here is much like that in Pilgrim’s Progress. Here comes Pilgrim along the trail with this huge pack on his back. He is weary and heavy-laden. Suddenly, he hears a voice telling him to come over here if he wants to be released from the burden he is carrying. In order for Pilgrim to respond to the call he must hear the call, believe the call, and then follow the directions given to him by the call. Pilgrim steps off the path he had been on and sets out in a new direction toward the one who was calling him. The first thing we see about the nature of the offer of rest that Jesus is making is that it is a call. The offer will not do us any good, i.e. we will not receive any rest, unless we heed the call. Humility and revelation must be followed by heeding the call that is given.
What is the heavy-burden that is being carried that makes us so weary? It is man’s efforts to deal with his sin problem by his own means and methods. Sin is a heavy burden to begin with, which is only compounded when man tries to take care of that sin himself. He is completely incapable of dealing with it on his own and can only make the problem worse. My complaint against modern psychology is based right here. Man cannot “cure” himself of anything. The most he can do is trade one sinful attitude and practice for another deemed more acceptable by society such as trading one compulsive behavior for another. A “cure” of sin is only accomplished when the person in both action and attitude does what God desires of him.
The efforts of the Jewish religious leaders of the time only made the burden of sin heavier. Jesus described this specifically in this language in Matthew 23:4 when he said of the Scribes and the Pharisees, “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” Peter describes this as well in Acts 15:10 when he said to those who wanted Christians to follow Jewish religious rituals saying, “. . . why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”
The same continues to be true today in so many religious systems that seek to gain access to God and freedom from sin in some manner other than coming to Christ and seeking the rest that only He can give. But when a person hears and heeds the offer and comes to Christ, rest is given for the bondage of sin is broken. A cure is given and a person can begin to live in a manner that is pleasing unto God. Access to God which was never available before, regardless of how many acts of righteousness or penance a person did, is now freely available through Jesus Christ. We are no longer heavy-laden and weary, but given rest in Christ. Jesus exchanges the yoke of man-made religion for the truth of His mercy and grace.
THE NATURE OF THE OFFER – A YOKE
The second aspect of the nature of Jesus’ offer of rest is that there is a new yoke. Now you say, “wait a minute, you mean I am just trading one burden for another? I thought you said Jesus was offering rest?” He is, but there is a yoke. Remember that a yoke was a device that was crafted to the specific animal so that it could pull more comfortably and effectively. It was made out of wood and carved to fit the individual animal. That would provide part of the comfort. The other aspect of the yoke is that it would distribute the weight evenly which would make it both easier and more comfortable to pull.
The term yoke was often used as a metaphor for submission. In particular, it was used of students who attached themselves to a teacher to learn from him. For example, the ancient Jewish advice to students was, “Put your neck under the yoke and let your soul receive instruction.” The yoke here symbolizes obedience to Jesus which includes learning His ways and following them. That is emphasized in the phrase following Jesus’ call to take his yoke, “and learn from Me.” Jesus is saying that He would release us from being heavy-laden and give us rest and that we would become His disciples.
The Offer’s Reward
The reward of taking Jesus’ offer is a change of masters, a change of life, and rest for our souls according to Matthew 11:29 & 30. Jesus is no taskmaster. He is gentle and humble in heart. His yoke is easy, kindly, pleasant. It is not an affliction or a hardship. The load of following Jesus’ commands in comparison to following the schemes of man, or even our own way, is light. What a wonderful reward that would be if that was all there was, a better fitting yoke and a lighter burden, but Jesus also gives us rest for our souls.
There are several aspects of that rest. There is the sense in which there is a cessation of action, motion, labor, or exertion. All efforts at earning our salvation cease, they are put to rest.
In addition, rest involves freedom from that which makes one weary or disturbs. Spiritually, Jesus gives those that come to Him freedom from the cares and distress that would rob them of peace and joy. This rest includes the peace that passes all understanding that comes from being able to bring everything to Jesus in prayer (Philippians 4:6,7) and cast all of our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:5).
Rest is also something that is fixed and settled. And to rest in Jesus involves the wonderful assurance that our eternal destiny is secure in Him. We need not be bothered by the uncertainties brought up by the philosophies of man that are bantered back and forth, or the ideas expressed in the various false religions and cults. We need not even fear death, for our hope, our confident assurance, is that we will be with Jesus for all of eternity.
Rest also speaks of being confident and trustful. Jesus gives us God’s rest that not only assures us of eternity with Him, but also that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Our lives have meaning. They count for something in the present and for eternity.
And finally, rest describes being able to “lean, repose, or depend upon.” The rest that Jesus gives includes being made a fellow heir with Him and a child of God. Our heavenly Father will certainly supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). He will take care of us.
If you are here this morning and have not yet entered into the rest that Jesus offers, then be assured, the offer is being made to you now. The prerequisites are that you be humble and that He has revealed Himself to you. You will need to be humble enough to realize that you cannot make it on your own. You need a Savior. You need someone who can release you from the burdens that you are carrying. The guilt, the shame, the confusion, the fear – all those things that are part of life without Jesus Christ. The revelation has been made to you this morning through God’s very Word, the Scriptures. If you understand what I have been talking about this morning, then Jesus has revealed Himself to you.
But now there is a decision that you must make. Jesus is calling to you, “Come to Me.” Will you go? It will require you to step out in a different direction. You will have to turn your eyes away from the sinful enticements of this world and look to Him and step toward Him. That step can be made by confessing your sins to Him and asking for His forgiveness, and then asking Him to lead and guide you through life. He will do it. That is His promise. Will you exchange your exhausting yoke and burden of doing things your own way or according to some religious system for the yoke of learning of Him, of doing things His way? His yoke is easy, pleasant, and His burden is light. The reward is His rest. Jesus is calling; will you heed His call and come?
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