You might know what it’s like to walk around with your shoulders sagging, your head down, and your eyes only half open. Maybe sleep deprivation is to blame. Maybe it’s stressors at work, health concerns, life with a newborn, or the weariness that comes from sitting awake waiting for our teenager to come home.
But our exhaustion can run much deeper. Many of us are worn emotionally, spiritually, mentally. We’re burned out by the pressure to perform; we’re tired of fear grabbing us by the ankles; we wish we could stop constantly feeling like we’re letting people down. A solid night of sleep or a weeklong vacation would help. But that only scratches the surface.
We need deep rest for our souls. We need to step out of the darkness, to let go of the burdens we were never meant to carry. We need to abandon the lies, fears, and unhealthy expectations. Only then can we carry what we are meant to carry with joy and endurance. Only then can we confidently step forward into what God has called us to do.
Our culture so often preaches a message telling us to do whatever makes us happy. But Christ has so much more for us. He calls us to not just build a life for our own gain. Rather, He calls us to build for the kingdom of God. We’re given the task of loving God and loving others, of living lives that reflect His character and His kingdom. That’s a weighty and good responsibility. It’s work worth doing, a burden worth carrying.
But we will never be able to do that well if instead we’re carrying a whole bunch of junk that trips us up and wears us out.
In Matthew 11, Jesus preaches to the crowds gathered around Him. He speaks of giving rest to the weary, saying, “‘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).
At first glance, His words sound like a quick fix or a magic spell we can utter to feel energized and less stressed out. Or these verses become cliché, a phrase used as a pick-me-up, void of the real meaning and depth they carry.
Jesus doesn’t offer pithy sayings or shallow optimism. He offers Himself. He offers deep relief that we cannot find anywhere else. He tells us that true rest is found when we take up the yoke of Christ, coming to Him instead of forging our own path.
Jesus doesn’t slap a fresh coat of paint on a tired and tattered world. He remakes us. He offers a different way of living that doesn’t hide our pain or sorrow. It doesn’t gloss over our scars or even our failures. He offers the only way that is good and that allows us to live with joy and endurance, come what may.
Jesus doesn’t offer pithy sayings or shallow optimism. He offers Himself.
Before Jesus gives His invitation for listeners to come to Him, He has choice words for others in the crowd. He denounces the cities where He’s done the most miracles. He proclaims “woes” on the people who didn’t repent. He says scary stuff to the people rejecting the truth of who He is and the kingdom He’s building: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (Matt. 11:20–22).
Yikes. No wonder some people hate Him. He’s just pronounced judgment on the places where He’s shown up in the greatest ways. Yet the people in these cities rejected Him—and Jesus rebukes them for it. They, of all people, should know better. They should have recognized the Son of God when they saw all He’d done so far.
But then, Jesus goes on to say this:
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt. 11:25–27)
Do you hear the contrast between these two scenes? The “woes” are spoken to those who rejected Jesus, those who should have believed. They saw His miracles; they saw all He was doing—yet they chose to go their own way. But then Jesus thanks the Father for those who have heard. He says “little children” here, meaning those who are humble and acknowledge their dependence on God.
The Jewish leaders would have been considered “the wise.” They were the learned who thought they had God’s approval and supposedly knew all about the Messiah. In those days, Jewish tradition said that obtaining wisdom involved learning the law and all its finer points. You needed to be a scholar. For the average Jew that was like being a rocket scientist. It was unattainable.
But here, Jesus says, No. It’s not the so-called wise who will understand what God is doing. It’s the humble; it’s those who know they don’t have it all together. Those who know Me are the ones who know the Father.
For the original listeners, this would have been scandalous. Jesus is saying that those who know Him know Yahweh. He claims He knows God the Father. That is not a passing comment or a statement listeners could be on the fence about. They had to decide either, This is true, and now I have to live my life like it’s true. Or, This guy is dangerous and out of His mind, and we have to get rid of Him.
That choice to reject or accept the truth of God runs from cover to cover in Scripture. In His teaching in Matthew, Jesus alludes to Jeremiah 6. In that passage, the prophet Jeremiah warned Jerusalem of disaster to come. The people rejected God and turned to their own ways—and there were consequences. Then the Lord said in Jeremiah 6:16:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.’
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
The people in Jeremiah’s day rejected God and chose to walk a different way. And Jesus reminds His hearers in no uncertain terms that many of them are doing the exact same thing. They could have had rest for their souls. But they said no.
Are we doing the same?
Finally, Jesus gives His invitation, the words many of us know and love—but words I often struggle to believe: “‘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).
Usually, animals carried yokes, a beam attaching two animals pulling a cart or a plow. Sometimes, if a person was poor, they would carry that yoke on their own shoulders. In Jesus’ day, the Jews often spoke of carrying “the yoke of God’s law and the yoke of his kingdom, which one accepted by acknowledging that God was one and by keeping His commandments.” (Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament) Being a good Jew required you to carry this burden and subject yourself to the detailed restrictions laid out in the law.
While using similar language, Jesus offers a different way. He rejected the legalism and pride evident in many of the Jewish leaders. In Matthew 23:4, He even calls out the scribes and Pharisees when He says, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.” But the yoke of Jesus does not do this. The yoke of Jesus comes not from an attempt at performance or perfectionism. It comes from mercy and love. Jesus calls His listeners to give up the burdens they’re carrying, to stop hitching themselves to exhausting and impossible standards of the law and of the culture. Instead, He’s saying, Here, I have something better. Hitch yourself to Me, and when you take up My yoke, when you go My way, you’ll find what you need.
For those who want to listen, for those who want to understand, Jesus doesn’t pronounce “woes” on them. It’s as though He turns to this group, to the people so often overlooked, to the weary and humble and dependent, and He urges them to come. He invites them to receive all they need from the source itself—from Him.
Like the Lord said through Jeremiah, Jesus says here, There’s another way! You don’t have to be so broken down in spirit, so soul-weary. Look where the good way is, and walk those paths. And there you’ll find rest for your souls.
by Sarah Hauser
The comforting bid of Jesus to the worn and weary soul: Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. You’re tired. Tired in...
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