“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.'” – Matthew 11:28
For those of us who struggle day in and day out to get things done, this is a wonderful call.
For those of us who scrape just to get by, working two jobs in order to pay the bills and make sure we have food, this is a wonderful call.
For those of us who live paycheck to paycheck, this is a wonderful call.
It is the call to the weary to come to Jesus and He will give us rest.
But what does this mean? And what did it mean for His original audience?
For college students and over-worked professionals and employees, this call truly is a Godsend (no pun intended). Finally, someone who can help us take a break from the daily struggle.
But for those who first heard this call, it meant something entirely different.
During the time of Christ, the religious life was burdensome. Jesus accused the Pharisees and the Scribes of crushing people with unbearable burdens, but never lifting a finger to help those that are being crushed (Matthew 23:4).
There were so many rules and regulations that the Pharisees and the other religious leaders demanded of the Jews. This was all done in conjunction with the Law already laid down by the LORD on Mount Sinai when He gave it to Moses and the Israelites.
Plus, the Jews had Roman laws and policies to follow as well.
All of this made for a very stressful, weary, burdensome life. There literally was no rest for the people.
There were probably those who were skeptical of Jesus at first, not because of His message, but because of the fact that He was yet another religious teacher. I am certain that they thought that Jesus was just going to add even more burdens onto their already crushing weight of religious obligations.
But Jesus tells them something else instead. He says that if they follow Him, He will give them rest. He compares His teachings to those of the Pharisees with an image very familiar to His audience: that of a yoke and the burden being pulled.
You see, a yoke is a device, much like the one shown below, where two animals, usually cattle, were bound together in order to pull a burden.
Now, Jesus tells His listeners that His is easy. What does this mean? Odds are good, Jesus meant that they wouldn’t be in the yoke alone, much like what the Pharisees were doing, giving the people burdensome rules and regulations, expecting them to haul their burden, without getting into the yoke with them.
Jesus, on the other hand, seems to propose that He will be in the yoke with them. Not only that, but the burden they will be carrying is a light burden. So, essentially, Jesus is saying, “Everyone of you who is over-burdened by what the Pharisees demand of you, come to Me. I will not treat you like they do. My expectations are easy to follow and the work is minimal. And here’s the best part: I will help you.”
What Does This Mean For Us?
How does Jesus’s call help us today? We do not seem to be overburdened with religious rules and regulations. Our pastors and church leaders aren’t imposing random religious burdens and not helping us.
Maybe not, but we do struggle with major aspects in our spiritual lives. What we fail to realize is that we actually place the burdens on ourselves. We have the tendency to do unnecessary things to ensure our salvation. We place unrealistic expectations as to what needs to be done to be certain that we are “good Christians”. And we over-burden ourselves and we become weary and tired in our faith.
But what does Jesus say? “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”
In his text Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee tells the story of an engineer friend of his whose wife was unfaithful while the engineer was away for a few years working on a project. The engineer tells Watchman Nee that he cannot find it in his heart to forgive his now ex-wife and the man she left with. Watchman Nee told him to do nothing about it, but rather rest in what God has already done.
He goes on to tell his engineer friend, “When you cease doing, then God will begin. Have you ever tried to save a drowning man? The trouble is that his fear prevents him from trusting himself to you. When that is so, there are just two ways of going about it. Either you must knock him unconscious and then drag him to the shore, or else you must leave him to struggle and shout until his strength gives way before you go to his rescue…God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before he can deliver you. Once you have ceased to struggle, he will do everything. God is waiting for you to despair.”¹
The same is true for us. We must stop trying to do it on our own. We must stop trying to do it at all. We must cease struggling. We must despair. We must go to God and say, “I cannot do this. You must do this for me.” Only then will we find rest.
Until next time: keep the faith.
¹ Watchman Nee, Sit, Walk, Stand, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1977), 11.