I grew up in the great state of Iowa, where the corn grows tall and people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. My parents were hard workers, raised by hard workers. My mother’s parents were world-class farmers. My father’s parents were children of immigrants. My grandfather became an attorney of excellence. Hard work runs strong in my blood.
For years Matthew 11:28-30 has been special to me. I have (no-joke) labored to memorize this passage, treasuring it in my often weary heart. Indeed, I have labored and indeed I am thankful for the rest Jesus promises me.
“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.”
This past week, as I’ve been studying this passage in more depth, I’m finally seeing the context in which Jesus is speaking.
These verses are sandwiched between Jesus denouncing the Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, and Jesus telling the Pharisees that they don’t understand what “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” means.
This paragraph begins in Matthew 11:25 with, “At that time Jesus declared, “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.”
Jesus is talking to the Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. Despite being eyewitnesses of Jesus’s miracles and hearing His preaching first-hand, they did not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. The Pharisees remained unrepentant. The Pharisees would have been considered the wise and understanding, but they missed the joy, peace and freedom that faith in Jesus could bring.
Like Jesus explains in Matthew 23:4, the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (You can read Matthew 23 for more on this)
These heavy burdens are not farmers’ chores, like plowing fields, slopping pigs, and shoveling out horse stalls. They are not housewives’ chores, like cleaning your house until the floors shine, cooking three nutritious gourmet meals every day, and homeschooling a dozen children.
Rather, the Pharisees’ heavy burdens are religious duties designed to earn salvation from God. Religious duties like strictly tithing, offering animal sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath down to the minute detail.
Or in modern American Christian culture, attending church twice a week, serving monthly at a homeless ministry, and knocking on your neighbors’ doors to share the gospel. And, unfortunately, in the modern American Christian homeschool community where I dwell, it may indeed include working your fingers to the bone cleaning your house until the floors shine, cooking three nutritious gourmet meals everyday, and homeschooling a dozen children.
Friends, these are all good things. Please, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, like Colossians 3:23 instructs. Please, be workers at home, like Titus 2:5 says. Please, put your hand to the plow and don’t look back! (Luke 9:62) Please do!
But, do these works, because you’re following Jesus. Let these deeds flow from a place of rest, a place of joy and blessing. Jesus loves you and He wants to work through you to bring Him glory. Wow! What a privilege, that this little girl from Iowa can bring glory to the Lord of Heaven and Earth!
Jesus, the promised Messiah as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, took my sins upon Himself at his death on the cross. Jesus bore my griefs. Jesus carried my sorrows. I have been healed by His wounds. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Jesus invites us to give Him our burdens, to come to Him with the trusting faith of little children. In Jesus, we can find rest not only for our bodies, but for our SOULS.
Does your SOUL need rest? Are you tired of working to pay God back? Are you tired of trying to earn salvation? Are you tired of trying to atone for your own sins?
Friend, you can never, ever be good enough. Never. You can never pay God back. You will never deserve being saved.
Jesus paid the price for you. He is inviting you to take His yoke upon you and learn from Him, that you can have soul-rest.
How are you tying up heavy burdens for yourself to carry? For others?
Have you come to Jesus and taken His yoke? What stands in your way?
How can I help you?