Matthew 11:28–30: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened’
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on . It is the second of two talks on Matthew 11:25–30. This one is on the last three verses of the passage.
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‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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 will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
In one of my previous lives, if you like, I worked closely with a youth centre that was on one of the schools that I worked in’s property. Every Wednesday afternoon, students from the school would gather to do their Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. In the spring and the summer, the youngsters would prepare for their expedition. I remember volunteering to help on those expeditions. Now, the first thing to learn about your Duke of Edinburgh expedition is teamwork. Who’s going to carry the tent? What about the poles? Who’s going to carry the food? That water’s going to be heavy. Is it fair that I’m lumbered with somebody else’s sleeping bag as well as my own?
All these grumblings occurred because I learned expeditionists were only allowed to carry two-thirds of their own body- weight on their backs for the day or the two days or the three days or the five days. Certainly, the people running the expeditions would weigh the youngsters before they went off on their expedition, both with and without their packs. I remember on one occasion, a practice expedition during one very warm May weekend, my job was to meet a certain group at a certain particular time on the route to make sure that they were okay, keeping to time and that they weren’t lost or perhaps they needed extra water as it was a hot day.
There was one lad who was quite tiny. He was old enough to do the Duke of Edinburgh, but he’s quite tiny. He was quite skinny. He was talkative and he was really annoying, but because he was so light, he wasn’t able to carry too much on his back, and so, everyone else complained that he had a light rucksack. Towards the end of the day I remember, things were becoming even too much for him. It had been hot. He was getting tired and the group stopped. They put all of their rucksacks on the floor, and they unpack certain items. Everyone helped this little lad by taking something and gave him something lighter in return.
Then I remember the words of Jesus, take my yoke upon you, for my burden is light and my yoke is easy. For this little lad, the team had made his burden easier. He was still able to do his bit. He was able to carry on the journey with the others. Together, they had worked out what’s teamwork really was. For this little lad, I think he had fresh confidence that he could continue. I think also it brought down his annoying levels by a rung or two. Last week, we thought about how important it was, that it is, that we come to Jesus. We thought about when we come and why we come to Jesus. We consider the importance of coming to Jesus and staying with Him.
Today, we’re going to have a look a little bit more deeply about what Jesus does when we stay with Him. What does Jesus do when we come? We read again from Matthew 11:28-30. This is Jesus speaking, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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 will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As we found out last last week, Matthew 11 seems to be a whole jumble of various things, but the thread that we see going throughout the whole of Matthew chapter 11 was about people asking who Jesus was. In response, He replies that He and His father are in good, positive and wholesome relationship with one another, and that relationship should be emulated by those around. We saw that those around Him were unsure as to whether He was the Promised Messiah, the Chosen One foretold in the Old Testament. Here in these few verses, it seems that Jesus is telling His listeners, His hearers, that He knows how hard it is for people to follow all the Old Testament laws, what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Jewish law knew as the yoke of the Torah, all its commandments from the Old Testament, how to live. The people knew what that was like, being heavy laden.
The teachers put the yoke of the Torah on them all the time. Now Jesus offers a different yoke which because it was based in mercy and grace and love, and not hard and fast rules, was easy to bear. Those from agricultural backgrounds will know that the yoke was a frame and a crossbar puts across a working animal to pull various objects. The yoke might be painful and ill-fitting and to drag this around make slow work and quickly become cumbersome and hard. I think that’s precisely Jesus’ point.
The old law was never going to work, but this didn’t stop the religious leaders of the day, still trying to force the way of life onto the faithful followers. The law says y ou must do this. The law says you must refrain from doing that, especially on the Sabbath. You can see how the yoke of the law easily become something of fear and dread. Perhaps in the same way that people see religion today, a list of do’s and a list of don’ts.
The Amplified Bible and The Message paraphrase both pick up on the religion, the burden of religiosity. They say, “Come to me all who are weary and heavily burdened by religious rituals that provide no peace, and I will give you rest, refreshing your souls with salvation.” The Message says, “Are you tired, worn out, burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.”
The Voice version talks about being yoked to Jesus himself where weary souls find rest. Jesus’ listeners being invited to come to Him, find out that this new way of being was a lot more attractive than being beaten over the head with religiousness. The new way is to come to Him, to learn from Him. As The Message so eloquently puts it, “Walk with me, work with me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting upon you.”
Here, the learning isn’t a theoretical stuff that Pharisees argued over day to day. Here, this learning is like being a disciple, an apprentice Jesus, if you will. Those followers of the way in Acts where known as “little Christs”, a derogatory term which is where we get the word Christian. I quite like the idea of being an apprentice Jesus.
Some years ago, I asked my granny’s builder to come to do some work at my house in Kent. It was to skim and plaster the dining room. His name was actually Bob, and so, he was the original Bob the Builder. During his time working, he explained that his apprenticeship to be a plasterer was seven years in length. He told me of his various experiences, but that he never went to college. It was all learned on the job. For him, that was fantastic. He learned what the tools were. He then learn the basic trades, starting with fetching and carrying and learning the tools. He spent the first two years doing that and watching what his instructor was doing. Didn’t actually do any actual plastering work until year three. Then he was let loose under careful instruction. Working for a further five years, Bob served his apprenticeship.
Now there’s an interesting turn of phrase, served his apprenticeship. Giving something to it, and receiving something in return. Experiences received and is given back in using that experience. It is learned. It is learning to serve. It takes time. That’s the thing about good apprenticeships. You’ll see on the wall outside that we’ve now got a defibrillator. Outside, big and yellow thing. If you haven’t seen it, then you’ll see it on the way out. If you’re going down to the car park, you can’t really miss it. The electricians came on Friday afternoon to install it. One of the electricians was an apprentice. He’s got three years and he’s only year one into it. He’s got another two years but he’s really enjoying his good apprenticeship because he’s being paid to do what he wants to do. It’s not just a one year thing and then try and find a job. It’s a real apprenticeship. He’s learning off of George, the older chap.
When Jesus invites people to follow Him, to come to Him, He invites them to come and see what He’s doing. Then He invites them to join in. I discovered in my research that if someone wanted to follow a rabbi, a religious teacher in Jesus’ time, the way to do it was to listen, to understand and to read what the rabbi was teaching. Then to ask the rabbi, if they could sit at the rabbi’s feet and learn and listen more. The role of a disciple in the mainstream religious life was to go to the teacher and ask to receive instruction, to ask to learn from them, and then get more knowledge and more wisdom, and that was the yoke of a rabbi.
We noticed that Jesus turns this on His head and seeks out disciples. Jesus goes out of His way to find the apprenticeships, those who were willing to sit at His feet. He invited them to come, and so they did. What did He instruct His apprentices to do? To love one another, to do greater things than these, to go and do likewise. This kind of rabbi provided inspirational learning, not just academic or vocational training through personal example, and strong relationships, this rabbi brought wisdom and knowledge and understanding; not just stuff to know in your head, but the skill of life. The knowledge of this kind of rabbi, this knowledge that this rabbi offered was deep.
The Hebrews had a word for that, it’s called yada (יָדַע), where the interactions between rabbi and apprentice was active and live, where communication was not only to divulge theoretical information or abstract stuff, but to bring about experience and have a relationship with that deep learning. Where life in its fullness was experienced together, learned together and even mistaken together.
The rabbi Jesus was not only a teacher, He was a guide. The yoke, the teaching that He offered, was that deep sense of knowledge, to see, to know, to perceive, to experience, and to have a relationship with, to encounter. This kind of apprenticeship would bring about wholeness. The Hebrew word for that, as we know, is shalom (שָׁלוֹם). That’s the kind of yoke that Jesus offers.
The apprentices, the disciples of Jesus, learn the trade by walking with Him, by working with Him. They learn from Him. Not just by knowing the stuff from the laws, but by experiencing freedom from those laws, learning those unforced rhythms of grace. He uses words such as “rest for your souls”, which can be found actually in the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 6:16. This is what the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” But you said, “We will not walk in it.” I appointed watchmen over you and you said, “Listen to the sound of the trumpet.” But you said, “We will not listen.”
Even in the Old Testament, God invites His people to connect with Him, to ask questions. Even the book of Jeremiah here has these nuggets of encouragement. Even when they hearers ignore the invitation to come. Imagine being an Old Testament prophet like Jeremiah coming with prophecies of doom, or someone like Elijah who showed God’s power through miracles, but yet becoming disillusioned and tired and fed up.
Consider Gideon who trusted God, but wanted that fleece to be dry when the ground was wet one day, and for the fleece to be wet when the ground was dry the next. Just to confirm it was God speaking. To learn and to experience this deep learning together, we have to listen.
Then there was good old Habakkuk, another Old Testament prophet, who really gets to grips with God. When Habakkuk saw that there was evil occurring in the world and God’s response was to use evil for good. Habakkuk dares to come to Him, to God, and ask, “What on Earth is He playing at? What on Earth are you playing at, God?” When it seems that the wicked aren’t going to be punished and there’s no comfort for him. When his questioning doesn’t seem to put God off, neither does it seem to offend the honest legitimate questions about the way God does things.
God’s response goes something like this, “Habakkuk, you want to know how I as a Holy God can use evil to accomplish good? Even if I chose to explain to you how you do that, you couldn’t comprehend it. Habakkuk, you must realize that you’re one person living in one point in time. Even if I chose to reveal my whole inclusive overarching plan for the entire universe, you couldn’t understand it, Habakkuk. You’re finite. You’re here right now. Habakkuk, you can believe that I understand how it all fits together. You can believe that I know what I’m doing.”
This is the secrets of the prophet Habakkuk’s story in Habakkuk 3:16-19. Even though he didn’t know, even though he didn’t get it, even though he was struggling with God, yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree doesn’t bud, there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God, my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to tread on the heights.
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again, what people see as audacity. When we come to God and say, “What on Earth are you playing at, God?” What people see is audacity, God sees as authenticity. It’s relationship building. It’s wrestling, really wrestling with the issue. It’s not being afraid to tell God where we think He’s wrong, and that’s because God is near, God is here.
We can get to grips with God within the doubts and the fears and the stresses of life, God is not aloof . That’s the story of Jesus. He comes to us and He invites us to come to Him. That’s the good news that God didn’t leave us on our own. This rabbi invites us to His way of yada, of deep learning, and receive wholeness, shalom. Ask for the ancient paths where the good way is, and walk in it, and you’ll find rest for your souls.
The point about this deep-learning the way of Jesus is to be with Him, to walk with Jesus, to follow Him, to come to Him. Today, what do you do when you stay with Jesus, your inspirational rabbi? What of the silence? What of the praise? What of the anguished frustration that you want to make sense of? Ask Him those hard questions, because that’s authentic learning. Come to Him, get away with Him. Walk with Him and work with Him. Continue to learn those unforced rhythms of grace.
Are you burning yourself out? Are you taking that burden upon yourself without help? Is there something bothering you that you need to face up to God and ask Him outright? His promise to you is that He won’t lay anything ill-fitting or heavy upon you. Keep company with Him. Don’t give up. How are you sitting with Jesus? Are you learning from Him? Keep company with Jesus. Invite Him in. Come to Him, learn from Him.
Jesus trains His apprentices. It means abiding in Him. It means coming and staying with Him. It means being with Him because that’s what He offers. Let the silence in this moment allow you to sit with those questions. Ponder them. Where are you at with Him? What are your heavy loads? Will you allow Jesus to allow you, to offer, an easy yoke? Will you find rest for your soul? Come to Him.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Passages marked The Message are from from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.