The Bull’s-Eye Of The Gospel
There was a woman named Kathy who swiped credit cards in a cafeteria at the University of Virginia, where I used to teach. Everyone who ate there knew her, because she emanated enough kindness to cheer up even the most discouraged students. She had a Facebook fan group with over 1400 fans, and people would go to the cafeteria just to hear her comforting words. She always delivered.
Kathy was a hit because she tapped into the human need for a comforting word. People feel tired, ugly, stupid, and unwanted, and they want to hear something different than what they think about themselves or are told by others or culture.
Jesus gives a warm invitation to himself.
We are no different. We are all “weary and heavy laden.” Whether it’s job loss, illness, discouragement, loneliness, repeated sins, or memory of what’s been done to us, we all have things in the back or the front of our minds that add to our weariness and burdens. Then we read these amazing words of Jesus which are the bull’s-eye of the gospel:
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
“COME TO ME”
According to Jesus, it’s all about Jesus. He claims to be the center of all God’s revelation (Luke 24) and the source of ultimate rest and rescue. Notice the invitation, “Come to me.” He doesn’t just give advice and instruction; he doesn’t say, “Go try this principle.” Instead, he gives a warm invitation to himself.
Jesus’ invitation shows us the heart of God. God came to seek us out. In his book Training in Christianity, Søren Kierkegaard wrote:
He is the friend of sinners: When it is a question of a sinner, He does not merely stand still, open His arms and say, ‘Come here.’ No, he does not stand and wait, he goes forward to seek, as the shepherd searched for the lost sheep, as the woman searched for the lost coin. He has gone infinitely farther than any shepherd or any woman, He went the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man, and that way He went in search of sinners.
“ALL WHO LABOR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN”
God favors the weak and burdened, not the spiritually proud. Jesus embraces the meek and the broken—the ones who feel swamped with heavy burdens. It is no small thing that he spent so much time with those considered spiritual losers of his day.
Jesus invites all who are worn out and “carrying heavy burdens.” This last phrase is unique and only repeated in Matt 23:4—Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens… and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Jesus is referring to a religion that was meant to honor God, but its effect was to condemn the ordinary person to hard labor.
Those who come to Jesus will find that his yoke is lighter, not because he demands less but because he bears the load for us.
Graceless religion sounds very pious and well-intentioned, but it grinds you down even further. Through the arbitrary demands of the super-religious, religion becomes even more of a burden on top of the burdens you already have. Jesus paints a picture of being under a huge weight that is crushing you—and then the religious people are jumping on your back and whipping you.
In the Bible, graceless religion is presented as an intolerable burden. Peter asked those who emphasized the law without the gospel, “Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).
Everyone feels this sense of burden, whether it’s the legitimate burden of God’s law or burdens manufactured by yourself or other people. Jesus makes his invitation to all who are weary and burdened.
“I WILL GIVE YOU REST”
Jesus offers rest and relief to the broken and weighed-down. The image that should come to mind when Jesus says “weary and heavy laden” is of an exhausted slave worker, and when he says “I will give you rest,” it could best be translated as “relief.” When you feel the emotional and spiritual weariness of carrying a heavy burden, Jesus is not a slave driver, but the one who frees you from slavery and gives you relief.
Jesus talks about his “yoke” (v. 30) and contrasts it with the yoke of the Pharisees who heap burdens but don’t lift a finger to help. Jesus is the opposite. Those who come to Jesus will find that his yoke is lighter, not because he demands less but because he bears the load for us.
God favors the weak and burdened, not the spiritually proud.
A yoke was used for training cattle to plow. It was a wooden bar that fit around the head and on the shoulders. To train an ox, you’d put a strong experienced one on one side and then the younger ox on the other. The big ox would do all the pulling and work, while the young one strolled along, pulling off in various directions. This is what Jesus means. He straps the yoke to his neck and pushes it for us. He takes the yoke we are incapable of carrying, and then takes the whippings of the Law for us at the cross. Our burden is light because he takes the yoke that burdens us and does all the work.
The main way this rest applies to us is the forgiveness of our sins. We have rest in this life as we are forgiven of our sins, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1). And we will have eternal rest when God wipes every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain or weariness or heavy burdens.
So, come to Jesus, all you who are weary and burdened, and he will give you rest.