On one as Jesus was teaching in the towns of Galilee he said,
“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 of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
These are words of invitation, mercy and love. They speak of ‘having a rest’ yet this invitation of Jesus is much more profound. It is
tender and reveals the character of Jesus’ heart as it is about relationship rather than a course of action.
It is for the weary and the burdened rather than for those who impressively perform. In context it was probably spoken to religious people who constrained and burdened by rules and regulations in attempting to gain favour with God through performance. On other occasions Jesus spoke critically about the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matt 23:1-39; Luke 11:37-52) and it seems that these hindrances to having a relationship with God were behind Jesus’ invitation.
In contrast Jesus offers a relationship without a heavy load. It strips away any sense of a performance orientated culture so that
there is no need to self-assess against how well ‘we do the stuff’ (e.g. prayer, read the bible, etc.). Asking what we have to do to keep it up only leads pressure and guilt where we feel better by accomplishment but are disappointed when we fail to make the standard. This results in being like Martha (Luke 10:38-42) who was anxious about many things. Jesus’ invitation to come and find rest is an offer of freedom from being driven.
Additionally it is an offer to non-religious people looking for inner peace. This is illustrated by Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and the woman at the well (John 4) who were seeking fulfilment in money and relationships respectively. This inevitably leads to disappointment. Thus the invitation of Jesus is ‘come to me all you who are weary.’
The crisis comes with an awareness of what God has done through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ promise to provide rest arise from his actions to remove our guilt. He came to serve and to be a ransom for many. Through his sacrifice on the cross his righteousness is credited to us and our consciences are cleansed. There is no longer any condemnation, i.e. we get peace and rest for our souls. Tragically we often behave like some of the Christians at Galatia (Gal 3) and try and add practice to our salvation. There is no need for Jesus sets us free.
The process is described by Jesus as ‘taking his yoke.’ What this means is to take what he is giving. Taking his yoke means learning of and from him. This may mean unlearning things as illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says ‘you have heard’ (stuff to unlearn) ‘but I say to you’ (stuff to learn from Jesus). By being yoked, in close relationship, with Jesus we hear his voice and learn to be content in all situations and contexts.