- The Explore the Bible lesson for Feb. 14 focuses on Matthew 11:20-30.
For this lesson, I would like to focus on the final few verses in our passage. Matthew 11:28-30 says: “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.”
The wide message of the gospel
Notice how wide the message of the gospel reaches: “Come to me, all … .” It’s reminiscent of the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world … .” I looked up the word “all” in the original Greek language. I was shocked to discover what the word all means. Hang on to your hat. Here comes a “wow” moment. “All” in Greek means all! But why, “Come to me?”
The “weary and burdened” had tried other religious means in Jesus’ day, without finding much of any satisfaction, redemption or rest. Consider Luke 11:46: “Jesus replied, ‘And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift a finger to help them.” In addition to the 613 laws in the Pentateuch, the Pharisees also followed and taught from the Talmud. The Talmud basically is a commentary on the 613 laws. For example, take the Ten Commandment law about the Sabbath Day. The heart of the command is about observing a day of rest and reflection about the goodness of God. Those who compiled the Talmud wanted to be sure the original decree was followed, so they wrote additional laws. For example, the Talmud contained the number of steps someone could walk on the Sabbath day.
Just to give you a perspective, the Talmud is the equivalent length of your Bible times four. These so-called laws, over time, became the focus of the teaching of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, forgetting the original intent of God’s law, namely the Ten Commandments. This should put Jesus’ constant quarrel with the Pharisees in the proper perspective. And it also explains why Jesus said, “Come to me.” They had been overburdened by the teaching of the Talmud through the Pharisees. They had not been helped at all by their teaching; rather, they had been scolded, ostracized and condemned.
But Jesus had a new message: “Come to me, all … .”
A beaten-down world
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” Weary. Heavy burdened. And based on Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, we could add that they were like sheep without a shepherd.
They were weary from so many things. Starvation was common. Disease was prevalent. Life expectancy was about 40 years. Child mortality rates were high. Taxation was much heavier than ours. The Roman Empire was ruling. Leaders of the empire often took land away from the Jews.
Spiritually speaking, they were heavy burdened. They couldn’t seem to keep God’s laws, and additionally, they certainly couldn’t keep the laws of the Talmud. They were harassed by a spiritual enemy John described as wanting to “steal, kill and destroy” them (John 10:10). Many didn’t even have the money to practice the sacrificial system. They were an exhausted people. No spiritual leader seemed to be able to supply peace and rest.
A world much like today
One of the pastors I served with used to say, “On every pew, every week, there is a story that would break our hearts.” This is so true, even for Christian people. Pastors often have many weekly private meetings with people, Christian and non-Christian. There is more hurt “out there” than what any of us realize.
One of the realities of being a pastor is that, by the time they come and ask for help, often the problem already is so large and so deep, it often seems hopeless. So, what about the throngs of people that never ask for help? There is so much hurt in the world! There is so much hurt in your town. And I’m certain, there is so much hurt in the house across your street. And there probably is hurt right down your hall in other bedrooms in your own home.
Back in the passage, Matthew 11:29 states: “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.” In Jesus’ day, wooden yokes were so heavy that most often, the animal carrying it couldn’t even lift its head. Also, men sometimes carried a yoke. This was a sign of poverty, because it showed a man was unable to purchase an animal for the job. He would carry it on his own shoulders. According to several sources, it was very common for men to carry their own yoke, yet another sign of the depth of poverty in Jesus’ day.
Jesus uses a simile and compares an actual yolk to the yolk of the teaching of the religious leaders. Therefore, “my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30). Contrary to what many have stated, this doesn’t mean Christianity is easy. It does mean, however, Jesus recognized and sympathized with the spiritual condition of man. Mainly, he recognized they were stuck in their own burdened and sinful ways, and he had an eternal plan to do something about it.
An open invitation
“An open invitation” is the name of this lesson. More importantly, it is a reality from Jesus that still exists. The message of Jesus is for all. The possibility of salvation is open for those who will listen to God’s invitation, confess their own sin and brokenness, recognize Christ as Savior and Lord, and commit their lives to his ways.
And we will find rest. Some rest for our souls now, only to be changed into final rest in God’s eternity.