Jesus Teaches About Rest

Matthew 11:28-30

Teaching t10951


Last week, we learned about a miracle Jesus performed – the stilling of a storm. This week, we will learn about a very brief teaching Jesus gave – a teaching about rest. It is found in Matt.11:28-30 (read passage). Only three verses, but so attractive and profound! I have been drawn to these words recurrently over the last four decades. As I have memorized them and prayerfully pondered them, they have changed my life. I hope that, as we ponder them together tonight, they will change your life also.

Jesus answers three questions about rest – what it is, where it is found, and how to get it. Let’s consider each of His answers in turn...

What is this rest?

We often think of rest as total physical inactivity (e.g., a nap), or as a vacation from our jobs. These are legitimate forms of rest, but that is not what Jesus is talking about. This rest is deeper than bodily rest; it is rest for our “soul” – our innermost being. And this rest is a rest we can enjoy even while we are working (“yoke” is used here, as we will see, as a reference to labor).

Strong’s Lexicon defines anapauo not only as “to cease from any movement or labor,” but also as: “to refresh, to be of calm and patient expectation” Michael Green describes this rest as: “not cessation from (activity or work), but peace and fulfillment and a sense of being put right.”

Who does not need this kind of rest? Who is not weary of life’s exhausting demands? Who is not heavy-laden from life’s crushing burdens (adversities and crises; failure, guilt and regret)? Who can claim that the ways they distract and medicate themselves give them true soul-rest? We all need and want this rest. The question is: Where can we find it?

Where is this rest found?

Jesus says that soul rest for each and every person, rest from each and every burden, is found in Him. What an amazing claim! Imagine if I said this to you this morning! No one could possibly offer this kind of peace to everyone but God Himself. 11:29b is an allusion to something God offered in Jer.6:16 (read). So Jesus is claiming that He alone can give soul-rest to every person because He is God with us (“Immanuel”).

You cannot find rest for your soul by embracing a religious philosophy (e.g., Buddhism). You cannot find rest for your soul by obeying a moral code (e.g., Confucianism; Islam). You cannot find rest for your soul through self-actualization (e.g., New Age; self-help). You can find rest for your soul only in a relationship with a Person, the living Jesus, who is willing and able to give each of us soul-rest. This leads to the key question...

How can we get this rest from Jesus?

Jesus answers this question through two invitations (11:28a,29a). Although these two invitations are related, they are not synonymous. Rather, “Come to Me” is Jesus’ initial invitation to us, while “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me” is Jesus’ ongoing invitation to us after we respond to His initial invitation.

“Come to Me...” This is Jesus’ invitation to be rescued from the wearying burden of , and to experience the relief of being alienated from God. It is the same invitation Jesus issued in Jn.7:37 (read). He was speaking to people who were dying of spiritual thirst because they did not have the life of within them. He was saying: “Entrust yourself to Me, and I will give you God’s Spirit as a fountain of spiritual life in your soul.

Jesus is just as present here in this room as He was when He uttered these words to the original audience! His offer is just as good to you as it was to them. That’s why you’re here tonight – to hear this invitation to be reconciled to God, and to receive it. Call out to Jesus tonight, and His Spirit will enable you to experience this rest in the way that will best assure you (EXAMPLES).

And then, as you begin to walk with Him, He invites you into an ongoing and deepening restas you respond to His second invitation...

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me...” This is an invitation to work. A yoke is not the yellow part of an egg (“yolk”); it is a wooden collar that beasts wear in order to work (YOKE PICTURE). Jesus is inviting those who have come to Him: “Join Me in My work as My disciple” (“learn” is manthano, the same root as “disciple”). What is the work Jesus came to do? To seek and save the lost (Lk.19:10), and to help His followers toward spiritual maturity (Col.1:28). As counter-intuitive as it may seem, doing this work with Jesus as His apprentice (DOUBLE YOKE PICTURE) will result in profound soul-rest.

The rabbis of Jesus’ day used a similar expression, but in a very different way. They called on their disciples to “take on the yoke of the Law” – to obey God’s commandments by their moral will-power. But this kind of work does not lead to rest! It leads instead to condemnation and frustration and defeat. That’s why Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day (readMatt.23:4). That’s why Peter criticized “Christian” teachers who told Christians to do this (readActs15:10).

How sad it is that most Christians think this is what it means to live the Christian life! No wonder they do not experience the soul-rest Jesus promises! Who in this room does not default to living the Christian life this way? I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows by personal experience what this leads to – the exhaustion of infinite obligation, comparison to others, self-recrimination, duty-motivation, burn-out, etc. Maybe this has been your experience, and you have concluded because of this that being a Christian worker is not for you. But the real problem is not being a Christian worker; it is that you have taken on the wrong yoke!

Instead, Jesus invites us (once we come to Him) to enter into a working relationship with Him. Relating to Jesus in this way results in soul-rest for two reasons:

Because Jesus is a gentle and humble Tutor (11:29). He is gentle – He never gets fed up or disgusted with you when you fail; He teaches you patiently, according to what you can bear. And He is humble – He never exploits you for His own selfish ends; He always tutors you for your good.

When I was in grade school, I took swimming lessons one summer in two sessions. In the first session, my instructor was very competent, but he never got in the pool! He just stood there in his sweatshirt and sweatpants (while we were freezing) with a whistle around his neck. He'd shout instructions on how to float, do the crawl, etc.--and he'd blow his whistle at us when we goofed up, and scold us. His instructions were accurate, but I made little progress and loathed the lessons.
The following session, I had a girl who instructed very differently. She also gave instructions and corrected us when we goofed up. But she got to know us, she got in the water with us, and she encouraged every step of progress. What a difference! I liked the lessons and I learn to swim because she was a gentle and humble instructor.

Because Jesus is gentle and humble, you can relax and flourish under His apprenticeship.

Because His “yoke” (the work to which He calls us) is pleasant and light (11:30).

It is pleasant because this work is fitted to who we are and how we were designed to live. We were designed to respond to God’s love by giving His love away to others. Because of this, self-centered living will deplete and exhaust us – but self-giving living under Jesus’ direction will give us true satisfaction (Jn.15:12,11).

It is light because Jesus is in the yoke with us as the One who bears most of the load. Yes, we labor as we give His love to people, and we often feel the exertion of doing this. But Jesus keeps supplying the power for this labor (Col.1:29). So serving with Jesus is invigorating rather than overwhelming. This is why George Muller said after living this way for six decades: “I am sometimes weary in this work, but never weary of it.”

If you have come to Jesus, have you decided to take up His yoke as His disciple? For some of you, this is a decision you need to make for the first time. For others, who have laid aside His yoke for various reasons, this is a decision you need to make again.

Practical ways to stay in the yoke with Jesus

If you have come to Jesus and have taken up His yoke, what will help you to stay in the yoke with Him over the long haul? Here are three biblical keys:

Make time to be nourished by Jesus Word. In Lk.10, Jesus visited the house of Martha and Mary. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and drank in His teaching. Martha focused instead on making meal preparations, and became distressed and angry at Mary and Jesus. Jesus’ response to Martha is profound (read Lk.10:41,42). Jesus is not advocating a non-serving life; He is reminding Martha (and us) that taking the time to be nourished by His Word is essential and strength-giving. If you don’t sit like Mary, you will wind up like Martha!

Ask Jesus’ Spirit to enable you to serve others. In Lk.11, Jesus tells a story of a man visited at midnight by a hungry man. The host was willing to feed his guest, but he had nothing to give him. So he goes next door and asks his neighbor to lend him enough bread to feed his guest. Do you get the point? We are like the man who was visited. People come into our lives with real spiritual needs, and we are to be willing to serve them. But we have nothing in ourselves to give them – no truth, no wisdom, no love, no power, etc. But because we are God’s children, we can boldly ask Him for whatever we need to serve others – and He promises to give it through His Spirit (read and explain Lk.11:13). If you are exhausted and/or repelled by serving others, maybe it’s because you don’t believe you have nothing and ask for the Spirit’s help situation by situation!

Serve with other yoke-fellows. In Phil.4:3 (read), Paul refers to another Christian worker as “true yoke-fellow.” This reminds us that we are not to serve others in isolation, but rather we are to serve as team-mates. Those who insist on doing Christian work on their own eventually get burned out. But when we are “in the yoke with one another” – advising one another, helping one another, encouraging one another, praying with one another, etc., we will be strengthened to go the distance! This is one reason why home groups are so important – we can serve others as a team.

Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 143). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Some commentators hold that Jesus was issuing an invitation only to those who did not believe in Him. Other commentators hold that He was issuing an invitation only to those who already believed in Him. But note that Jesus in the preceding context is speaking about both those who do not believe in Him (Matt.11:20-24) and those who already believe in Him (Matt.11:25-27). It is reasonable therefore that He would address both groups in Matt.11:28-30.

John Wesley to a man who wanted to be a Christian worker: “Do you wish to serve God? Remember you cannot serve him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them.”