Short Sayings of Jesus

Finding Rest for your Soul

Matthew 11:28-30

Teaching t14028


We are in the middle of a series entitled “Short Sayings of Jesus.”  Jesus was a master teacher who employed many teaching forms.  He also uttered short sayings that are easy to memorize and have wide application.  He used two types of short sayings:

Aphorisms, which are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth.  Proverbs are mainly aphorisms (read and explain Prov. 29:1).

Mini-teachings, which briefly develop an important truth.  Today we will look at another one of Jesus’ mini-teachings.  It is found in Matt. 11:28-30 (read).  Only three verses, but so attractive and profound!  I have been drawn to (and at times haunted by) 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 physical inactivity (e.g., a nap), or as “vacation” from labor.  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 connected to labor; SLIDE).

Strong’s Lexicon definition of anapauo includes: “to refresh, to be of calm and patient expectation.”[1]

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 in a religious philosophy (e.g., Buddhism).  You cannot find rest for your soul in a moral code (e.g., Confucianism; Islam).  You cannot find rest for your soul in 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 probably not synonymous.  Rather, “Come to Me” is His initial invitation to us, while “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me” is His ongoing invitation to us after we respond to His initial invitation.[2]

 “Come to Me . . . and I will give you rest.”  He is saying: “Entrust yourself to Me, and I will deliver you from the wearying burden of your alienation from God.”  It is the same invitation Jesus issued in Jn. 6:35 (read and point out parallel phrases), though He used a different metaphor.  Not having the life (zoe) of God within your soul is like not having food or water in your body.  But when you come to Jesus and entrust yourself to Him, He gives you spiritual life by reuniting you with God.

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.  Maybe that’s why you’re here tonight – to hear His invitation to be reconciled to God, and to receive it.  If you do this, He will enable you to experience this rest in the way that He knows will best assure you (e.g., relief from guilt; hope for the future; sense of coming home; etc.).  And then, as you begin to walk with Him, He gives you a second invitation to receive ongoing and deepening rest . . .

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me . . . and you shall find rest for your souls.”  Rabbis urged their disciples to “take up the yoke of the Law.”  In other words, they were to learn God’s Law from their rabbi, and then work to obey it.  But such work leads to soul-weariness rather than to soul-rest (quote Acts 15:10).  Instead, Jesus urges His followers to “learn from Me.”  Jesus replaces the Law with His own instruction, and He promises that learning from Him will lead to the soul-rest that the Law could not provide.  But now we come to an interpretive fork: what does Jesus want us to learn from Him that will enable us to find rest for our souls?

One interpretation is: “Learn everything that Jesus teaches, realizing that He is a gentle and humble Teacher.”  Because Jesus is not harsh and demanding like the Law, but rather gentle and humble and helpful, learning from Him will lead us to God’s design for our lives, and to depending on Him to enable us to live this way (in “My yoke”) – and to the soul-rest that results from living this way.  This is certainly and wonderfully true, and it is taught elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Jn. 15; Rom. 8:4,6).

Another interpretation is that “for I am gentle and humble of heart” defines what we need to learn from Jesus.  In other words, Jesus is saying that the key to soul-rest is having a meek and humble heart.  He is uniquely meek and humble, and this is why He possessed a remarkable poise and peace.  He is therefore uniquely suited to teach us meekness and humility – and thus to lead us into soul-rest.  This is how Andrew Murray understood this passage: “Meekness and lowliness (humility) is the one thing He offers us; in it we shall find perfect rest of soul.”[3]

I suppose that Jesus could mean both in this passage, though I suspect that He means one or the other.  Let’s go down the second path, and explore this connection between humility and soul-rest . . .

Humility & Soul-Rest

Many biblical passages forge a connection between humility and rest/peace, and (conversely) between pride and anxiety/fear.

Isa. 57:15,19-21 forges this connection (read).  The Lord dwells with the humble to revive them and give them peace.  But the soul of the wicked/proud cannot be quiet and has no peace.

Zeph. 3:11-13 also forges this basic connection (read).  If we want to be able to take refuge in the name of the Lord, it is our pride that needs to be removed, and a humble heart is what we need to cultivate.

Read 1 Pet. 5:5b-7.  Casting all our anxieties on to God cannot be separated from the more foundational posture of clothing ourselves with humility toward one another and humbling ourselves before God.  If I am unsuccessful in casting my anxieties on to God, it is probably because I am not humbling myself.

Read Ps. 131:1,2.  131:2 describes soul-rest (SLIDE), and 131:1 explains how David has composed and quieted his soul.  A proud heart – i.e., a mind-set that revolves around self, especially self-aggrandizement, self-validation, etc.  From a proud heart comes haughty eyes – comparing self to and competing with other people (lured in by positive comparisons, then made anxious by negative comparisons).  From a proud heart also come feet that are selfishly ambitious – pursuing self-validating, self-aggrandizing projects/positions (Jer. 45:5).  Prideful activity springing from a proud heart inevitably creates soul-disturbances like anxiety.  Conversely, “A mature believer leaves the clamor of proud ambition and rests in the Lord.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

How much of your anxiety, fretting, frustration, etc. is due to a proud heart, haughty eyes, and ambitious feet?  While there are other reasons for anxiety, I have found that it is the main reason for mine (“With the credit comes the stress . . .”).

Jesus is ready and willing to teach us humility so we can have soul-rest.  Jesus has to teach us this, because we cannot manufacture it (“Self cannot cast out self;” it will only morph).  But we can be receptive students, and there are biblical insights into what this receptivity looks like.  Here are some that are helpful for me.  I can only explain them briefly, so note which one(s) arrests you, and pursue it/them before God.

Ask Jesus to teach you humility.  A. W. Tozer ends his piercing chapter on “Meekness & Soul-rest” with this prayer: “Lord, make me childlike. Deliver me from the urge to compete with another for place or prestige or position . . . Deliver me from pose and pretense . . . Help me to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding You . . . Lay upon me Your easy yoke of self-forgetfulness that through it I may find rest.”[4]

Meditate on biblical passages on pride and humility and read quality Christian books on humility (LIST).  Let them expose your pride, deepen your desire for humility, shed light on your part in cultivation, and encourage you about God’s commitment to work humility into you.

Ask God to reveal your personal pride style and sensitize you to it (Ps. 139:23,24).  Pride comes with its own cloaking device; it’s always easier to recognize in others than in yourself.  Christian pride is even more subtle and easier to deny because we do so many genuinely good things.  Ask God: “How do I boast, indulge in self-pity, etc.?”  “With whom do I compare and compete?”  “What are my self-coronation projects?”  Get used to admitting your answers to others, because pride is like fungus – it grows in the darkness, but shrinks in the light.

Couple deeper insight into your pride (above) with increasing thanksgiving and praise to God, and to creatively appreciating and esteeming others.  This helps you to grow healthily “small,” while God grows “big” and others become “teammates.”

Learn to view all sufferings as opportunities to deepen humility (read 2 Cor. 12:7) – especially mistreatment by others: “Humility is a very beautiful thing to see; but . . . (becoming) humble is painful indeed . . . It hurts to be criticized, to be misunderstood, to be misjudged, to be snubbed, to be written off; but such things are the high road to humility.  None of us enjoys walking that way.  Oddly enough . . . for some of us it is when we realize how little we are regarded by others that we (finally) begin to recognize how highly we are esteemed by God.  We have ceased to wonder what others think about us; we have discovered our worth in the eyes of God.”[5]

Expect this to be an ongoing (vs. “I’ve already been through this”) and “layered” matter (deeper awareness of pride) versus a spiritual sound-barrier that you pierce.  “The humble person is not completely free of pride; he is one who quickly sees his pride and repents.  Humility is like perfection: It is a goal to be pursued, even as we freely confess that we have not arrived.  The power in humility does not lie in the attaining of it, but rather in the pursuit of it.”[6]

“How big of a priority should humility be for me?”  How much soul-rest do you want?


NEXT WEEK: Luke 11:5-13 – A mini-teaching on prayer


[1] Strong, J. (2001). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.  [1]  Michael Green describes this rest as: “not cessation from (activity or work), but peace and fulfillment and a sense of being put right.” Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 143). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] 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.

[3] Andrew Murray, Humility and Absolute Surrender (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), p. 18.

[4] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, “Meekness and Rest”

[5] Basil Hume, cited in Meditations through the Centuries, compiled by Hugh Hopkins.

[6] Jones & Fontenot, The Prideful Soul’s Guide to Humility (Good Book Press), p. 177.