“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.” Matthew 11:28-30
These words follow a prayer in which Jesus praises His Father for revealing the secret things of God not to the wise, or accomplished, but as to children, meek and unspoiled. This wasn’t meant to exclude anyone. Assuring the hope of the Gospel for everyone, Jesus begins His invitation with the most inclusive words: “Come to me, all…”
The great proclamation of rest and release is one that most believers have memorized and clung to with deep hope. It is the exhale, the sigh of relief, the respite from strife. So easily applied to our own daily struggles, the words give us permission to take a timeout. No matter the nature of it, work is hard. It weighs us down, whether physically or mentally. We all need a minute or two to rest our weary bones, to cease from the struggle. We can’t hold up under the pressure of what we’ve brought on ourselves, and we need God to give us a break.
Wait. Is that what Jesus said? Maybe, right now, that’s what you need to hear, and that’s okay. But it’s much, much more. It’s so grand and glorious that we have to step back and view it from a broader plain. Its promise is rich and eternal, and we can’t process it as simply a way to get through our current insufferable predicament. Its message carries us beyond the physical and mental, to the spiritual. We must, to find absolute rest, believe the instruction completely and apply it comprehensively.
The first people to hear the bidding to come and rest were steeped in the tradition of God’s covenant with Israel. Imagine their burden. All they knew was the to follow the law. All of it. Every degree that to us seems to demand the impossible. It was, for the children of Israel, a heavy burden, too great to bear. But then this Teacher, or Prophet, or Son of the Living God— if He was to be believed—came with something new. Something unheard of. In essence, Jesus told His listeners to stop struggling. No need to keep trying to work it out. He was about to take care of it once and for all.
Did those who heard this news understand the fullness of the repose that was about to be given to them? It was a gift, not to be earned, requiring nothing except to come and rest.
Now, perhaps we have forgotten what those souls of Israel once knew. We can’t truly grasp what it was like to live under the burden of the law. But we do know that the law points us to Christ. We know the cross and the empty tomb. We know redemption. We have a Savior. And we can rest in Him.
Can we ask God for rest from what this world bombards us with day to day? Of course. But it’s not everything. In comparison, it’s really not anything, for this world will soon pass away. It is the burden of sin that’s too heavy, the yoke of the law that’s impossible for us to bear on our own. But the way of Jesus is light. His yoke on us is that we simply believe. His heart toward us is gentle. He rescued us by becoming a humble servant. That’s where we find rest for our souls, our eternally free, unchained souls. If we don’t have to work for it, what reason could there be not to rest in it? The yoke and the burden are no longer ours. They are His. Praise God and breathe that long awaited sigh of relief.