Matthew 11:25 – 30
4 Comfortable Words “Rest”
Jesus offers rest – a cultural oddity!
About 150 years before the time of Jesus, a Jewish scholar named Joshua ben Sira, wrote a book called the Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira. I’m not entirely sure if he gave it that title, or whether that came from somebody else! But as the name suggests, it’s a book of wisdom, wise sayings, and in that respect it’s a little like the book of Proverbs in the Bible. And one of the similarities between Proverbs, and The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira, is that both books personify wisdom.
They talk about wisdom like a person, someone you can follow, and learn from.
And by the time of Jesus, Ben Sira’s book was really, really, well known. It was the ancient equivalent of Tom Sawyer, or Romeo and Juliet, everybody had studied it at school!
And, you know, sometimes first lines of books are really famous. Well, just to be different, in Ben Sira’s book, it was the last line that was very well known. The book closes, last line, last page, with an appeal, to come to “wisdom”,
To take on the yoke that wisdom offers,
To learn from wisdom,
And through labouring under wisdom, earn yourself some rest.
Now, since his book was so well known, New York Times best-seller, The Premier’s reading challenge, everybody read it! Because everyone had read it, it’s certain that when Jesus says very similar words here in Matthew’s gospel, he is deliberately quoting Ben Sira.
He’s intentionally bringing to mind, something that his listeners were familiar with, something that had even contributed to their psyche.
The thing is, Jesus doesn’t just quote the whole thing.
He takes this invitation, this approach to life, that they’re very, very familiar with, and re-frames it.
He takes the familiar expectation of society and instead offers something entirely different.
Let’s listen again to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11. Have a look at verse 28.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”
It’s not “come to me, and take on the yoke of learning wisdom, and then labour along under that, in order to find rest”
That’s what Ben Sira offered. He talked about having to earn his rest by working hard.
Jesus cuts right across that, and says “Come to me, and I will give you rest”
And the thing is, this is no less counter-cultural today, than it was 2000 years ago.
We don’t know Ben Sira,
We haven’t read his book,
But our expectation is precisely the same.
The average 21st Century Australian think they need to earn rest.
Thinks that when it comes to God, they need to earn their way.
The people I know and love, and spend my time with every day, think that access to God comes by effort
But notice in Jesus’ words, the rest that he offers, is given by Jesus himself. Jesus’ offer is not “come to me, and as my disciple, earn your rest”,
Or, “Come to me, and together we’ll find the rest you’re looking for.”
No, despite our culture’s presuppositions about anything good having to be earned, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” remember!,
You might have heard this week that Lady Gaga performed a medley of Songs from The Sound of Music at the Oscars. I haven’t heard it, just that concept stretches my mind in too many different directions!
But there’s that song in The Sound of Music, that Maria sings, when she realises that good things are coming her way. She sings;
Nothing comes from nothing,
Nothing ever could,
So somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good!
That is our society’s expectation,
That might be exactly what you think, whatever this rest is, that Jesus offers, and we’ll see in a moment exactly what he is offering, but anything good we must work towards, we must earn.
Jesus cuts right across that, and offers a gift, Rest.
Let’s have a look at it!
Jesus offers rest from the burden of religious effort
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.
When Jesus’ Jewish listeners heard this language of yoke, they would have thought immediately of the Old Testament Law. That was the language they used to describe it.
If I talk about “the long arm of, ”, you know I’m going to say “the law”, for a first century Jew, their language was “the yoke of the law”.
And if you were willing to submit to the obligations of the law, you would describe yourself putting on the yoke.
But over the years since God gave the law, the religious leaders had added hundreds and hundreds of additional requirements. So if you wanted to relate to God, you first had to obey all these other laws and regulations that the religious hierarchy had come up with.
And the list of dos and don’ts,
The expectation of religious effort was so impossible to live up to, that no one could do it!
Not long after Jesus speaks these words, a Christian man named Pater is speaking to a group of church leaders, in the book Acts in the New Testament, and he says that religious obedience,
Doing the right things, can never be the basis of relating to God, and in fact, the effort that’s required, to try and please God, through doing good things, he says, is a yoke, that neither we, nor our ancestors have been able to bear? (15:10)
Doing good things, to try and please God.
Getting to God by religious effort, it’s an unbearable yoke!”
And let me say, that is as true today as it was in the first century AD.
Being good enough for God,
Doing religious things, in order for God to be pleased with me,
Take these steps,
Obey this set of rules, in order to get into relationship with God, you can never do it!
No one has ever done it.
The only things you get are exhaustion,
And the nagging question, “have I done enough?”
But that is the pattern, the burden, of human religion. Of every false religion.
When I was on a student mission in Sydney years ago, I met a young woman who was a Mormon.
It became clear pretty quickly, that she was overwhelmed by an unbearable burden, of trying to do enough good things, in order to make God pleased with her.
But as if that were not enough, she was throwing herself into doing good things, so that her dead grandparents might also be welcomed into heaven!
Talk about an unbearable burden!
That is the pattern of human religion.
And it is the easiest thing in the world, to turn good religion,
Or effective god-honouring disciplines,
Or the markers of relationship, it is the easiest thing in the world, to inadvertently turn those good things, into a burden, a legalistic lists of do’s and don’ts that must be obeyed!
I’ve been helping my daughter Heidi read her Bible in the mornings. She decided she wanted to follow my pattern of praying, reading, and writing down some reflections. And so she comes in each day, and sits down with her Bible and her notebook, and I’ve been teaching her, what to do.
But as I’m explaining to her, how to go about it;,
“Pray that God will help you understand,
Pray about your day,
Read the next bit after where you got up to yesterday,
Write down what you think is a key idea in the Bible passage”,
Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I thought, “It sounds like I’m giving instructions;
This is the method you must follow, to relate to God.
If you put in this kind of effort, you’ll be guaranteed that kind of outcome.
We are not better than the first century Jewish religious leaders.
We are not really all that different to the first century Jewish religious leaders.
But if we lead people, even if we inadvertently lead people into thinking that this particular way of doing things will get you to God,
Or make you acceptable to God,
Then we are putting on people an unbearable burden.
And friends, if you are pretty sure, that you can tick the boxes of religious obedience,
That you can be good enough, for God, then please remember those words of the Apostle Peter, trying to do things, in order to please God, is a yoke that neither we, nor our ancestors have been able to bear.
But perhaps you say, “Clayton, no I get that,
We can’t do good things to get into right relationship with God.
We come to God by his grace, we don’t deserve it.
I’m acceptable to God, because Jesus died for my sin and my rebellion.
But I meet lots of Christians, who, having come to God, accepting that relationship as a free gift,
Though having come into relationship with God by grace, and through Jesus’ achievements, they then seek to maintain their relationship by, you guessed it, human, religious, effort.
“I’m saved by grace, but I’m going to force myself to read my Bible at least every second day, in order for God to stay pleased with me.
I’ve come to God by faith in Jesus, but if I don’t tick these boxes of religious effort, my faith loses its effectiveness.
I know my good works don’t earn my salvation, and yet I’m going to make sure I keep working hard, just in case, just to remove any room for doubt.
Jesus says, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest
If you turn to Jesus, if you trust in his death, as paying the penalty that you deserved for living in God’s world, as if you were the boss of it, Jesus will lift from you, the burden of human religious effort.
Don’t take it back on again!
Come to me, Jesus says, and I will give you rest.
Rest is found in Jesus
And maybe by this stage, Jesus’ offer is sounding pretty good!
Freedom from the crushing burden of religious effort, as a means of getting into relationship with God.
So how do we get this rest?
Well, Jesus doesn’t say, “Go to church” does he?!
“Go to church, all you are weary and burdened, and there you’ll find rest.
He doesn’t say “come to my teaching, and find rest.”
He doesn’t say “come to my miracles,
Come to the amazing displays of my power,
Most interestingly, I think, Jesus doesn’t even say, “come to God”, does he? “Turn to God, to find rest.”
IH says, “Come to me,”
Rest is found, personally in Jesus.
Rest is found through relationship with Jesus.
Rest is found through trusting that Jesus has achieved what religious effort cannot;, peace with God.
And of course those earlier verses, 25 to 27, make it clear why rest is found in Jesus. Because he is the one who makes God known. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
See it is only through Jesus, that people can come to God.
If the invitation here said, “Come to God, to find rest”, to find relief from religious effort, but left Jesus out of the picture, then this offer would be no offer at all, because we can’t come to God, unless we come to God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the Son, who reveals his Father.
Jesus is saying “if you want to know God,
If you want the blessings of God,
If you want to enjoy the rest that God offers,
Then the only way open to you, is to come through me.
Now, when I hear people making claims like that, I tend to think, they’re full of themselves!
I read on a church website just this week, a church from our local area, saying one of their leaders is just about the best in the world at what they do!
Now, I’m not convinced they are! But even if they are, the fact that they’re the ones saying it about themselves, that makes me dubious!
How do we know that Jesus is not just all talk?
How do we know that Jesus really is the only way to know God.
How can we be sure that the rest Jesus offers us is the real deal?
How do we know Jesus’ claims can be trusted?
I reckon, what we need, is some sign from God, that Jesus really is able to achieve what he said he could achieve,
Some proof, that he really does speak for God,
That he really does reveal God,
What we need, is for God to co-sign Jesus’ cheques, right?
For God to say, what Jesus promises, will be delivered.
Friends, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is God’s signature on the bottom of Jesus’ cheque!
The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’ claims.
The resurrection is God’s stamp of approval, by which he says, “Jesus really does speak for me!
Jesus really does reveal me!
Jesus really does offer rest;, freedom from the crushing burden of religious obedience, and box ticking, and legalistic good works.
The resurrection if God’s way of saying, “Not only does Jesus offer rest from that intolerable burden where you never know how much is enough, but he offers you the very thing you were trying to achieve by your efforts and legalism.
“A relationship with me comes through Jesus”, that’s what God says in the resurrection.
See if Jesus was just big noting himself. If his mouth was writing cheques his body couldn’t cash, so to speak, then when he died, what would happen?!
He’d have stayed dead, wouldn’t he?
There has never been a shortage of people who claim to make God known.
And every single one of them died,
And every single one of them stayed dead, except this one.
Since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proves his claims to be true,
Proves he really does reveal God,
Proves that he really can give us rest, then it’s really, really important, that we hear and consider his invitation; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
If you’ve got questions about the resurrection, and how it proves Jesus’ ability to offer rest and relationship with God, we’ve got a booklet you might like to read. It’s called “Why Believe in the Resurrection.” Come and see me afterwards, and I’d love to give you a copy and talk about it with you.
To whom does Jesus offer rest?
But maybe there’s a question in your mind, about who this offer of rest is extended to?
And specifically, is it an offer extended to you?
What was it again? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened
Is this for every person?
Well yes, it’s for all, isn’t it?
There’s no threshold, of how bad you’ve been,
How many sins you’ve committed,
This offer is for all.
What were those earlier verses again?
Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
And verse 27, no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him
The offer is open to all, but the only people who can receive Jesus’ offer of rest, are those who are willing to accept that God offers relationship, only through Jesus, Through Jesus death in our place.
The person who thinks that Jesus offers them rest because of how good they are,
Or how clever they are,
Or how religiously devoted they are, can not, receive the rest, that Jesus offers.
The all, whom Jesus invites, are all those who come like little children, that is, they come without depending on their achievement.
They just accept what’s offered.
If I go to pick up my kids from school, sometimes I go into their classroom to see what they’ve been working on. And the kids like to show me their efforts; painting, writing, craft.
But they don’t show me what they’ve done, in the hope that I will say, “Well done! Good effort. You can come home with me!”
They don’t expect that their efforts will earn them a place in our home, they just accept that I’ve come to take them to be with me.”
That’s what it is to come to Jesus like a little child, and without that, we cannot have the rest that Jesus offers.
If we think we have to earn it,
If we think we have earned it, we’ll exclude ourselves from Jesus’ offer of rest.
Last year the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg said in an interview, how confident he was that his good deeds, his achievements would get him into a right relationship with God. When I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in.
I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.
What was his reason for confidence? His public service?
Specifically, his gun-control laws.
you have hidden these things, Jesus says, from the wise and learned,
Don’t, by assuming you can do it for yourself, be excluded from the all, who can come to Jesus.
Jesus offers a working, learning rest
So what is it to come to Jesus?
If you like the sound of the rest that Jesus offers, what are you signing up for?
And if you are a Christian, if you have come to Jesus, and accepted the freedom from human religious effort that he offers, what ought your life look like now as a follower of Jesus?
Well the rest that Jesus offers is a working, learning rest.
See there in verse 20, the invitation is to Take my yoke upon you and learn from me
So, we’ve got to put out of our heads, any notion of rest as, sitting on the couch, remote control in one hand, drink in the other, bowl of chips balancing on your stomach!
Maybe that’s just me!, But here we see that the rest Jesus offers is not “do nothing” rest.
The yoke of obedience to the law and to religious effort was an unbearable yoke, that doesn’t mean that any yoke is bad.
Jesus doesn’t offer to take off the yoke of religious effort, and throw it away, leaving nothing behind. He offers to exchange an unbearable yoke, for an easy yoke, verse 30.
my yoke is easy, he says, or even, perhaps more literally “my yoke is good.” It even has that sense of Jesus saying, “My yoke, it looks good on you!
It suits you!
It is good for you.”
A yoke, of course, was something you put around the neck of an ox, or some other animal, so it could do work,
Pull something along,
Carry a load.
There’s no escaping the sense of work implied by the picture of the yoke.
The rest that Jesus offers us, is a freedom from the burden of religious effort, and freedom to engage in the kind of work that, actually is good,
Is good for us.
Jesus doesn’t demand less from his followers, than the Old Testament law expected from those people under it.
You might be familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ great teaching of what it is to be part of God’s kingdom.
Just a quick look through there will shows us that Jesus raises the bar significantly,
Simply doing the right thing isn’t enough. It’s about what’s going on in your heart.
You can’t simply say, “well I didn’t cross that line into sin”, if you entertained that sin in your mind.
The allegiance that Jesus demands is total;
Every unspoken word.
And yet it is an entirely different kind of expectation, and the yoke that Jesus offers us, is his yoke. It’s a yoke that brings us together with Jesus.
Often that’s the picture of a yoke that we’re familiar with, isn’t it?
The bar that goes across 2 animals, that keeps them together, step by step,
Working together towards the same goal,
The work that one does,
The burden that one carries, is entirely shared, with the one alongside.
That’s Jesus’ yoke.
To follow Jesus,
To accept the relationship with God that he offers, is to be brought alongside him,
To be brought into fellowship, partnership, with the one who is gentle and humble in heart.
And he invites us to strap ourselves on to him!
A number from here, I know, have done a tandem parachute jump. The attraction is entirely lost on me! I cannot understand why you’d leap out of a perfectly functional aircraft!
But if you did have to do it, I guess the best way would be to be strapped to someone who knows exactly what they’re doing, to someone who, at least as far as a human is able, promises your safety and wellbeing.
They don’t stay in the ground and say, “when you jump out of the plane, do this, ”
Instead they say, “You’ll learn it from me, because I’ll be right there with you the whole time.”
Well, Jesus promise is even more sure.
He invites us to strap ourselves on to him,
To enjoy the rest that he offers, and to participate in the work which he is about,
The work which is good, and good for us.
The rest Jesus offers us, equips and refreshes us, for the task of discipleship he invites us into.
Jesus says “to be a learner, to be my disciple, yep, the demands are high, but compared to all human religion,
All moral efforts,
Compared to any attempts at obedience and good deeds, this Christian life”, he says, “is rest, because you will be strapped to me!”
Jesus offers eternal rest
But wait, there’s more!
Sorry if that dredges up memories of annoying TV advertisements, But there is more, than what we just see on the surface of this passage.
All this while we’ve been looking at these few verses, sometimes it sounds like Jesus is speaking just about rest here and now, the relief, the almost physical relief from the intolerable and never-ending burden of human religious effort.
But other times, it sounds like there’s another dimension to what Jesus is saying.
If this section is about how Jesus makes God known, that makes it sound like the rest he offers is not just in the here and now, but something less physical that extends into eternity;,
Rest being access to God,
Relationship with God.
And Jesus does make that point explicitly;, the rest he offers, is, the end of verse 29, rest for your souls.
So I’m sure you noticed, as we read through, that there must be an eternal, a heavenly dimension to this rest.
When it comes to reading and understanding the Bible, one of the things we’re convinced of, is that the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.
That is, the way to understand any one part of the Bible, is to see what light the rest of the Scriptures shed on that one passage.
So if we’re trying to work out what is the rest that Jesus offers, one option might be to open up the dictionary, look up the definition of the word “rest”, and say, “well that must be what Jesus offers us.”
But because we’re convinced that the best explanation of the Bible comes from the Bible itself, while there might be some value in making sure we understand what the English word means, what’s going to be of much greater help to our understanding, is not so much what the dictionary says, but to work out what does the Bible mean, on all the other occasions when it uses the word “rest.”
And if we were to do that, and we don’t have the time to do it this morning, but if we did, what we would find, is that the Bible consistently uses the picture of rest to, to talk about something that is available now, but that also has a future, eternal dimension,
There’s a physical element, and what we might call a spiritual element.
And typically the temporal, the physical, helps us grasp something of the eternal and spiritual.
So in the Old Testament, God offered his people rest.
They were to enter the Land of Promise,
They were to live there as God’s people under God’s kingly rule.
And again, rest didn’t mean doing nothing, they were to do the work that God had provided for them.
But that physical rest pointed to an even greater rest,
Living as God’s people in the Land of Promise, communicated something of what it would mean to live as God’s people for eternity;
In order to have rest you had to submit to God.
In order to have rest you had have your sin and rebellion against God forgiven.
And God provided the means for those things to happen in the life of the nation, law for obedience and submission,
Sacrifice, for sins to be dealt with.
But because of the people’s repeated failure to ever truly take hold of the rest God offered them in their land, the promise of rest pointed forward more and more clearly to heavenly rest.
And like with the earthly, temporal rest, in order to have spiritual, eternal rest you have to submit to God.
In order to have eternal rest you have to have your sin and rebellion against God forgiven. You can’t come to God if you’re still living as his enemy.
And just like in the Old Testament, God has provided the means for those things to happen, but not repeatedly, once and for all.
He makes himself known and calls for obedience in Jesus,
And he provides Jesus as a sacrifice, a willing sacrifice, let me hasten to add, so that our sin can be taken away, paid in full, so we really can enjoy God’s rest forever.
The eternal rest that Jesus offers, is only possible, because our sin and rebellion against God can be forgiven. Unless we trust that Jesus has taken the penalty for sin that we deserve, we can never have the eternal rest,
We can never have eternal life as God’s people.
So this rest, living as God’s people, forever, is only possible because of the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross.
We’ve called this teaching series “4 Comfortable Words.”
It’s a slightly strange title, isn’t it, because it actually comes from a phrase in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, from 1662.
It’s in the order for a communion service, like we’re sharing in today, and the instructions called for the minister to stand before the people, and say, “Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ says to all who truly turn to him”, and then he was to read each of these 4 short passages that we’re looking at over these weeks.
Thomas Cranmer was the man who put that Prayer Book together all those years ago,
Why did he say, “These are words you want to read in the communion service?”
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest
He put those words in that communion service, so that Sunday by Sunday, people would be reminded, this rest comes through the death of Jesus in our place.
Rest, lasting rest, relationship with God forever, is possible, only because of the forgiveness Jesus offers us through his death.
This rest, freedom from guilt,
Freedom from the power of sin, can be ours, only, because at the cross, Jesus took on himself, what we deserved.
Costly, eternal rest, is what’s on offer.
Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ says to all who truly turn to him.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest