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Matthew 11:28-30 by Robert Dean
Do you have some favorite Bible verses? Many would choose Matthew 11:28-30 for Jesus’ promises of rest and comfort. Listen to this lesson to see there is much more to this, including a two-fold invitation. See what “taking my yoke” means and its connection to submission to God. Understand the meanings of belief and faith. Accept the warning for those who reject Christ and refuse to walk in obedience.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:43 mins 21 secs

I Will Give You Rest
Matthew 11:28–30
Matthew Lesson #073
April 12, 2015

As we come to the conclusion of Matthew 11, this is one of those great passages that many have memorized – a great example of the focus of Christianity and the distinction of Christianity from all of the other religions. All world religions focus upon some sort of works righteousness, that somehow man can do something to gain God’s merit, earn God’s approval, that somehow we do something. There are a few world religions that just emphasize that everybody goes to some idea of heaven or something like that because they have no sense of sin or evil or anything of that nature. Most world religions, whether you are talking about Islam, modern Judaism, or even many errant forms of Christianity, they emphasize works. They say that there is something that we have to do in order to earn God’s favor. And the Bible says that puts a burden on people, a standard that no one can achieve.

In these verses, Jesus addresses that because as He looks upon the masses of the Jews that have come to listen to Him, He recognizes that they are being oppressed by the Pharisees. It is almost a form of religious abuse. I hate to use that term because so many non-Christians think Christianity is religious abuse. They don’t understand what Biblical Christianity is all about in terms of grace. What Jesus emphasizes is that in contrast to the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Israel at that day, He is promising rest. Matthew 11:28 NASB, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

But there is a dimension to this verse that goes beyond simple salvation, and even goes beyond the Christian life, as we will see as we come to the end of our study today. There are nuances here, because if you look at the Bible (not all Bibles will emphasize this, but some will), some Bibles will put this statement at the end of verse 29, “you will find rest to your souls,” and there will be a cross reference to an Old Testament passage that has significance. Jesus just isn’t saying, ‘I am here to give you rest’; there’s more to it than that.

This chapter is really the foreword that leads into chapter twelve. Chapter twelve is the pivot point of Matthew when the Jewish leaders of Israel officially come out and reject Jesus. But the lead-in to that is Matthew 11. As we see this emphasis from Matthew, writing about Israel’s unbelief, we get a depiction of that unbelief: not just the unbelief and rejection of the leadership, but also the unbelief and rejection of the people. Not all the people, but most of the people. This theme of Israel’s unbelief and rejection is the major theme of this chapter.

To review very briefly, in Matthew 11:1–11 John the Baptist sends a couple of his disciples to Jesus saying, “What’s going on here? We thought you were the King.” John the Baptist is really confused. It is not that he lacked faith, but that he expected something different. He came announcing the kingdom. Jesus then preached the kingdom. John the Baptist was expecting the kingdom. Now he is in jail, and there is increasing rejection and hostility to Jesus, so he wants to know what is going on. He doesn’t need his faith strengthened; he needs further enlightenment. In these first few verses, we see the response of John the Baptist to what is going on, and then we will see the response to John the Baptist that Jesus brings out.

Jesus’ answer is to look at the miracles. He is performing the miracles that Isaiah said were the sign of the coming King. “That ought to be enough for you.” Also in verse 6, Jesus indicates that He is not only the King who performs these miracles, but He has also become an offence and a stumbling block to Israel. And that is what is taking place here.

In Matthew 11:8–19, Jesus addresses the crowds and says, “What did you go out to see when you went out into the desert to see John the Baptist? Were you just going out to have a party and a picnic or were you going out because there was a message that you wanted to hear?” As Jesus addresses this, He reinforces the fact that He is the King, and that He came to give the kingdom; and that is what John the Baptist was predicting. But the religious leaders tried to hi-jack the King and the kingdom. This is what He refers to in Matthew 11:12 when He says, “… the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” There are those who want to use God for their purposes and their plans; they want to use Jesus for their plans and purposes, and so they are seizing the kingdom by force.

This is illustrated in the next little saying that He gave where He used an illustration from children playing make-believe games. He compares the religious leaders and some of the people to children who play make-believe and trying to get other children to do what they want them to do. But the other children (John the Baptist and Jesus) don’t want to conform to their preconceived plan and purpose. This further has irritated the religious leaders because Jesus and John don’t conform to their ideas, and this applied to some of the people as well.  

As a result of that, we came to Matthew 11:20–24; and Jesus announces that there will be a judgment upon the people in Galilee. They had seen this great light. They had had such great revelation. They had seen so many miracles and heard the message of Jesus, but they rejected it all. So because they had been given such great information and revelation, they will be held to a higher standard; and there will be a greater judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah and Tyre and Sidon. So this is a passage that reinforces for us as we read, of the increasing rejection and hostility of the people and the leadership to Jesus. And now as we come to the end, we see a prayer from Jesus in Matthew 11:25–26, where Jesus says to the Father: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from {the} wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight’.” 

The wise aren’t the ones who are wise according to the Scripture, but those who think they are wise but have become fools because of their rejection of the Lord. The wise were given a certain amount of revelation. They were given revelation through creation (general revelation). They were given initial revelation through John the Baptist and Jesus; they rejected that. As a result of their rejection of the little bit of revelation they were given, Jesus is saying that the Father is not giving them any more revelation. We will really see this in chapter twelve and into chapter thirteen where Jesus starts veiling His message purposely by teaching in parables rather than by teaching plainly. The parables came because Jesus is hiding what He was saying from the religious leaders. Jesus said God revealed to the babes, i.e., those who were like children, those who were humble and humbled themselves under God and responded to that revelation.

In verse 27 Jesus makes one of the most profound statements in the New Testament about His deity. NASB “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal [Him.]” He is claiming this tremendous authority that has been given Him by the Father that is equal to that of God the Father. He is claiming equivalent knowledge: eternal, infinite, omniscient—identical to the Father.

Some people will stop there and say that is showing that Jesus is deciding whom He will reveal Himself to and whom He won’t. Immediately in the next verse, what does Jesus say to this crowd? Matthew 11:28 NASB “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He is not being restrictive; He wills that all will come to Him. He claims this equivalence to the Father, and that it is only through Him that people can know the Father. Because He knows the Father exhaustively, people can come to Him, and He will reveal the Father to them. This is the same kind of thing that John writes in the Gospel of John in 1:18 NASB “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him.]”

How do we know the Father who is invisible and we haven’t seen? By looking at the Son. So then Jesus says, “I am the only One who reveals the Father, and I will reveal the Father to whom I will.” Then He addresses the entire multitude—and this is not a restricted invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is a profound statement, because He is saying that He and He alone can provide the real rest that is spoken of in the Old Testament, that is, a picture of eternal rest in God. This is, as we will see, an offer of salvation. Matthew 11:29 NASB “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. [30] For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

What we see here is a twofold invitation. Matthew 11:28 is an invitation to those who need salvation and need to turn to the Savior for rest. They are under a burdensome system in Judaism. In Judaism they are trying to earn righteousness, tsedaqah. They are good deeds and their works of charity and being involved in the community. That is what is described by this word tesdaqah. Isaiah 64:6 says that all of our works of righteousness [tsedaqah] are as filthy rags. It is very clear from the writings of the prophets that even the best that we can do, even our charitable works, have no value as far as God is concerned. Isaiah 53:6 NASB “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way …” In modern Judaism, there is a rejection of what we would call the doctrine of the total depravity of man and the doctrine of Adam’s original sin: that in Adam’s fall, we sinned all – that when Adam sinned, that plunged the entire human race into corruption and under the penalty of spiritual death. They don’t have a doctrine of total depravity, although they do believe that man is sinful. But Scripture says that we are all fallen, that man therefore is basically corrupt and not basically good, and nothing can come from a corrupt root. There has to be a transformation, and that transformation comes only by someone paying the sin penalty and then trusting in the gift of God.

Matthew 11:29 is a little different. It goes beyond the offer of salvation and talks about submission to authority. “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.” Taking a yoke is related to learning. This passage isn’t talking about the gospel, because the gospel is predicated upon one simple truth: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”.  It is faith alone. You don’t have to learn anything but the gospel, that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and you believe that. That is coming to Jesus, as we will see. But verse 29 goes beyond that: what do you do after you are saved? You take that yoke upon you and learn from Me, Jesus said, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” He is specifically contrasting Himself to the arrogance and religiosity of the Pharisees who think that by their own efforts they can impress God and generate enough Brownie points to actually get into Heaven.

A few years ago one night we had a young rabbi here who was on staff at one of the large synagogues here in town. It was in August and the beginning of the high holy days, and I asked him to come and talk to the congregation about what the high holy days were all about. As he talked about the high holy days, he mentioned the different things that can accumulate righteousness, and he said, “And this makes Brownie points with God”. And they aren’t the only ones. Look at Jehovah’s Witnesses, at Christian Science, and any number of even Protestant denominations; and they think that not only must you believe in Jesus, you must do something – you must show evidence through good works that you are really saved. So it is a faith plus something. This is the burden that was upon the Israelites. So Jesus contrasts Himself and says He is gentle and lowly of heart, which reminds us of Philippians 2:8, which talks about the fact that Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the Cross.

This is what we are talking about in this passage. To “take My yoke upon you” has to do with obedience to the Word. It has to do with responding to the authority of the Lord in our life and growing and maturing. It is not just salvation here. Salvation is the focus of verse 28, but spiritual growth and discipleship is the focus of Matthew 11:29–30. Jesus said in v. 28, “Come to Me”. It is an interesting phraseology. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the solution to being burdened with the demands of religion. Christianity isn’t a religion. Religions say, “I do something to gain God’s favor.” Christianity is a relationship based upon faith alone in Christ alone. That is what this is talking about – “just come to Me.”

There are different times when Jesus uses this phrase, and you have to look at context to understand what He is talking about when He says come to Me. Because He uses this same phrase when He talks to His disciples who are already believers and wants them to follow Him. But in this context, He is talking to a crowd that is made up on some who are already believers, some who are not believers, and He is using it in the same way that He talks about it in John 6:35 NASB “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’.” This is a fascinating parallel because when we look at the synonymous parallelism between these two lines, we see that coming to Me is parallel to believing in Me. The Bible uses these other idioms to help us to understand what belief is. Believing is trusting in God, receiving Him; accepting that something is true. John 1:12 NASB “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name”. Receiving Him is the same as believing in Him. Here we see coming to Jesus is parallel to believing in Him, and this is further expanded in verse 37 NASB “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” So anyone can come to Jesus, and coming to Him is equivalent to believing in Him.

When Jesus says, “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden,” He is addressing the unbeliever. He is saying that you can’t get to Heaven, and you can’t get God’s approval by simply doing the Law. The Law is oppressive; the Law is a burden. If you are inherently corrupt, you can’t do anything to fix that. All you can do is turn to someone who can fix that, help that, and that is Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins. “I will give you rest.”

So you don’t have to worry about maintaining or gaining salvation. A lot of people out there are trying to gain salvation, but they are also trying to maintain salvation by their works. That is usually classified as Arminian theology – if I trust in Jesus, then I am saved; but if I sin or commit certain sins, and if I continue to live in sin, then I’ll lose my salvation. The flip side of that is from a perversion in Calvinism, the P in TULIP, perseverance of the saints, is that those who truly believe (nowhere in the Bible does it have an adverb on believe) will persevere in good works. So you can look at a person’s life, and over a period of time they don’t have the kind of good works you think they should have. And you say, I am not so sure that person is a Christian. But how can we judge? It is not based on works; it is based on trust in Christ.   

I can look at somebody, and they don’t have too much going on for them spiritually, and I can say they certainly don’t live like a Christian; they are certainly not going anywhere in their Christian life. And there are a lot of Americans like that. We live in such a licentious society today that has been governed by licentiousness and by antinomianism, that a lot of Christians just don’t understand the dynamics of the spiritual life – that we are to pursue spiritual maturity, and that is through obedience under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. But the gospel doesn’t say believe and then obey to maintain your salvation. You rest. You relax. Jesus did it all. He paid the penalty for sin so that sin is no longer the issue. That doesn’t mean you can go out and sin. It means you don’t have to be concerned about it causing a loss of salvation. Salvation is based upon faith and faith alone.

What is faith? Faith is simply trusting that something is true. That means that it is an intellectual activity; it is not an emotional activity. You will often hear people say, “Well you know, that person claims to be a Christian, but I think it is a head faith and not a heart faith”. I haven’t a clue what that means. The Bible doesn’t use that kind of terminology. Often the way we use that idiomatically is, the heart is emotion, and the head is intellect; and somehow you have to have a heart faith, which is an emotional faith. But emotion doesn’t believe. Believe is a cognitive process, an intellectual process. That means that what faith does is it first comes to understand something; and once it understands it, it says yes, I agree that is true. Faith is intellectual, it is not emotional. It is not just having an experience. Faith is also always directed towards an object. The object of our faith is Jesus. We believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and faith means that you can state the object of your faith in a proposition. Faith always wraps its arms around something that can be proved to be true or false. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Is that true or false? If you believe it, you are saying that is a true statement, you agree that that is true. That is what faith is. That is assenting to the truth; that is what the language means.

Jesus then goes on to the next step. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart …” That just means He is humble. He is obedient to the Lord; He is contrasting Himself to the Pharisees. Matthew 11:30 NASB “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” A yoke is a wooden frame that was placed on the backs of oxen to connect two together so they could pull in tandem. A yoke consisted of a bar with two loops. Sometimes it was rope; sometimes it was wood, and it went around the animals’ necks.

Dwight Pentecost has a tremendous little book called Design for Discipleship.  In one chapter he talks about these verses, Matthew 11:28, 29.

Back in my college days I observed an incident that made this Scripture very clear to me. On Sunday afternoons I used to go out to a little rural Sunday School to teach. One afternoon the superintendent of the Sunday School, a farmer, and I were visiting in the community. There was an old farmer plowing with a team of oxen, and as I saw this team I was somewhat amazed that one of the animals was this huge ox, and the other one was just this small young bullock. That ox towered over the little bullock that was sharing the work with him. I was amazed and perplexed to see the farmer trying to plow with two such unequal animals in the yoke. I commented on the inequality to the man with whom I was riding. He stopped the car and said, “I want you to notice something. Do you see the way those traces are hooked to the yoke? You will observe that the large ox is pulling all the weight. That little bullock is being broken into the yoke, but he is not actually pulling any weight.”

Dr. Pentecost said:

My mind instinctively came to this passage of Scripture where our Lord said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest in your souls.”  In a normal yoke, the load is equally distributed between the two, but when we are linked with Jesus Christ, He bears the load; and we who are yoked with Him share in the joy and the accomplishment of the labor, without the burden of the yoke. The tragedy is that some of us have never been broken in to the yoke.

When we look at this, there is more to the statement of the yoke than simply its literal use. It was often and typically used to describe the responsibilities a rabbi would put on his disciples. So it expresses the relationship of the rabbi or Pharisee to his disciples. The disciple would take the yoke, and this is often compared to the Mosaic Law. In Acts 15, we have the episode of the Jerusalem Council and the decision there to the question: what is the relationship of these new Gentile converts to the Law? Peter stands up in the end and reviews what God did through him in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. There were those there who were Judaizers and wanted to mandate the Law for all Gentiles. And Peter says, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” The Law had been so transformed by the Pharisees with all these additional traditions and commandments that were added to it, that it was impossible, it was burdensome, to follow the Law and all of those regulations.

Then Peter said in Acts 15:11 NASB “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”  That is, we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now this idea of taking the yoke of Jesus reminds us that there is a command for all of us in relation to being a disciple. We are not just supposed to stop with minimalist requirements of getting saved. We are not just going to be born and just sit around in dirty spiritual diapers for the rest of our lives. We have to grow up and mature, and that is what discipleship is talking about. It is submission to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and following His mandates and instruction on living the Christian life—which is not burdensome. It is still based on grace just as salvation was based on grace, but it is recognizing His authority. It is the same thing Jesus referred to back in Matthew 10:38 when He said: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”    

One last thing I want to point out about the reference here where Jesus says, “You will find rest for your souls”. He is making a profound claim here, and a warning. What is going to happen in chapter twelve? He is rejected by the nation—by the leaders and by the people. What is that going to bring? It is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which isn’t personal – it is generational, and it had to do with that generation’s rejection of the Messiah. And that punishment for that rejection would end up being the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus is foreshadowing this here by His reference to this verse. He is quoting from Jeremiah 6:16, which is a warning to Israel that Judgment Day is coming – that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. And God is going to destroy Jerusalem because they rejected Him. Jeremiah 6:16 NASB “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk [in it.]’ ”

Jeremiah is “old school”.  I hate that term. People use that all the time. The way it is used today, “old school” is automatically bad. The Bible says the old ways are the good ways, and the old ways are the biblical ways. The new ways are not biblical. Old school is what we want to be. We don’t want to be new school because new school is built on postmodernism. “Ask for the ancient paths”—that is the way of the Mosaic Law, which they were under in the age of Israel and where the good way is; and then, “you will find rest for your souls.” Rest comes by walking in obedience to the Lord. But what did they say? “We will not walk [in it].” Jesus quotes from Jeremiah 6:16 in Matthew 11:29. There is a sub-text there: “This rest was offered in the Old Testament.” It was rejected, and what happened? The destruction of Jerusalem and the first temple. You are about to reject Me again. If you don’t come to Me you won’t have rest, and if there is no rest, there’s going to be another destruction of this second temple because you have rejected the King and the kingdom. 

What are we supposed to do? We are supposed to simply respond in faith. “Come unto Me,” Jesus said. When we come to Him, we have life eternal, and then when we take His yoke upon us, accept that easy yoke and submit to His leadership and authority in our lives, we can experience that rest on a daily basis.