“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 ESV)
In this wonderful passage Jesus calls out to us: Come to me.
Who is he inviting? “All who labor and are heavy laden.”
Are you in that category? Do you feel burdened? Weighed down by the difficulties of life? Perhaps you’re striving for that job, the perfect grade, the ideal relationship, success at work, or maybe even acceptance from God. Jesus’ voice breaks through the sound of our heavy breathing.
“I will give you rest,” he says. What an offer!
Jesus’ offer of rest implies that rest is something you and I don’t have. You are laboring; you are heavy laden; in other words, you lack rest.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says that he can give us the rest we restlessly pursue. But how?
“Come to Me… and I Will Give You Rest”
Notice that Jesus’ promise of rest here hinges on our coming. We cannot have rest if we do not come. When we come, he will give rest.
How do we come to Jesus, then?
Coming to Jesus first means leaving our labor. Jesus wants you to put down the work and come to him instead. And if you’re like me, you’re often too proud to stop peddling along the way of productivity.
This is because we’re fixated on earning. We think the sum of life is what we can accomplish. We think peace will come when we finish the project, finally clean up, seize perfection—when really, Jesus is waiting to give us the undeserved gift of the soul-deep peace that we so long for.
“Take My Yoke Upon You”
“Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says.
Heavy-laden people aren’t interested in yokes. They have enough weight already, don’t they? But Jesus tells us that his yoke is light and easy; somehow under his yoke, we find rest for our souls. Jesus’ yoke still involves labor, but it’s not the strength-sapping labor. It’s life-giving labor.
“And learn from me,” he says. You’re not going to do this work alone—Jesus will teach you as you labor with him. You might wonder what Jesus’ yoke is, and how to take it up—let’s find out.
Jesus tells us here in Matthew 11 how to take up his yoke—you learn from him. Jesus also wants to show us how to take up his yoke.
One way we know the Bible is God’s Word is that all throughout, we find God explaining himself, using one passage over here to help us understand another passage over there. The Bible helps us interpret itself.
God’s Word records a story from Jesus’s own life on earth, so we might understand what learning from Jesus and taking up his yoke looks like.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)
Martha was heavy-laden or, “distracted with much serving,” as well as “anxious and troubled about many things.” And yet in all Martha’s labor she was neglecting the one “necessary” task—the one Mary had rightly chosen.
Jesus calls Martha away from labor and into learning.
“Learn From Me”
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and “listened to his teaching.” Mary was learning from Jesus. Mary’s yoke didn’t include striving, serving, or even speaking. Only listening. Jesus wanted Martha to lay down her load and take up his easy yoke—to stop and listen to him.
In other words, Jesus isn’t primarily interested in enlisting you in his service; his priority is your company. He’s asking you to cease your service for the moment and embrace stillness. He wants you to listen first, labor later.
To take up Jesus’ yoke and learn from him means to listen to his Word.
The first thing he has come to tell you in his Word is “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:3). He has taken the yoke of sin upon himself that should have broken you. He has carried your cross up Calvary’s hill and died on it in your stead. Jesus took on the yoke of perfectly obeying God’s law, so that you might trade the impossible yoke of perfection for the light burden of believing in him (Galatians 3:21-22).
Jesus wants to set you free of your burdens—first of your burden to sin and trying to earn the right to be right with God, then of all the burdens that steal your peace. And “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV). Lay down the labor, the earning, your sin, and the burden of perfection at Jesus’ feet. Ask him for new life, for peace, and for him to teach you through his Word.
“You Will Find Rest for Your Souls”
Would you believe today that in all of your busyness the Lord of heaven and earth is calling to you, asking that you cease your labor and come sit at his feet? He wants to give you rest, if you’re willing to come and receive it.
We always need rest. The rest Jesus offers is not a one-dimensional gift given at salvation. It is an eternal offer as Jesus kindly beckons us away from our self-sufficiency. It’s a constant offer of fellowship— “learn from me.” It’s a reordering of priorities: listen first, then labor in the strength that comes from sitting at his feet.
Come to Jesus for the first time. Stop laboring to excuse your sin, find peace, and make it on your own. Let Jesus carry your burdens; believe his word that “It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV), that he paid the penalty for your sin and earned God’s favor for you.
Then never stop coming to Jesus.