“Busy” is a common response for everyone when you ask them how they are going.
“Tired” might be the response when you ask them how they are feeling.
Everyone is busy, all are looking for rest, and most of the busyness, stress and pressure we are under because we can’t rest is not only doing damage to our health and relationships, the most common cause of it all is rooted in our spiritual health and relationships.
“The antidote to over-busyness isn’t sloth and indifference, but rather rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our own finitude, and trust in God’s providence.” – Kevin DeYoung
This passage of scripture is a familiar one about the rest Jesus offers to all, and the pathway to that rest from our burdens leads us not just from bad priorities and hectic lifestyles when we apply it all correctly, but ultimately, it leads us to Jesus himself.
The Prayer of Jesus (v25-26)
Matthew 11 gives examples of how people respond to Jesus and his ministry, from John the Baptist to whole cities and towns.
Those who reject Jesus face terrible judgement, and the fact that Matthew has recorded this in v20-24 in the context of v25-30 those who accept him find rest, shows us that the focus of the passage is the need to believe in Jesus and what God has revealed about him in scripture.
Side by side here there are passages of warning and encouragement, judgement and compassion. It seems like an odd pairing in the narrative, but it’s intentional in it’s meaning for us. Sometimes those who claim to know the Messiah best are the furtherest from him.
Verses 25-26 deal with a beautiful prayer of Jesus that we don’t often mediate on.
We know the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, and the High Priestly Prayer of John 17, but I have never done an in depth study of the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 11:25-26.
What would Jesus thank God for? We could probably list many things, but the one thing most likely to not be on our list is that Jesus would thank the Father for hiding things from wise people and revealing them to little children.
“The contrast between wise and intelligent and babes is not between the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the educated and the uneducated, the brilliant and the simpleminded. It is a contrast between those who think they can save themselves by their own human wisdom, resources, and achievement and those who know they cannot. It is a comparison between those who rely on themselves and those who rely on God.” – John MacArthur
It’s not philosophy or theology that will save you. Proper knowledge and doctrine are good and necessary, but what Jesus thanks God for is not those with degrees and opinions and reputations, but for those who are like little children.
The Father’s gracious will is that those who see Jesus and believe on him are like little children.
Little children do not need to comprehend economics to ask their parents for a drink of water or something to eat, they just ask. They don’t need to understand the science of sociology to play with their friends they just do it. They don’t need to do a course on hermeneutics to have a book read to them or to flick through it themselves, they just do it. They don’t need a doctorate in medicine to know when they are hurting and need help.
Little children simply trust, and Jesus says these are the ones that find rest, because they don’t try to figure it out for themselves or provide for all their own needs, they trust their Father, and believe in his grace. This is what Jesus thanks God for.
Is he thankful for me?
The Revelation of Jesus (v27)
That God reveals things to those who are like little children and fully rely on Jesus happens because he is gracious and generous, like a Good Father.
We know all of this because he revealed himself to us in Jesus, and that is what Jesus says in verse 27.
Both the Son and the Father have an exclusive knowledge of one another and the only way to fully know one is to know the other. You cannot know the Father without the Son, and you cannot know the Son unless the Father reveals him to you.
The good news is that we have the full revelation of Jesus because he came, lived, died and rose again. The bad news is, humanity defies and rejects the Father even to this day because they refuse to believe in the Son.
The revealing of Jesus to some and not to others seems arbitrary and a little unfair, but it would only seem that way if you have already forgotten what Jesus has just said – that God reveals his grace to little children who simply trust. Jesus is shown to anyone who hears the good news about him and receives it, turning to God in faith. Gods choosing of us is based on his grace and our faith alone.
The open invitation that follows in v28 also shows us that God’s grace goes far beyond the limits of our understanding and wisdom.
The Invitation of Jesus (v28-30)
Some of the most comforting words Jesus ever shared were these – on the availability of rest to those who are weary and burdened.
“Weary carries the idea of working to the point of utter exhaustion. This is an invitation to everyone who is exhausted from trying to find rest and please God using their own resources. Jesus invites the person who is wearied from his vain search for truth through human wisdom, who is exhausted from trying to earn salvation, and who has despaired of achieving God’s standard of righteousness by their own efforts.” – John MacArthur
Where weary refers to the internal exhaustion by seeking truth and rest through human effort and wisdom, heavy laden suggests the external burdens caused by these futile efforts. Jesus spoke of this load of tradition and religion that was placed on people’s shoulders by the religious leaders of the day (Matthew 23:4). Peter in Acts 15:10 noted that the Judaisers were trying to place a yoke on Christians which no one has ever been able to bear.
The invitation of Jesus also includes an invitation to submission. The yoke he is offering is not one of work and servitude, but one of learning and direction. ‘Learn of me’, join to him, let him be where you find your identity, direction and meaning.
The contrast is clear. If you are labouring under a load you are not meant to bear, bring it to Jesus and learn from him and obey him instead. If others place pressure on you, weighing you down with expectations, take his light burden instead of their heavy one.
The only yoke we are meant to be lead by is Christ.
The only burden we are to have is for Christ.
If you feel weary and heavy-laden, there’s a chance you are not learning from him.
“In the end there will be no lasting joy or even well-being in the world’s way. The rules of the Pharisees never stopped burdening the Jews with endless regulations over every area of life. The so-called freedom of the libertine world of our time functions in the opposite direction, yet burdens even more terribly.” – Grant Osborne
The burden of works for self-righteous ends and the pursuit of personal pleasure without consequence both end in weariness and exhaustion. These are yokes with harsh masters. There is no end to either one but brokenness.
If you want to live for yourself, being ‘yoked’ to Jesus may not sound appealing. You want your freedom.
I preached this passage as part of my homiletics course 13 years ago and at the time, it is accurate to say I was not yoked to Jesus. I was unequally yoked, and being pulled in a direction away from Jesus, not towards him.
What you tie yourself to will lead you on a path. Being joined to your work, career, relationships, and pleasure will never fulfil you and will lead you on a path of busyness, stress, anxiety, and will leave always wanting more and wanting rest.
The yoke Jesus offers is a positive one. Not only is he gentle and humble as a master, his commandments are not burdensome.
He has no interest in further burdening those who are coming to him for healing and restoration from heavy loads(12:20).
This is not about servitude to a conquering king or forced submission to an overlord, this is Jesus offering his own personal humility and gentleness as a motivation. Yes we serve and obey him as Lord, not to earn rest, but because he has done the greatest work for you already.
So you can rest in his work while doing his work, instead of working to find rest yourself.
How do we put all of this into life? How do we find rest?
It means asking some questions.
What am I joined to? If it’s not Jesus, it’s bondage.
What am I busy with? Life is busy, but we can still have rest. If you are in a position where you cannot have rest, you are in the wrong position. Saying no is not a sin, neither is handing over some responsibilities to focus on your primary ones.
What burden am I carrying that doesn’t belong to me? We exhaust ourselves and others around us with things only Jesus can do.
There is freedom to be found in this life, but it not found in the deceptive freedom of autonomy or the burden of self-sufficiency. It can only be found when instead are yoked to Jesus in grace.
In believing in Jesus, we enter into the rest of God (Hebrews 4:3). There is a rest for the people of God, but only for those who have rested from their works (Hebrews 4:9-10).
The next few verses detail how Jesus declared himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (12:8). It didn’t mean he didn’t do any work, but that his work was the will of the Father and that he could rest in the Father’s will.
Our lives will always have busy seasons, but we can always find rest.
The presence of the parent is enough for a child to find peace at times. It should be the same for us, to still do what we have to do, but rest in his presence that is always with us, and the greatest work that has been done for us.