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Rest for the Soul
"Come to me, all who labour 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."
I imagine that all of us at some time in our lives have received an invitation. Perhaps it was to a birthday party when you were a child or to a special event a child was taking part in. Some invitations are more important than others. I don’t think that any of us received an invite to attend a recent wedding that took place in Windsor. That was a posh do and you couldn’t get in without an invite, not even if you were a member of the bride’s own family! But those who got an invite were allowed to attend the ceremony and those who were invited to the reception could go there – one of the perks (or reward if you like) was to receive a special wedding souvenir bag. We know that because very quickly after the event some of these were selling on ebay for quite large sums of money.
Well this morning we’re going to consider a special invitation that even though it was issued some 2000 years ago it has not yet been rescinded. There are rewards for all those who accept this invitation. We too may respond to this invitation assuming of course that we meet the conditions.
Now sometimes you’ll see a special offer that looks wonderful and then you read the small print and you find that it is only available to the first 500 people who apply. When I see that sort of offer I give up as I’m convinced that 500 others will have already filled in their application forms before me. But with the invitation we’re going to think about today there is no such restriction – it simply doesn’t matter how many people have already responded. If you meet the conditions attached to this invitation there will be room for you, all of you. You can rest assured that there will be a warm welcome for you!
Who is invited? Or what are the conditions that must be met?
The answer is found in the text. The ones who are invited are described as those "who labour and are heavy laden" – and not just some of them but all of them.
But what does it mean to labour and to be heavy laden or burdened?
By these words Jesus was describing the anxious spiritual state of the awakened sinner and the efforts he makes to try to alleviate his troubled conscience.
Now all of us are sinners but not all of us are awakened to the dangers and perils of that state. When a man or a woman is awakened he or she becomes aware of the fact that they have failed to please God or live according to his laws. For many years perhaps they have lived an easy going carefree life with no spiritual worries or anxieties – everything seemed to be going swimmingly for them. But something happened and a realisation dawns that God is not pleased with them. Their conscience is troubled and they know themselves to be guilty and that something must be done about this guilt. They are no longer at ease and become spiritually restless. They may even begin to think about their own death and tremble with fear at the thought of leaving this world and having to face a God whom they have seriously displeased.
This effort to try to do something that might rectify a lost situation is what Jesus calls labour.
Such is their concern now that they try to do something/anything about the predicament they feel themselves to be in. They try this and they try that but all they try simply makes them exhausted – all their efforts seem to be as useless as the efforts of Sisyphus in Greek mythology. Sisyphus was condemned to push a heavy boulder up a hill only to see it come crashing straight back down again and again.
Burdens on the other hand are the weight of guilt that presses down on a man when he realises that he has offended God and broken his laws – the realisation that he can’t solve his own difficulties only makes matters worse and he trembles with fear as a result. This is his passive reaction, he is weighed down and feels his to be a hopeless case.
Now, are you concerned by this invitation that Jesus makes? Many are perhaps prepared to admit that they are sinners but are not in the slightest bit bothered by the fact of their sin. They feel no burden and have no sense of needing to be find any sort of deliverance from their current state. If you are like that then the invitation I’m talking to you about this morning will have no appeal as you simply won’t see it as being relevant. But if, on the other hand, your conscience does trouble you and you are only too aware that your sins are crying out against you then this invitation is for you. If the law of God terrifies you with its threats of eternal damnation for the lawbreaker then I have good news for you. I have an invitation that is just for you.
Who issues the invitation?
I said I have an invitation for you but it doesn’t originate with me it comes from the Lord Jesus Christ himself and he has all the authority necessary to issue it! Just look back to the verse immediately preceding our text:
Mt.11:27 "All things have been handed over to me by my Father..."
If Harry had written to you and sealed his letter with the royal seal of approval you could have gone to his wedding – he had the necessary authority to invite you. Jesus has all the authority he needs to invite whoever he will to come!
This authority that Jesus has has not diminished with the passage of time. When his ministry on earth had been successfully accomplished, a ministry that climaxed with his resurrection victory over the grave, and immediately prior to his ascension back into heaven he declared that:
Mt.28:18 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Jesus issues the invitations he wishes and he has all the necessary authority to do so!
What does the invitation invite us to?
Listen to the words of the text again:
v.28 "Come to me."
It is a personal invitation to a personal encounter. Jesus does not invite us to a religion, to a set of rules and practices, to a rigorous pilgrimage, to a life of asceticism or anything like that – he invites us firstly to himself.
Let me quickly and briefly remind you just who he is.
A kind, compassionate, approachable man
he is also:
The propitiation for human guilt
The Jesus to whom we are invited to come is God’s chosen and anointed servant, the Christ. Jesus is the:
Christ of Gethsemane – how he was tried and tested there!
Christ of Calvary – here he suffered and died for sinners
Risen Christ – but death was by no means the last word – the grave was conquered and Jesus rose victorious from the dead on the third day
Ascended Christ – and now he occupies the place of authority at the right hand of God Almighty; there he directs all things on behalf of his church and there he intercedes for us knowing just what it is like to be human he is well able to appreciate the kind of needs we have.
Coming Christ – he has left the earth but has promised to return. His return will signal the end of the world as we know it as he ushers in the judgment and brings his own people safely to heaven.
What does it mean to "come" to Jesus?
Coming to Jesus is a simple business – it does not entail undertaking a long journey or indeed any physical journey at all. Coming to Jesus is a vivid way of saying we must:
Believe in him
Jn.6:35 "Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
It wasn’t sufficient for Moses simply to lift up the serpent or for people to know he had done so – each one had to "look" or "trust" for healing to be theirs.
Be ready to follow him
Mt.4:19 "And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Jesus used this "come" language in a variety of different contexts:
Mt.19:14 "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."
He described the one who did come and take his words seriously as a wise man who built his house on the rock (Lk.6:47).
Such a "coming" implies that a person puts Christ in first place in his/her life (Lk.14:26).
Jesus also taught that a person can refuse to come to him but added that a person can only come when the Father draws him. If you feel drawn to Christ don’t delay thinking you can come another time you may find that the time, opportunity and inclination never comes to you again!
What is promised to all those who come?
Again what is it that our text says?
v.28 "I will give you rest."
This is not the rest of idleness or physical inactivity it is the rest that is enjoyed by a conscience that is at peace with God because of the reality of sins forgiven. All the gnawing anxiety, fear and apprehension caused by sinful guilt is dealt with and replaced by a wonderful rest. God is no longer a severe judge to be feared as an enemy but is now my Father in Christ. His law no longer frightens me because of my repeated inability to keep it. Judgment no longer on the horizon and eternal damnation has been replaced by eternal life. That is the rest to which Jesus calls us as he invites sinners to come to him.
Have you come? Come to Jesus Christ today and live in the peace of this rest!
This first half of our text deals with the entry into the Christian life and if you want the theological word that goes with it this is justification. The moment you come to Christ you receive this rest of being right with God.
But there is more!
How to live as a Christian?
We will have to deal with the second part of this text more rapidly than we have with the first but we simply can’t stop yet.
The first thing we must do is to come to Christ but then having come to him and having been made alive in union with him we have our new Christian lives to live and we find in our text just a glimpse of the new quality of that life.
When we come to him he immediately gives us his rest but then he gives us further instruction as to how we are to proceed. We are to take his yoke upon us and to learn of him. He is the Master and we his servants but what a Master he proves to be!
Now before coming to Christ we laboured to no avail and we carried heavy burdens but having come he replaces those irksome, painful burdens with his own yoke which is easy and comfortable and so incredibly light! One writer in the light of this has written that it is easier to be a Christian than to be a sinner – for the Christian no longer has any heavy, depressing burden of guilt and shame to bear!
We may not know a great deal about Jesus when we first come to him but he tells us that we are to learn of him – not simply truths about him but to grow in personal knowledge of him as we observe him and walk with him.
Will it be irksome to travel with one who is gentle and lowly of heart? The type of person who is difficult to get on with is the one who is harsh and proud ever ready to find fault and to criticise – that is not our Jesus!
And as we learn from me, as we bear his yoke, and serve him he promises that we will find rest for our souls. In taking his yoke we discover that the Son has truly set us free to be what we were always intended to be. We function no longer as a square peg in a round hole but we fit properly into God’s world. This rest includes peace, joy, spiritual comfort and the hope of glory and how precious that will prove to be to us especially when we come into trials and difficulties!
Have you come to Christ? Don’t try to make it all complicated. Don’t imagine that you have to have all the angles covered and that you have to understand all there is to know before you can come to Christ. Don’t allow yourself to be duped into thinking that you must improve yourself before you can come to Christ or that you have somehow to merit an invitation. In the words of the hymnwriter:
"all the fitness He requireth,
is to feel your need of Him:"
If you’ve never yet come to Christ let me remind you of this glorious invitation that Jesus himself made:
"Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
And for all you who have already come to Jesus and received his rest then press on to know more and more. Learn from him – listen to what he says, observe how he lives, take his yoke upon you and enter gladly and wholeheartedly into his service. There is more rest to be known and enjoyed. Circumstances may become difficult, opposition may abound but you will enjoy rest for your soul, you can lay all your anxieties at the foot of his cross knowing that he loves you and cares for you. You can endure the difficulties because he shares the yoke with you and has promised never to leave, never to abandon you, but one day to come and take you home to be forever with him.
What a wonderful message the gospel message is! Have you understood it yet? Are you rejoicing in it? Come, come to Jesus – taste and see that the Lord is good!