Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have read this passage and even quoted it to others as a source of encouragement. Several years ago, I felt God telling me to do an in-depth study of these verses but, for whatever reason, I put it off. It’s no coincidence that this passage has presented itself to me in the most interesting ways…as if begging me to study it. It’s always been a passage that I have gone to in times of loneliness and struggle but I don’t think I ever fully understood it. So, after what seems “too long,” I decided it was high-time to plow into these verses. Not surprisingly, I found some very interesting things that I’d love to share with you!
I’m going to break this down by key words for you so as to explain word meanings for the best definitions. So, grab a pen and paper, buckle up and let’s dig in!
Let’s read verse 28 again: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
In this verse, the word “who” means someone who “works to exhaustion.” Right away, I was intrigued because I use the word “exhausted” to describe myself most of the time. Between being sole income provider, house-cleaner and organizer, room decorator, chauffer, butt/snot-wiper, movie technician, chef, nutrition specialist, dietitian, doctor, boo-boo-kisser, disciplinarian, mind-reader, interpreter, bath-giver, alarm clock, play fellow, teacher, story-teller, laundry-mat, etc. Most days I feel like a zombie Energizer bunny: physically going and going but with no amount of energy. It can feel like a rut sometimes: I’m moving but going nowhere. Anyone know what I’m talking about?
Sometimes that “work” is perfectly acceptable and actually godly work. I can push through the pain and frustration but still consistently remain at my breaking point. This is not what God has in mind for us. The word “weary” in the same verse is a “continuous, repeated action.” Like that rut we just mentioned and, boy, can that rut become really wearisome.
If you’ve ever been a parent or seen a mother carry around all the gear required for caring for a baby, you know what the word “heavy-laden” means! When my son was an infant, I referred to myself as the “mommy pack-mule.” This word “heavy-laden” refers to being “overburdened with ceremony” or religion. When our relationship with Jesus Christ becomes merely about the act of reading our Bible or praying or taking communion or going to Church, we open ourselves up to becoming “heavy-laden.” These things become nothing but rituals or traditions that we act out with no purpose or meaning behind them. It can take us down the dangerous road of legalism and complacency, pride and hypocrisy. We may be doing all the right things but our relationship has become a rut and we’re burdened down with religious acts.
God does not want us to be weighed down and weary. In fact, He wants to give us rest. The word “rest” here means “refreshing,” which is similar to a leave of absence. It suggests a temporary pause for the purpose of resting and recharging those Energizer batteries. A spa day for the soul. An “ahhhh” for the emotions and spirit.
When I went a little deeper into verse 28, I was led to several verses in the Old Testament, predominantly Psalms. All of them stated the same thing: God desires to “satisfy” us with “good” things. This word “satisfy” in the Greek means “to have in excess.” God doesn’t just want to satisfy us or give us just enough to meet our needs; He wants to fill us until we’re overflowing. He wants to give us that abundant life that John 10 talks about. With what does God want to satisfy us? These verses say “good” things and this word “good” talks about the experience of being “valued, loved and favored by someone.” In this case, that “someone,” is God. God wants to give us an “ahhhhh” kind of abundant life, filled with God’s favor and love.
One of the passages connected to Matthew 11:28 in this study is Psalm 145:18-19. Follow me there, if you would. Psalm 145:18 says, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” I don’t know about you but I’ve had moments in my life when I didn’t feel that the Lord was anywhere nearby. In fact, sometimes it seemed that God was nowhere in sight. I remember one time when life was particularly difficult. I’d come out of an abusive marriage and was struggling with anger, and even hatred, towards “a loving God” for allowing abuse to happen to so many people. I just couldn’t understand how it could be in His plan for 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men to experience abuse or for 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys to be molested by the age of 18. I went a long time without even wanting to try to talk to God about it. I’d been a Christian most of my life and thought I had a pretty good grasp on this sort of thing until I was faced with faith-shattering tragedy. One night, as I lay in my bed crying very bitter tears, I felt like my heart was going to burst. I felt God saying to me, “Just talk to Me.” After fighting it for a while, I finally began to scream out to God, expressing my lack of understanding, my anger, bitterness, fear, frustration and pain. I even used strong words in my expression…it was the only way I knew to really tell Him how I felt. After I had cried to Him and reached the end of my tears and voice, I felt a strong sense of peace. His presence so completely surrounded me, as I had never experienced before. God spoke to me clearly as if another person were talking to me. He taught me, encouraged me and comforted me.
I learned through this experience that God wants us to call on Him, even if it means we approach Him with hostility and anger. This word “call” in Psalm 145:18 is actually defined in the original Hebrew as “accosting, crying out, even in a hostile manner.” Our Christian tradition has taught us that we must approach God in reverence and we should. But we have taken the idea of “reverence” to an extreme meaning that resembles us having it all together before we come to Him; that we must “Thee” and “Thou” our way to the throne. But what I (other biblical scholars and Christians) are finding is that our crying out to God doesn’t mean we don’t still approach Him with a level of respect. Christian singer, Mandisa, perfectly describes in one of her songs, “It doesn’t mean we don’t trust Him. It doesn’t mean we don’t believe. It doesn’t mean we don’t know He’s redeeming everything.” It simply means we recognize that we do not have the answers.
Look with me at verse 19: “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.” The word “hear” in this verse means to “be attentive, listen carefully and to understand.” God is saying that He’s intently leaning in when we speak to Him. He’s not casually in-one-ear-and-out-the-other hearing. No, He’s in the moment with us. Not only does God promise to really pay attention and hear those who call on Him, He promises to “save.” This “save” isn’t just a rescue. It’s an “avenging, defending, delivering, helping, preserving” kind of save. It’s an action that’s on the offense. It’s a save that pushes in and then through. It doesn’t stop with the rescue. It goes further to bringing victory to the one who is calling out to Him.
What we’re seeing here is that God desires to give us relief from the weariness of life. In addition, He promises His presence to the hurting, hostile person who will just call out to Him. God isn’t going to strike us dead for talking to Him, even in our anger and hostility, because, if we are calling out to God, we are seeking Him. Remember the first word of Matthew 11:28? That’s right, “come.” That cry is a coming. That coming is a seeking. That seeking is what God wants from us so that He can give us that abundant life, profound peace and His powerful presence.
We could read Matthew 11:28 like this: Come to Me, all who work to the point of exhaustion and who are continuously weary and who are overburdened with religion and I will give you a refreshing leave of absence.
Let’s turn back to Matthew 11 and look at the next verse - verse 29: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.”
Take My yoke upon you? Let’s stop there. Yoke? Like an egg yolk? I’m pretty sure I don’t want gooey orange egg parts all over me. A yoke was a piece of farm equipment that was used to hook two animals (usually cows or oxen) together to pull a plow. Sometimes the farmer would team a lesser experienced cow with a more experienced one so that the more experienced cow could teach the young’n the tricks of the trade.
When Jesus says, “take My yoke upon you,” He wants us to team up with Him. He wants to exemplify for us who we are supposed to be. He wants us to learn from Him, to study and observe His ways, to experience Him on a consistent basis. This is what the word “learn” means here. One very important thing that I want to point out here is that the yoke is designed for two: me and Jesus. Hear this: The yoke is not me and Jesus and my mentor or me and Jesus and my pastor or me and Jesus and my small group. One thing that Beth Moore taught me in the “Breaking Free” study is this: If I desire the approval of a person over the approval of Jesus, then I yoke myself with that person and they become a god to me. I can’t share Jesus’ yoke if I’m trying to squeeze someone else’s approval in where God’s approval should be. Sharing a yoke with anyone but God will cause us to be “weary” and “heavy-laden.” Only Christ’s yoke is one of ease and rest. Only Jesus can be a perfect example to us. He even helps us “take” up His yoke and “learn” from Him by saying that they are “simple commands,” as the grammar of these words describes. All we have to do is be a willing student.
Why should we want to learn from Jesus? He tells us it’s because He is “gentle and humble in heart and we will find rest for our souls.” What does this mean exactly? In the original text, Jesus is saying that He is gentle and humble in heart with the heart being “the seat of the desires, feelings, affections, passions, impulses.” In other words, Jesus’ humility in the deepest seat of who He is makes Him the only One who is qualified to be our example. When He says that we will find rest for our souls, in the original text, He is saying that we will find rest in the seat of OUR desires, feelings, affections, passions and impulses; in that area that “gives man the ability to communicate with God.” Wow!
Matthew could be read this way: It’s simple to put on My yoke so you can study and experience Me. The quietness you desire for the very deepest part of yourself, you can find in Me because I am gentle and humble in that same area so you can see My example. Team up with me and open wide your channel for God-communication.
Let’s look quickly at this last verse. Verse 30 says, “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
Jesus says that His yoke is easy. “Easy” means “kindly, pleasant and gracious.” His yoke is one that isn’t heavy or weighted down with unrealistic expectations. Being teamed with Christ means sharing in His gentleness; His “soothing disposition” as this word is defined. His load is light. The “load” that Jesus refers to is translated with this thought: “Christ is the antithesis (or opposite) of the burdens of ceremonial observances rigorously exacted and increased by human traditions.” In other words, that overburden of religion, the religious rut that we talked about a few moments ago - Jesus says that His load is the opposite of this!
Matthew could be read this way: My yoke is pleasant and perfect for what you need. I am the opposite of your exhaustion, weariness and burdensome religion.
Jesus Christ ties these three verses together by saying that He is the answer to our weariness, our heavy burden, our overburden, our exhaustion with life and empty religion. He is the source of peace, rest and loving relationship with God. He is the source of all good and perfect things. He is the source of abundant life.
All that we are told to do is come to Him, take on His yoke and learn from Him. We don’t have to clean up in order to come to Him. We don’t have to be perfect in order to approach Him. Even if we can’t find it in ourselves to pray, we can still cry out to God and He has promised to be near to us. Even if we don’t understand the big picture and we’ve reached the end of ourselves, we don’t have to keep running or hiding or fighting. We just come to God and cry out. And it is there that we find rest.
Come to Me, all who work to the point of exhaustion and who are continuously weary and who are overburdened with religion and I will give you a refreshing leave of absence. It’s simple to put on My yoke so you can study and experience Me. The quietness you desire for the very deepest part of yourself, you can find in Me because I am gentle and humble in that same area so you can see My example. Team up with me and open wide your channel for God-communication. My yoke is pleasant and perfect for what you need. I am the opposite of your exhaustion, weariness and burdensome religion. I can give you rest.