Finding rest for your soul

Please read Matthew 11: 1-30 (25-30 twice) and then pray; Almighty God, teach me how to know and enjoy the rest which Jesus promised, and for which he died for my sake. Amen!

Today we will be considering what many believe to be one of the most precious and uplifting promises that ever fell from the lips of Jesus. In truth, the main verses we will be thinking about contain not just a wonderful promise, but also a warm invitation and an unmistakable challenge. Here are those verses of Scripture which are often quoted at the beginning of services of Holy Communion;

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, 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 will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11: 28-30)

Before we dive into the riches of this biblical text, I want us to notice the teaching from Jesus that came prior to this, in the build up to this. It is useful to see how today’s reading connects with last week’s reading from Matthew 10, where Jesus speaks at great length about His and our mission. As with last week’s teaching from Matthew 10, we find that Matthew 11 is dominated by Jesus’s own teaching. Virtually the whole of chapter 11 contains His words.

At the outset of chapter 11 we read; After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples (about mission), he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. In other words, Jesus himself is once again engaged in mission. The Lord is out and about “doing” (v2) the work of the Kingdom. He is mentoring his disciples in the principles of mission.

It is at this point where we hear about John the Baptist who is languishing in prison, sending some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the Messiah. Are you the One – or should we expect another? Jesus replies by referring these messengers to his outstanding miracles amongst the neediest and the poorest within their society. The blind see; the lame walk; lepers are cured; the deaf now hear; the dead are raised to life; and the good news is being shared with the poor.

The evidence is clear and unequivocal – Jesus is the One. Jesus is the One foretold by all the prophets. (Isaiah 35:5-6, 61: 1-3). Then Jesus gives his verdict on his cousin John the Baptist. He declares that John has faithfully fulfilled his ministry in preparing the way for the One who was to come, and that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” – and yet “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (v11) Astonishing revelation!

Jesus then speaks about the reaction of the religious and political elite to John’s ministry and to his own ministry. Both John and Jesus brought an identical message; Repent for the kingdom of God is near. (Matthew 3:2, 4:17), but their styles and approaches to ministry were different. John was an ascetic who lived alone in the barren wilderness away from civilisation. Strict abstinence was his way. Jesus was a socialite who deliberately mixed freely with sinners – the exact opposite to John. The elite hated both these prophets and their prophetic styles. They could never be pleased and they can be compared to children who refused to join in simple games of pretend funerals or weddings. They rejected and turned their noses up at both John and Jesus. The message of repentance was “not for them,” but beneath them. (9:12-13) The were the “healthy ones” who needed no physician.

But they were not the only ones who would not repent and welcome Jesus and the kingdom into their lives. We are told that Jesus then “began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.” (20) Despite Jesus performing many powerful and mighty healing miracles in Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – the people in these places would not acknowledge him and repent. This is staggering. In Capernaum for example, Jesus had healed a paralytic let down through the roof of a house and caused astonishment and wonder – but it seems that there was no substantial repentance and welcoming of the Kingdom. Even glaring mighty miracles fail to persuade some people. (Mark 2:1 f) The rich and Lazarus come to mind. (Luke 16: 27-31)

It is important for us to note the fact that Jesus teaches judgment as well as salvation and hope. It is no good if we close our ears to Jesus’s words of judgment whilst enjoying his promises of life. We must be those who embrace all of Jesus’s words – the hard sayings and the promises of hope and salvation. It is no good talking about the inclusive Jesus unless we also prepared to hear and receive his solemn words about exclusion. A terrible fate ultimately awaited these unrepentant cities and their populations who had experienced Jesus the Messiah walking right through them and performing great healing miracles on their sick and suffering people.

What fate awaits a nation that has enjoyed a Judeo/Christian heritage and foundation for many centuries, and been blessed in many ways through that, but which now decides to largely abandon God and reject his Son who is the Saviour? I think it was Billy Graham who said this; If God does not judge our western society – he will have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah! (23-24).

This then led Jesus to teach about the hiddenness of the gospel (25) and the revelation of the gospel (27). From some the gospel is hidden by God and remains hidden. To others the gospel is gloriously revealed and opened-up like a vast treasure trove. To whom is the gospel hidden and to whom is the gospel of salvation revealed? Jesus teaches that the gospel is hidden away from the proud and arrogant. It is not disclosed to those who are wise in their own eyes, those who believe they have all the understanding and answers they need in life without reference to God, those who essentially become their own gods. The proud will never see or enter the Kingdom and experience the rich salvation of peace and joy which Jesus offers. This follows on from what Jesus had declared about the unrepentant city of Capernaum where the paralytic had been healed, which he described as “proudly lifting itself up” in a tower of Babel like manner. (11:23, Genesis 11:4)

Pride is what prevents people, perhaps some of our own friends and family, experiencing salvation and knowing rest and eternal life. Pride is therefore the greatest sin and one from which all others flow. As Thomas Manton wrote, “Pride is the cause of all other sins.” He also wrote; “Pride not only withdraws the heart from God, but lifts it up against God.” Pride involves that individualistic determination to defy and resist God, and it was and is the arch sin of the devil. (Isaiah 14: 12-15)

What opens-up the treasure chest of salvation to people? To whom is glorious and liberating salvation revealed? To the humble or as Jesus puts it here and in other places, to little children. “Little children” (25) refers to the humble in spirit, the humble poor, or as Jesus reveals in his sermon on the mount; Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3). I can make this even clearer by sharing another quote from Jesus. At the beginning of Matthew 18, we read;

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (my emphasis)

Jesus alone chooses who he will reveal the kingdom to (27), and the ones chosen will all possess that distinct humility of heart and mind. We can summarise this point by saying with John Mason; As the first step heavenward is humility, the first step hellward is pride.

Listen one more time to this highly significant teaching from Jesus. (READ Matthew 11: 25-26)

Now let me proceed to the wonderful teaching of verses 28-30 (read)

Firstly then, the warm and wide invitation from the Son of God. Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. The first thing to note, is that the invitation is to come to a person – the Lord Jesus. Come to me. If you really desire and seek the unique rest that Jesus offers – you must come to HIM! He is the Lord of heaven and earth to whom the Father has committed all things. (27) He is the miracle worker. He is the Saviour. He is the healer. He is the One who has power over all evil. Jesus is the One who still storms. He is the One who, for our sakes, left the glory and majesty of heaven and became a slave, a humble servant. (Philippians 2:5f) He is, as he says at the core of this teaching, the One who is “gentle, meek, humble in heart.” (29). And Jesus is the One, the only One, who died for all our sins, mistakes, and pride, on a cross, and the only One who has smashed death and its power over us to smithereens! So, firstly, and most importantly; Come humbly to Jesus – the author of life, the One who possesses all authority in heaven and earth and yet who is gentle and of humble heart.

And this invitation is to “all” who are weary and burdened – those who feel themselves to be carrying heavy and daunting loads on their shoulders – those weighed down by the pressures, pains, and burdens of life in this broken world. So, it is not an invitation to those who possess an “I’m alright Jack” attitude, those who believe they can easily make it on their own by doing their own thing in their own strength. The invitation to “Come” is to those who feel battered and bruised, and who know themselves to be sick and in need of a doctor. (Matthew 9:12)

Jesus was appealing and reaching out to people with compassion, who were burdened by oppressive Roman rule, crippling taxation, ridiculous and tiresome religious rules, gross injustice, poverty, sickness, marginalisation, and discrimination; those wayed down by the cares of be a cruel, disjointed, and broken world. This unjust and broken world was in this state primarily because of human sin; human pride; human greed; human idolatry. Some of the burdens people carried were due to their own foolish and prideful mistakes; other burdens were being carried because of the awful and unjust way they had been treated by others. Ugly human pride lay at the heart of it all.

Why is there a war in Ukraine? Pride and greed! Why are so many people homeless and starving in this world? Pride and greed! Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Pride and greed? Why does so much family breakdown exist in our western societies today? Pride and greed and blatant selfishness. There is very little “rest” in our nation today. Yet this is what Jesus promises to those who come humbly to him, bearing their sick souls, asking for his help and healing. Come to ME, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Now secondly let us think for a moment about this amazing, beautiful, and precious promise of “rest” which Jesus offers.

By far the most important point to notice here that Jesus offers a very specific kind or category of rest. Jesus Christ offers soul rest. The One who is gentle and humble in heart, the One who is Lord of heaven and earth offers rest for our souls. This does not mean that he does not care about our bodies and our minds, but Jesus came to reconcile us to God.  Jesus entered this world so that our peace and rest with God (who is spirit) could be restored and blossom into eternal life.

Our greatest need according to the bible is this soul rest and peace with God our Creator. Because God created us “in His image and likeness,” we can never be truly be at rest until we rediscover his presence, friendship, love and care. The great Church father Augustine put this memorably when he wrote these famous words; Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.

Unless our souls are at rest in God, and we are reconciled to God our Creator through Jesus and his death for us, we will always remain restless. Are you a person who knows deep inner rest and peace with God? Have you experienced and do you live with this pattern of rest in Jesus? Are you a deeply restless person? Does your soul recognise its need to be united closely with God? You can have wealth, great power, manifold possessions, and everything money can buy – and yet remain seriously restless. Most people in our nation are experiencing deep restlessness and lack peace of mind and soul. Perhaps this is true of you? Jesus powerfully stated the following;

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

Jesus gives this great gift of soul rest, because he is the Son who can unite us to the Father through his death for our sins on the cross. He alone can reconcile us to God. He removes the barrier. He alone can restore peace between men and God. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – including yours and mine, and he alone can heal and restore our souls. (Psalm 23:3) Come to me!

This is the answer to the world’s constant frenetic restlessness. Jesus! And he was and is and always will be gentle and humble of heart. It is not that he is not interested in our bodies. He is. They too will be redeemed when He returns. (Romans 8:23) Jesus healed the sick in body and mind by their hundreds. He cleansed the lepers. Their skin became clear. He fed the hungry. He cares about bodies as well as souls – and so should His Church. But he alone can soothe the soul and give us eternal life. This is why a Christian can die in peace and at rest. A Christian knows Jesus and therefore knows eternal peace and soul rest. They know the peace only Jesus can give. My peace I leave with you, my peace I give – not as the world gives. (John 14:27) Knowing His peace provides much needed rest for your soul and mine.

But there is one final and significant point to note about “the soul rest” which Jesus alone gives. The rest is not just found through “coming” to Jesus with humility and embracing his offer of salvation and forgiveness like a little child, the rest is also found in becoming his disciple, following him and his teaching. Note verse 29; 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.

As you can see, there are two things we need to do to find this soul rest in all its beautiful fullness. We must “come” to Jesus, but we must also “take up” something from him. We must take up “his yoke”and this refers to his teaching, to his way of living. We know this because it is “a yoke of learning.” Jesus says, “learn from me.” In other words, become my disciple. Take up your cross and take up my yoke – my words of life. Walk with me. Walk according to my teaching which is truth. My teaching revealing my way is health and life and peace and rest. This is your passport to life and rest. My way which is narrow and challenging. (Matthew 7: 13-14)

Rest is found in coming to Christ, giving your life to him, embracing his yoke, and walking in his way. The most peaceful and restful people in this decaying world are those who come like a little child to Jesus, and who embark on a life of joyful obedience to him. Obedience to Jesus and submission to his Lordship brings immeasurable peace and eternal rest.

Jesus’s teaching – all of it – is a recipe for peace and rest. Do you see this? Do you understand this? Jesus’s teaching will not cramp your style – rather it will set you free to be fully human and fully reconciled to God and neighbour. Take just two examples. Jesus taught us to “love our enemies and pray for the those who persecute us” and to “forgive those who have hurt us and sinned against us.” Is that too hard a yoke to bear? Not when Jesus is with us. If everyone in the world put that teaching into practice, we would enjoy untold peace, harmony, and rest throughout the nations. Put his teaching into practice and you will find and enjoy rest! His ways are the ways of justice, righteousness, and peace. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Will this broken world come to him and take his yoke and learn from him. If it did – the world would become unrecognisable – such would be its transformation and peace.

And Jesus finally says that this yoke of his “is easy” and the burden of following him “is light.” This is because we are yoked to him and with him and He helps us to carry this load and practice this life- giving teaching. We are given the fullness and presence of the Holy Spirit. We walk in His power and with Jesus’ strength and grace. We face all difficulties, traumas, and burdens with Him! He is our Support and our Shepherd. It is a double-yoke. You carry it with Him and with His strength. Jesus is alongside you and me. He never abandons us and we always know Him to be gentle, meek, kind, and humble in heart. THIS is the Saviour of the world who loves and understands the burdened and weary.

Come to him and stay with him – always!

Taste and see that Jesus is good. Come to him and take up his yoke and you will never look back to what you had and struggled with in your old world with your old burdened and broken way of life. This rest is only possible if you are prepared to be humble, to come to Jesus, to learn from the Master. Rather than the Christian life being a burden and a drag, you will discover it to be joy unspeakable, with a rest and a peace you did not believe were possible. Millions and millions have discovered and attest to the truth of Matthew 11: 28-30. I hope you can live in the sublime knowledge of this soul rest.

Read verses 28-30 to finish.

And unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we ascribe all the praise and the glory, now and for ever. Amen

Revd Peter J Clarkson (9.7.23)