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Rest for the Soul

All of us know what it’s like to carry a heavy physical load. During mycollege years I worked one summer on a construction crew at an apartment building in San Francisco. One day I was asked to carry a shipment of commodes to be installed in every bathroom in the entire building—up countless flights of stairs all morning long. Needless to say, I rested well that night!

Many of us know, as well, what it’s like to be weighed down by aheavy load in our soul. Perhapswe are weighed down by a heavyload of regret, or failure, or guilt,or impossible expectations, or—asis likely the primary focus in the following saying of Jesus—the heavy load of religious obligation.

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 (Mt. 11:28-30).

The people Jesus was addressing were those upon whom the religious leaders of Israel had laid a heavy burden of legalistic obligation. In describing the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders...” (Mt. 23:4). There is no wonder that Jesus looked on the multitudes and “had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). Some no doubt may have thrown off the legalistic burden of their religion, and given way to their sinful desires. But sin lays on one’s shoulders a burden of a different nature, that is no less easy to bear. They had simply exchanged one burden for another.

It is to such people as these that Jesus extends his invitation to Come. To come to him. That is, to turn to him in trust, as the one who can resolve the deepest issues of our life. And when we do, Jesus promises that he will give us rest. Rest from carrying the heavy load that has been wearing us down— the load that comes from realizing we can never fulfill the demands of God’s laws, or of human expectations, or of making something truly meaningful of our lives. And this rest is something that Jesus gives us. It’s a gift of free grace to those whom Jesus characterized in his Sermon on the Mount as the poor in spirit—or whom he previously characterized as children, in contrast to those who considered themselves wise and understanding (Mt. 11:25). Augustine expresses it this way in his Confessions: “For thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee” (p. 1). This is the rest of salvation. The rest of God’s forgiving and cleansing grace.

To all who come to Jesus in this way, he issues a second invitation. It is the invitation to learn from him. This is the invitation to take up the yoke of discipleship. Whether Jesus is speaking of the yoke that was laid on a pair of oxen, or the single yoke that was laid on a person’s shoulders to even out the weight of a load he was carrying, is not of primary importance. What is important is to take up Jesus’ yoke by surrendering to his will, by answering his call to obedience and service. It is to set aside our will in favor of his will. And it is as we do this each day and hour that we find rest for our souls. Michael Green states: “There is a deeper rest, which cannot be given but can only be found: the rest of taking his yoke upon us and entering into partnership with him” (The Message of Matthew, IVP, 143). It is possible to receive the rest that Jesus graciously gives us but to fail to experience the fuller rest that we only find through truly following him each and every day of our life.

Jesus knows that we often struggle with responding to the invitation to learn from him. So he gives us two wonderful incentives. First, he tells us something about himself—that he is gentle and lowly in heart. He is not a harsh task master. Matthew quotes Isaiah in characterizing Jesus with these words, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Mt. 12:20). Jesus as a loving father may discipline us (Heb. 12:6), nonetheless as a faithful shepherd he does not beat us into submission. It is by his kindness that he leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). There is a sense in which the fear of the Lord constrains us to obey (II Cor. 5:11; 7:1). We fear grieving him; we fear offending his love for us. His love compels us to obey (II Cor. 5:14)! He is a master who, if we truly know him, is difficult to resist.

Secondly, he tells us something about his yoke. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. John says in his first epistle that his commands are not burdensome (1Jn. 5:3), not meaning at all that his demands are any less rigorous than those of the law. Indeed, Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). His laws touch not only our outward conduct, but the inner attitudes of our heart. Michael Green also states: “It is the yoke of love, not of duty. It is the response of the liberated, not the duty of the obligated. And that makes all the difference” (The Message of Matthew, 143). Furthermore, as the Apostle Paul tells us, it is as we walk according to the Spirit that God’s righteous requirements are fulfilled in us by his grace (Rom. 8:4).

These words of Jesus are very familiar to everyone who knows the Lord. They are part of the ABCs of the gospel, so to speak. But the longer I live, the more I realize how frequently I need to hear these words again, and again, and again. And this side of heaven…I always will!

(Richard Rood has served as a hospital chaplain since 1996. Prior to this he served in ministry with Probe Ministries, International Students and as an instructor at DTS, and as a pastor. His wife Polly went to be with the Lord in 2003, after a long illness. Richard has two grown children,a son Jeff and a daughter Jill.)

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20120304
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Jul-Sep 2012. CCMUSA.