“ ‘Come to Me . . .’ ”
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ ”
What a wonderful promise we have been given here by Jesus.
After all, who among us at times hasn’t felt heavy-laden, if not so much with work itself (though that can often be the case) but with the labor and heavy-ladenness that life itself brings? And Jesus here is telling us that, yes, He knows what we are going through, and, yes, He can help us—that is, if we let Him.
And then, after telling us to bear His yoke, Jesus says, “ ‘For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ ” (Matt. 11:30, NKJV). In other words, Get rid of the yokes and burdens that you are carrying (give them to Me) and take Mine upon yourself instead, for Mine are easier to bear.
How can we experience the rest that Jesus is talking about? After all, we live in a world where, after sin, the Lord said to Adam, “ ‘In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’ ” (Gen. 3:19, NKJV). Thus, we have known what it is like to labor and to be carrying burdens that can seem way too hard to bear, at least by ourselves.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 31.
As all of us, Jesus never spoke without a context. In order to understand Him, we need to grasp the specific context surrounding a particular statement, especially if we want to avoid misinterpreting Jesus.
Matthew 11 marks a turning point in Matthew’s Gospel. The statements denouncing important Galilean cities are the harshest heard so far in the Gospel. Jesus does not curry favors; He puts the finger where it hurts; He associates with the “wrong” people (Matt. 9:9–13); His claim to be able to forgive sins is scandalous in the eyes of the religious leaders (Matt. 9:1–8).
Indeed, Jesus speaks some powerfully condemning words to the people, even comparing them, unfavorably, to Sodom, viewed then (as today) as a place of implacable wickedness. “ ‘But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you’ ” (Matt. 11:24, NKJV).
Tensions are rising—and yet, in the midst of all of this, Jesus changes gear and offers true rest. He can do so because “ ‘all things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father’ ” (Matt. 11:27, NKJV). Jesus’ ability to give rest is based on His divinity and His oneness with the Father.
Before we can come to unload our burdens, we need to understand that we cannot carry them alone. In fact, most of us will not come unless we have recognized our true condition. Jesus’ invitation is need based.
His statement in Matthew 11:28 begins with an imperative in the Greek original. “ ‘Come’ ” is not optional; “come” represents the precondition of finding rest. “Come” means that we need to surrender control. In a time when we can conveniently control many things in our lives via our smartphones, coming to Jesus is not a natural direction. In fact, for most people, surrender is the toughest part of the Christian life.
We love to talk, and rightly so, about all that God does for us in Christ and how we cannot save ourselves and the like. All that is true. But in the end, we still have to make the conscious choice to “come” to Jesus, which means surrender to Him. Here is where the reality of free will becomes front and center in the Christian life.
After the first imperative “ ‘come’ ” in Matthew 11:28, two more imperatives follow in Matthew 11:29. “ ‘Take’ ” and “ ‘learn’ ” focus the attention of the audience (and the reader) on Jesus. We are to take His yoke and learn from Him.
The intimate relationship in the Godhead between the Father and the Son (already intimated in Matt. 11:25–27) offers a powerful illustration that may explain the yoke metaphor in these verses. Both the Father and the Son are working unitedly to save humanity. While the yoke is a symbol of submission (see Jeremiah 27), it also is a metaphor illustrating united purpose. We submit to His yoke and accept the task He gives us to bless those around us. We are not carrying His yoke; we are just yoked to Him because His yoke “ ‘is easy’ ” and His burden “ ‘is light’ ” (Matt. 11:30).
The second imperative, “ ‘learn from Me,’ ” reiterates this concept. In Greek the verb “learn” is connected to the term “disciple.” When we learn from Jesus, we are truly His disciples. Obedience and commitment are characteristics of discipleship.
The yoke was a common metaphor in Judaism for the law. Acts 15:10 uses it in reference to the law of circumcision. Galatians 5:1 contrasts the liberty Jesus offers with the yoke of bondage, which is a reference to the law as a means of salvation. Being yoked to Jesus emphasizes obedience and commitment to follow in His footsteps and to participate in His mission.
While we cannot hope to add anything to the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross, we can become His ambassadors and share the good news with those around us. Jesus’ interpretation of the law, as demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) is even more radical than the Pharisees’ take on it. It requires heart surgery and transforms our motives—and, His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:30).
Gentleness is an underrated quality today. Humility is laughed at. Social media has taught us to pay attention to the loud, the noisy, the weird and wild, and the flamboyant. Truly so many of the world’s standards are the opposite of what God deems important and valuable.
“A knowledge of the truth depends not so much upon strength of intellect as upon pureness of purpose, the simplicity of an earnest, dependent faith. To those who in humility of heart seek for divine guidance, angels of God draw near. The Holy Spirit is given to open to them the rich treasures of the truth.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 59.
Paul refers to “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 10:1. Meekness and humility are not descriptions of pushovers, of people who cannot stand their own ground. Jesus Himself did not seek confrontation and often avoided it because His mission had not yet been fulfilled (John 4:1–3). When confrontation came to Him, however, He responded boldly. Yet, at the same time, He spoke kindly. His laments over Jerusalem just prior to the cross, for example, were not shouted curses but tear-filled word pictures of a devastating future (Luke 19:41–44).
In the New Testament, Jesus is often portrayed as the Second Moses. He speaks from a mountain when He lays out the principles of His kingdom (Matt. 5:1). He provides large crowds with miracle food (Matt. 14:13–21).
Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as “meek,” which is echoed in Matthew 11:29. People witnessing the feeding of the 5,000 exclaim in wonder, “ ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’ ” (John 6:14, NKJV)—a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15 and Moses’ role as a prophet.
Jesus’ humility and meekness clearly supersede Moses’. After all, He is our divine Savior. While Moses offered to give himself to save his people (Exod. 32:32), his death would not have accomplished anything, for Moses was a sinner himself and in need of a Savior, a Sin Bearer to pay for his sins. Though we can learn from Moses and the story of his life, we cannot find salvation in him.
Instead, we need a Savior who can stand in our stead, not just as an Intercessor but as our Substitute. Intercession is important, but it is only God hanging on the cross as our Sin Bearer, as the One who paid in Himself the penalty for our sin, who can save us from the legal consequences that our sins would, justly, bring on us. This is why, however great the example Jesus was for us, it would all be for nothing without the Cross and the Resurrection.
We already noticed that Matthew’s use of “yoke” in this section echoes Judaism’s use of the term and those of other New Testament texts referring to a wrong understanding of the law.
Parents always remember the moment their child took that first step. A wobbly first step is followed by a tentative second step, then a third—and by then it’s most likely that the child will stumble and fall. There may be some tears and perhaps even a bruise, but once the child has felt the freedom of movement, he or she will get up and try again. Walk, fall, get up, walk, fall, get up. The sequence repeats itself many times before the child can walk securely. And yet, amid stumbles and falls, there is a proud little face triumphantly declaring: Papa, Mama, I can walk!
Walking with Jesus may not always be easy, but it’s always good and the right thing to do. We may stumble; we may even fall; yet, we can get up and continue to walk with Him at our side.
We can be sure that whatever exactly Paul meant by the “yoke of bondage,” he was not referring to obedience to God’s law, the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, it’s through obedience, by faith, understanding that our salvation is secure, not based on the law but on Christ’s righteousness covering us, that we can have true rest and freedom.
Jesus’ final statement in Matthew 11:30 uses the imagery of bearing a burden: “ ‘For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ ” (NKJV).
Exodus 18:13 tells us that people came to Moses for judgments from morning to evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw this, he earnestly pleaded with his son-in-law to establish a structure that would allow him to focus on the big things while trusting others to take care of the more mundane things. Scripture tells us that Moses listened to Jethro’s voice and implemented these life-giving changes.
When Jesus told us that His burden is light, He wanted to remind us that we can rely on Him, the ultimate Burden Bearer. Like Moses, we must learn that we need others to share our burdens. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–26, Paul’s imagery of the body of Christ offers a good illustration of what shared burdens may look like. We need a functioning body to be able to carry any weight. We need legs, arms, shoulders, muscles, and sinews to carry anything.
The immediate context of this passage may offer some help. In Galatians 6:1, Paul states that if a brother or sister falls into temptation, we are to restore that person in a spirit of gentleness (remember Jesus’ claim in Matthew 11:29 that He is gentle). Burden bearing means restoring someone who has gone off the track in order to help that person see divine grace. But it also means helping one another when we, or they, suffer hardship. The Greek term for “burden” can refer to a heavy weight or stone. It’s a reminder that we all carry burdens and that we all need those who can help us carry the burdens. Burden sharing is a divinely ordained church activity requiring gentleness and producing compassion.
Further Thought: “When you find your work hard, when you complain of difficulties and trials, when you say that you have no strength to withstand temptation, that you cannot overcome impatience, and that the Christian life is uphill work, be sure that you are not bearing the yoke of Christ; you are bearing the yoke of another master.”—Ellen G. White, Child Guidance, p. 267.
“There is need of constant watchfulness and of earnest, loving devotion, but these will come naturally when the soul is kept by the power of God through faith. We can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to commend ourselves to divine favor. We must not trust at all to ourselves or to our good works; but when as erring, sinful beings we come to Christ, we may find rest in His love. God will accept every one that comes to Him trusting wholly in the merits of a crucified Saviour. Love springs up in the heart. There may be no ecstasy of feeling, but there is an abiding, peaceful trust. Every burden is light; for the yoke which Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness. This is walking in the light as Christ is in the light.”—Ellen G. White, Faith and Works, pp. 38, 39.