Many years ago I built a pair of English Garden Benches to go in a therapy garden at a church. When I delivered them they spoke of having plaques made and attached that quoted Matthew 11:28 “Come unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I don’t know if that was ever done, but it seemed like a nice idea.
A comfy bench can give rest for the body, but how do we find rest for a weary soul? The rest of the passage quoted above holds the key. Let’s look at that today.
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)
The word “come” which opens this passage is more than an invitation, it’s an imperative; it means literally, “come now!” and it speaks to all who are overworked or oppressed by routine, responsibility and tension. The words “heavy laden” refer to a burden that is laid upon someone by an outside source causing what we would call “burn-out”.
Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us that believers, young or old, will come to a point where they will plunk themselves down on a comfy bench and do nothing more. The “rest” that Jesus speaks of is not an absence of work: leisure time or idleness, but a sense of rejuvenation or refreshment. Our time on this world is short (in the view of eternity) and we as believers are to make good use of it. We may rest our physical bodies when needed, but our spiritual selves are to be seeking Christ-likeness. While we rest on that park bench, read our Bible, or pray, or talk to someone about Jesus.
A yoke is a wooden beam or bar carved to fit around the neck and lay upon the shoulders of its wearer. Animals could be yoked to pull a cart or turn a millstone. People too can wear a yoke to carry buckets of water, grain, or carry baled materials.
At the time Jesus lived, the phrase, “taking the yoke of another” meant coming under their leadership. This could be as an indentured servant, as a hired laborer, or as an apprentice.
The phrase “and learn from me” indicates that our relationship with Jesus is less like slavery and more like apprenticeship. We are to lead our lives and conduct ourselves as Jesus lived. 1 Peter 2:21 says For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us,[a] leaving us[b] an example, that you should follow His steps: (NKJV) And 1 John 2:6 says He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (NKJV).
When believers place themselves under the control of Jesus we, “walk as He walked” meaning we pattern our lives after his. We are obedient to His commands and we accept His Lordship over us. 1 John 5:3 tells us, For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (NKJV)
Jesus is a gentle master and his demands of us are light. But we must be obedient.
Being Obedient Brings Rest
When a believer (one who has accepted the yoke of Jesus) lays aside pride and stubborn willfulness: insisting on doing everything “my way” (and reaping the results of that) we learn to speak and act like Jesus. When our decisions are guided by the Word of God, their outcomes are better. When our words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, our relationships with others improve.
In times of stress, The Holy Spirit comforts us: offers us rest. The situation is still there, but we deal with it by knowing that we are not left to deal with it alone. When believers are heavy-burdened, Jesus now shares our yoke: helping us to bear up and feel rejuvenated, even though we are not sitting idly on a bench.