I can’t help but think that I’ve already blogged on this topic recently, but seeing as I haven’t (upon a cursory review) in the last month, I will continue this post. Seeing as I’ve spent the past few weeks surviving on an average of 5 hours of sleep, it’s only appropriate that God would be impressing upon me the need to look at reliance. Looking back on the past month and a half at this point, life has been eventful and somewhat tumultuous. There has been some notable trial in this period and I can’t help but feel that all the while, He has been whispering in my ear, “Turn to Me. Let Me show you peace and give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 has come up a lot in this time, but I want to also look at verse 29. Together (in the ESV) they read, “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.” There’s a lot to unpack in this statement, but I’ll try to maintain focus here.
I’m sorry, but what on earth does Jesus mean here? There are a million different ways you could and people have taken this passage. Honestly, I know I have much to learn about this, but I’ll try to step through explaining my current understanding.
Some translations substitute “burdened” for “heavy laden” which I understand a little better. I think He is speaking not of physical labor, because the following “burdened” which can mean “loaded oppressively” would apply only to a smaller subset of people who were treated unfairly by a boss or master. This simply does not seem in step with the rest of Christ’s ministry.
“…I will give you rest.” This piece makes little sense based on my experiences up to this point. Some of the times when I have felt closest to God have coincided with times of monumental exhaustion. If you question this, please feel free to ask my friends with whom I spent 10 weeks in Yellowstone.
I have to say, this next line is a little scary from my perspective, “Take my yoke upon you…” So, I’m sure you will remember that Jesus was crucified. Is this the “yoke” we are to take? I feel pretty certain that the yoke to which He refers is a labor of love. Yes, this life is meant to take work and effort, but He will never burden us. The first thing that this brings to mind is John 16:33. Christ said it Himself, we’ll have trouble and trials, but there is no oppression, because the weight is really on Him and He overcame that obstacle through His death and resurrection.
“…learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart…” Hmm, this sounds a little odd to say the least. I understand to a degree that Jesus was gentle, but what about flipping over tables in the temple? I doubt that qualifies as gentle by anyone’s standards. However, I think this statement has far greater implications than just Christ’s actions. I think that by this, He is asserting that He will never burden (there’s that word once again) those who come to Him. We see Him in John 10:11 saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus is gentle in that He is not self-seeking. Lowly in heart, though?! Sure Christ wept and was rather somber at times, but what are we to make of this statement? I think this has to go hand in hand with Christ’s gentle nature. He willingly gave up His life on the cross so that we might have life. He took our burden (just seems appropriate once again) lifting our own loads and selflessly took it to the cross. Christ is lowly in heart as He thought Himself no greater than anyone else, let alone (despite His role in the Trinity) equality with God the Father (Mark 10:18).
“…you will find rest for your souls.” seems to reinforce that the focus of this passage is spiritual rather than physical. However, what does rest for one’s soul look or feel like? There are a lot of times that I feel very restless (like, right now for instance). What does this mean for us? I go to Psalm 116, where I think rest refers to a ceasing in the search for a fulfillment of the needs of our soul. I feel most would agree that our souls do have very real needs and the soul searches for what can provide for them. “ Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7) I believe illustrates that God not only provides for those needs, but does so abundantly (or bountifully in this translation).
How can I trust in this, though? Isaiah 40:28 assures, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” Alright, so God will never take a break because He doesn’t need rest. Tozer, in Knowledge of the Holy, points out that God in His perfection cannot learn, nor can He change. Conceptually, there are parts that make up the God I attempt to love, but God does not have any components, otherwise there would have to be one greater to put those together. God, being perfect, must have been perfect for eternity, otherwise, once again, there must be a greater, but I will for the sake of simplicity assume the reader agrees that God is the one and only true God.
My real stumbling block here is not God Himself necessarily and certainly not His ability, but His desire to do good and provide for me. Honestly, I turn a blind eye to His gentle nature. I feel I need to cling to Hebrews 6:13–20. Without going too much into this, God so desired to provide for Abraham, that He sealed His promise with an oath sworn on the greatest thing He could think of, Himself. This is kind of mind blowing right now, as I’m trying to cope with my inability to conceptualize infinitude. Anyway, if I accept any of God’s promises as passed down to me also, then I should recognize the fact that they were made with the holiest, most sacred oath there can ever be.
Today, I will rejoice in the everlasting rest of my soul that I have laboring under Christ. I must be under some form of authority, so I’ll choose the good and kind master who in Himself promises an easy yoke, a light burden, and rest. There is no greater promise that anyone can and will ever make. Yes, I’ll turn from my God many times before I go to meet Him, but every time I return to Him, I know exactly what to expect, a promise on which I can rely and find sustenance for these dry bones of mine.