Jesus’ Invitation

"Come to Me, all you 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." — Matthew 11:28-30

The religious world very often takes the words from God’s inspired book and attaches to those words a meaning not intended. During the “holiday season” we often hear the phrase, “Peace on earth, good will toward man” applied to Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. This idea is supposedly found in passages like Isaiah 9:6-7, Matthew 5:9, etc. Clearly, Jesus didn’t come to bring peace between men: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53). The peace that Jesus brought was between God and man through obedience to the gospel.

Matthew 11:28-30 is often quoted out of its context, and its meaning is given a more superficial interpretation than what it deserves. Let’s consider this passage in the light of its context and other relevant scriptures.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden.” Obviously, “labor” and “heavy laden” are not intended to be understood literally. Jesus did not come to relieve those who were physically exhausted, but those who struggled with their sins. When Jesus came to earth He preached primarily to the Jewish nation (cf. Matt. 15:24). The Jews should have been prepared for the coming of the Messiah, that was the purpose of the law of Moses: “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Sadly, most were not prepared. They still looked for forgiveness and salvation through following the law. Paul describes the hopelessness of living under the law of Moses while at the same time seeking the solution to sin. “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:22-24). The law and all of the sacrifices that attended it could not forgive sins apart from the sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27, 9:12). So, “labor” and “heavy laden” describe man’s struggle against sin.

“And I will give you rest.” “Labor” and “heavy laden” are contrasted with the “rest” that Jesus offers. Only Jesus can extend the invitation because He alone offers the solution to sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:1-3). What “the law could not do” was provide for the forgiveness of sin apart from Jesus. It is through His sacrifice that we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

“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.” The metaphorical use of “yoke” usually has a negative connotation (affliction, punishment, etc.). Here it describes the obligations and responsibilities that Jesus places on every disciple. Contrary to the denominational view that “works play no part in salvation,” Jesus tells us that we have a yoke. “Gentle and lowly in heart” describes Jesus’ attitude toward those who obey Him. We must remember that Jesus will also show vengeance toward those who disobey (Matt. 3:11-12; 2 Thess.1:7-8).

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” This is perhaps the most difficult statement of all because it seems to contradict other passages. Consider the words of Jesus shortly before this in Matthew 7:14, “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Is the way of Christ “easy” or “difficult”? Or, consider the words of Paul to Timothy: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). Is Jesus’ burden “light” or must we “endure hardship”? Most of us readily identify with the difficulties and hardships associated with being a Christian. We have the inward struggle to learn the meaning and application of God’s word, as well as the responsibility to keep our thoughts pure and our conscience clean. We have outward temptations brought to us by those under Satan’s influence. To be a faithful Christian is a difficult task.

How can Jesus describe His yoke as “easy” and His burden as “light”? Words like “easy,” and “light” (as well as “difficult,” and “hard”) are relative terms. Remember that apart from Christ salvation is impossible. The Jews sought forgiveness through the perfect keeping of the law of Moses. An impossible task since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), and the law by itself did not offer forgiveness. In comparison, Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation for those who truly desire such. “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). The supply is abundant, but we must be diligent. Those who fully set their minds on pleasing Christ are less tempted (and find life much easier) than those who are conflicted. The degree of difficulties we have is often determined by the degree of our faith. The more we allow ourselves to be tempted by the things of the world, the more difficult our walk will be. If we transform our minds (Rom. 12:2) and “crucif[y] the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24) we will find His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

By Dan Gatlin

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