A Great Invitation, A Great Demand
A sermon on Matthew 11:28-30 by Coty Pinckney
Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel, 9/28/01
How do you preach the gospel? How do you proclaim the offer of salvation?
Second question: Why are our churches filled with so many whose lives bring shame upon our Lord? Why do we have in our churches so many drunkards and adulterers and idolaters, so many who are full of greed and covetousness? I’m not talking about those who used to live that way, and have now repented – Praise God for them! I am talking about those who continue to live that way, and yet are baptized members of our churches; indeed, they are even deacons – and pastors – in our churches.
Question 1: How do you preach the gospel? Question 2: Why are our churches filled with those whose lives bring shame upon our Lord? While there are many answers to the second, I would like to suggest this morning that those two questions are related. The lives of our church members bring shame upon our Lord in large measure because of the way we proclaim the gospel. Too often we call people to faith but not to obedience; to be saved from hell but not to be saved from sin.
This morning I want us to look at one of Jesus’ greatest gospel invitations, to see how he presents the message. We will see that He issues a great invitation, but follows that up by making a great demand – a demand that certainly shocked his original audience. And this demand is a vital part of any true gospel presentation.
Let us read Matthew 11:25-27 to set the context:
25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
These verses are Matthew’s equivalent of John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one come to the Father except through me.” In these verses, Jesus says, “Father, Your revelation of yourself depends not at all on the intellect of the person listening. You are pleased to reveal yourself to those without any smarts, to mere babes. I praise you for this, Lord.”
Then He goes on to say, “The revelation of these things has been handed over to Me. The Father chooses to reveal Himself to babes, and I am the only one who does the revealing.”
This is the preface to our text. It sounds exclusive, doesn’t it? “No one can know the Father unless I choose to reveal Him.” But then Jesus issues this great, general invitation:
28 "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest
What is Jesus’ requirement here? What does He demand of us before we can come to Him? The earlier verses show our need to realize the limitations of our intellect, to our acknowledging that we are intellectual midgets compared to God. Here, Jesus’ statement could be translated more literally as: “you who are toiling and have become burdened”. Being a babe in intellect, toiling, being burdened. I think we all can qualify.
What does “toiling” and “becoming burdened” mean? In what ways do we become weary?
Primarily, I believe, Jesus means our struggle with our own sinfulness: We try and try to control our tongues, yet we find ourselves snapping at our families; we make attempt after attempt to soften our tempers, but find ourselves spouting off in anger; we commit ourselves to control lustful thoughts, yet fall into that trap again and again. And as we continue in sin, we end up by destroying what we love most. Slavery to sin is one of the most burdensome of all human problems.
But our burdens also include legalism: Trying to please God, to put God in our debt, through our work. Jesus uses one of these words in this sense in Luke 11:46:
And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
So slavery to sin and legalism lead to toil and hardship. But even Christians – including some of us here this morning – toil and become burdened. We are so busy, we are working so hard, we are toiling and striving – and all the joy of the Christian life has left us. We are caught in a fog of unbelief, through which we can’t see God – so we go through the motions, saying all the right things, doing all the right things, but we’re not really trusting God. We are not striving with His power; we are flailing away with our own power. And so we are weary, burdened, wondering how in the world God’s work can go on without us.
These – and many others – are our burdens. But Jesus calls us, whatever our burdens, whatever our struggles, to come to Him. And then He promises to do what? To give us rest, to refresh us. He will enable us to relax, to re-energize ourselves.
Look ahead to the end of verse 29: What is the promise here? “You will find rest for your souls.” Jesus says, “What have you been looking for? What is all this striving for? You are searching and searching for rest – and that is what I offer you! Come to me – and you will find what you’ve always longed for: True rest for the inner man!”
This is the great gospel invitation: “Come to Me! There are no prerequisites, no degrees required, no entry exams to pass. Just come to Me, all of you – and you will find true rest.”
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to make a great demand:
Take my yoke upon you . . .
Try to imagine that you have never heard these words before. What would you expect Jesus to say after “I will give you rest”? You surely would not expect Him to say “Now work like a beast of burden!”
And for Jesus’ original listeners the contrast was even more startling, for three reasons. First, “yoke” referred to the piece of wood that would unite a pair of oxen as they pulled a plow or a cart. And remember, in this time period, oxen performed all the most difficult tasks. They were the heavy machinery of the day. So to have a yoke around your neck was to be engaged in the most difficult physical work imaginable.
Second, elsewhere in Scripture “yoke” always refers to something painful, such as the yoke of legalism, or slavery, or political oppression. Outside of this passage, there are no positive uses of the word “yoke”
Third, the word translated “rest” here is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament with regard to the Sabbath (for example, in Exodus 31:15). And that connotation is important in this context: note that the very next 14 verses in Matthew find Jesus disputing with the Pharisees about the true meaning of Sabbath rest. So for Jesus’ listeners, the promise of rest would be closely associated in their minds with Sabbath observance, and the cessation of all work.
Thus, we do well to imagine Jesus’ listeners saying, “I want rest, sure! But take up a yoke? Are you crazy? That’s work, not rest!”
What does Jesus say to this? He first of all goes on: ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me.” He is the one who can teach us how to take up work and rest at the same time. Jesus rested – and He worked.
He then explains Himself with two statements beginning with the word “for”:
For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Jesus says, “Yes, a yoke belonging to anyone else is indeed a burden, not a release from burdens. But I am meek and gentle, humble and lowly of heart. I am not a taskmaster, making you work to no end. I am not out to burden you, but to give good to you. I give you tasks that will bring good to you and glory to Me.”
There is much more we could say about this line, but time forces us to move one. Look at the next “for” statement
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Jesus here contrasts the work under Him with our toil apart from Him. Note the parallels between verse 28 and verse 30: Jesus called all those who toil, and then says His work, His yoke is not toil at all; Jesus calls all those who are heavily burdened, and then says His burden is light, easy to pull.
But what does Jesus mean by an “easy” yoke? The Greek word is multifaceted, and thus hard to translate, but “easy” is probably not the best translation. This word can mean kind, suitable, perfect, or good; it is frequently used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in describing God (for example, Psalm 100:5, “the LORD is good.”)
So Jesus here is responding to the query, “If I take up your yoke, won’t I just become weary and burdened all over again?” He answers, “No! My yoke is just right for you. It is perfect. It is good. Furthermore, this is My yoke. I’m not only the owner of the yoke – I’m also your fellow ox! I’m pulling too. So pull by My power, and as heavy as that burden behind us might be, it will be light for you.”
I ask you: Is Jesus right? Is the yoke of a Christian, the task He gives us, suitable, perfect, and good? Is the task light? Or is it toilsome?
From a human perspective, our light burden can seem very heavy. Note that this same word “light” is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17:
our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
What does he call “light and momentary affliction?” In the previous verses, he refers to being afflicted, crushed, persecuted, struck down, and constantly being delivered over to death. That’s what Paul calls “light and momentary.”
Do these amount to a heavy burden? Not when we actively depend upon Jesus to pull the load! Our task is to look to Him, to depend upon Him. As Paul says in Colossians 1:29 “For this end I labor” – I toil, the same word translated “become weary” in our passage – “For this end I labor, striving with all His energy which so powerfully works in me.”
Our task is thus heavy – if we try to do the work ourselves. But we can “accomplish all things through Christ Who strengthens us.” When we look to Him, when we live lives of active dependence upon Him, when we discipline ourselves to turn to Him for every need – then His yoke is perfectly suitable and His burden is light.
In conclusion, I have two questions for you:
First: are you weary and burdened? Are you burned out, just going thru the motions? Are you living in a fog of unbelief, struggling by your own power to do endless tasks, saying with your mouth that you believe in God’s promise of power but proclaiming with your life that only you can accomplish God’s work?
I call you to the life that is truly life. Oh, my friends, let us work, let us strive, let us labor, but let us labor with all His energy that works powerfully within us. Let us actively depend on the God of all strength to accomplish His work through us. Let us look to Him!
Second, I ask again: How do you preach the gospel? How will you proclaim the offer of salvation?
We should preach the gospel as Jesus did:
Come to me! All you who are weary and burdened! Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. For this yoke is not a yoke of slavery but a yoke of true freedom.
As John Piper says: “Evangelical obedience from a renewed mind and a heart brimming with joy and thanksgiving is not optional;” it is Jesus’ command. “Take my yoke upon you ” necessarily follows “come to me.” Taking up the yoke is not a second, optional step; we must take this step or we have not truly come.
But this is not a burden! This is a joyful, thankful step. We are not to say, “Oh, this obedience is necessary to avoid hell so I’ll grit my teeth and obey.” But instead we are to say, “This is Your yoke, Jesus, and I know You are using this for my good and Your glory. I will delight in You, and persevere by Your power”
So my friends: May we preach the true gospel – the great invitation and the great demand. And may we live out these great truths, delighting in Him as we strive with all His energy to fulfill our commission.