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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
It was appropriate that this was part of my reading this morning. Off work, looking forward to the third day of a weekend, I enjoy these times…but holidays and long weekends are not the only times this takes place. And obviously to take a spiritual turn means that we aren’t talking about the same kind of “rest” as a day off of work provides, but the essence is still the same.
These verses are quite well known, they’ve been quoted and printed and offered as consolation to war veterans, funeral attendees, fed up mothers, and stressed out executives. There is a comfort even in the cadence of what Jesus says here. The words dance like skilled fingers, massaging our hearts and minds, offering comfort in places that we have been unable to reach. But there is a context to this passage that ought not be ignored.
Just prior to these words of comfort, Jesus has been speaking cryptically about “hidden things”, and those that have been chosen to see those hidden things. Not only that, but Jesus says something about seeing “the Father”. Seeing God. He tells His listeners that He can “reveal” the Father to whomever He chooses, outside of this insider revelation, “no one knows the Father except the Son.”
I know that, though these verses can be interesting and even inspiring on their own, they are the verses that we read a little faster to get to verses 28-30. But, it seems to me, that Jesus isn’t changing the subject here, He is explaining it. It became apparent to me this morning that Jesus isn’t offering some kind of ethereal, nebulous comfort and rest that comes through poetically delivered words. As He says “come to Me and I will give you rest”, considering what He just said, He is saying, “come to Me and I will give you rest BY SHOWING YOU MY FATHER.” This revelation of God is not just a parlor trick or a spiritual plane that we achieve in our hearts, it’s a practical source of peace and rest and comfort. Jesus’ offer of peace is predicated upon His ability, and pleasure, to show us who God is.
Isn’t this what Job received? He had “called God out”, told the Creator that he wanted a high-noon showdown with Him. He demanded an explanation for the calamitous events that had upended his life and broken his spirit. And God, who incredibly agrees to this “showdown”, doesn’t give Job the first bit of explanation. What He does is fire of scores of questions to the battle weary man, all of them pointing to one idea: I am in complete control of everything. Why is this comforting? Why is this Job’s “answer”? Because, God tells Him, “you trust Me to keep bringing the sunrise every morning, you don’t even understand how it started, I was there…so if you can trust me to do all of these enormous things that you don’t understand, you can trust me to take care of these things that you can grasp. I am still God, I am still in control, whether you understand or not. I tell weather systems to move and then I tell lions to lay down. I tell stars to explode and then I create another galaxy, all the while I am making sure that Ostriches lay their eggs safely. You can trust Me to take care of the ‘big things’, now trust Me to take care of the ‘personal things’ too.”
This, I believe, is what Jesus was talking about. If we could grasp the power, love, and individual care for us that God has we would have a much easier time resting. Jesus says that we are carrying a “heavy burden” around, presumably the burden of trying to make sure everything works out right for us and our family, to try and avoid problems and pains, and to try and hold the evil of life on the other side of our front door. This pressure is exhausting, simply because we were never designed to fill that role. But when we come to Jesus, and when He shows us the enormity of God’s love AND power, we begin to open our hands little by little. We begin, as we see Him more clearly, to relinquish the grip that we’ve been strangling our lives with and finger by finger turn over some of that burden to Jesus. And He, in return, offers us the “yoke” of freedom. The “collar” of liberty. The “shackles” of rest. I use these images ironically, but not completely, for the more we trust God, the more our freedom and liberty aren’t really a choice as much as an instinctive position that we simply possess. It’s an organic movement. I think I’ve quoted it before, but Tim Keller, a Presbyterian minister in New York City, said something that I don’t believe I’ll ever forget:
Jesus is the only Master that won’t make a slave of you.
– Tim Keller
So, on Labor Day, may we enjoy the holiday, the rest, the time with family. But, on Tuesday morning, when the burgers are just heartburn and the alarm sounds like a demon in labor, may we come to Christ, accept His invitation and find out how a Tuesday at work can be as restful as a Monday at home. Because His yoke is easy, and His burden is light everyday, not just on Labor Day.
Happy Labor Day friends.