Matthew 11 ends with a Gospel invitation to do what those who have believed in Jesus Christ have done. They have enrolled in Christ’s school in order that they might learn and believe all that He will teach them. Here Jesus says, “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.”
It is difficult to think of a gift more important or more gracious than this – and it comes from the lips of the One who has just pronounced the most withering judgment on the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. There are several reasons why this invitation is so gracious.
The invitation is first for everyone. Jesus’ words are for people of all ages, all nationalities, and all temperaments, and He calls them exactly as they are. We should emphasize this because we tend to think that Jesus’ call is for people who are somehow “suited” for religion or perhaps have “earned” a Gospel invitation. But it is precisely here that the universal offer must be stressed, as it was by Jesus. Following Christ is, in a certain sense, the hardest thing anyone can ever do. But at the same time, it is possible for everyone, because Christ Himself gives us the will to persist in our calling. What do you need to hear and obey the call of Christ?
The citizens of Capernaum may have had their “felt needs,” as we do, but Jesus was not one of them. Therefore, they missed their opportunity and will perish in God’s judgment. Only the needy find salvation.
Secondly, the invitation is for those who are burdened by sin. The phrase “labor and heavy laden” does not refer to physical weaknesses or to what we might call the burdens of a difficult life, though it may include them. It chiefly refers to a sense of sin’s burden and the need of a Savior. The context makes this clear, for the earlier verses describe the rejection of John the Baptist and Jesus by the Jewish masses, followed by the Lord’s denunciation of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their failure to repent at Jesus’ preaching. They were not burdened by sin. They were getting along just fine. Still, there were people who were burdened, and these people believed that Jesus could lift sin’s weight and turned to Him to do it. These people listened to Him, trusted Him, and found salvation. This is why times of great movement by God’s Spirit are also times of great repentance.
If you are awed by large numbers of professing Christians, regardless of the moral tone or spiritual usefulness of their lives, you will think we are in a wonderful age, since there seem to be more than fifty million born-again Christians in the United States. If you are impressed by large Churches, you will judge today to be an age of exceptional blessing, since we have built the largest auditoriums in Church history. If you are impressed with money, you must be nearly ecstatic today, since more money is being given to Christian causes than ever before.
But if you are looking for something else – for a mature knowledge of God and real godliness in Christian people – and are bemoaning the accelerating moral decadence of our time, even within fellowships of professing believers, then you must grieve for the state of today’s Church and sorrow for the lost. Where discipleship is present, people are sensitive to sin and turn from it. They turn to Jesus, where relief from sin’s burden can be found.
Third, the invitation is to learn about Jesus. When Jesus called His disciples to “follow” Him, He was comparing Christianity to a path in which His followers were to walk, He going ahead of them. When He challenged His disciples to “learn from me,” He was comparing Christianity to a school in which He was to be both the subject matter and the teacher. This is the school in which every true believer has matriculated and in which a lifelong course of study is prescribed.
The Authorized Version of Matthew 11.29 translates the words “learn from me” as “learn of me.” Here the root idea is knowing Christ Himself, in the sense of John 17.3, where Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” But having come to know Christ Himself, we also need to continue to learn about Him in this school.
Finally, the invitation offers rest for tired people. In fact, it offers rest twice. There is a rest that is given: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That rest comes instantly when we first trust in Christ. Then there is a rest that is found: “Take my yoke upon you and learn [of] me, for I am gentle and [humble] in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” That rest comes as we increasingly learn to follow Jesus in our daily lives.
Jesus is the only rest your struggling, burdened soul will ever need. You may be laboring onward like Pilgrim, distressed at the burden on your back. No earthly master will lift that burden. Many will add to it. The majority will ignore it because they have burdens of their own. You need Jesus. He is the only One who can actually help you. Why not turn to Him right now? Turn from all inferior teachers to the One who alone can teach true godliness and whose teaching will save your soul.