Matthew 11:20—12:8, Rest for the Burdened

[January 27, 2008] Last Sunday we saw how Jesus looked at the people and “was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and cast away like sheep not having a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The harvest was ready, and we saw how He sends out His disciples to gather it (10:7-15). Now, in Matthew 11, we see how Jesus deals with rejection and ‘failure.’

Today He calls to you who toil and are burdened to come and find rest in Him. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, ‘Sabbath’ meaning to cease from labor.

Do we not often feel harassed? Do we not toil and are burdened? We feel busy all the time, and by Sunday morning we are tired. And we see that people have no interest in Christ. Do we not wonder if everything we do here is for nothing (Isaiah 49:4)? Jesus cannot compete in the world of today.

Reason to Be Discouraged (Matthew 11:20-24)

In 11:20 Jesus “reproached the cities in which most of His works of power took place, because they did not repent.” The situation actually seems quite pathetic. Earlier in the chapter John the Baptist wants to know if Jesus is the Coming One, how come he is still in prison? Jesus is a big disappointment, not only to John but to the towns where Jesus labored, even Capernaum where He labored the most. Jesus asks John not to be offended (11:6), but He reproaches the towns. “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’” Jesus “came eating and drinking; and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (11:18-19). There was no satisfying them. It was as though they thought they had Jesus ‘pegged’ and figured out. They were too wise and intelligent for Jesus, and as a result, it would be better for the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon and the wicked city of Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for them.

What did Jesus expect of them? He expected them to repent and turn to Him. To realize that HE was the kingdom of God come near to them. To realize WHO He was: the Messiah. To give HIM their absolute allegiance. Did Jesus really expect people to drop everything and rearrange their entire lives just to make room for Him? Yes He did. He expected to become the center of their lives, the center around which everything else would revolve, adjust, make room for and give in to. Was this reasonable? Of course not! Yet the consequences were dire, as they would be later for Jerusalem.

What does it mean to be “wise and intelligent”? We of course think of intellectuals and the highly educated. But that is not the meaning here. They are included, but Jesus is referring to the town people. They were struggling, sure, but they knew how to live, they knew what was important, and they made a place for religion in their lives. They were good people, doing the best they knew how, and they even liked Jesus, they enjoyed His miracles, and His teachings were interesting, though if you took what He said at face value, He was a bit extreme. They figured it was all for affect, anyway. In other words, Jesus was okay as long as they could squeeze Him in, as long, that is, as they do not have to change!

Jesus had reason to be frustrated and disappointed, even to be hurt and heart-broken. This was a defeat for Him. In a way, He was already rejected.

Praising God (11:25-27)

“At that time” in verse 25 means in the face of this mutual disappointment. When we would have been so discouraged, Jesus ‘answers’ and says, “I extol You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” This word ‘answered’ is interesting, because it means that, even while He spoke those words of condemnation, He was in communion with the Father. He answered the Father, and there was no disappointment or bitterness or resentment in His tone, or any of those things we would probably have felt. Instead, He praises God “because You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for thus it has been well-pleasing in Your sight.”

Here is Someone who does not have a direct relationship with His work, with things or with people. He has a direct relationship only with the Father. If these things are hidden from the wise and intelligent, it was the Father’s good pleasure. This is all that matter. We would have felt that God was not acting like a Father to us, and that He was not the Lord of heaven and earth. But Jesus sees that, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father.” He accepts everything that happens as God’s will, as under God’s control, and He thanks God as Father and Lord. This rejection was not His problem that He had to solve. It was the Father’s will.

He knows that no one knows Him except the Father, and He is satisfied with this. Can we live in the presence of God like this? Everything that happens comes from God, and as long as God knows us, only this matters.

Only someone who lives with God in this way who can know God. “No one knows the Father except the Son.” The word ‘know’ does not mean to know ‘about.’ It is personal, direct, firsthand knowledge. The Son knows the Father because He lives in direct relationship to the Father. Everything else is on the side. “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father” and everything is “well-pleasing in Your sight.” He praises or extols the Father, knowing the Father’s love, regardless of everything happening around Him.

The Lord of the Sabbath (11:29b; 12:8)

This means the Son is at rest. He is the Master or Lord of the Sabbath, because He is completely yielded to the Father’s will. “I am meek and lowly in heart.” To be meek means to be flexible and pliable, to offer no resistance, to yield. To be lowly means to keep one’s head low, to have nothing to lose. It means we do not value reward or recognition from people, and do not have plans or ambitions. Jesus was empty and open before the Father. He had no ambition with people, but only what the Father asked of Him. This means He was at rest within Himself. Rest means peace and satisfaction.

“Come to Me!” (11:28)

This is the One who says, “Come to ME and I will give you rest.” We can enter into His rest. We are those who toil and are burdened. We are always busy and so many demands press on us. But Jesus offers “rest for your souls.” Do we not want this?

There is only one condition: that we take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. What are we to learn? We all gladly accept God’s grace, God’s love and forgiveness. But that is not enough. We need meekness and lowliness to accept God’s will. The reason we are so restless is because we do not love God’s will. We may think we love it, but we complain about our situation, our job, our family, and our property. We know Jesus demands that we make time for Him and that we put Him in the center of our lives, but we are too intelligent, too practical to do this. We make a million excuses for why we cannot squeeze Him in, why we cannot make room for Him. We want God’s will as long as we do not have to rearrange our entire lives, as long as we do not have to make any major change. We are the ‘wise and intelligent.’

Maybe we want to, but it is too hard. It seems too foolish. We are afraid of what might happen. People will not understand; they will get angry with us. We do not have enough will power to force ourselves to.

But we only need to force ourselves to do what we do not want to do. Do you want to follow Jesus? It is about doing what you want to do, not forcing yourself to do anything. God puts this desire in us, and there is joy in doing it.

We say we do not have time, but we do. We have to decide not to be busy. Being busy does not work anyway. Do we not see this? Always we are making choices. The question is what choice we end up making. Jesus demands the first place in our choices. Whether we give Him this place, and trust God about the consequences, has to do with what we want, and whether we have enough the faith to overcome our fears, not with our will power. Busyness is really a form of self-justification, the result of guilt. No matter how busy we get, we will never be busy enough. We need to STOP.

“Take My Yoke upon You” (11:29)

Yet it seems like more work, not rest. Notice, however, that Jesus says, “Take MY yoke upon you.” A yoke is a wooden framework that harnesses two animals together so they can pull a load. He pulls the load with us. You cannot but He can. If we surrender to Him we will find that the yoke is easy and the burden light. We say He loves us, but do we trust Him? We think of the Lord as a harsh master; if we ask for a fish He will give us a snake. We do not trust His will. “Learn of Me,” Jesus says. If we surrender to God’s will, then we will find rest for our souls, and satisfaction, and joy in God.

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