God’s Awe-Inspiring Invitation To Fulfillment
Since Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:8), mankind has instinctively hidden from its Creator. Religion, irreligion, philosophy, and science are all employed by people in futile attempts to guard against an intimate encounter with the living God. Despite this habitual human unbelief and evasion, the Lord repeatedly offers Himself to His creatures. This is exemplified in the Savior’s famous words, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
The Controversial Christ
In this section of Matthew, the Lord Jesus is facing continual opposition from Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. Under this persecution, His forerunner is prompted to ask, “Art Thou He that should come or do we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3). Christ responds affirmatively by citing the messianic signs that He performed in healing various maladies—especially authenticating Himself by giving sight to the blind (Jn. 9:31-33). In spite of this overwhelming evidence, His enemies continue to deny His obvious credentials (Mt. 11:16-19). Accordingly, the Lord denounces the cities that were most culpable in rejecting His light: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (vv. 21-24).
Christ then rejoices in His Father’s gracious revelation to spiritual babes instead of the self-sufficient people that the world thinks of as wise and prudent (v. 25). His next statement sounds remarkably exclusive: “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (v. 27). Indeed, knowledge of the triune Godhead is found nowhere else but in Christ, who perfectly manifests what God is like (Jn. 1:18; 14:9-11; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Those who want to know the Almighty must receive the Lord Jesus; no other self-professed sage, guru, cleric, or holy man can impart accurate knowledge of the true and living God.
Exclusive Truth Freely Offered
Keeping in mind that real knowledge of God resides in Christ, one might well wonder if He will make this truth available to anyone. Thankfully, there is no doubt that God desires to reveal Himself through His Son, for Jesus clearly states this in His celebrated invitation to come to Him and wear His yoke (vv. 28-30). Knowing God depends on knowing Christ. Thankfully, knowing Christ is open to whoever will respond to His call. Modern thinking exalts tolerance as the chief virtue; in the end, however, this same worldview refuses to tolerate belief systems that affirm absolute truth—dubbing them “intolerant.” In contrast, biblical Christianity restricts truth and salvation to God’s Son but calls on everyone to receive Him (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 22:17). What begins as seeming so restrictive, actually turns out to be gloriously liberating!
As evangelist Michael Green remarks: “What grace, that God should come to seek His rebel subjects with no word of condemnation on His lips, but an invitation, ‘Come’! That one word shows us the very heart of God. That is His attitude to sinners.”1 Another adds: “Every search after rest or joy is vain without Christ. The promises of the gospel are general; he alone is excluded who excludes himself.”2
The invited ones are described as those who “labor and are heavy laden” (v. 28). The former term indicates what strenuous work one takes upon oneself; the latter term connotes a burden that is imposed from outside oneself. Thoughts of guilty consciences and the bondage of sin naturally come to mind. One also thinks of the incessant—and ultimately futile—labor of trying to be accepted before God by one’s own religious “good” works (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:21). Nevertheless, the larger context of Matthew points to specific labors and burdens that Christ had in mind. The next section (Mt. 12:1-13) details examples of the onerous bondage that rabbinic Judaism imposed on its first century adherents (if anything, it is even worse today for Orthodox and Hasidic Jews). The rabbis were fond of speaking about “the yoke of the Law,” but it only weighed down those who bore it with heavy cares (Acts 15:10). In Matthew 23:4, the Lord criticized this legalism and hypocrisy, saying that “…they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
An Easy Yoke
Christ invites people to put on His yoke; this means that they submit to His authority as Lord. In return, they find that their new Master-Teacher gives them rest in Himself and instructs them in the right way to live (v. 29). Green points out Jesus’ intention: “He wants not only to welcome back the sinner, but to train the disciple.”3
Kelly agrees and amplifies the point:
Grace does not leave men to do as they list, but makes its object desire to do the will of God. So, immediately after saying, ‘I will give you rest,’ He, our Lord, adds, ‘Take My yoke upon you’—not the yoke of their fathers, but that of Jesus…The Lord thus secures His dignity, and keeps up His moral government over His people. They are more disturbed than any, if not subject to Christ; they can neither enjoy Him nor the world. If I have got such a blessing as Christ, and yet am not bearing His yoke, God does not intend that I should be happy. All else is a false happiness. The only true enjoyment for our souls, now that we have got Christ, depends on taking His yoke upon us, and learning of Him, bound to Him as One that we have evermore to serve and to worship.”4
The offer of Christ’s easy yoke is an invitation to an intimate relationship with Him, involving His love and tutelage, along with obedience on the believer’s part.
A Yoke of Rest
The Lord Jesus’ original audience was accustomed to arrogant and self-obsessed rabbis (Mt. 23:5-7; Jn. 7:49). But the Lord Jesus is meek (“gentle” NKJV, NASB, ESV & NET): His strength is exactly moderated to the needs of His people. Instead of pride running amuck, in the Lord Jesus they encounter One who condescends to help the humble and undeserving because He is “lowly of heart” (v. 29). In submitting to the Lord, they find an “easy yoke” (v. 30)—a word that is rendered “good” elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 2:4).5 A yoke helps one to carry a load, but the burden in this case is described as “light” (v. 30). In place of religious toil and dissatisfaction, they obtain rest in the Savior who loves them and transforms them by His grace (2 Cor. 5:17). A righteous standing in God’s sight, as well as peace, joy, and contentment are all part of the rest that is offered under Christ’s leadership.
As Ironside insightfully explains: “Many shrink from submitting to His yoke, fearing it may involve greater sacrifices than they are ready to make. But all who acknowledge His authority and blend their wills with His find they enter a rest such as the weary of this world never know.”6
1 Michael Green, The Message of Matthew (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001), p. 142.
2 Samuel Cramer, quoted in John Peter Lange and Philip Schaff, Matthew (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), p. 215.
3 Green, p. 143.
4 William Kelly, Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew (London; Glasgow: G. Morrish; R.L. Allan, 1868), p. 182.
5 “The word rendered ‘easy’ means agreeable and serviceable—a yoke that does not gall the neck, nor cramp so as to hinder the drawing.” John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1886), p. 254.
6 H. A. Ironside, Expository Notes on the Gospel of Matthew (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1948), p. 139.