Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus! (Week 2)

“Are you tired and worn out?”

Part 2 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

Today, we are going to start a conversation on the major issues of stress. We live in an overconnected 24×7 world where technology is blurring the lines between work and home life. In 2015, Forbes magazine broke with this news, “According to the World Health Organization, stress is ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century,’ and the driver of many chronic diseases.”[1] This is a fascinating and insightful article that is more relevant today than it was when it was released in October 2015, over three years ago. With the millennial generation on track to be the majority of the work force within the next 6 years, with technology (phones, pads, computers, AI, etc.) continuing to be integrated more deeply than ever into work force expectations and everyday life productivity, and with tightening budgets causing employees to do more with less, allow me to quote some of the statistical research regarding how stress is affecting us:

 

When asked if they have ever missed work due to stress, nearly one-third (31%) of respondents indicated they had taken a day or more out of work in the past year solely because of stress they were feeling on the job. But what are employees saying when they are skipping out to decompress? The most common excuse is calling out sick (81%), followed by taking a mental health day (32%), saying there is a family emergency (20%), claiming a household problem or car troubles (18%) and saying you have a doctor’s appointment (14%). The alternative to having your employees out of the office – having them work while stressed – isn’t necessarily the next best option. Stressed employees don’t perform to their potential: When asked how they operate at work under stress, 56% said they’ll work overtime, 28% said they log regular hours and avoid extra work and 16% said they’ll take long breaks throughout the day. They might be in the office, but they are not engaged with their work. Perhaps the most interesting piece of data: the number of respondents who admitted they have left a job because of the stress it caused them. Just over 40% of respondents said they quit because of stress, which should make employers and HR departments think a little more about how they can empower their employees to thrive in the stressful situations rather than bear the high costs of turnover, replacement and training.[2]

 

Last week we talked about the first three words of Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me”. Today we are looking at the next clause, “all who are weary and heavy-laden.”[3] Sounds like Jesus is inviting, “all who are stressed out.” Jesus invites people who are stressed out, strung out, screwed up, set up, set aside, snowed in and sent out to pasture. Jesus is inviting you and me!

 

That is good news, because it means that Jesus has not given up on us yet. Jesus is still inviting!

Please open your Bible with me to Matthew 11 and allow me to briefly help you gain important context on who Jesus is inviting. Jesus is making this invitation after John the Baptist’s disciples relay his question as he sat in jail awaiting his execution, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”[4] I think John the Baptist was feeling some anxiety and he was second guessing who Jesus was.[5] So Jesus gave evidence that He is the Messiah and then as if in direct response to John the Baptist’s anxiety, Jesus said, “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me [literally, “does not stumble over me”].”[6] Jesus’ ways are not our ways!

 

Immediately afterwards, in a strong moment of what I call “righteous rebuke” Jesus describes the generation to which He was sent.[7] Then in unapologetic words of judgment which Jesus usually focused on the religious elite of his day who were putting the burdens on their people, Jesus judged whole cities for their lack of faith and unwillingness to come to Him. He contrasts them to Sodom and Gomorrah actually (ouch!).[8] And this is when the great compassion of Jesus Christ breaks through one of Jesus’ hardest denunciations recorded in the Bible.[9]

 

From the New American Standard Bible, listen to Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 starting in verse 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. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 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. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”[10]

 

These are words of great compassion in the face of great unbelief. Technically, it is apostasy since Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience. In a moment that Jesus determined great judgment was due, He compassionately relents (showing His character as gentle and humble in heart) and makes one of the most gracious invitations of His ministry.

Let’s go a little deeper so we can get to application for our lives today. There are two original Greek words of special interest to us this morning. The first is κοπιάω (= weary in Matthew 11:28). There are 23 usages in the NT ranging from to “become weary/tired” and “to exert oneself physically, mentally, or spiritually, word hard, toil, strive, struggle.”[11] An equivalent usage to Matthew 11:28 is found in John 4:6 about Jesus, “Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.”[12]

 

Growing weary, growing tired is a real condition for all of us. It is part of being human. Even Jesus got tired. You can be tired physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally. We are finite creatures. Even when we are in Christ we are dwelling in finite bodies. Never ever forget, that you are human and you need rest! God made us with finite boundaries physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. And I will go as far as telling you, that these boundaries are gifts from God, to remind you of your absolute need for God in this life. God is inviting us out of our pride and self-sufficiency. Don’t deny your everyday need for Him. Are you weary? Are you tired?

 

Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap.

 

When is the last time you took a nap? If you are simply tired, weary from the journey of the last 6 days, then today is the day to find rest for our whole being because our soul is the center of our personality and all that we are.[13] It is God’s gift of rest to His people and it’s called the Sabbath. It’s not a burden, it’s a gift! It is a day of rest after 6 days of work. It is a day of intentional non-productivity after 6 days of productivity. It is a day of celebrating the infinite God whose life you are dependent on and to remember that you are finite and in need of God’s power and provision in your life. It is a day of humility to be reminded that the world doesn’t need your hard work as much as you think. It’s a day of freedom from self-imposed slavery.

 

We will talk more about the Sabbath the Bible’s rest motif when we dive into Jesus’ promise for rest. For now, just know that rest is a part of God’s design for you. He modeled it in Creation, commanded it through Moses, and revolutionized it through Jesus. Jesus is our rest.[14]

 

Now, combine this with the second word: φορτίζω (= heavy-laden in Matthew 11:28). Very interestingly, in the original language, Jesus used this passive participle in the perfect tense which means that Jesus is implying that someone else has already put the burden on you and you are now experiencing the ongoing state of that burden.[15] This is why there are 2 words in this expression: the first is an active participle in the present tense. You are actively tiring yourself out! This second word is the key to Jesus’ invitation: Because someone else has put a heavy-burden on you once upon a time, but you are still feeling the effects of it.

 

Listen to the only other usage of φορτίζω, but this time in the active voice meaning to load someone down, to burden them.[16] The only two usages of the word were used by Jesus and it provides a significant connection to the meaning of our scripture. Listen to Luke 11:46, “But He said, ‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’”[17]

 

This is further applied by Jesus in Matthew 23:1-4, “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.’”[18]

 

Listen one more time to Jesus’ invitation, but this time in The Message. It demonstrates the context in which Jesus is inviting all who are weary and heavy-laden: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”[19]

 

Jesus is inviting people into the life He has learned to live. A life that is not one of performance with a try-harder mentality, but the life in the grace-yoke of submission to God the Father, whom Jesus taught us to call Father, too. Jesus lived this before us, showing us the rest and the peace and the fullness of joy that comes with a relationship with God that is not based on man’s performance goals to meet the religious standards that have been squarely placed upon our shoulders with no hope of rescue. The rescue is here and Jesus is doing it and inviting us into it.[20]

Jesus is inviting you to enter into His rest and to stop trying harder to find security. In Jesus, you are already found, stop trying to earn your acceptance because you are already accepted.

 

What God has known we as a people are starting to learn to re-train ourselves to live by—it’s the new way of the Spirit.[21] We are disintegrating as a church because we live more like culture than like God’s people. All of these are worldly and not biblical teachings, but they all are right here working against the very way Jesus calls us to live and do community:

 

  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again.”
  • “It’s up to me to make it happen.”
  • “I have to take control of the situation.”
  • “I need to get a grip on my emotions.”
  • “Life is hard. I have to be harder.”
  • “I am a self-made person and I can do it.”

 

We are a try-harder culture, but Jesus is not a try-harder God. Stop trying harder to be someone and to make something of your life. Rest and live your life! Be who you are in Christ and allow Him to do what He’s always intended for you to do in His easy yoke.

 

The easy yoke does not mean life is going to be easy. Life is not easy, but in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ your best life is ahead of you, not behind you. Never behind you! Because the easy yoke of Jesus Christ is your rescue from the yoke of the devil (not only for eternity, but for this world here and now). The devil is the deceiver of your soul who is striving to distort your personality and intoxicate your desires. And in doing so, the devil is the thief of your joy, the robber of your peace, and the destroyer of your rest. For the followers of Jesus Christ, the devil is the only true enemy we will ever have because it is the devil who animates the structures and the systems of this world against the followers of Jesus who are called to live with and for God as proclaimers of the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.[22]

 

As Jesus Christ promised as our good shepherd, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”[23] As the good shepherd, Jesus never drives us to do His Father’s will, He always walks amidst us, with us, to do His Father’s will. He modeled the life of being in the grace yoke of His Father by living the restful life, which included how He walked, talked, even how He died. Every aspect of His life was according to the Father’s will and for us to be able to enter His rest.[24]

 

As the Apostle Paul said to the disciples of Jesus Christ in Galatia, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”[25]

 

Jesus is inviting you to His easy yoke. Accept Jesus’ invitation and allow Jesus to personally release you from the bondage of religion that is a heavy yoke that has been placed around your neck. In place of that yoke, Jesus will personally custom fit you with a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. Made by the Nazarene carpenter Himself.[26]

 

Anxiety is caused when we view the problems of this life as greater than the promises of God. Rest is when we trust the promises of God as being greater than the problems of this life.

 

Jesus is inviting you to take Him at His promise for your life.

 

Are you tired and worn out? Has Christianity as you’ve known it and experienced it not even touched your depression or your anxiety or your fears of death or worries in life or your neurotic tendencies or self-centered thinking or consumeristic living?

 

Jesus is inviting you to get out of that heavy yoke of religion and take on the easy yoke of relationship. Jesus is inviting you to find your rest in Him.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] Jan Bruce, “Are You Too Stressed to Work: You’re Not Alone” Forbes Magazine posted October 20, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/janbruce/2015/10/20/are-you-too-stressed-to-work/#3fcde2a5a9e3. Accessed January 12, 2019.

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] “πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι” (Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012], Mt 11:28).

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 11:3.

 

[5] The amazing news is that Jesus did not hold this against John because Jesus’ acceptance is not based on performance or right answers. Reference Mt 11:7-11.

 

[6] Ibid., Mt 11:6.

 

[7] When Jesus says things like this (Matthew 11:16-24), He is being true and just (righteous), but when a pastor says things like this today, he is generally thought of as letting his stress, anxiety, frustration, or anger come through toward individuals or the congregation. Is there a place for righteous rebuke in the 21st century pulpit?

 

[8] This is not the only connection to Sodom and Gomorrah. You may remember from our study of the phrase “come to Me” in the NASB it is used in Genesis 18:21 when God describes how the prayers of His people come to Him: “And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’”

 

[9] Cf. Mt 23:13-39. We see the same pattern. The righteous rebuke of Jesus Christ (13-36) is again followed by His compassionate plea (37-39). Even as Jesus’ denounces, He can’t help Himself in compassionately inviting.

 

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:25–30. All caps in this reference is part of NASB formatting to indicate that Jesus is quoting the Old Testament.

[11] Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

 

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 4:6.

 

[13] There is currently a lot of research on the effects of sleep deprivation on personality and productivity. Surprise, but science is finding that having sufficient sleep is critical to living an abundant life. Are you getting enough sleep to be at your very best? Are you disciplined about getting to bed on time? Are you relaxing before bed in order to actually get good sleep? Research is also proving that anxious people don’t rest well (in sleep or during the day in how they handle their circumstances and everyday demands and expectations).

 

[14] We will learn more in future studies. For now, additional research available by reading, “How is Jesus our Sabbath Rest?” at https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Sabbath.html (accessed January 12, 2019).

[15] Perfect is “The verb tense used by the writer to describe a completed verbal action that occurred in the past but which produced a state of being or a result that exists in the present (in relation to the writer). The emphasis of the perfect is not the past action so much as it is as such but the present ‘state of affairs’ resulting from the past action” (Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology [Lexham Press, 2013; 2013]).

[16] Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. In Lk 11:46, it is also in the indicative mood which is the mood of assertion. Jesus is saying that these men really did it.

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 11:46.

 

[18] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:1–4. This Greek word φορτίον is translated “burden” in Mt 23:4 and is used again as “burden” in Mt 11:30, “my burden is light.”

 

[19] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Mt 11:28–30.

 

[20] Jesus took on the yoke of His Father before He invited us to take His yoke. Jesus modeled a submitted life (“I am gentle and humble in heart” v. 29) before He calls us to a submitted life. “As a disciple of the Father Jesus learned the easy yoke life and teaches it to us. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Jesus’ life on earth is that as the Sovereign Lord he himself lived by the discipline of submission!” (Bill Gaultiere, Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered. [Irvine, CA: Soul Shepherding, Inc., 2016], 30, 34). The try-harder conversation was stimulated by this book and some information was shared from pages 19-21.

[21] Rom 7:6. For further study, check out Larry Crabb’s resources.

 

              [22] We must soberly and humbly acknowledge, that this includes the dynamics of our own cultural values. In the challenges of our current conversations, the devil is keeping us in bondage to the try-harder mentality fueled by narcissistic fear and unempathetic greed! Don’t believe me? My hope is that the call of Jesus will reform the church. The only way we will truly have “liberty and justice for all” in this nation is if the church of Jesus Christ wakes up from its long slumber to become true followers of Jesus, uncompromised by the ambition for more stuff and the lust for power over “the other” that has intoxicated us. Wake up people of God and unyoke from the heavy yoke, the performance yoke of this world, and take on the easy yoke, the grace yoke of Jesus Christ. This will be the hardest work the American church has done in a long time because it will break us from our own desire to join in the building of mini-empires. The only people who say that there is no hard work found in taking on the easy yoke of Jesus Christ are the ones who have never truly submitted to His lordship. Submission is the hardest work because it is the crucified life of Galatians 2:20. The hard work of Jesus is revolutionary to all things that come natural to the world because His kingdom, to which He is inviting us, is not of this world (Jn 18:36). More on this later.

 

[23] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 10:10–11.

[24] Allusion to Hebrews 4:11. More on this passage next week when we unpack the rest motif and to demonstrate how Jesus modeled the restful life, even in the hardest of circumstances.

[25] Ibid., Ga 5:1. Compare with Ga 2:4; Acts 15:10; and 1 Tim 6:1.

[26] We will discuss this more when we talk about the yoke of Jesus. But it is an amazing thought that Jesus, as Joseph’s apprentice and as a carpenter Himself, would have custom made countless numbers of yokes for the oxen in His community. Jesus knows what it takes to make a yoke that fits properly. The yoke He is calling you to has been custom made for you to do the good works the Father has prepared for you (Eph 2:10).


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