I Will Give You Rest
Matthew 11: 25 — 30
If we cast a glance at verses 20 — 24 just preceding this text, we will see our Lord discussing the very wide rejection of his teaching at all levels of his own society. In plain language, he appears to have failed to attract the people he had hoped would accept his instruction. He has not reached the so-called "wise and learned". His message has been grasped only by a few disciples drawn from the peasant and working classes.
There can be no doubt that he is feeling this very deeply. As we shall see, he does not despair, but turns, instead, to prayer; and models for us the way through a seemingly hopeless situation. And we shall also observe this master teacher reversing the world's formula for success. Instead of recruiting from the ranks of the economically powerful and the educated he takes his future messengers from the unlearned and the despised. It is not their power and knowledge he wants, but their trust and love. With these he can lay the foundation of God's Kingdom.
[For Teachers — Introductory Notes.]
Some Notes On the Text
Verses 25 and 26
Jesus begins his short prayer in the traditional Jewish manner.
He never prays informally when in public; but always according to the proper and respectful form, without loquaciousness or repetition.
(Christians, take note.)
"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children".
The sceptical might comment, "What sort of God would play tricks like that!" Our Lord, in fact, does not thank the Father for having hidden gems of understanding (about his words and actions) from the wise and prudent. Rather, since they remained hidden from them, he revealed them to others.
We note in the Talmud:
"In the days of the Messiah, every species of wisdom, even the most profound, shall be revealed, and this even to children."
(Synop. Sohar. Fol. 10. Approx. 3 — 4 century B.C.)
We need to remember that this is not a contrast of old and young, but a choice God makes between those who think they know enough about spiritual wisdom, and those who see themselves still needing to learn more who are therefore spiritually dependent.
Jesus rounds off his prayer:
"Yes Father, for this was your good pleasure".
He acquiesces to his Father's reason for revealing understanding to the uneducated but loyal disciples for God's "good pleasure", a polite Jewish way to acknowledge the most holy will of God in prayer.
Turning his attention now to his disciples, our Lord makes an astonishing statement:
"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son
and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him".
Adam Clarke captures the full import of this wonderful verse in his commentary:
This is a great truth and the key of the science of salvation. The man Christ Jesus receives from the Father, and in consequence of his union with the eternal Godhead becomes the Lord and sovereign Dispenser of all things. All the springs of the Divine favour are in the hands of Christ, as Priest of God, and atoning Sacrifice for men: all good proceeds from him, as Saviour, Mediator, Head, Pattern, Pastor, and sovereign Judge of the whole world.
None can fully comprehend the nature and attributes of God, but Christ; and none can fully comprehend the nature, incarnation, etc., of Christ, but the Father. The full comprehension and acknowledgement of the Godhead, and the mystery of the Trinity, belong to God alone.
We should note some key ideas arising out of Our Lord's words before we move on:
- Jesus remains for all time, the dispenser of the revelation of God to mankind. Christian teachers must be careful never (consciously or unconsciously) to assume that role. Much modern mass media presentation of Christianity illustrates how far Jesus and his teaching have been side-lined.
- Any understanding we have of spiritual truth is not the result of our abilities or wisdom, but is the gift of God which Jesus chooses to share with us.
We do not have to wait very long before our Lord declares to his followers the special intimation of God's character he has prepared for us:
God is the One who forgives the sinful, and bears our burden.
Verses 28 and 29
"Come to me" (a), all you who are weary and burdened, and
I will give you rest (b). 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 (c).
This may be paraphrased as:
My yoke does not consist of a multitude of burdensome ordinances like that of the law and of the Pharisees. It can hardly be called a yoke at all it is so light. True, there are certain ordinances, which every Christian must observe, but they are few and simple. The essence of my religion is that men should be humble, and meek and loving and tenderhearted as I am, not hard and proud like the Pharisees. Practise these things, and you will find your lives easy, your religion a joy, and your souls at rest.
Beautifully, he draws on treasured Old Testament texts (linked by the letters a, b, and c) and brings them to a perfect fulfilment. It is worth looking at them and pondering their depths.
(a) Isaiah 55: 2 and 3
"…Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live".
(b) Exodus 33: 14
"…My presence will go with you,
and I will give you rest."
(c) Jeremiah 6: 16
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
which is the good way,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls."
All are invited to come. All are promised rest. Jesus invites his listeners to enter into an even closer bond, enrol yourselves as my disciples, and
"learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls."
John Meier explains this:
"Since he embodies all he teaches and commands, the pupil must study him, his meekness towards men (Mt 9: 5; 21: 5) his lowly, obedient heart given to God. Thus, the spiritual rest Jesus gives (Jer. 6: 16) comes not from practising 613 commandments but from assimilating and living Jesus' attitudes indeed, his very person."
This remains one of the chief features of true Christianity as
distinct from much false religion to which the media expose us to today.
Jesus concludes his short but power-packed instruction with one of his favourite sayings:
"My yoke is easy and my burden is light".
The rabbis used "yoke" as a figure of speech for the instructions a teacher passed on to his students. Our Lord is emphatic that his students, though bound to him by the yoke, as are two beasts of burden, it is he who will bear the weight. His disciples would spend the rest of eternity pondering this mystery of love and devotion he has for those whom the Father has given him.
This is a passage of awesome splendour, and really quite unique in all of Sacred Scripture. We will not comment further, but close with part of a great sermon by St. John Chrysostom, fourth century Bishop of Constantinople.
Next, having brought them by his words to an earnest desire, and having signified his unspeakable power, he after that invites them, saying,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest. Not this or that person, but all that are in anxiety, in sorrows, in sins. Come, not that I may call you to account, but that I may do away your sins; come, not that I want your honour, but that I want your salvation. For I, saith he, will give you rest. He said not, 'I will save you,' only; but what was much more, 'I will place you in all security.'
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Thus, 'be not afraid,' saith he, 'hearing of a yoke, for it is easy: fear not, because I said, 'a burden,' for it is light.
And how said he before, The gate is narrow and the way strait (Mt 7: 13)? Whilst thou art careless, whilst thou art supine; whereas, if thou duly perform his words, the burden will be light; wherefore also he hath now called it so.
But how are they duly performed? If thou art become lowly, and meek, and gentle. For this virtue is the mother of all strictness of life. Wherefore also, when beginning those divine laws, with this he began (Mt 5: 3). And here again he doeth the very same, and exceeding great is the reward he appoints.
(St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St Matthew, xxxviii)