Finding Rest in the New Year

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  • 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. – Matthew 11:29

    Matthew 11:28 is one of the great declarations of Jesus, golden verses of the Bible, and best invitations ever offered: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus extends a personal, exclusive, and compelling invitation to anyone, everyone who is tired of to-do list religion. You cannot find rest in yourself, material possessions, or anything this world offers. But Jesus promises true rest to the weary and heavy-laden who come to him. No creed, church, and clergyman can give you rest. Jesus is the only one who can provide rest for the weary.

    This great invitation mentions rest twice. In verse 28, Jesus offers rest through salvation in him. In verses 29, Jesus offers rest through submission to him: “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.” We celebrate the first mention. We ignore the second mention, to our loss. Jesus offers to give rest to the weary. Literally, Jesus says, “I will rest you.” But he also bids us to find fest for our souls. You can come to Jesus and not experience the true rest he gives if you do not submit to his commands. Jesus commands to duties that enable the obedient to find rest in him.

    Put on the yoke of Christ. A yoke was a wooden frame fitted over the shoulders of animals to harness them to the plow and to other beasts of burdens. When used metaphorically, the term refers to bondage to a mandatory responsibility. It is to be in subjection to another. This is how the Lord uses the term in Matthew 11:29.

    Jesus offers rest to those who labor and are heavy laden. Then Jesus commands the same exhausted people to put on his yoke. But this is no bait-and-switch scheme, in which Jesus merely exchanges another yoke for his yoke. Rather, Jesus is teaching the proper understanding of the nature of spiritual rest. The word world would have you to think that rest means you are free to do your own thing without accountability to anything or anyone. But true rest is not freedom from responsibility. It is joyful bondage to the holy duty for which you were created by God. You will only find rest when you put on the yoke of Christ.

    Learn from Christ. What does it mean to put on the yoke of Jesus? It is to learn from him. The Christian disciple learns Jesus. Jesus declares, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To know the Lord Jesus Christ is eternal life. But the Christian disciple also learns from Jesus. He is not just the required curriculum. He is the resident scholar. Christianity is a school. Jesus is the professor and the textbook. Jesus is the subject matter and master teacher.

    A closed mind is the end of discipleship. We are to learn from him, with childlikeness, diligence, and submission. When you get on an elevator, you push a button and it does all the work. Too many of us want to be elevator Christians. But Christ calls us to take the stairs with him. Taking the stairs takes effort. Taking the stairs builds strength. Taking the stairs makes you appreciate how far you’ve come. To find rest for your soul, put on the yoke of Christ and learn from him. Why should you accept the invitation Jesus gives and submit to the duty Jesus commands? Jesus answers, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.