SynopsisIn the last passage Jesus pronounced woes on cities which had not repented, even though he had performed miracles there. But now he switches gears; he prays to the Father, and his concern now seems to be for those who will come to him.
He prays the following:
- He thanks the Father—“Lord of heaven and earth” (verse 25 (ESV))—for hiding “these things” (that is, the things he has been discussing) from the wise, and yet revealing them to little children.
- He mentions that all things have been “handed over to him” (verse 27 (ESV))
- He mentions that nobody knows him except for the Father, and nobody knows the Father either (except those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (verses 28–30 (ESV), Jesus speaking)
ThoughtsWhen Jesus thanks God the Father for revealing these things to little children, I don’t think he means just literal children; I think he means anyone who is coming to him as a child; see, for example, Matthew 18:1–6 (ESV), or 19:13–15 (ESV). You might think that Jesus would prefer God the Father to reveal these things to the children and to the wise—and, to a certain extent, that is the case, because wise people get saved too—but the point is that Jesus wants the glory to go to God, not to us. If only really smart people were getting saved, then we would be able to say that you have to be smart enough for God, whereas if smart and not-so-smart (and even downright stupid and/or foolish) people get saved, then we can’t say that intelligence is the answer; only the Grace of God is the common denominator. God didn’t save me because I’m smart (or because I’m stupid), He saved me because He’s a loving God, who saves people. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. In fact, Jesus follows up his comment about God revealing things to children by mentioning God’s Grace in the next verse:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (verses 25–26 (ESV), emphasis added)When Jesus says that all things have been “handed over to him,” he’s really saying that he’s in charge. He’s Lord; He’s King. He’s the ruler of all. In a sense, Satan is the ruler of this world (e.g. John 14:30–31 (ESV)), but we also know that Satan can only go as far as God lets him—Jesus is the real, ultimate ruler, of this world and of all the universe.
When Jesus says that nobody knows the Son, and that nobody knows the Father except those to whom the Son reveals Him, I find the second part easier to understand than the first part. Of course I can’t know the Father unless I get to Him through Jesus, and without the Holy Spirit I can’t really understand anything about the Father. (Not in a deep way, anyway.) But why isn’t it the same case with respect to the Son; that nobody knows the Son properly, until he’s saved? Jesus just says “no one knows the Son except the Father”—period. I’m wondering if this was less of an “eternal” statement, and more of a “for the time being” statement. Meaning that Jesus was talking about the people around him; they were starting to understand more about the Father because Jesus was explaining the Father to them, but nobody really understood the Son properly, until after his death on the cross, when they finally started to grasp the real nature of his “mission” on earth. It’s a theory, but I don’t know if it’s a good one.
Finally, we get to a very famous passage, the “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden” passage. I find this especially poignant coming right on the heels of the previous passage, wherein Jesus pronounced woes on unrepentant cities. He has harsh words for those who won’t believe, but he has very tender words for those who are willing to believe, and follow him. I’ll include a caveat in a second, but first, I just want to revel in the love Jesus is expressing for us in this passage. Are you labouring? Are you weighed down? This message is for you. Come to Jesus, and He’ll give you rest. Are you afraid of finding a harsh task-master; are you afraid of the rules and regulations that you assume come with Christianity? Jesus is gentle, and lowly in heart; you don’t need to fear Him.
Now the promised caveat: does this passage mean that the Christian’s life will be one of ease and comfort? Not even close, buddy. The New Testament is full of promises that the Christian’s life will be hard—we’re able to bear it because of God’s help. Even this passage, in which Jesus talks about giving us rest, he also talks about taking his “yoke” upon ourselves. A yoke has nothing to do with rest; a yoke is about work. (For those who have bought into the health and wealth gospel, who think that their lives will be easy once they become Christians, I’m guessing that this is one of the passages they use to back that up; but how do they explain the use of the word “yoke” here? Do they just gloss over it, and ignore it? Have they come up with some kind of convoluted explanation, in which they claim that Jesus says yoke but doesn’t really mean yoke? I don’t know.)
Jesus offers rest, but he also demands obedience. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he says, in John 14:15 (ESV). Technically, this isn’t a command at all, it’s a statement. “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” not “you must obey what I command,” or “you should obey what I command”—“you will obey what I command.” And he says this in the context of promising his disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit, who enables us to obey. So this means that if you love Jesus, you will be obeying him, and if you’re not obeying him, then it necessarily means that you don’t love him. If you’re not obeying Him you can claim to love him, but you don’t really love him. Because if you did, you’d be obeying him. (I’m not talking about perfect obedience; nobody can claim that in this life. But generally, your life will be marked by righteousness; you will be becoming more and more holy with the passing months and years; you will be growing closer to God, and loving Him more. People will look at your life and notice that you are a “good person.”) The point is that “rest” doesn’t mean that you can just go off and do whatever you want, or go home and hole yourself up with your Bible and never do anything but read the Scriptures. By coming to Jesus, and following Him, and receiving the Holy Spirit, you will also want to obey Him, and you will get better and better at it as you go. He does put a yoke on you—the yoke of righteousness—but because the Holy Spirit helps you to bear up under that yoke—and, frankly, because you will enjoy obeying Him, because of your love for Him—the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.
This whole concept of giving up one burden for another surprised me when I first read it in the Bible; it’s even more striking in Romans 6:15–23 (ESV), when Paul says that we’re no longer slaves to sin—right on, Paul, I’m with you on that one—and then says that we are now slaves to righteousness. Wait… what?!? Slaves to righteousness? What happened to freedom? Doesn’t that mean being in control of my own life? I don’t want to be a slave to anybody! I want to be my own man; captain of my own destiny. But we’re not the owners of our own lives; God made us, and has the right to do with us as He will; having grown up in North America, that was a concept that it took me a long time to grudgingly accept. The fact that “freedom,” in the New Testament, doesn’t mean “you can do whatever you want,” but that you’re free from the bondage of sin. You still belong to God.
Which brings us to the labouring and heavy laden part of this passage; when Jesus mentions our burden, he’s referring to sin. The ESV Study Bible says that Jesus is talking to his hearers about being burdened by the weight of the Jewish law—and especially all of the extra stuff the Pharisees heaped on top of it—which is, of course, true. (I try not to argue with the writers of the ESV Study Bible (unless I have a reason to).) But at the end of the day, that still boils down to sin. People today, in 21st Century North America, are still labouring and heavy laden, even though they don’t live under Phariseeic law. (Is “Phariseeic” a term?) Our sin is something we can’t handle on our own. We can’t bear up under it on our own. We can’t deal with it on our own. But we can replace the yoke of our sin with the yoke that Jesus offers us, and find out that it’s actually easier to bear up under than the previous burden we’d been carrying.