The Story of the Rest Is a Christian, Part 7

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  [1]

Matthew 11:28 is one of the most beloved verses in the New Testament. Here, Jesus offers an invitation to all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him for rest.

But what did Jesus mean by “rest” and to what was He referring in the terms “weary and heavy laden”?

Labor and heavy laden

The word “all” is a powerful word. Because Jesus used the word, for most people, this verse represents His universal invitation to all people of all people groups in all ages to come to Him for salvation. Here is the “whosoever” of John 3:16. No one is refused.

This is certainly a beautiful thought and one that is almost impossible to discuss objectively, because the concept of universal invitation is so entrenched into our theology. (See! I bet you already wonder where I’m going with this thought!)

Just for a moment, let’s try to step back from those dearly held preconceptions and look at the verse in its context. Think about the surroundings in which Jesus made this statement. Consider the incident itself, not the interpretation of the incident colored by contemporary thought and teaching.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus struggled against the opposition to His ministry led by the Jewish leadership of the day. These men had been immersed in the teachings of the Law and the prophets all of their lives. These men, above all men it seems, should have been the leaders in recognizing the promised Messiah, but in spite of everything they witnessed during Jesus’ ministry, they could not see that this lowly carpenter from Nazareth as their Messiah.

In the context of Matthew, Jesus made this invitation after a lengthy condemnation of the cities of Israel that had rejected His messiahship. After patiently waiting for the promised Deliverer for so many generations, even though He had taught and carried out His ministry publicly and worked miracle after miracle before them, they still could not see Him.

What is wrong with these people? Are they so wicked that they prefer their sinfulness over salvation? If that were true, why would they continue to sacrifice at the Temple? Are they that hard-hearted? If so, why would they practice any religion at all? Are they lacking in intelligence? There is no evidence of a national plague of stupidity.

The truth is that the Pharisees and Sadducees had so burdened the people with the yoke of requirements, traditions, regulations, prescriptions, and ceremonies that the people were weary from bearing the burden and doubtful of ever finding spiritual peace. (Matt. 23:4) Many, in fact, seemed to have given up the fight because the labors imposed under the Law had become too much to bear.

The word translated labor in the KJV means to be fatigued, worn out, weary, or faint (CWSB Dictionary). According to Ellicott’s Commentary, the people were weary from having to bear “the yoke of traditions and ordinances which the Pharisees and scribes had imposed on the consciences of men.” [2]

Meyer’s New Testament Commentary defined their weariness in terms of “…the legal and Pharisaic ordinances under which the man is exhausted and weighed down as with a heavy burden, without getting rid of the painful consciousness of sin…”

According to the Pulpit Commentary, Jesus offered this invitation to “…those that toil in legal ways of righteousness…and are burdened under Pharisaic enactments…”

The invitation in Matt. 11:28 will later be echoed in the declarations made by Paul to the church through his letters to the churches at Ephesus and at Rome…

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 9:16 So then it (righteousness) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Therefore, this “rest” that Jesus offers to all who come is not simply a promised release from the cares of life and the burdens of adversity and trouble. From our own experiences, we know that these things continue in spite of our salvation.

Jesus is here inviting those who would hear to come and receive a salvation given by grace that no works could ever merit – that no person could ever earn, no matter how many laws he keeps or how many sacrifices he might make.

However, this “rest” is not a call to come sit in the shade or to get on the gravy train to heaven. This is not a call to heavenly welfare and angel food stamps. Instead, this is actually a call to service.

Immediately after Jesus offered the “rest” of verse 28 – a rest from the unbearable yoke of manufactured righteousness – He called on those who would come to put on another yoke.

What? Are you sure?

Read again what Jesus said in verse 29.

Matthew 11:29 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.

Certainly, no one wears a yoke so that he might sit down and do nothing. There would be no need to shoulder a yoke unless one intends to go to work. So how is this resting?

Jesus invites us to come to him for rest, but He does not call us to quit working.

The word “rest” in verse 29 is a different word than the one used in verse 28. In verse 28, the word means “to permit one to cease from any movement or labour in order to recover and collect his strength.” (Strong)

The word “rest” in verse 29, on the other hand, refers to “inward tranquility while one performs necessary labor.” (CWSB Dictionary. Added emphasis.) In other words, once we come to Christ for salvation, there is an essential work to which we are called.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

When I was young, we lived on a farm. During the summer, much of our time was spent hoeing in the garden and cleaning out fence rows, picking peas and breaking corn. When we would get nearly overwhelmed by the heat of a July sun, our grandmother, whom we called Granny, would say, “Ok, let’s go to the house and rest.”

Yet no sooner had we arrived in the shade of the fig tree and quenched our thirst with cool, fresh well water, than Granny would hand us a pan and a basket of peas that needed shelling or corn that needed shucking, and put us right back to work.

Naturally, we complained. “But Granny, we thought you said we were coming to the house to rest!”

Expressing the wisdom of the ages, Granny replied, “This is resting. Resting doesn’t mean that you quit work. It means you change the kind of work you were doing.”

That’s what this invitation in Matthew 11 is all about.

Yes, Jesus invites us to come to him for rest, but He does not call us to quit working. Resting does not mean not working. It means that we change from the burdensome work of trying to attain righteousness by our own efforts and get involved in the fulfilling and fruitful work of the kingdom of God, a work that should not be heavy or burdensome. (See v. 30)

The Pulpit Commentary explains it like this: “The thought, therefore, here is not that those who come to Christ will have no more work, but that Christ will give them at once such rest and refreshment of soul that they may be fit for work…”

In his second letter to his disciple, Timothy, Paul expressed it like this:

2 Timothy 1:9 (God) saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

God saves us on purpose for a purpose. Paul tells us in Ephesians that God established this purpose before the foundation of the world (Eph. 3:11). He does not call us to sit, but to serve. This is what motivated Paul to pray for the church – the same prayer we should pray daily for each other:

Colossians 1:9 …we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God

This is what it means to be a Christian and to experience the “rest” of Christ. Salvation is not the end, but the beginning of an eternal relationship. Obedience is the “rest” of the story.



[1] Unless noted, all biblical references are from the English Standard Version.

[2] CWSB Dictionary is a reference to the Complete Word Study Dictionary by the late Dr. Spiros Zodhiates. The books are relatively expensive and require retyping to use. I recommend downloading the Bible program from and purchasing the book through them. Then you need only click, copy, and paste to use. One of my favorite online study resources is That is where I get these quotes from various commentators.

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