Please turn with me in your copy of God’s Word to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11 verses 25 to 30. That can be found on the pew Bible page 816 for those using that. It’s been just over a year since I last preached here. Thank you all, again, for your support of Belhaven RUF, your support of our family. Thank you that more and more this place feels like somewhere we’ve been an awfully long time, not just two-and-a-half years. It’s a joy to come with you all tonight and more and more to feel like I’m preaching to family and not strangers. Let’s go before the Lord.
Our Father, we have filed in these doors tonight, some of us are wondering how we’re going to make it until tomorrow. Some of us are wondering can we make it through the week. Some of us are ready to walk away from all of it. Some of us are doing better than we’ve ever been. But what unites us before You this evening is that we would be changed if You would show us, Jesus. So Sir, would You do that? We don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear so Holy Spirit, would You give power to the preaching of Your Word, for my empty words would do us no good but oh what difference Jesus would make. And may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts together always be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Matthew chapter 11 beginning at verse 25:
“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. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone 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.’”
Here ends the reading of God’s holy Word and may He add His richest blessing to it.
Sometimes I get tired of feeling helpless. Sometimes I feel like almost all of my emotional energy is emotionally, spiritually processing why things aren’t going the way I think they should, why things aren’t going the way somebody told me they should. Why can’t I stop sinning? Why can I not stop neglecting my wife emotionally? Why can I not stop losing my temper with my two boys? Why can’t I find just the right words of wisdom that finally that student will hear what I have to say, finally their life could be different? Why do I care so much about what you all think about my preaching that I was very unpleasant to be with this afternoon? Why? As I was preparing for this sermon, it hit me. The common theme, the thread that binds all of these things together that cause me to feel helpless come down to this. I’m looking back preparing the sermon going, “I wish I would have preached this years ago. This might have gone better for me!” But I stop and go, “Here’s what ties it all together.” It’s when I’m looking in the wrong places, it’s when I’m looking at the wrong things, it’s when I’m looking to the wrong people for spiritual rest that everything else comes unglued. I want you to hear that. When we look in the wrong places for rest, when we have attributed value to something or when we have assigned a function to something that it was never meant to perform, we will constantly get into the cycle of feeling helpless and our souls take the beating and we leave ourselves going, “Surely this is not abundant life. Surely this is not what our Lord said He came to give us.”
And so we come to a passage tonight – and I’ll tell you, the proposition’s going to sound understated and so I hope we can flesh it outward by the end it sticks with you, but we come to a passage tonight where Jesus offers us what we desperately need but are unable to receive apart from Him. That simple. Jesus offers us what we desperately need but are unable to receive apart from Him. And we’re going to consider this under two headings. The first in verses 25 to 27 – Who is this Man? And secondly in verses 28 to 30 – What is He offering? “Who is this Man?” and “What is He offering?”
- Who is This Man?
When I got the phone call asking if I would preach tonight I gladly started looking around to see what I would preach on and I landed here and said, “I’m going to preach 28 to 30.” I think if you all if you’d look back at sermon notes somewhere or if you went back in your Rolodex of memory you’ve probably heard a lot of sermons on Matthew 11:28-30, but I wonder how many you’ve heard on 25-30. I almost made that mistake too until I started looking at the context and going, “I would be doing the passage, myself, and this congregation a grave injustice if we didn’t back up to verse 25.” If you think the offer that we all know, if you think the offer in verse 28 is gracious out of context, wait until you see what precedes the verses. Wait until you see what our Lord is speaking into. Wait until you see the massive mess that is surrounding the disciples as we get on the scene. So who is this Man, this Man identified in verse 25 as Jesus?
First, we see that He seems to be the only person that can make sense of what is going on around them. The disciples have to be discouraged. You look back at chapter 11 and everything that was supposed to happen when Jesus came was happening like clockwork. Every prophecy of the Old Testament was being fulfilled. There were signs, there were wonders, there were healings, there were demons being thrown out of people. John the Baptist had already come and he had already done his work as a messenger, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” Everything was going according to plan except for one problem. The disciples were being rejected. Jesus was being rejected. John the Baptist even, in a moment of weakness, “Is this really Jesus? I’ll send my disciples and ask Him, ‘Are You the One who is to come or are we still waiting?’” The disciples finally said, “We’ve got our Messiah. He’s here. No longer are we waiting for Israel to be free. He’s here. The prophecies before our eyes are becoming fulfilled. He’s here.” And they come back to Jesus and go, “But nobody will listen. But nobody will listen.”
The Doctrine of Election
And now you’re going to find out why most preachers skip verses 25 to 27. The perspective Jesus gives them on why they’re being rejected is the doctrine of election. The perspective He gives them is deeply theological. Oftentimes we want pragmatism. We want somebody to just give us the brass tacks, “What does it boil down to?” but Jesus would not answer their questions. Jesus would not address them in their rejection by doing that. He goes theological with them and He says, “If you want to understand what is happening in the world around you, if you want to prepare your hearts to hear and receive, respond to this offer that’s coming in verse 28, you’ve got to understand the doctrine of election.”
“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.” Now let’s be honest for a minute. A church this size in the south, some of you married into Presbyterianism, some of you aren’t Presbyterians but you like traditional worship, a lot of people in this room are going, “I’ve made peace with this doctrine of election because I’m surrounded by Presbyterians. I don’t make much of it.” Or others of you, seminary interns I’m talking to you, others of you, we find this doctrine of election and all of a sudden it just becomes sport for us. “Who can I prove I’m right and they’re wrong? Who can I take this doctrine and bash them over the head with?” But Jesus is calling our attention to this at the level of the heart. What Jesus is saying is, “There is no other explanation for what’s happening in the world and what’s happening in your life and what’s happening right now apart from the fact that God sovereignly chooses who He wishes.” I love the doctrine of election. I’m a Presbyterian minister. I’m not sure if I use language like, “thank you,” and “gracious” to describe the doctrine, though. It’s almost like I know my context in being in the south, I have to be embarrassed by it. Jesus is not. Jesus is not. Jesus is not.
And if you’re in here and you are wrestling with this doctrine, please don’t hear me being antagonistic. Please don’t hear me making fun of your scholarship or belittling where your conclusion has landed and that of your ancestors, but I have to say something to you. The only objection we could have to these verses, the only objection we could have to God hiding these things, is the presupposition, the assumption that things would have been better if God had not intervened. Forgive my harshness; there’s no other way to put it. The only objection you can have to a God who comes and hides and a God who comes and reveals His truth is the assumption that things would have been better off if He had just left well enough alone. You see, the doctrine of free will is what we see played out in chapter 11 and dear friends, it’s not a pretty sight. Free will is precisely why they would not receive Jesus, even though miracles, signs, and wonders were being done right before their very eyes. You want to prepare your heart, you want to prepare yourself spiritually to hear the blessed offer of verse 28? We have to stop and begin here. It is a good thing, it is a gracious thing, it is a glorious thing that children, that children get to see who Jesus is. It is equally gracious and great that the wise and understanding don’t.
The Inclusivity of Election
But please, we have to see it as Jesus sees it. We have to see this doctrine of election not as an exclusion but as an inclusion. Not as an exclusion but as the only way you and I will ever understand this world. The only way you and I will ever understand rightly salvation is to stop and see, “I’m thankful that a gracious God has revealed Himself to some, to any, to me.” I hope you will make note of that tonight. It’s always better when God gets involved. It’s always better when we can put our head on our pillow at night and say, “God is in control of this from beginning to end.” And where else would we want Him to exercise that level of sovereignty than the salvation of souls? It would have been easier if I had started at verse 28, but we would miss this glorious news that children, that children have revealed to them the goodness of God, that children have revealed to them the grace of salvation. Oh, I’m not talking about just the little ones. I’m not talking about my one who wouldn’t come sit with the kids a moment ago. I mean those who retain a childlike faith, those who still believe that God can move mountains, those who still with wonder and with a little bit of childlike grin still say, “Look at the table set before me. Look at the saints gathered.” Those who still stop and say, “How could it be that I was a benefit of this? How could it be that I’m the one who received this?” To the child, His purposes in salvation are revealed and so He gives this perspective of election.
Jesus is God
But He also comes on the scene and He begins to make statements of sovereignty. And right about this moment, you’ll see that the Gospel of Matthew turns and all of a sudden the Pharisees put together a campaign to see how fast they can kill Jesus. Why? “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Theologians would refer to this as a Christological statement, in fact, one of the clearest in all of Scripture, and it’s easy to miss. This is why I almost skipped this verse because I just assumed that 28 had to be the climax of the passage. Jesus just said to this tired, helpless feeling audience, Jesus just said to these disciples who were starting to doubt, who were starting to wonder, “Is this Man who He says He is?” He says, “I am very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.” He speaks here of exclusive knowledge of God. He speaks here of exclusive sonship. He’s not referring to God as Father the way just anybody would. He’s saying, “I know with detail, I know with divine understanding and revelation what God purposes for you.” And the Pharisees quickly realize, “If this is true, our gig is up.” And so they hated Him for it. But the disciples, would they draw near? The disciples, would they draw near?
My spam folder is full of – I don’t know how they get these email addresses – my spam folder is full of people who promise me impossible, quick fixes to any problem I have in life. Every dictator that has ever risen to power, I think in the history of the world, was able to do so large in part because he was able to come to the people and say, “I see what your problems are. I can fix it.” And they feel so helpless; they don’t ask what the consequences would be. They just grant permission and authority and give themselves over. I want you to see why we had to set up who was making this offer because the words in and of themselves sound too good to be true. Verse 28 sounds like it belongs in a spam folder were it not this Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity speaking.
- What is He Offering
And so, beloved, as we transition into our second point, as we transition to the last three verses of this passage, it’s not like me, it’s not like one of your pastors, it’s not like any spiritual hero of yours comes to you and offers this. It’s Jesus Himself who is speaking and here’s what He says. Here’s what He is offering. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The first thing I want to look at, and it’s not explicit in the passage but we have to deal with it by way of implication, my first question would be, “Well how do I know that I need this?” My first question would be, “Well is this for someone else or for me?” So perhaps what we need to be saying, “What do we need rest from?” or better put, “What are we laboring for?” or, “What has left us heavy laden?” The quick answer, an accurate one but not an exhaustive one would be, “Well sin, of course.” And if my week had been long and I had been tired and had had more time to prepare, I could have faithfully said to you, “Jesus gives you rest from your sin.” And that would be enough to get a hearty, internal, “Amen,” from all of us.
Jesus Gives us Rest From Guilt and Shame
But it’s more nuanced than that. Jesus gives us rest from the guilt and shame of our sin. Jesus gives us rest from that unquenchable understanding that the fall is real and that it affected me. It’s too simple to say He simply gives us rest from sin. Let me take you back to the Garden here. The fall happens and our parents, instead of running to God, instead of pleading His mercies, we know that they recognized that they didn’t have clothes on and so the first thing they did is they made fig leaves. And there begin our pursuit of trying to cover our own shame and guilt apart from the love of God. And that pursuit has never ended; in fact, it has only become a professional pursuit. We have moved far past fig leaves. But Christian, how much of your life, if you would be honest with yourselves, how much of your life is not believing that the Gospel is the final answer for your guilt and shame and so what you do is your labor. You labor as if the cross didn’t happen. You labor as if rest is something you need to find on your own. And you make one batch of fig leaves after another and just hope, and just hope that “One day I can find something that will make me forget my guilt and shame.” Jesus comes into that and He says, “That is the place where I promise rest.”
Jesus Offers Himself
But I want you to notice a few things. First of all, I don’t want us to think right off the bat, out of the gate, I don’t want us to think of rest as a benefit just yet. Because what I want you to see is that He is actually offering Himself firstly and foremostly. The language of “come,” the language of “Me,” the language of, “I.” What Jesus is saying is, “Not only benefits do I give you, but this offer is that you get Me. This offer is that you get intimacy with Me, union with Me. This offer is that you become united to Me. And flowing from that you receive rest. And flowing from that you get to a place where you remember, ‘I don’t have to sew fig leaves anymore.’”
But beloved, we have to draw near. The passage shows us, the offer shows us that the solution is not ever found in ourselves. Notice He doesn’t say, “I will show you where to find rest.” See, that’s the best I can do. A good day in the office, a faithful week at work for a pastor and the best we can do is give you some helpful advice about where to find rest. And Jesus says, “Come, and in taking Me, you receive rest.” The matchless grace of this promise, because beloved, you do know that when Jesus made that offer He knew that the cross was going to be involved. He knew that separation from His Father, being forsaken by His Father was going to be involved. He knew that the very people who were about to be recipients of rest were going to be nowhere found. They were going to be hiding when He suffered on the cross. He knew that I would be ungrateful and He knew that I would take off the royal robe of righteousness that He has given me and go back to sewing fig leaves every chance I got. And with all these things in mind, He looks up to a people rejected with fear and says, “Come.”
But, “Come,” involves leaving where you are. “Come,” involves not trusting the same old thing you always have. “Come,” Involves giving up control. “Come,” involves a posture of empty-handedness. And there, and only there, will you find rest. A lot of us have become – I say, “us” – pastors sometimes become lazy. It’s really easy for us to pastor just by saying, “Well you’ve got this sin in your life. Jesus is calling you to get rid of this sin in your life. Let’s pray.” Sin is certainly rebellion, but y’all, a lot of times sin is some desperate attempt of ours to try to cope with reality. A lot of times sin takes the form of the fig leaf. A lot of times sin is us still trying to control this matter of guilt and shame. It’s still sin, it’s still just as heinous, but to understand it’s root, to understand how it has taken hold of you, we must see that it is an issue of control. We must see that a lot of times rebellion looks like us trying to forget about guilt and shame because we don’t believe the Gospel is true.
Our Passive Reception
So how do we take reception of this? Well first we take reception of this offer passively and that’s what we’re dealing with in this verse, and then we’ll take reception of it actively. But in dealing with how we take it passively, I want you to realize something. It is awfully easy to surround yourself with good things and still be short of receiving what Jesus has to give. But let me say this. And those who know me, I don’t really do shock factor. I’m a pretty vanilla guy. I’m a thirty-one-year-old who doesn’t take exceptions to the Confession; I’m one of those that’s left. But let me say this. The means of grace will not give you rest if Jesus isn’t. Let me qualify that. You have to internalize what we’re doing here this evening. And by the way, you can look it up. This is just the language of The Shorter Catechism. You can’t just interact with the Word, with prayer, with sacraments, with fellowship with the saints gathered and be certain that you’re receiving rest. You can’t walk out of here tonight and go, “Well, I was at church morning and evening. Surely rest is going to just rub off on me.” That’s not how it works.
I’m a pastor and how many times have I faked it? I got behind and the morning sermon seemed like a good time to start on my Tuesday night large group sermon. We know we’re supposed to rest but we forgot to do our to-do list for Monday. “I don’t have a grocery list. I don’t know what’s for lunch.” And so we get our pen out and start writing. Don’t you see, intuitively you understand this, but it’s so easy for us to say, “Look how involved I am? Surely rest is something I’m getting.” And that might not be true. Why do you think so many pastors burn out? Why do you think so many people get kids out of the house and just stop coming to church? They were faking rest. They were faking rest and Jesus wants no part in that. Jesus wants no part in that. And that’s why I say – and we’ll introduce the means of grace back in, in a minute – but that’s why He says you must come to Him passively and receive this rest.
Our Active Reception
And once we do that, once we get the horse back out there in front of the cart, then verse 29 and 30 can kick in for us. The language changes from passive to active. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” This is what might sound like a contradiction to the verse before is actually adding a layer of freedom to us. The last thing I need to do is to stay shackled and burdened to my own sense of how things work. The last thing I need to do is to continue living life guiding by my own wisdom and precepts. Just like when somebody goes in the military on a tour and they come back there’s this time period of, they’re decompressed, there’s this time period where they make sure they have their minds back to a place where they can interact with society. Beloved, when we come to Jesus for this rest and take His yoke upon us, we first have to get rid of ours. Don’t you see that both of you can’t be pulling? Both of you can’t be laboring. One of you has to rest. When we take His yoke upon us, we forfeit ours and we say, “All that I bring to the table is more burden. What I bring to the table is not easy. It’s not light. I’m not gentle and lowly in heart. So from that character, from that statement of who You are, Jesus, put Your teaching on me.”
This is where the means of grace come back in. How do we take His yoke upon us? Once we have received rest, once we have done the introspection required of a Christian to make sure we’re not faking it, the only means God has given by which we would know Him and know His yoke is Word, prayer, sacrament, and fellowship. Don’t you see now why students look at me funny because we’re always concerned, we’re always concerned about legalism on the college campus? But students look at me awfully funny when students give me the problem they have in their life and the first question I ask them is, “Well how often are you reading your Bible?” “I’m not.” “We have nothing else to talk about here.” Because you’re saying you want something but you’re removing yourself from the power to get it. You’re saying you want freedom from something, but you don’t want to be yoked to something else. If we want rest, then we’re going to be becoming more and more like Jesus. That’s how we receive it. Otherwise, we’re just paying lip service to all this. The people who speak the loudest about grace should be the people with the most worn out Bibles. And the people with the best understanding of our need to stop faking it, of our need to be unleashed from our own yoke and have Jesus put on us, have to be intimately connected with the Word of God. Why? Because that is where Jesus has spoken. That is where He speaks through His Holy Spirit.
You can tell when somebody has learned and imitated. You can tell when somebody has been an apprentice. You can tell when somebody has been a student under a teacher. I’m a football fan. I can watch fifteen football teams and tell that their offensive coordinator at some point studied under Hal Mumme and learned how to throw the football. Or I can watch and see if somebody has learned a certain defense from a coach. If you’re into martial arts, if you’re into any kind of sport, any kind of dance, you can tell by the subtle little things that you must have had this teacher. If you’re a pastor you can tell, you really can tell where somebody went to seminary ninety-five percent of the time. “Jesus, I want to be as much like You as You’re willing to make me.” That’s where you’ll find rest. “Jesus, I want to be purged from every source, every source that’s pulling me away from You. I want to be purged from anything that’s trying to convince me that my guilt and shame has not been dealt with on the cross. Would You purge me of it?” And so every day for us, every moment for us, becomes, “Come, take, rest, receive. My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Come to Jesus
And so that leaves us with one more matter to deal with. Why won’t you come? Why don’t I come? I have a few thoughts. Firstly, we like self-control way too much. I’m willing to risk failure as long as I’m in control before I’ll throw my hands up and say, “Jesus, would You do this?” Old habits die hard. The second thing is, we might actually have to change. We might have to repent. Oh, you’re talking about rest? Yes! We might have to repent. We might have to stop doing something that’s been a source of comfort for us. Why? It’s been leading you back into bondage. We certainly have to repent. And lastly, we have to believe the news that’s hard to believe, that’s counter-intuitive to our fallen brains. We have to believe that rest is only found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And that has to shape everything we do, everything we are, every pursuit we have, everything we’re passionate about has to come under that rubric – Jesus’ person and His work for you and for me.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.