Come Unto Me, All You Who Are Weary: Jesus Christ and the Great Invitation to Work and to Rest
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
To us, as to the people in first-century Israel, Jesus says: This is the time of your visitation. God is among us. He came among us in the person of Jesus two thousand years ago, and he is with us still.
In this time, then, an invitation is offered to each one of us: Come to Me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke. Learn from me. Work alongside me.
The invitation is a paradox. It is simultaneously an invitation to rest and an invitation to work. A yoke is a farming instrument, used to join two draft animals together so they can labor together — to plow a field, to pull a load. Jesus, after all, came to do a work in this world — a work of plowing, sowing, watering, and reaping; a work of sowing a kingdom and nurturing a new creation. There is work to do; we are called to join him in doing it.
And, as we do, we are invited to enter his rest.
Entering Sabbath Rest
There is a deliberate allusion here to the Hebrew sabbath. When God called Israel out of Egypt in the time of Moses, he gave them the sabbath day — the seventh day — and commanded them to keep it holy.
The holiness of the seventh day was rooted in its connection to two events: it was a signpost of Israel’s new freedom from slavery and a reminder of God’s rest at the end of the first creation (Deuteronomy 5:15; Exodus 20:11).
Jesus, too, calls us to freedom and rest, even as he lets us know that a new work has begun. God is, in fact, creating again. The old creation is no longer the only reality we’re living in.
Thorns, Thistles, and the Blessing of the Kingdom
When Adam fell, we are told, God cursed the ground because of him:
The ground is cursed because of you.
You will eat from it by means of painful labor
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground,
since you were taken from it.
For you are dust,
and you will return to dust.
Work itself was not the curse; rather, the curse was toil and futility — the frustrating reality that no matter how much good seed we plant, thorns will come up with our crop. Labor gives us life but also breaks us down, and in a cursed creation, our best efforts are subject to what Solomon called “vanity” — they are fragile, and “time and chance happen to all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
Jesus has come to work in the field of the world, and he too experiences the effects of the curse. His field grows tares and thorns as well as wheat; his labor entails suffering and even death.
But there is a difference, because Jesus brings with him a blessing strong enough to overpower the curse. In the end, the labor of the kingdom will not be undertaken in vain. Life will overtake death. Incorruption will overcome entropy, and death will be “swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15).
And although the final realization of all this will not come until the resurrection at the end of the age, it begins now. Jesus invites us into his yoke, and he shoulders the weight of the load. He breathes life and blessing into us and ministers to the weary, broke-down places in our hearts.
And so, even as we labor with Jesus, we experience rest. The time of our visitation is a time of labor as we help to bring about a new creation AND deep rest as we rely on Jesus to teach us, sustain us, and carry the yoke with us.
He Is Gentle and Humble in Heart
From the beginning of Matthew 11, we have seen the burdens of sin, sickness, and doubt at play. We’ve seen a tension between the voices of the world and the voice of God, inviting us, through Jesus, to believe — to embrace Jesus as Messiah, to see that his great jubilee has come, to know that the kingdom of God is among us (though it suffers violence), and that it can and will remake our identities in the world as we know Jesus and become closely identified with him.
Now all of this culminates in Jesus’s invitation to us to enter his sabbath and his work — not one or the other, but both at once. He invites us to do it by sharing his yoke, by knowing him, by becoming like little children and therefore entering his kingdom.
Some years back, weighed down with the consciousness of just how demanding the Christian life felt, I complained to the Lord that he had lied. “This yoke is not easy,” I told him, “and this burden is not light.”
On some level I was right, but on another, much deeper level, I was very wrong. The Lord showed me that my exhaustion came from trying to strive for God without receiving rest from God. The truth was I’d been trying to pull the plow in my own strength. I didn’t grasp the reality of grace, and I hadn’t learned that it’s God’s work — and the only way to do it is to come to Jesus, learn from him, receive from him, and rest in him.
Have any more beautiful words been spoken in history than these — spoken by the Creator of the universe himself — “All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves”?
Jesus’s invitation is to all of us who are weary and heavily burdened. It’s an invitation to us as we labor in a cursed field and are tempted to despair at the hardness of the soil and the prevalence of the weeds. It’s an invitation to us as we toil in the exhaustion of an old and dying world.
We can come to him. We can learn from him. He will receive us gently, humbly, and compassionately — and he will give us strength and place us alongside him in his yoke.
And where Jesus plows, a miracle takes place: the field begins to be transformed. We start plowing an old creation, and as the seeds from Jesus’s hands take root and begin to grow, we find ourselves standing in a new one.
This is Part 202 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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