Today’s question comes from a podcast listener named Lynette. “Hello, Pastor John. Over and over in the Bible, God tells us to rest in him. When I’m going through trials of various sorts, or even in good times, I don’t exactly know what it means to rest in Jesus. I’m a naturally anxious person, so I need to learn.” Pastor John, what would you say to Lynette?
Maybe the best thing we can do here is let the precious word of God speak rest to Lynette and to all of us. Let me just speak the first precious word that came to my mind when I heard this question.
“God wants his followers to have deep, sweet restfulness of soul, not anxiousness.”
This is Jesus talking, and he says, “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” (Matthew 11:28–30). Those are amazing words from the Lord of the universe!
So the first thing we see that’s so obvious is that he really does want Lynette, and you and me, to rest. He wants us to enjoy a soul of rest. He wouldn’t be saying this if it weren’t his happy desire for our souls. He wants his followers to have deep, sweet restfulness of soul, not anxiousness.
The second thing that’s obvious here is that the restfulness is not inactive. It is a way of active living, of doing life, of serving — all with deep restfulness of soul and, I think, sweet restfulness of body when the day’s doing is over.
The reason I say that is because of what he says: “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.” A yoke is an instrument of labor. When you’ve got a yoke on, you’re plowing or pulling a wagon or something like that.
He makes clear that this yoke is his teaching. The Jews thought of the law as yoke. Jesus said, “No, I’ve got a yoke for you. It’s my teaching. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” So it’s like Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). It’s rest in walking. Not rest from a walking, but rest in walking.
He Came to Serve
But what keeps the yoke, this restfulness, from being heavy and burdensome? Because he says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” So if it’s a yoke, and it’s a burden — those are his words — how can it be easy, and how can it be light? What’s the difference between his burden, his yoke, and the Pharisees, who heaped up legal burdens upon people?
“Jesus has lifted the heaviest load of guilt and sin by dying for us.”
Here’s what he said: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4). That’s Jesus’s diagnosis of the difference between his burden and their burden. They don’t lift a finger to lighten the load of the law on the backs of people. And Jesus not only lifted his finger — he lifted the cross. He lifted his whole life: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
That’s amazing. Just stop and think of it. The Lord of the universe, the Creator of all things, did not come to be served — how amazing can it be? — but to serve and to give his life as a ransom. That’s the way he served: he gave his life as a ransom.
He says in this beautiful passage about rest, “I’m gentle, I’m lowly. And that’s the reason my burden is light and my yoke is easy — because I’m gentle and lowly.” What he meant was, “I’m not a hard slave master. I don’t stand over you with a whip: Crack! Crack! ‘Do my word!’ Crack! Crack! I get down low underneath you and I lift you up.”
Philippians 2:8 states, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Here’s my question: How do we talk about this easy yoke where our souls are restful? I think Paul would say, “Talk about it like Philippians 2:12–13 talks.” “Work out your own salvation” — there’s your yoke, right? And then here’s the opposite of the Pharisees: “with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).
In other words, Jesus has lifted the heaviest load of guilt and sin by dying for us. He has also lifted and goes on lifting the daily load of working out our salvation by being the decisive worker in our lives. He does it by the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, within us.
Friend in Jesus
Let me close with a story that I think captures it. I might have quoted this before in an episode; I can’t remember. I just love it so much. This is John Paton, the missionary to the New Hebrides in the Pacific in the nineteenth century. It illustrates of how the yoke of Jesus, the word of Jesus, the promise of Jesus, once you put it on, leads you to do some pretty crazy things — such as going to be a missionary among cannibals.
“Restfulness is not inactive. It is a way of active living, of doing life, of serving.”
Having served on the island of Tanna, the natives have been mobilized against them. There are hundreds of them even — with muskets and knives. They trying to find him and kill him. He needs to get on a boat and escape quickly. He has one man that he can barely trust who says, “Climb up in that tree, and stay there while they go underneath. I will lead them down this path, and then you can go down that path when they’re gone.” He had no idea whether he could trust this man. He climbs up in the tree. And years later here’s what he describes:
The hours spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. (Autobiography, 200)
Then he closes by looking us in the eye and saying, “If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”
I tell you, when I first read that I said, “Jesus, I want that kind of friendship like nothing else.” That’s our question, do we have a Friend that will not fail us at every moment when we feel restless and anxious? He’s right here, saying, “Come to me. I will give you rest.”