“Come to Me, all you 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.” (Mat 11:28-30 NKJ)
We live in a world that is often burdensome and, at times, almost too much to bear. We as preachers are burdened for the lost, the hurting, the lonely, and those who need to grow in faith. But, how often do we consider that those for whom we are burdened also shoulder burdens of their own? How can we encourage them to find rest? Indeed, is there rest to be found and if so, where? The three verses above give direction for the preacher that seeks to encourage those who are burdened.
- Encourage your listeners to draw near to Christ. One of the three dominant ideas of these verses is found in 11:28 when Jesus says, “Come to Me.” This is not an imperative but rather an adverb used as a hortatory particle. It is often paired with an imperative following but not here. Jesus is emphasizing and strongly encouraging while stopping short of ordering us to come to Him. As preachers, we should encourage all people to come as close to Christ as possible. To make the choice to draw near to Him. He is the source of true rest. The word used in 28 for rest means “to gain relief from toil, to refresh, to revive.” Following Christ doesn’t mean that our situations change but that we are being changed in the midst of our situations.
- Who is qualified to come nearer to Christ? All those who labor and are heavy laden. These are those who are weary and burdened. Jesus doesn’t reveal what wearies them nor what burdens they carry. He only states that they labor and are heavy laden. These could be negatives or positives. People can become wearied by sin and burdened by attitudes or behaviors, rebellion and bitterness. We can also be burdened by positive things as we try to balance ministry, family, work, service, fellowship, etc. Burdens are part and parcel in a broken world.
- What must one do to find rest? Here are the second and third dominant ideas of this passage and they are found in 11:29 when Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me.” While Jesus is not specific about what burdens we bear, He is very specific about what must be done to alleviate these burdens and find rest. The two imperatives are “take” and “learn.”
- Encourage your listeners to take the yoke. Yokes are used for draft animals. In the example, is Jesus driving the wagon or pulling the wagon? I think both. Jesus gives us purpose and direction. He guides us and shows us where to go but He also helps with pulling the load. We cannot do what He wants done apart from Him and surely, if we tried, it would be a frustrating, tiresome, burdensome process. This, of course, is the point. When we join Jesus in His work we find the rest we desperately need because He enables us to do the work. This is why He says in 30 that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. When we follow Christ, we don’t have to face life alone and while the burdens may remain, they actually become bearable in Christ’s strength.
- Encourage your listeners to learn from Jesus. How can we keep from creating new burdens in our life? We can learn from Christ both intellectually and experientially. Intellectually by getting in His Word and seeing who He reveals Himself to be. This leads to an understanding of who we should be. Experientially by applying the truth of Scripture to our daily lives and living in light of Christ’s revelation of Himself. In the midst of this learning process, we have the encouragement to know that Christ is both gentle and humble. He has great patience with all who come to Him.
Every time we preach, we should present Christ as the one and only source of true rest. No matter the text, we should exalt Jesus before the listeners and bid them “Come.” It is only by coming closer to Christ that the burdened can find rest for their souls.
About: Dr. Jeff Campbell is the Dean of Students and Associate Professor of Preaching at Criswell College in Dallas, TX. He recently completed his PhD in Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after earning a B.A. in Biblical Studies and an M.A. in Ministry from Criswell College. Before joining the faculty, he was Senior Pastor of Bullard Southern Baptist Church in Bullard, Texas and had served as an adjunct at Criswell since 2012.