Matthew, the former tax collector, recorded the words of Jesus when He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Often this passage is mentioned in view of it being an invitation to salvation. It is indeed an invitation, and one we wish to pay attention to in this space. Let us break the passage down into several important points.
First, consider that little word, “come”. Come can be seen as both the invitation already mentioned and also a command to be obeyed. An important point to be made concerning this word is that it points to freedom of choice. Whether invitation or command, it can be done or it can be refused. Thus, it is up to the individual as to whether they will come unto Him or not. As Moses told the children of Israel long ago, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). But, also note that this word shows action must be taken on our part. God has not done everything, just that which we could not do. Now, that which we are commanded to do, we can do; we can come.
Then notice that the invitation is to come “unto me”. Of course, it is Jesus that is offering this invitation, thus it is Jesus that we are to come unto. In the verse preceding our text, Jesus said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). It is therefore the plan of God that coming to Him would be through coming to His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Peter preached, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Peter also quoted Moses as having said, “…A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22-23). Peter applied this text to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:20).
Now pay attention to the little word “all”. Come unto me “all” ye that labour and are heavy laden. By the use of this little word, we can know that salvation is available to all people. This is certainly not universal salvation, but is instead universal opportunity. It took a miracle to get Peter to understand this, but finally he was able to say, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). As the apostle John closed out the final revelation of Jesus Christ, delivered to John to deliver to the world, he recorded the last invitation from the Lord to come to Him for salvation. He stated, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). The invitation is still for “all” or “whosoever will”.
The invitation is for those who “labour and are heavy laden”. This would be those who are struggling through life without hope of an eternal home in heaven. The Ephesians had been such, for Paul said that before obeying Christ, they had been without Christ, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). Without the hope of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus, man has nothing to look forward to, “But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27). Those who labour and are heavy laden will also include those who have embraced the Lord, obeyed His commands and continue to faithfully serve Him, but find life to still be full of trial, hardship, difficulties, pain and suffering. Becoming a child of God does not remove all pain, suffering and hardship from one’s life. Paul even stated, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).
He who would come unto the Lord will experience rest. Certainly there is a sense in which one finds rest as a child of God, while he yet lives on this earth. The inner peace and hope of eternal life is a great reward. Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (I Cor. 15:19). But truly, our eternal rest in heaven will be worth it all. There is a yoke to bear, though light it may be. There is work to be done, temptation to face and persecutions to endure. Those who die in the Lord are blessed, they rest from their labor (Rev. 14:13).
Robert Oliver is pastor of The Church of Christ and a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent. Send any questions or comments to: [email protected]