Matthew 11: 28 – 30 (ESV)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I was studying these verses for a teaching recently, thinking, as I always have, that they were generic verses on rest. Silly – is there such thing as a “generic” verse? But as I studied them, I realized there is sooooo much more to it than I realized.
I used to look at these verses and think something along the lines of, “Oh, isn’t that nice? When we’re having a hard time and have a lot on our plates, Jesus wants to give us rest. Tender.” But when I started looking at it this time, I asked some questions. First, is he talking about something specific with the heavy burden in verse 28? Second, what is his yoke that he speaks of being so easy and light? And finally, why is the qualification he gives for learning from him that he is “gentle and lowly in heart”??? You’d think it would be something like “I am the Son of God,” or maybe, “I get wisdom and knowledge directly from the Father.” But why, in this context, are we told to learn from him because he is gentle and lowly in heart?
The long and short of it is, these verses are referring to our salvation. Referring to the fact that Jesus removed from us the heavy burden of trying to keep the law and work out our own relationship with God, and replaced it with the new, much more manageable yoke of loving God and loving others. When we come to him, we no longer have to worry about doing all the mandates of the law to try to be righteous, we find our righteousness in him and therefore have rest. Ahhhhh.
So where does the “gentle and lowly in heart” fit in? Looking into those words, I realized that the emphasis is very much on selflessness. A complete unconcern for self. Jesus was saying, “I don’t even think of myself. I’m always submitting to the will of my Father. If you’re looking for rest, you’ll want you to learn from that.” And suddenly it fits. Because our new “yoke” of love is entirely about selflessness. Love isn’t proud or boastful. It doesn’t seek its own way. It doesn’t take account of suffered wrongs. (If you need proof, look at 1 Corinthians 13!) And as I was beginning to put all of this together, God whispered the most restful, freeing words in the world to me.
It’s not about you.
Whaaaa? That sounds harsh, not freeing. That’s something a bride says to her show-boaty aunt on her wedding day once she’s finally reached breaking point. But it IS freeing because making my life about me is awful. Think about it. What are the most stressful things in the whole world? They all come from thinking about ourselves, right? “Oh my gosh, what does my future look like???” “What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Am I going to be ok?” “Will I have everything I need?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if they laugh at me?” All self-centered concerns. Even concern for others is sometimes indirectly concern for myself, because if something happens to a loved one it could hurt me. But guess what…I don’t have to focus on me anymore. The crazy thing is, this was actually a brand new concept for the Judeans Jesus was speaking to. For us this is not foreign… scriptures like Philippians 4: 6, 7 and Matthew 6: 25 – 34 practically shout at us to stop worrying about our own lives because God’s got it all sorted out. But back then, they actually did have to worry very much about themselves. They did have to worry about trying to be righteous. They did have to atone when they screwed up. Under the law they were stuck on this impossible mission to be good enough. Talk about a heavy load! No wonder Jesus promised them rest if they traded that burden for his. What a relief! We have complete freedom!
John 8: 36 (ESV)
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
He set us entirely free from sin and it’s consequences, and that includes freedom from self. We no longer have to be self-concerned and self-absorbed. We have the freedom to let all the stress and burden of taking care of ourselves go. That’s God’s job. He loves to take care of us, and He’s got it on lock. We have the privilege of loving Him and showing His love to others without fear or worry or care for ourselves getting in the way. I’m seriously still trying to wrap my head around this concept. It’s something I’ve heard and even said for years, but actually getting it is quite another thing. Somehow the idea that it’s not about me has seemed insulting or harsh in the past. Like “how dare you say that, I’m important to GOD!” Which is true, but that’s not what it means. It’s not “you’re not important,” it’s, “you’re so important that God Himself is looking out for you. So please stop doing it yourself.”
This is a relationship we’re in. The very best relationships happen when each person cares more about the other than themselves. When each person is thinking, “He loves doing this! We should do this more often because I love him and want him to be happy.” God certainly thinks that way about us. But how often does the way we think about God sound more like, “He loves me! And I want this so I’m sure He wants me to have it too!” Relationships only work well when the love and concern for the other is strong on both sides. So yeah, my life is not about me. He makes me His concern and I make Him mine. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Ahhh to be freed from the concerns of self … that is free indeed!