Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
As we labor under the unbearable weights of temptation, sin, guilt, various miseries and death, we hear Jesus’ merciful invitation to come to Him and realize rest in Him.
Rest in God is a continuous, hallowed theme of God’s revelation. It begins already as part of God’s design at the world’s creation: So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Gen 2:3). God did not need to hallow a day for himself; it was hallowed for man. It is apparent that the holiness of the day of rest was recognized by humanity at the beginning. Such recognition was also true concerning the creation-established sanctity of marriage and of life itself. As Adam fell and the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5), God’s foundational holy ordinances were corrupted and even totally lost. God would again set forth these truths in the Ten Commandments as well as in the unique commands given to the nation of Israel. Jews—and all humanity—were created to find hallowed rest on the seventh day. God gave other rest-related commands to the Jews, and all of these rest-related mandates, along with the other Jewish mandates and festivals, were but a shadow of a greater reality. That reality is the Messiah, the Christ (Col 2:16,17).
Now comes the Messiah, who is God in the flesh, and He invites people to find their rest no longer by observing a specific day, but in Him alone. He is not nullifying the created day of rest, nor is he nullifying the Jewish rest-related mandates, He is fulfilling them, thus making them obsolete. When Jesus invites people to find rest in Him, He is declaring that in His person and work He is the Sabbath for mankind. His invitation in Matthew 11 to realize Sabbath in Him finds its context in the oft-encountered controversy concerning whether He kept the Jewish Sabbath. It is clearly not a coincidence that immediately after Jesus invites people to find rest in Him, the Jewish Sabbath is discussed and debated (Mt 12:1-12), during which Jesus makes the strange and authoritative statement, the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (v 8). This statement not only identifies Jesus as the Creator of the Sabbath but it identifies Him as the man who completely fulfills the Sabbath.
As Jesus lived a sinless life, laboring and heavy laden under the weight of man’s sins, His climactic moment of weight-bearing occurred at the cross. Here the God-man became down and dirty, meek and lowly, as He bore the heretofore unbearable weights of temptation, sin, guilt, mankind’s miseries and death. Then, after working as no man had worked before, and after working as God to establish a new creation, He rested. He rested on that hallowed seventh day, resting so completely that He didn’t even breathe. Then on the eighth day, on the day when the new creation begins, He burst forth from the grave, anxious to breathe new life and once again the image of God into human beings who had become but dust. Jesus thus invites, Come to me…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. Indeed our Lord’s invitation, Come to me, is as powerful as the words of creation, Let there be light. By His very invitation the dry, dead bones of people are given the breath of life. When the Lord then invites, Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, He is presenting the feather-light yoke of continually hearing and learning the word of the meek and lowly crucified Christ. As we labor and are heavy laden, we are baptized into and trust in the word of the crucified and risen Christ and, as He promised, we find perfect rest for our souls. For as we are in Him who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, who became the embodiment of Sabbath when He rested perfectly in the tomb, we cannot but find rest for our souls.