Jesus as Our Revelation & Rest
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 11:25–30
One could think of many words to describe our society. A word that seems especially fitting is weary. We are weary of injustice, weary of hardships, weary of the daily grind, weary of never measuring up, weary of loss, weary of the burdens of sin. Because of that weariness, we also have many inviting us to rest—to find rest in drink, to find rest in financial security, to find rest in other people, to find rest in that vacation, to find rest in hobbies.
But not too long after seeking these offerings of rest, one realizes the rest offered by the world is only fleeting and shallow. We were created for something more. According to Scripture, we were made for God’s eternal rest. But on this side of Adam’s sin, we’re cut off from true rest. What we need most is someone to bring us back to God. Saint Augustine once wrote, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Are you weighed down with the burdens of this life? Then I have good news for you this morning.
Into this weary world, God reveals himself in the person of Jesus. In Jesus, we learn that it’s God’s very heart to get down with the lowly and burdened and help them find true rest for their souls. Let’s read about this together, starting in verse 25…
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 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.
Verse 25 sets the stage for us. Jesus declared these things “at that time,” it says. At what time? Well, about the same time he had denounced the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum. Of all the cities across history, these cities had received the most revelation from God. God was acting as promised in their Scriptures. In the person of his Messiah, Jesus, God had performed mighty works in these cities. And yet many Jews refuse to repent and believe. What should we make of this? The Messiah has come to his people, yet his own people reject him? Has Jesus’ mission become a failure? Is God’s revelation not clear enough?
God loves revealing the kingdom to those who know their need.
No. The first point Jesus makes is that God loves revealing the kingdom to those who know their need. Listen again to the way he puts it in verses 25-26: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” Some translations have, “I praise you, Father.” Jesus is making a public confession of what God is like—he is sovereign, Lord of heaven and earth. And Jesus openly confesses why some have not believed: “you [Father] have hidden these things,” he says, “from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will [or better: pleasure].”
“These things” in verse 25 seem to be the things of God’s kingdom. Not merely the mighty works themselves, but the deeper realities that those works pointed to—the realities of God’s salvation coming in Jesus. Everyone saw the works. They were undeniable miracles. But only a few said, “I’m following Jesus,” while many others said, “That’s the devil’s work!” Some see and say with faith, “If only I can touch his garment,” while others say, “We don’t need you here! Leave our region!” Why is it that some see the kingdom in Jesus for salvation while others don’t see at all?
It’s not that something is lacking in God’s revelation. It’s that he chooses not to give that deeper understanding to those who think they don’t need anything. That’s what I think he means by the “wise and understanding.” The distinction isn’t between naïve people and those who educate themselves in sound thinking. He’s calling attention to those who are “wise in their own eyes.” He’s calling attention to those who are like Capernaum back in verse 23, who think they should be exalted to heaven—religious leaders well-versed in the Scriptures but who don’t see the goal of those Scriptures.
In knowing God, there is a moral component involved. Those who puff themselves up, who say they need nothing, who think they know better than God—it’s God’s pleasure to hide himself from them.
But for those who are like “little children,” God loves to reveal himself. Some qualities about “little children” we should avoid—like their immature thinking—and the Scriptures speak to that elsewhere.[i] But here Jesus’ contrast is between the self-sufficient and those willing to learn, those who know their need, who come with a spirit of dependence on Jesus to show them more.
Later in Matthew 21:15-16, there’s a scene from the final week of Jesus’ ministry, where these little children sing praises to Jesus in the temple: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And the chief priests and scribes become enraged. But Jesus then tells them, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” That’s a quote from Psalm 8, where God uses little children to silence his enemies. The children get it right by praising Jesus while the chief priests and scribes—those who should’ve been the first to see—they get it wrong.
It’s a pattern we find throughout Scripture. From Gideon’s tiny army to David before Goliath to the weakness displayed in Jesus’ cross—God is known for choosing what the world would perceive as weak and foolish to shame the strong and wise. And God does it this way, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God—1 Corinthians 1:27-29. That’s the first thing Jesus speaks to. The unbelief doesn’t mean his mission is a failure, or that God’s revelation isn’t clear. It underscores the pride of the people, and God’s purpose to get glory in the lives of those who are weak.
Which one are you? Are you wise in your own eyes? Self-sufficient? Or do you come like a child, helpless without his parent’s presence, gift, and counsel? Do you come needy, with a teachable spirit?
No one can know God savingly except through his Son Jesus.
Jesus then makes a second point: no one can know God savingly except through his Son Jesus. Listen again to verse 27: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
We find here at least three things about Jesus. One is his supremacy. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” Jesus will say something similar in Matthew 28:18. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Authority may be included here in the “all things.” But this context seems to focus on God’s revelation. All things God wants to reveal about himself and his kingdom—he has entrusted those things exclusively to the Son. The Son is therefore his supreme agent in the revelation of God.
That supremacy is rooted in the mutual knowledge shared by Father and Son. That’s the second thing, Jesus’ knowledge. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.” Perhaps a Jew could have objected, “Wait a minute. We know God. After all, he revealed himself to Moses.” True, the Scriptures reveal God sufficiently, but not exhaustively. They give us only what God has chosen to reveal. Only the Son knows God eternally, immediately, exhaustively, unceasingly.
An eternal relationship between Father and Son exists that nobody else has access to…unless they choose to give you access. That’s the third thing Jesus wants us to see, his role in revelation. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Only God can reveal God. The only way you will know God savingly is if the Son chooses to reveal him to you. The Son has all things from the Father. He knows all things about the Father. The Father and Son are one in their sovereign purpose to reveal and to redeem. The Father reveals himself through the Son (and we could add from other Scriptures, by the Spirit). Salvation is of the Lord.
Come, Take, and Learn from Jesus
What, then, does this mean for the listeners? If God delights in revealing the kingdom to those who know their need, and if Jesus is the only way to know God, then it makes complete sense that Jesus now invites the lowly, the burdened, the weak, the ones who know their need, to come and learn from him. The Son chooses to do here what the Father loves. The Father loves revealing the kingdom to the weak, and so the Son says to the weak, “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.”
There are three imperatives here: “come to me,” “take my yoke,” “learn from me.” Notice several things about these statements. One, they center around Jesus. Jesus isn’t calling us merely to a new way of living, although that’s included. He’s first calling us to himself: “Come to me…Learn from me.” We’re invited into a personal relationship with the Son; and in that relationship we’re brought near to God.
To the Jewish ear, this is a shocking invitation. Jeremiah 6:16 has a similar call from Yahweh: “Stand by the roads and look,” he says, “and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls.” How were they to find rest? By centering their lives around the ancient paths of Yahweh. Yet Jesus says, “Come to me.” Center your life around me—what’s his point? He is God’s supreme revelation. To come to him is to come directly to Yahweh.
Two, these three imperatives inform one another—come, take, and learn. Soon we’ll learn about the rest that Jesus promises for those who come to him. But these three imperatives, when taken together, teach us that the rest Jesus gives isn’t inactivity. This isn’t coming to Jesus and life is suddenly the Instagram photo where the house is clean with a perfect latte in the background. No. This is a call to come and enter the school of Christ, so to speak. It’s a call to discipleship beneath Jesus’ yoke.
A “yoke” was worn by an ox, where the ox learned submission. To take Jesus’ yoke means that we are learning to submit ourselves to his teaching. That’s the connection between “take my yoke…and learn from me.” We come to learn from Jesus’ teaching, his example, his salvation. You might say, “Well, that sounds like trading one yoke for another, one burden for another.” Yes! But there’s also a huge difference. In verse 30, Jesus clarifies that his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light.” Another translation is that his “yoke is kind.” Jesus’ pattern of teaching doesn’t leave people weighed down; it lifts our burdens.
That doesn’t mean your life is suddenly going to feel like a field of daisies. There may be many hard lessons to learn beneath Jesus’ yoke. But as we learn from him, his words guide us into the true rest our souls long for.
Three, Jesus speaks these imperatives to all who labor and are heavy laden. Who are they? Well, in Matthew 23:4 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees saying, “They sit in Moses’ seat…and 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.” The Pharisees’ yoke isn’t like Jesus’ yoke. It’s a crushing yoke. Their teaching doesn’t account for Jesus’ work. They misuse the Law and add to the Law. So, folks toil to please God by law-keeping, but there’s only more guilt: “You’re still not doing enough!”
Something similar occurs in Acts 15:10. The Lord saves numerous Gentiles. But men from Judea come and say, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Peter then argues the opposite, proving how the Spirit has shown otherwise. In the process he concludes, “Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” Again, there are patterns of teaching, a certain set of beliefs, that don’t take Jesus into account, and if you live by them, they leave your soul heavy laden.
That could be all that’s going on here—and that would cover a lot. I mean there are numerous sets of beliefs that don’t take Jesus into account. From larger systems of religious thought that leave people weighed down with guilt, working their own way to heaven, to smaller moments where we don’t consider Jesus. There are also numerous teachers, leaders, spokesmen, activists, social media outlets—all feeding you a set of beliefs that exclude the person and work of Jesus, that create their own laws that you must measure up to, and society regularly finds themselves weary.
But I’m not sure that we have to stop there. Maybe those who are weary and heavy laden also include those Jesus took note of in 9:36. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” They’re weary searching for the truth about God and leader after leader has left them in the dark and disappointed. Or maybe they’re like the people Jesus refers to in 6:25, who are anxious about life—how the bills will get paid, where the next meal comes from, how they’ll be clothed. Or maybe they’re like the woman in 9:20, who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. Due to circumstances outside of her control, she’s weighed down and desperate for help.
Jesus says, “all who labor and are heavy laden.” Whatever weight you carry, Jesus invites you to come and find rest. Some of you feel like you need the approval of others; and that set of beliefs fills your week with endless toil to keep others happy. Others of you are overwhelmed with your circumstances—you can’t control them and so you’re always on edge, irritable, and then burdened by guilt for the hurt you’ve caused others. Others are weary from suffering. You’re heavy laden by the burdens of another doctor’s appointment, another scan, another lump. Others work, work, work, because we think God isn’t yet pleased with us. Functionally, we live by a set of beliefs that says, “You must do more to be accepted.” Whoever you are, whatever your burden, Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
But why? Why should any of us come to Jesus? What makes him so unique from all the other options in the world? We’ve already seen that Jesus is our point of access to knowing God savingly. Only God can reveal God—that’s one reason. But another reason is that Jesus himself is gentle and lowly in heart. Verse 29, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”
What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that Jesus is weak in character, or that he won’t say hard things—he just warned three cities for not repenting. But what does it mean? One clue comes in 21:5. Jesus rides into town “humble [there’s our word] and mounted on a donkey,” which is a quote from Zechariah 9:9. The Hebrew can also be translated, “poor” or “afflicted,” which develops the kind of humility seen in Jesus. He doesn’t come for his people while clinging to the privileges of royalty. His path of obedience leads him to become poor and experience affliction. He chooses the uncomfortable road of suffering to raise his people up.
Another clue comes from outside the Gospels. In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul entreats the church “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” But these words come in a context where Paul himself has exhibited the meekness and gentleness of Christ by the way he has lowered himself to the point of great sacrifice to raise up the church.
In other words, the very heart of Jesus is one that’s willing to take the lower position to raise you up. His very heart—which reveals the heart of God—is one that gladly lowers himself to be with you, to carry your burdens, to save you. Unlike the Pharisees, unwilling to lift a finger, Jesus gets down beneath the burdens and lifts them. His heart doesn’t say, “Work your way to me! Get yourself together and stand up!” His heart is one that condescends to raise you up.
How lowly is his heart willing to go? Unto death on a cross beneath the wrath of God for your sins—he willingly bears our greatest burden of all. That’s his heart. That’s why you should come to him. That’s why his yoke is kind. Behind all his teaching is his willingness to serve you unto death on the cross. That’s why you should keep coming to Jesus. He remains gentle and lowly in heart towards all who know their need.
The other reason you should come is that Jesus gives true rest. He says it twice. Verse 28, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” Verse 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.” It’s no accident that right after Matthew records Jesus promising rest, he gives two accounts of Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath. What was Sabbath about? Rest in the presence of God, everything rightly ordered in the presence of God, everyone whole in the presence of God. Sabbath was the sign marking God’s covenant people, Israel. Again and again, the Sabbath pointed people to the goal of eternal rest in God’s presence.
Yet here Jesus centers that rest on himself: “Come to me and I will give you rest.” What a bold claim! All the hopes the Sabbath pointed to were now coming to fruition in the person of Jesus. He is the one who has come to settle our hearts at rest, to calm our anxious hearts, in the presence of God. Because he is God. No matter what burden you’re carrying, Jesus’ gift to all who come and learn from him is rest. That rest we will one day experience fully with resurrection bodies in the New Heaven and New Earth. But by coming to Jesus, our souls can know some of that rest now.
You might be asking, what does that look like? What does it look like to come, take Jesus’ yoke, learn from him, and find rest for my soul? I have a few examples. We could think of the apostle Paul. He submits to Jesus’ yoke, and he can write from prison about the peace that surpasses all comprehension. He’s physically chained, exhausted, burdened, but Jesus gives rest to his soul—peace in God’s presence, contentment.
Or consider the Scottish missionary, John Paton. Age 33, takes the gospel to the New Hebrides islands. The natives were cannibals. On night, Paton has to hide in a tree while an angry mob seeks his life. This is what he wrote about that night: “I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the [people]. 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 these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone…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.”[ii]
Many of you will also remember Jenifer Farah. She’s now with Jesus. But this was December 2017. We sat down just over there one Sunday morning. Chemo was starting soon. And I remember Jenifer sharing how weary she had become researching how chemo affects the body. Treatment options were tangled and uncertain. She was worried and afraid. So, what does she do? She comes to Jesus, puts herself beneath his yoke, and starts telling me what he taught her there.
It was Luke 12:25-26: “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you’re not able to do as small a thing as that, why’re you anxious about the rest?” She chuckles with tears, “Ha! The Lord counts it a small thing to add time to my life. Right now, that’s a pretty big thing to me.” Then she said, “But my days are numbered. The Lord numbered them already, and I can’t change how many he’s given me by worrying.” If that’s the case, then all she can do is honor him with the days he gives her. That true living isn’t defined by what we can add to our lives. It’s defined by God and how rich we are with God. Jesus gave Jenifer’s soul rest with these words.
Or take a different kind of burden—legalism. It comes in different forms. But one form of legalism is when human traditions add requirements where God himself has not spoken. People will sometimes make extrabiblical requirements a test of faith or fellowship. Personal preferences get elevated to a place of authority alongside Scripture, and folks find themselves burdened with guilt on things God hasn’t even said.
How many times I’ve watched the burden lifted in my office when I simply ask, “Where does the Bible say that you’re required to do that? Let’s put ourselves beneath Jesus’ yoke and learn from him. What does Jesus say is required of you? Does Jesus’ word say you must dress this way? Eat this way? Educate your kids this way? Discipline this way? Vote this way? Speak to every issue this way? Spend your time this way? Okay, let’s look at what his word does say…” and you can see it happening as we look at the Bible, “Oh! Wow! I’ve been feeling guilty for the wrong reasons!” “Yes!”
Or another time, I can recall approaching my oral exams for the next phase of the PhD. I had studied hard, but I was also so anxious. I feared failure. And as I was staring at the sidewalk, a brother stopped me on the way into the building, prayed for me, and then said, “You have been faithful to prepare. No matter the results, your biggest problem has already been taken care of at the cross. Your status as God’s child isn’t going to change. And your good Father knows what you need beyond these exams.” What was he doing? He was bringing me under the yoke of Jesus’ words. He was helping me learn from Jesus in those moments. And the Spirit of Jesus used them to give rest to my soul.
Whoever you are, whatever your burden, Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Dane Ortlund writes of these words, “You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come.”[iii] So come, little children. Come, take, and learn from Jesus, for he is gentle and lowly in heart.
[i] E.g., 1 Cor 3:1; 13:11; Eph 4:14; Heb 5:13.
[ii] John Paton, Paton, 200.
[iii] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, 20.