Dr. John Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla.
When Dr. Nichols asked me last week if I would be willing to preach, I immediately began thinking about this passage at the end of Matthew 11. I realize that the time during midterms and finals is a difficult of time for many of you. I often like to call this period of the semester the dull-drums of despair. You’re beginning to feel the weight of assignments, exams, papers, and you begin to be worn thin, just a little bit. And so, I thought, where in God’s Word could I go to encourage you, to encourage us together as a college community? And I immediately thought of this passage. So, today’s sermon is the homiletical equivalent of a bowl of mac and cheese, alright? You can consider this Christological comfort food. I even wanted to title this, “Christ, our comfort food,” but I thought I better Presbyterian and Reformed way of doing it would just be, “Christ, our comfort.” But I hope this will be a blessing and encouragement to you today. So, with those things in mind, hear now God’s Word from Matthew 11: 28-30:
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.
Well, in Matthew 11 we have one of the most beautiful and beloved texts in all the Bible. Here we discover the tender and pastoral care of the Lord Jesus Christ as the good shepherd. Here in Matthew 11, He gives practical lessons for the heavy laden, the broken-hearted. These verses have long been the favorite for the people of God. Indeed, in the course of his lifetime, the great Victorian Baptist preacher, Charles Haden Spurgeon, preached on this text no less than nine times throughout his pulpit ministry in London. Spurgeon said of this passage, quote, “Perhaps, no verse in the whole of Scripture has been handled in the pulpit more frequently than this one, and yet it has not been exhausted and never can be, it is a great soul-saving text.” Ah, we need soul-saving and soul-satisfying texts. Likewise, the nineteenth century Anglican Bishop, J.C. Ryle, said something very similar when he said, quote, “These are verses which deserve to be read with special attention for 1900 years,” we’d say for over 2000 years, “they have been a blessing to the world and have done good to a myriad of souls.” Ah, dear friends, no matter if this is the first time you have ever heard Matthew 11 preached or the hundredth time you have this text preached, we never get beyond our need for what Jesus gives us in this text. For here in Matthew 11 we discover that Christ alone is our comfort.
And so, here in the first place, what I want us to see this morning is in verse 28 where Christ calls us to find our rest in Him. Look again at verse 28, Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Here in verse 28, Jesus gives an invitation for all and any to come to Him. You see, as Reformed people, dear friends, we do believe in the free offer of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That Jesus is for all who come to Him, Jesus is for any who come to Him, but Jesus is for only those who come to Him. But indiscriminately we give Christ to all who need Him and who come to Him. Young or old, boy or girl, rich or poor, educated or not, come to Christ and He will give you rest. But this is not an ordinary invitation, is it? You see, we typically, when you think of an invitation, we think of an invitation to come to an event. So, we receive invitations to parties, we receive invitations to chapels, we receive invitations to people’s homes, but here we have an invitation to a person. Jesus gives you today an invitation to come to Him and trust in Him because you see, dear friends, an invitation is only as good as the one who makes it. And Jesus today gives you this invitation as the only Messiah and only Mediator between God and man.
Think about how Jesus has presented here in Matthew 11. In the first part of the chapter, Jesus is the presented as the promised Messiah. He sends word to John the Baptist that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, He is the fulfillment of the Messianic hope, and He is the suffering servant. And then later on, down in the chapter, we see to the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, Jesus is the prophet par excellence, He is the one who brings not only salvation but judgment to those who reject Him. And so, when Jesus gives you an invitation to come to Him you need to realize who it is who gives you this invitation. It is the promised Messiah, it is the suffering servant, and it is the only mediator between God and man. Ah, this is the greatest of all invitations, an invitation from the King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s this Christ, who introduces you to His heavenly Father.
And so, Jesus says in verses 25 and 27 that He is the mediator between us and His Father. He says, “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,” ah, but who is it? Who is it that Jesus chooses to reveal the Father? Ah, friends, it’s those who come to Christ, it’s those who hear the voice of the good shepherd, who says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” You see, Christ alone is the only intercessor, the only mediator between us and God. And He is saying there is no saving benefit apart from me. But when you come to me all that God has for you is found, that there is no benefit apart Christ, but all that God gives is for you in Christ. Come to me and I will give you rest. And so, on the basis of this exclusive position as the Prophet, as the Messiah, as the Mediator, Jesus gives this extraordinary call to come, to come to Him, to come to Him today, to come to Him now, to come.
You see, throughout the Gospel of Matthew the word “come” is a gospel offer. The word “come” is used for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, for example, in Matthew 19:21, the word for “come” is a gospel invitation. He says to the rich, young ruler, “Come and follow me.” It’s a call for discipleship. Jesus is calling you today, He’s saying follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Come meet me at Calvary, meet me at the empty tomb, meet me at the right hand of the Father, and I will disclose to you the glory of the infinite Triune God. It’s a gospel call, it’s a royal call. In Matthew 22:4, this word “come” is used in the wedding feast of the King, a parable where the King is calling servants to His banquet table. And here we read in Matthew 22, “Come, come to the wedding feast.” Here in the gospel, Jesus is giving you an invitation to slide your knees under His table and have fellowship with Him. Ah, dear friends, how many of us would be delighted to receive an invitation to have table fellowship with a dignitary. And yet here, the divine Son of God has given you an invitation to sup with the King. It’s a gospel invitation, it’s a royal invitation, and it’s a heavenly invitation.
You see, in Matthew 25:34, we are told that in the final day of judgment, Christ will look at His people and He will say, “Come, [come], you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you [before] the foundation of the world.” Come. Oh, friends, unless you come to Christ by faith here on earth, you will never enjoy fellowship with Christ in glory in heaven. This is an eschatological call, a call to enjoy the beauty and the wonder of the glory of God as it’s known and enjoyed even today in heaven, that God can be known here by faith and Christ is calling you to come. So, the call of Christ to come is equivalent to a call to believe on Him as He is offered to you in the gospel. This is not a call simply to be acquainted with Christ, it’s not a call to know information about Christ, and it’s not an invitation to talk about Him or simply study about Him, it’s an invitation to rest in Him, trust in Him, embrace Him, love Him, cherish Him as He is given to you today in His beautiful gospel. It’s a glorious invitation. Oh, how many of us are excited when a friend call us, when a family member calls us, or when a celebrity calls us. But here you have an invitation from the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords to rest in Him. But friends, this isn’t an empty call, this isn’t a frivolous invitation, it’s filled with great content, and it’s not given just to anyone. It’s given to very specific people.
Look again at verse 28, he says this invitation to come is for all who labor, who labor and are heavy laden. For those who are weighed down by a load of cares, for those who are hurt, for those who are embarrassed, for those who are racked with guilt, troubled in conscience, tortured in their soul, for those who feel that they don’t measure up, for those who long to be godly and know that they are not, for those who don’t meet the standard, for those who want embrace, for those who don’t love as they should, for those who disappoint, for those who have let the Savior down, for those who have let friends down, for those who are cast down, weighed down, loaded down, crippled by their guilt, their own shame, their own hurt, their own pain. For those who know the civil war within, those who see themselves and do not like what they see, those who know they’ve affronted God, offended a brother, who despised a friend, for those who are harboring sin and hate that they are harboring it. Ah, this call is for you, who are weighed down, who are just spread thin, who can’t take it much more, who are at their breaking point, who are at their tipping point, who are at wit’s end. The pressure, the hurt, you can hardly bear it. Life is hard, life at RBC is hard, life in the Church is hard. Your pastor, your professors, your friends— they disappoint, they hurt, they’re not there for you, you can’t count on them. We disappoint you, and you’re disenfranchised, you don’t know where to go, you’re disoriented. Jesus says come.
You’re burdened, you’re broken; come without hesitation, without worry. Dear friends, He will never reject you, He will never reject who comes to Him. The only time He will reject is if you reject Him. But you never have to pretty yourself, you never have to get yourself ready, you never have to do your hair, you never have to put on a coat to come to Christ. Simply, do you need Him? Then come to Him. But why wait, why tarry, why shutter? You run to Him. He’s always here, but He’s here today; he might not be tomorrow. You might not have this opportunity now to come to Christ, so why delay? Because He says, “I will give you rest,” rest for your tortured soul, for your troubled conscience, for your broken heart, I will give you rest. I’ll remove your guilt, I’ll take care of your shame, and I’ll pay for your sin. Because you see, dear friends, He came into this world and did what you could not do. He obeyed the word, every jot and tittle, He obeyed when you disobeyed. And then He stood in your stead on the cross, took the shame, took the penalty, endured death for His own, made atonement for your sin, was a propitiation where He absolved the wrath of God that is for you. So, you can come and not be rejected and not get the wrath which you deserve, but find rest.
You see, rest is the result of pardon. When God pardons you, you are at rest in your soul. This is why Paul, in Romans 5 says, “Because we’ve been justified, we have peace.” We’re no longer at enmity with God, but we’ve been reconciled. I have come to give you rest. Rest when you’ve disappointed everybody, rest when you’ve failed your tests, rest when you’ve let Him down. I give you rest for your troubled heart, I’ve paid the penalty of your sin, He says, I take you by the hand and I bring you to my Father. Come to me you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. But, dear friends, this rest is not for you if you do not come to Christ. You understand there is no safe place apart from Christ. You cannot presume that this offer is for you if you do not come to Him. In fact, the guilt that you feel, you feel it more apart from Him. There is no peace, there is no rest apart from this gospel invitation. So, I hope you do not presume upon the gospel, I hope you don’t yawn when you hear this invitation, because Jesus says my sheep hear my voice. Do you hear His voice say to you today, “Come and I will give you rest?”
But secondly here, Jesus calls us to take up His yoke. To take up His yoke. Now the notion of being under a yoke conveys the notion of submission. It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Come to me, I will give you rest and when you come to me for rest, I will give you my yoke. Now when I was a little boy, I hadn’t had the foggiest clue what this was talking about, because I thought a yoke was, what? An egg yolk! It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? Right, it’s an odd thing? Isabella knows what I’m talking about there, right? You come to Jesus and He gives you an egg yolk, that doesn’t make any sense. Well, you sophisticated RBC students know what he’s talking about, don’t you? A yoke is a harness, right? A yoke is a piece of wood in the ancient world, placed on the back of an animal to harness the energy to do harvest work, right? A yoke was a sign of submission that it belonged to its master. And here Jesus is saying, “Come to me and I will give you my yoke.” Come to me means placing yourself under His Lordship, under His rule and reign, to place yourself under His Word, and His Law, and His command. But dear friends, understand that His Word, His Law, and command is not a burden. It’s not a heavyweight that drags you down. Jesus says here that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Yes, He calls you to obey. Yes, He calls you to submit to His Word. Yes, He calls you to honor Him as Lord, but all that He requires of you He enables you to perform.
You understand He gives you His Spirit to enable you to obey His Word. He gives you the Spirit to guard you from error and guide you in truth, He gives you His Spirit to mortify the flesh and to put on the qualities and characteristics of Christ. All that He requires of you He enables you to do. Because, Christians, we love Christ, and therefore we love His Word. Jesus said, “If you love me,” what? “Keep my word.” Ah, dear friends, if you do not keep His word, how can you say you love Him? You see, you come to Him and you delight in His Word. Ah, friends, if you are vexed and troubled, find safe haven in His Word. There is no hope apart from His Word, His Word is your strength and support. Your stay, your comfort, your rock, your refuge, you find strength in His Word because as the good shepherd, He leads His sheep to green pastures that you can feast— feast on His Word. He says His yoke is easy.
But thirdly and finally, Christ calls us to learn from Him. To learn from Him. Verse 29, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” You see the logic here is straightforward, those who come to Christ are called to follow Him, and those who follow Christ are called to learn from him. You see, when Christ came in this world, he founded a college, a Reformation Bible College. He established a school of discipleship and the mission of the school was singular. Jesus says, “Learn from me.” You have one goal, to learn from Christ. To have Christ as the content of your theology and to have Christ as the character standard of the theologian. You see, we are understudies of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as Christians, we are enrolled in His school. And so, Christ is our teacher, the Spirit is our tutor; the Scriptures are the text the gospel is our subject the Church is our classroom; worship, discipleship, missions— they’re our assignments, and the glory of the Triune God is our anthem. The gospel is our life and we have a singular focus to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
Don’t you love how Paul in Philippians 3 simply says, “I long to know him more.” This is the apostle Paul we are talking about, “I long to know him more.” Jesus says to learn from me because, you understand, Christ introduces us to the glory of His Father, and that’s something that we can’t wrap our minds around, isn’t it? But Jesus not only gives us the content of our theology, he does model for us what it means to be a theologian, and that’s the harder part here. That’s the harder part for us because Jesus here says he is gentle and lowly in heart. You see, to the brokenhearted, Christ deals with them gently and warmly. As Isaiah says to us, “A bruised reed he will not break, a fainting, burning wick he will not quench.” Dear friends, He will not reject you, He cares for you, He accommodates Himself to you, He has time for you, He bends His ear to hear your cries and your prayers, and He prays for you. He’s gentle, He’s lowly.
Those vexations, those hurts, those worries, those troubles you’re called to— lay them before him. You’re to give Him no rest with your complaints, and your worries, and your hurts, and your pains. See, your friends, your pastors, your elders, they may not have time for all the many worries you have, but He does. He does not reject those who come to Him. It’s a great example for those of us who are ministers, and theologians, and professors, and servants in Christ’s Church. You see, one of the most disappointing realities in the Church today is the fact that some Christians are not always gentle and humble. You know, we like to say we want Reformed and respectful students here. It’s another way of saying we want Christ-like students here. You see, we forget that our lives either commend the gospel or undermine the gospel. And as Christians, we are to manifest to the world the character of Christ; the Kingdom of God is no place for cranky, Reformed theologians. You see, when we bicker and complain about this thing or that thing, when we bicker or complain about that person and this person, we undermine our witness. And we would do well to consider Him who is gentle and lowly, we would do well to consider Him who came at a such a distance to give us rest. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself of no reputation, came in the form of a servant. That’s what we are, as RBC students, we are servants through whom others believe and we want to embody and model gentleness and humility. It’s what Dr. Briones taught us last week, we focus on theology that moves us to doxology; and that doxology drives us into greater humility because it’s driving us into greater conformity to Christ who is gentle, and lowly, and extraordinary, and beautiful, and strong, and powerful, and glorious.
And so, Christ here is standing before you, and he’s saying, “Come.” And here we see Christ alone who is our comfort, and here in Matthew 11, He gives us several lessons for the heavy laden. He says we are to come to Him, so we can find rest for our souls, we are to take His yoke upon ourselves because His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, we are to learn from Him because He is gentle and lowly in heart. Oh, dear friends, whatever sin you are facing today, I hope you know you can take it Christ, and you should before it takes over you. Why delay? For those of you who are facing trails and hurt, those of you for whom a bitter providence has come, I hope you’ll run to the Savior. Throw yourself upon Him and know the embrace He gives you in Christ. For those of you, dear Christians, perhaps who are struggling with the assurance of your salvation, you look at yourself and wonder if anyone can ever accept you. You know that God in Christ has accepted you when you come to Him by faith; there is assurance for you in Christ. But for those of you who do not know Christ, oh friends, I pray that you will know no rest until you find your rest in Christ alone, who is our only comfort. Let’s pray together.
Transcripts are lightly edited.