The more I think about the promise of Jesus, in Matthew 11, the more I see, enjoy, and experience it. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (:28, 29).
To really understand this invitation you need to appreciate the flow of thought in the chapter. The first thing to notice is that the chapter begins with John the Baptist expressing his doubts that Jesus is, after all, the Messiah. The reason is obvious. John had been announcing a Messiah who would come in fierce judgment, yet he is languishing in prison and the wicked are “getting away with it”. Jesus’ answer is intriguing. He tells John’s messengers to go back and describe to John what they had seen and heard. Jesus quotes the words of Isaiah’s prophecies (chapters 35 and 61) hundreds of years earlier, to describe it: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” The intriguing part is that Jesus does not quote the whole prophecy. He leaves out those parts that describe the judgment that would also come with the Messiah.
The second thing to notice is that Jesus immediately goes on to pronounce a coming judgment on those cities that had seen his miracles and yet rejected God.
Now here’s the happy lesson: Jesus is saying that the work of the Messiah is in two parts. There is a day of judgment coming but right now is a time of grace. That’s why he invites the weary and burdened to find rest in him. That’s why his yoke is easy. Unlike the rigid, demanding and judgmental religion of the Pharisees, his is an invitation to walk in step with him who is gentle, helpful, and patient with our failings and weaknesses. This is a time of joy because he is not severe. He does not cast us off when we stumble but, being yoked to us, he carries us and helps us. Those who reject the offer of grace will one day experience “woe” but now we are invited to unbelievable grace and acceptance.