Deep down we know we need something more than just physical rest. A day off each week and a family holiday each year is a good thing. But it’s not enough. Not long after the weekend roles around you’re back at it. Mondayitis hits you square in the face… Again! The two week break is great. You get some sand under your feet, the fresh salty breeze across your face and unlike me you may even be lucky enough to get a bit of a tan. But you and I both know it doesn’t take long before you’re back at work and you’re tired all over again. The day off, the couple of weeks of holiday don’t last. It’s not enough. We need something more. We need something deeper.
Science has provided vast amounts of information about the human body and mind. In the area of sleep, an activity that occupies roughly 30% of our lives, it’s no different. The science of sleep has taught us that sleep has implications for our cognitive abilities, memory levels, physical performance and just overall health. Thomas E. Scammell of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, states, “Our bodies require sleep in order to maintain proper function and health. In fact, we are programmed to sleep each night as a means of restoring our bodies and minds.” And here you were thinking that this was the role of coffee in your life. Our bodies and our minds need sleep. We need rest. But what sleep scientists also point out is that it’s not just about the quantity of sleep that’s important but the quality. We need more than lengthy sleep. We need depth of sleep.
For the mums reading this – you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those first few months of broken sleep… well maybe it’s best I don’t remind you too much of those days. But we know it to be true and we experience it as such. What if the same is true for our soul? What if it’s not just a quantity of rest we need but a quality? What if it’s not the length of rest, but the depth of rest that really makes the difference to our life?
There is an interesting passage of scripture in Matthew 11:28-29 that shows us Jesus’ desire to give us the rest we need. Here he states,
“28 Come to me, all who labour 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.”
This is a rest that Jesus offers you – ‘Rest for your souls’. This is the deep rest we need. But notice there are two components to it.
Rest 1 – Peace with God – ‘8 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’
Jesus is inviting you to come to him in order that you may ‘REST FROM’. He wants you to rest from labouring, from carrying your burdens. Essentially Jesus is offering to take something off you. Whatever it is that you carry. Whatever it is that is weighty and heavy on you. Jesus says – ‘come to me I’ll take that off you. I don’t want you to carry it any more.’ It may be bitterness and unforgiveness. He wants to take your burden. It may be guilt and shame. He wants to take your burden. It may be fear and anxiety. He wants to take your burden.
In the immediate context Jesus is offering rest to those who are under the heavy religious burden of the Pharisees and religious elite. The Pharisees had taken God’s law and turned it into an impossible to do list that inherently became an oppressive burden upon people. Jesus hated this. This can be clearly seen in Matthew 23, which is known, as the passage of ‘Jesus’ 7 Woes’. If you’ve ever felt this unbearable weight of moral expectation put on you by religious people like me, I’m sorry. This is not the heart of Jesus. He wants to take that off you.
The wider implication to you and me is what Jesus is ultimately offering. He’s offering rest from having to work your way to God. It’s a rest from religion. Religion says you’ve got to work your way up to God. Jesus says NO!!! ‘You don’t have to prove yourself to me. You don’t need to clean yourself up before me. You don’t need to pretend everything is ok when it’s not. You don’t have to work your way up to me by doing enough good deeds.’ Jesus simply offers for you to come to him in order that he can give you peace with God. Jesus takes something off you. He wants to give you an eternal rest within your soul that comes from receiving forgiveness of your sins. He wants to free you from the crushing weight of despair of trying to earn God’s love and acceptance by simply doing more good works. Jesus wants you to experience a deep sense of rest in your soul that you are right with God not because of what you have done but because of what he has done for you. Come to him and he will give you rest!
Rest 2 – Peace of God – 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.”
Notice in this verse that Jesus doesn’t offer to take something off, rather he wants to put something on. That is his yoke. A yoke is not something that us urban and suburban foke are too familiar with. But our rural friends are more likely to get the imagery. A yoke was a big wooden beam with two metal rings, rope or leather placed around the necks of two oxen linking them together. This allowed them to pull in unison a plough, cart or other heavy load. Typically one animal would be stronger and the other weaker. The stronger animal would essentially carry the bigger load and bring along with it the weaker animal.
However the Bible uses this term more often in a metaphorical sense rather than literal. It was used figuratively as a symbol of severe bondage, affliction, hardship and subjection (Lev. 26:13; 1 Kings 12:4; Isa. 47:6; Lam. 1:14; 3:27). A good example is in 1 Kings 12 where the people of Israel ask King Rehoboam to lighten their heavy yoke that his father Solomon had placed on them. Rehoboam responded by declaring that he would make their yoke even heavier (1 Kings 12:14). Likewise it is used often to illustrate how the religious elite would put their heavy burden of the law onto people (Matt. 23; Acts 15:10).
Jesus says that he doesn’t just want to take something off you and give you peace with God. But that he also wants to put something on you and give you the peace of God. He reminds you that you are not alone in this thing called life. He wants to put his yoke around you, not to bear you down, but in order that you can begin to walk with him and do life together. He’s the bigger animal and he’ll carry the heavy load. You can trust him. You can follow his lead. You can learn from him. The difference between Jesus and religious people is that religious people point out where you fall short and tell you to pull yourself up. Jesus puts out his hand, helps pick you up and invites you to live your life with him. And he promises he’ll never leave you alone in the fight. He’ll be right there with you all the way. You don’t have to do it all on your own anymore.
It’s more than just a rest from something; it’s a rest in someone. He doesn’t just take your burden off you, he gives you his peace, he gives you his strength, he gives you his grace and mercy, his encouragement, his friendship. Jesus gives you his life. Recieve from him and he will give you rest. Ultimate rest. Rest for you soul.
10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Pet. 5:10