The Promise of Rest in Christ

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 27 May 2011

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

About 400 years have passed since Malachi ministered in Jerusalem. These 400 years are often called the Silent Years because there were no inspired prophets during this time. Malachi had prophesied about the coming of the Messiah and the prophet who would serve as his forerunner. So for 400 years, the Church of God was waiting for this forerunner.

But a lot was taking place during this time. God was, as it were, re-arranging the props behind the curtain. It was a time of great turmoil both on the political-social and religious front. Politically, world power was shifting from East to West. The Medo-Persians had over taken the Babylonians at the time of Malachi. But soon they were over taken by the Greeks under Alexander the Great; and the Greek language became the lingua franca in much of the civilised world. But in 63 B.C., the Roman General Pompey marched into Jerusalem to conquer it for Rome. There as a terrible slaughter and Palestine came under Roman rule. In God’s wise providence, the spread of the Gospel would be facilitated with the Greek language coupled with pax romana, Roman Peace.

The Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin around the year 4 or 5 BC. He was the Immanuel, God with us. He was the God-Man who would take the sin of His people upon Himself so that they might know the forgiveness of sin.

The book of Matthew was the first or one of the first books to record the life and ministry of Christ. Matthew was one of His disciples, and many believe that he had taken notes in Aramaic during the time he was with the Lord; but it was only around A.D. 50, that he penned the book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Now, in some ways the four Gospels (and there are only four mentioned by the Church Fathers) are parallel accounts. Yet they have different emphases. One convenient way to look at them would be to use the 4 faces of the Cherubim described in Ezekiel 1:10; or the 4 beasts described in Revelation 4:7. Using these pictures, Matthew describes Christ as a King as represented by the Lion. Mark describes Christ as a Servant as represented by the Ox. Luke describes Christ as the Son of Man as represented by the face of a Man. John describes Christ as the Son of God as represented by the Eagle.

In this instalment of our series on the Great and Precious promises of God, we want to look at a promise in the book of Matthew, the Lord helping us.

Matthew has many comforting promises. The Beatitudes in chapter 5 contain a promise each. Then we have the famous promise of the Lord: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Mt 7:7); or the even more famous Matthew 6:33—“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

All these and others beside would be very profitable to study. However, after some consideration, I felt that perhaps the most important promise in this book is the Lord Jesus’ promise of rest in Him which is stated in our text (Mt 11:28-30).

Let’s consider this promise by asking 3 questions: (1) Whom is this promise for? (2) What is the condition of this promise? (3) What is the promise?

1. Whom is this Promise for?

The Lord Jesus was in Galilee, preaching to the crowd. He had preached against the hardness of heart of the Jews and condemned the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for their unbelief. But now He is come to the end of His message. He is giving His concluding words.

It is clear that the Lord is still speaking in the hearing of everyone present. And yet at the same time, it is clear that he is not calling everyone.

Its like, if I were to say: all of you who are wearing socks, please stand up. It is clear that I am speaking to everyone, and yet my call is only for those who are wearing socks!

Now, the Lord is issuing a gospel call. Some say that the call is going out to the elect. In fact, in the previous verse, the Lord speaks of those whom He would reveal the Father unto (v. 27). Who are these but the elect? Well there is a sense in which the Lord’s call is only for His elect. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” says the Lord (Jn 10:27).

But I would put it to you that the Lord is not in our text specifically calling out to the elect. You see, in the first place, no one can objectively tell whether he is elect. It’s like if I call out and say: “All of you who will die by age 63, please stand up.” Will you know if I am speaking to you? No, of course not! The Lord’s call is not so ambiguous.

In the second place, the Lord states clearly who He is speaking to “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” It is possible that there is an elect in the audience, but his time is not yet come, so he is not speaking to him as yet. It is even possible that an elect may have backslidden and for a season is hardened in his heart. The Lord is not speaking to him at the moment.

To whom, then, is the Lord speaking to?

Some commentators suggest that He is referring to those who have been greatly burdened by the Mosaic Laws with all the additional burdens imposed by the Scribes and Pharisees (Lk 11:46).

This interpretation is, however, very unlikely since Matthew has not recorded anywhere before chapter 11 that the Pharisees and Scribes have been laying unnecessary burdens on the people. In fact, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had been expounding the Law of God and telling the people that their righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 5:17-20). And when He expounded on the Law, His standards are even higher than that of the Scribes and Pharisees!

Whom then is the Lord referring to?

I believe He is referring to those who are weary and burdened because of their sin: the guilt, the power, and the consequence of sin. These are those who have become sensible of their sinfulness, and their guiltiness, or are suffering the consequence of sin.

They are sick in their hearts because of the burden of sin—their own sin, and they groan under it in weariness for they are now aware of how dreadful and evil their hearts are. They are awakened to their own peril and know that they are without hope. They feel crushed by the weight of sin, but are helpless to save themselves.

Such is the case of the prodigal son “when he came to himself” (Lk 15:17). Such was the case of the publican who hung down his head and smote upon his breast, crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13). Such was the case of those who heard Peter in his inaugural sermon whose heart were pricked that they cried, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Such was the case with the Philippian jailer, who after experiencing the earthquake, fell down before Paul and Silas and cried unto them: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30).

It is to these and these alone, that the Lord stretches forth His arms and invites them to rest in Him. “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” he says (Mt 9:13).

There were many in Chorazin and Capernaum who did not feel that they need to repent, much less need a Saviour. The Lord does not call them to come. Rather, He warns them of greater judgement seeing that they have had the opportunity to hear the Word preached to them, authenticated by many miracles.

So, then, brethren and children, are you weary and burdened because of your sin and can bear it no longer? Has the Lord spoken to you by His word or dealt with you with a heavy hand to show you your sin so that your pride is broken and you feel life is miserable?

Listen: The Lord Jesus is calling you. He does not call those who are filled with pride and self-righteousness. He is calling you if you feel the burden of your sin and are being crushed under it. Oh will you not go to Him?

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord. The Lord has a promise for you. But this promise is conditioned upon your response to His call. So…

2. What is the Condition of this Promise?

Well, the basic condition is simply: “Come.” To be sure, the Lord adds “take” and “learn” in verse 29. But the basic condition is ‘come.’ You cannot take and learn until you have come to Him first.

“Come unto me” says the Lord Jesus. The Lord has called. If you hear His voice, go to him. Delay no longer. Now is the day of salvation. Come! “let him that is athirst come” says the Spirit and the bride (Rv 22:17).

But what does it mean to come? Well, certainly the Lord does not mean “walk up the isle” or “come, make your confession to the priest or pastor.” No, no; the Lord simply says ‘Come unto me.’

To the crowd listening to Him in Galilee, those who responded to Him would gather nearer to listen to Him, and to follow Him. But today, the same call is going out to the multitude whenever the Gospel is preached.

And I believe we can go to Him in obedience and grateful acceptance of His invitation. We can go to Him in prayer. The Lord Jesus teaches us to pray unto the Father in His name, but we can and must go to Him too. He is one in essence with the Father, but we can also go to Him directly for He is the God-Man. When the Lord says “Come unto me,” I believe He is teaching us to go unto Him in humble prayer.

Go to Him as He has called. Go to Him believing all that He has said concerning Himself. Go to Him acknowledging your sin and guilt. Go to Him with your burden and sorrows. Cast your burdens upon Him, for He cares for you. Go to Him asking Him for forgiveness and cleansing.

Oh will you not go to Him now.

Go to Him as your Saviour that He might cleanse and wash you of your sin. Go to Him also as your Lord and King, for He adds: “Take my yoke upon you” (v. 29).

The yoke is a wooden frame fitted across the necks of oxen for joining them together as they pull the plow. So servants are said to be under the yoke of their masters (1 Tim 6:1). Similarly, subjects of a kingdom are said to be under the yoke of their king (1 Kgs 12:10). So then, when Christ invites us to take His yoke upon us, He is inviting us to submit to Him as Lord and King.

The yoke is an instrument of labour indeed, but remember that without the yoke, the oxen would not be able to plough effectively at all. The yoke joins the oxen together so that they share the load and plough in the same direction. Without the yoke, the oxen will have to bear their burden individually, and will be going in different directions. They would not be very useful at all. So when Christ invites us to take the yoke upon us, He is inviting us also to be His useful servants and subjects, as well as to be co-labourers (or yokefellows: Phil 4:3) with His servants already in the field.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light (v. 30). The yoke is kind on the shoulder, it is easy to wear, and the burden—the cross of Christ is easy to bear. Christ is not a tyrant king or a hard master. He puts a yoke and a burden on us, which He has already put on Himself and bore when He walked in obedience for 33 years.

Moreover, He promises to help us in our infirmities through His Holy Spirit (Rom 8:28), so that we will not at all find the Christian life burdensome. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom 5:5). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn 5:3).

And not only are we invited to come and to put on the yoke of Christ, we are also invited to learn of Him. He is not only our Priest to deal with our sin and our King to lead us. He is also our Prophet to teach us.

When we enter this great school of Christ, we enter with new eyes and new hearts that we may see the kingdom of God, that we may discern spiritual things. With these new faculties, you may learn of Christ to follow in His steps: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). We are to learn of His humility; we are to learn of His obedience; we are to learn His meekness; we are to learn His faith; we are to learn of His purity. We are to learn Christ (Eph 4:20).

Matthew Henry puts it well, “We must so learn of Christ as to learn Christ, for He is both Teacher and Lesson, Guide and Way, and All in All.”

But why go to Jesus? Why take His yoke and learn of Him?

3. What is the Promise?

Well, the basic answer is rest. If you will go to Him, He promises you to give you rest. “You shall find rest unto your soul.”

Are you weary and heavy laden because of your sin? Are you restless because you know that there is something seriously wrong with you, and you find no rest in your heart? Christ alone can give you rest. Augustine, in his Confessions says it so beautifully: “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it [finds rest] in Thee.”

Is your heart restless because of a guilty conscience and a fear of God’s judgement? Are you restless because you have lost confidence in yourself, in your friends, and in the world? Is there turmoil in you that you are no longer sure what life is about? The suffering and pain seems so pointless; and you seem powerless to do anything about it. Is your heart restless because you sense that you are heading in the wrong direction in life?

Christ alone holds out the promise of rest. He can promise rest because He came to deal with all the problems that rob the world of peace and rest. He is the Prince of Peace. He alone offers can offer real rest and peace.

Through Him we can have peace with God for He paid for the sin of all who would come unto Him (cf. Jn 6:37). Those who go to Christ are justified by faith in Him. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

Through Him we can have rest within our heart, for by the work of His Spirit we are given peace of conscience (Heb 10:2).

Again, through Him we can have rest from all our struggles for significance, for recognition, and for perfectionism. Through Him we have rest from the fear of men and the daily fight to meet the expectations of ourselves and others. Through Him we have rest from our vain attempts to meet the expectations of God. For as we learn of Christ, we are made to realise that we are accepted of God not because we are good enough, but because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.

Again, through Christ we can have peace with our neighbours not only because His Spirit cultivate the virtues of Christ such as love and meekness in our heart; but also because He bind us together with fellow sinners saved by grace under yoke of gratitude that we may labour together for the glory of God.

Indeed, through Christ, we can have rest in the midst of the storms that rage in this present life because we are made to understand that all the trials that God apportions for those who are in Christ are for their good—for all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called of Christ according to His purpose. So Paul tells us “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17).

And finally through Christ we shall one day be completely freed of power, pollution, influence and consequences of sin. We shall then rest fully, all our tears and sorrows having been wiped away by gentle and loving Saviour and Lord.


Beloved brethren and children, the Lord Jesus has called and He has promised: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

I hope you have not heard the message as a lecture, for the Lord is,—through His word preached,—calling out unto us.

We are all a needy people. We need to go to Him. If you have never gone to Him, do not wait, now is the day of salvation. Go to Him without delay. But if you have gone to Him before, you must still go to Him. You must keep going to Him because the remnant of corruption in you will ensure that that you will not have perfect peace. Sin will blind and harden your heart and make you look at yourself or at the wind and the waves and the mountains too big to overcome. As soon as you lose sight of Christ, the burden and weariness will trouble you again.

So go to Him beloved brethren with all your burdens and cares. Go to Him with all your burdens and tears, knowing that much of it is due to sin. Go to Him to find rest for your weak and weary soul.

No one else will be able to give you the rest and peace that you crave in your soul. Only Christ Jesus, your Prophet, Priest and King. Only Christ, who laid His life down for you out of infinite love.

Turn to Christ and cling on to Him. Christ is compassionate and lowly in heart:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.