“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In the first century, the Israelite nation was under the rule of the Roman government. Having been conquered in 63 BC, the Israelite people were desperate to regain their freedom and become a great nation again. People differed on how this could be accomplished. Some choose violence, others tried to play the political system or hide away in their own societies. The Pharisees, however, were driven to follow the law of God. This drive was fueled by a belief that righteous living would earn God's favor. They longed to receive their freedom and peace and were restless in their pursuit. However, this plan did not work well.
Legalism and the difficult of life not going as planned
The Pharisees struggled to understand the law for themselves and came up with an endless number of rules in their interpretation of the law. Take the Sabbath (see Exodus 20:8), which tells us that we are to rest and not work on the Sabbath (or Saturday). This one simple law became an overwhelming burden as they started to ask what constitutes work? Is picking up a bucket work? Cooking a meal? Lifting a child? And so, they ended up creating rule after legalistic rule on how to faithfully follow the Sabbath that ultimately created more work than the simple command to rest.
The Pharisees efforts created a legalistic culture of self-righteousness where people were harshly judged on how well they could live up to these arbitrary laws. Many Pharisees would play the system and use their "righteous" lifestyle as a way of currency, thinking themselves as better or richer than others who had less skill at navigating the legalistic game. And while the madness of their effort may seem obvious to us as outsiders, we are no different.
We get swept up in our attempt to live good lives. Navigating work, family, housekeeping, bills, and choirs all the while trying to live godly lives has a way of making us feel restless both in mind and body. We desire for God to grant us our own sense of freedoms and success. But when we hear criticism from others or feel stressed out about our finances, health, relationships, and the likes, it weighs on us--especially when life doesn't go to plan, whether by our own doing or someone else's. And no matter how much we may attempt to do better the next time, we find ourselves reliving restless grief.
Finding Rest in Jesus
When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28) he offered us an invitation to find rest in him—not just physical rest, but spiritual rest. He went further and said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (v.30). How so, you may ask? Jesus' yoke upon us gets to the source of our problem. He is the author of our lives. He knows our deepest needs and struggles and knows how to fulfill them. Many of our troubles are a result of our fallen nature. We are broken people (Romans 3:23) who are unable to repair our broken pieces. By following Jesus and allowing him to have influence in our lives, we can find the peace and rest we all long for.
Jesus can take our broken, fallen, nature and transform it into resurrected life. He knows how to encourage us amid our struggle and to use the lows of life to bring about a good end. Remember, he is the God who embodies goodness, love, peace, and all the qualities of life worth desiring. And he is the God who can give rest to our weary souls.