Bible Study Come to Me

Come to Me

By Brian Rogers

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy 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.” -Matthew 11:28-30

It’s awkward for me to speak about the above verses. Part of the passage I know, have experienced and can talk about. The other part I have resisted, have not experienced much, and know little about. For that reason, I’ll be turning to an outside expert for this message.

Most of today’s theological content comes from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon called Rest, Rest. For my part, I’ll just be sharing some examples and a few thoughts. According to Spurgeon, in these verses, Jesus is actually talking about two kinds of rest—one that is given to us by Jesus when we come to him, and a second that is found when we learn from him in service. I know the first rest, and the second, well, there’s no time like the present.

I do know about restlessness. In fact, for a large part of my life, I would describe myself as deeply restless. I’m not sure when it started, but I do remember from an early age having a personal sense that, in the areas of life that seemed to be important, I seemed to be perfectly average. I was “OK,” “fine,” even “good.” Even in areas where I was above average, I would often find a way to underwhelm. Nothing wrong with being “OK” and “fine,” but I wanted to be a high performer—better yet, the kind of natural, exceptional performer that doesn’t even need to try that hard. After all, I grew up in a nice family with plenty of advantages. Why shouldn’t I be a top performer? Let’s not dwell on that last question very long. Of course, this is a common scenario, and many people know the pressures involved when it becomes clear that there is a gap between performance and expectation, between talent and hopes. And, I’m sure those pressures are all the greater if the pressure is imposed by a parent rather than the child. There’s stress, disappointment, scheming, and gigantic expenses of energy by all parties (parents and child) as they all try to bridge that gap.

Making matters worse, I was wildly inconsistent. On rare occasions, I would depart from mediocrity and, for one day only, perform absolutely brilliantly. Imagine going to work every day for six pay periods without receiving a paycheck, then, one day, you receive all six paychecks at the same time. That was more my pattern. These rare occurrences fed a narrative in my own mind that, despite all evidence to the contrary suggesting that I was perfectly average, maybe I really was amazing! Maybe there was just some elusive key that I was missing that, once found, would unlock all my potential. After all, if you can do it once, you can do it every time. Right?

So life became about searching for that elusive key. Over time, I developed different strategies that contributed to my restlessness.

I became superstitious. I grew up in the Catholic Church (and that’s not a requirement for superstition, just how it played out for me), so I got serious about praying to saints. I remember a particular saint to pray to when you hadn’t prepared well for the test; I prayed to that saint often. I attended mass before sporting events, lit candles, and bowed down to statues. I speculated about how certain sins and religious activity might impact my chances for success. I dabbled in horoscopes and once visited a fortune teller in college. As an aside, these things are dismissed today as silly or harmless, but I remember being shocked upon discovering just how many were death-penalty offenses in God’s eyes under the Old Testament law.

Second, I made a religion out of trying harder. Trying harder was surely going to be my savior. If you can do it once, you can do it all the time. You have the ability—you just need to commit and rededicate yourself to the task fully. You just need to get serious. You just need to apply yourself. You just need to try harder. There must be deep down some hidden core of virtue and talent that I could exercise. And, of course, in life, we really do need to try harder, give it our all, and work at it over and over. But this was different. I’m talking about identity. Even when I thought about Jesus, my true religion was to try harder. The solution to my spiritual problems was to try harder, rededicate, get serious. Of all my false beliefs, this one is the nastiest. It’s always coming back from the dead to steal my joy.

Finally, my third strategy was a constant search for tricks. Surely there must be some formula, some secret, some product or system out there that would unlock it all. I have much sympathy for people who fall into Scientology and similar groups offering a secret success formula. That offer is so alluring and deceptive.

Anyway, this pattern continued into university and, while I wasn’t miserable, all of these strategies contributed to a persistent restlessness in my life. I eventually went to university, where I played on the baseball team. In the middle of a lackluster season, I was applying all my strategies, looking for the elusive key.

One day, I saw that there were men on our campus handing out Bibles for free. Students were walking right by without accepting free Bibles. I judged these godless heathens who didn’t know the value of superstition. I accepted the Bible, found a private area, and immediately started flipping the pages looking for a promise of God that I could “name and claim” to break my hitting slump. While rifling through the pages, I came across this verse:

“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.”

It sort of stunned me, almost like it was calling to me, and I had a deep sense that this was exactly what I needed. And that last a couple of seconds before I said, “Eh, we’ll come back to that,” and kept searching in vain for baseball promises.

As it turned out, spoiler alert, God does not make any promises offering immediate athletic success in the Bible. Nevertheless, here I am 20+ years later, and this same verse is still calling to me.

I want to pause here and ask if any of this connects. Have you experienced true restlessness? Do you know what it is like to labor spiritually, to be “heavy burdened” and weighed down? There are, of course, different layers to this. Even though God delivered me from a fundamental restlessness, I am sometimes amazed by how spiritually tired I can get, how exhausted. I marvel at how completely unjustified my exhaustion is. Do you ever wonder, how can I be this tired? How can I have so little in the tank? Are you ever amazed at how shallow your comfort zone is? How quickly we can go from being fine to “I cannot take one more thing” and become bitter from the press and demands of life.

That’s what we will explore today. So let’s look at these verses together. Now I will be following Spurgeon to highlight several points as we look at the language of Jesus. As we go along, remember that Jesus is speaking to us.

Jesus says, come all who are weary and burdened. The word “all” is important. We, too, often have a narrow view of salvation and a narrow view of Jesus’ heart for the world. But Jesus here is not calling for the few. Isn’t that something? I think we may be shocked to learn that he really loves people that we don’t like. Jesus is calling for all, that is, for everyone and anyone who labors and is heavy burdened. All who labor means all of us who are trying to save ourselves, to make ourselves acceptable to God by our own efforts, to clean up our lives by our own power, to order our worlds, protect our reputations, control our lives.

These things are heavy burdens, and they weigh us down. This “weighing down” can take different forms. We can be spiritually exhausted, terrified of dying, oppressed with guilt and a bad conscience, controlled by the approval/disapproval of others, terrified of failure and rejection, hopelessly disappointed over our spiritual failures, or overcome by a feeling that we are alone, that’s it’s all on our shoulders, and there’s no one to help, or that there’s no way out. What else might it be for you? Usually, the more embarrassing it is, the heavier it is. Usually, the more important it is, the heavier it is.

Jesus says, Come Now. Spurgeon notes that Jesus’s command to come in present-tense Greek is intensely present. Jesus commands, come now! Come at once! Not later today, not tomorrow, not next year. Run away from your slave master right now. “Commit an act of instantaneous faith which will bring instantaneous peace.” Come and rely on Jesus right now.

Jesus says, Come to Me. Come to what? Jesus says, “Come to Me.” Not to the law, not to good works, not to the teachers, not to self-help, not to the pastor, not to the approval and smiles of other people. We are to come to Jesus and lay our burdens down at his feet.

Who in your life can say, “Come to me”? I would venture to say that, unless you have a really weird or horrible boss, the only people in your life who can say “come to me” are the people who love you dearly. A parent says that to a precious child, a spouse says that to a spouse, a dear friend to a dear friend. This is a command into love and intimacy from someone who loves you.

For those who have kids or work with children, there is a certain age when kids walk in the door, and you can tell from their voice that they are already ten-on-a-scale-of-ten upset, usually because of something that happened on the playground or some conflict with a friend or sibling. And, if you are standing at a distance and ask, “what happened?” as they start to process the question and form a response, the intensity goes from ten-out-of-ten and shoots straight through the roof. After you’ve seen this play out once or twice, you quickly figure out that the only solution to their problem is to come to you. You say, “Oh, don’t try to talk; just come here. Get over here.” Keep that example in mind.

Jesus says come. He does not say do, he does not say bring, he does not say make, he does not say prepare or clean up. The only thing required from us is that we come. Consider for a moment that this is the God of the Universe in human flesh, the same God who gave us the law, the same God who calls the law good, and says that not one part of the law will disappear until heaven and earth pass away. Notice what that same God doesn’t say.

He doesn’t say try harder. You just need to focus, get serious

He doesn’t say work smarter. He doesn’t give any inside tips or tricks or professional development advice. No short-cut formula.

He doesn’t say, I told you so. He doesn’t shame us. He doesn’t say, “The reason you’re having these problems is because you’re a lousy person. You’re tired because you do this, and you don’t do that.”

He doesn’t say, “Come on, you can do this!” “You got this!” “You can do anything you that set your mind to it. Lean In! Dig deep!

He doesn’t say, “You’re overthinking it. You’re stressing for nothing. Calm down, relax, control yourself. It’s no big deal. There’s nothing to worry about.”

He doesn’t say, “You just need to double-down. Make a bigger sacrifice.”

He doesn’t say, as Brooke was telling me she heard people say growing up, “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. If I gave it to you, you can handle it.” Can you imagine how depressing this life would be if he said that? C’mon it’s not so bad, you just need to be self-reliant.

He doesn’t say any of these. He just says come.

Remember the parent-child example and the child who is such a mess and is so far away from being able to solve his or her own problem. Well, we’re that child, we’re the mess, and Jesus says—Just stop it. Stop doing what you’re doing. Stop it all. Just come here.

We stop it, and we come to Jesus. We rely on him as our appointed substitute and sacrifice for our guilt. We trust that he has fulfilled the law and the requirements of God in our place and suffered in our place. There is no more need for superstition, or scheming, or tricks, or anything else on that long list to win God’s favor.

When Jesus says come, he’s saying come as you are. Notice there is no other requirement, no preparation, no getting ready, no qualifying. Come as you are. Come with your guilt, and sin, and enslaving anxiety and self-centeredness, and self-concern. Come if you’re selfish. Come if you’re a jerk. Come if you’re weak. Come if you’re smart or think you’re smart. Come with empty hands. Just do it. No excuses. Don’t let anything get in the way or delay you.

This act of coming to Jesus is absolutely simple and has no virtue at all. You’re not a good person if you do it. Sorry to be so bold on this one, but I horribly complicated this to my own detriment. I used to get all tied up with questions about faith—how do you know that you have faith, or have enough of it, or exercised it the right way, etc.? It made me utterly miserable and more restless than I had ever been to the point where the Gospel seemed like this impossible thing that was only for the few. I could not have gotten it more wrong. I stayed miserable until the day I heard how Christian righteousness, the righteousness of faith, is completely passive—that we receive Christ by faith in the same way that the ground receives the rain. How much work, preparation, and qualifying does the ground do to receive the rain? None! It does nothing except receive. No one makes a point as boldly as Martin Luther, who wrote, “We do nothing in this matter; we give nothing to God but simply receive and allow someone else to work in us—that is, God.”

Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” The emphasis is on “I,” the emphasis is on give. Jesus is the promise-maker, and he is the doer of this work. He says, “I will give.” I used to wonder, “How do you have faith?” “How does one do faith?” I was greatly helped by a speaker (Jack Miller, Sonship Sermons) who explained that faith hooks into the promises of God. God makes the promise—we just grab it, hook into it, and hold on. He also said to people who doubt to go ahead and eat the promises of God like a pig eats. When food is offered to pigs, they don’t ask, “Is this a good thing for me, or is it intended for someone else?” They just eat, and eat quickly. They don’t overthink it or worry about manners or appearances. Similarly, when God makes a promise, just take it and eat it! If you’re a big sinner, all the more reason. God makes big promises for big sinners.

Jesus gives rest now, not rest after death, not rest after improvement. Jesus’s atonement on the cross is the source of our rest. To give an example from my own life, I have said the sinner’s prayer and responded to altar calls more than anyone else. While that may be inconsistent with a proper understanding of justification, I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing. We wake up sinners every day, and we need Jesus every day. However, the day I heard about passive righteousness was different. Since the day I heard that we receive the righteousness of Jesus like the ground receives the rain, his sacrifice has been (in the words of Spurgeon) the source of a deep calm that sits deep in my conscience. I say that only to encourage anyone who has been around for a while and feels like it hasn’t connected yet. I’m here to tell you that there are lots of us for whom it doesn’t connect for a long time, and then one day it does.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a mess in a million other ways and still get anxieties, etc., but I did receive a particular fundamental rest at a moment in time that wasn’t there before and hasn’t left since. Jesus bore the unrest that we might experience rest as a gift.

And now to the area that I don’t know much about. This passage speaks of two rests. The first rest is given. The second rest is found as we learn from Jesus in service. God’s timing is interesting. I had some time off from work recently and was so happy because I have been exhausted, irritable, and discouraged. Then I read what Spurgeon says these verses mean, and it was quite revealing.

Long story short, he says we are to learn two things. First, we are to learn that Jesus is meek. In other words, we are to learn his meek spirit from him. What does it mean to be meek? Here I think an example is helpful.

Have you ever had this experience—you’re walking down a sidewalk or a path. There’s a certain amount of space. You’re walking on the correct side of the path, where you should be. Three people are walking at you. They are walking three-across, talking to each other. They are walking on the wrong side; in fact, they are walking on your side. As you walk toward each other, it’s becoming clear that someone has to move, but they’re not moving. They expect you to move, even though you’re on the right side. It’s almost as though you don’t exist. If you’re familiar with this scenario, what feeling do you have inside your body, what are you thinking about these people walking toward you, and what options are you weighing? Do you think, “Oh, they must not see me here; I’ll get out of the way or adjust.” Or, are you more like, “Oh, no way, not happening, this will not happen, I’m not moving, in fact, I’m going to walk straight and put this shoulder into that one’s chest, and then act surprised.” Or, are you more Option 3, “I’m going to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

Well, the meek spirit is closer to option 1, and the proud spirit is closer to option 2 or 3. To have a meek spirit is the opposite of having a proud spirit. A proud spirit expects to be treated well, expects to be honored, to be rewarded well. A proud spirit should never have to move out of the way; the very idea of giving way to those three is intolerable. When the proud person’s work is slightly criticized, his spirit rises up to defend himself; he becomes irritated. The proud spirit gets tired of doing good if it finds its labors not appreciated. A proud spirit overreacts. The proud spirit chooses option 2 (shoulder) or option 3 (fire from heaven). A proud spirit can never find rest at work.

Jesus, however, is meek. On earth, Jesus, despite being God the Son, never expected to be well treated. He never had a default expectation that he was owed a certain amount of honor. He never considered himself too good or too high to do something. He didn’t get upset when he had to work. He never aimed for his own honor. Consider this, with respect to God, aren’t we just like those three people on the path. God is where he should be. We are on the wrong side, walking at him. We say to him, “You move.” We expect him to move. We act as though he is not there, not even worthy of being acknowledged. Jesus is meek. When his honor was insulted, he was so slow to anger, so slow to take offense. When people criticized him, he didn’t cut them down. He was calm with people who opposed him. Spurgeon says that work and service will become restful when we become meek.

Bing lowly in heart is similar. It has to do with how we react to things that happen to us. The lowly heart wants God’s will to be done and wants God to get the glory. The lowly heart doesn’t have a personal agenda, and therefore isn’t so upset when that agenda gets disrupted. The lowly heart is okay if it turns out to be poor. Or if it is denied honor. Or if it doesn’t finish in first place or close to first place.

What do you do if your default reaction is, “I’m not so sure that sounds appealing, I’m not sure I would want to be meek in this world, and, even if I did, how would that ever happen?” Part of being a prideful person is thinking that you already know something that you haven’t tried. A prideful heart thinks something won’t work even though he hasn’t tried it, and a prideful person can’t learn anything because he already knows everything.

Jesus says we have to learn, and learning means setting prejudices and preconceived notions aside.

Practical takeaways:

Jesus says, “come to me,” in a present tense that is intensively present. Come right now, come at once.

If you’re average or someone says you’re average or treats you as average, don’t get bent out of shape. Being average can be a wonderful gift of God. People who are told that they have all this potential spend their whole lives and energy trying to fulfill their potential. Average people can focus on knowing and serving Christ.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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