I sense that many people, like myself, are in need of rest for their souls. In addition, the burdens of this life on earth, let alone the obedience as a Christian, can weigh heavy on our hearts and spirits. Many times, I have gone to Matthew 11:28-30 to find solace: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.
I have never despaired of the calling on my life to bring an encounter with Jesus to the life of someone who needs healing from the wounds of this world. But as a friend reminded me the other day, "Even Jesus had to take a break from the demands on Him, and remove Himself for periods of rest". Don't get me wrong, in no way do I think that my work for the broken-hearted compares to what Jesus accomplished. But, as the Lord increases the number of people who find their way to our door, Mark and I do get weary in our flesh, souls, and spirits.
We do recognize that we need rest. And I used to find comfort in these verses, thinking that they were telling me that Jesus invites everyone who senses they can't ease their burdens on their own, to come to Him. He offers rest for our souls, which often overshadow and smother our spirits, limiting our ability to receive the gifts of the Spirit: joy, love, patience, peace, gentleness, kindness and self-control, or discipline. He invites us to learn from Him as He models how to carry out our work for the Kingdom without feeling like we have a millstone around our neck.
While I believe that interpretation to be valid, I have recently discerned what I think is another layer to this familiar passage. Previously in Matthew 11, Jesus had spoken that the Kingdom of Heaven had suffered violence and the violent were taking it by force (verse 12). I believe Jesus was implying that the Kingdom of Heaven was being pressed into by men forcing their way in because they had been denied entrance by the religious restrictions and rules of the Pharisees. This resulted in a religious burden for those seeking to get closer to their God.
"Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden"... all who feel tired and worn-out from trying to meet all the criteria of being pronounced worthy of entering even the Temple, let alone the Kingdom of God. From the time Moses came down off the mountain with the stone tablets, some 1400+ years before, God's ten commandments for righteous living had multiplied exponentially, being mingled with oral traditions and the rabbi's written commentaries until the burden of meeting the standards of the religious leaders was nearly hopeless.
"I will give you rest... you can recover your strength from the endless burden of meeting those standards. "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... Submit to His authority (yoke) and learn from Him how to walk out righteousness; sharing not only His Kingdom's system and structure, but the same rest for their souls that being aligned with the Father's kingdom lent Him. Jesus's heart and the Father's are in communion, yielding a gentle, submissive and obedient spirit; unburdened and rested.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light... Again, the submission to His authority (yoke) is easy, and His burden (discipleship) is light. Unlike the religious path of the Pharisees, following Jesus is easy and no burden, at all.
The fact that Chapter 12 is full of examples of these "rules" that the Pharisees placed on men -- no harvesting of the grain the Disciples ate on the Sabbath; no healing on the Sabbath of the man with the withered hand; no casting out demons by the Spirit of God -- is evidence to me that the "burden" Jesus referred to as being "heavy" was, indeed, all the religious rules that made it difficult for men to seek the Kingdom of God.
So, as I contemplate my recent weariness, I must admit that a good portion of it comes from the burden of having shown Christians the glory of God healing the souls and spirits of Believers, only to have it embraced as Truth, then watch that enthusiasm evaporate as they slip back into their religious traditions.
I should not be surprised, though. As I read the messages to the churches in Revelation 2-3, Jesus clearly warns that the Body of Christ will not walk the straight and narrow path. Only a remnant will take His yoke upon themselves and learn from Him. But the harvest is great, so we will continue to labor in His fields, presenting the Gospel of the Kingdom and our King's gentle and humble heart. And we will rest when we can and never resist harnessing ourselves to Him and His authority.
Revelation 3:1-3 I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up,
and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I
have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent...