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The Invitation

Imagine yourself living in a kingdom.

 You have never met the king, but you have heard of him, good reports and bad. All you know is, he is the king: the supreme authority in your land. One day you receive a royal summons via a military officer to appear before the king at his palace. How would you feel?

Somehow this is the tone in which Jesus' invitation is often conveyed. If ever you hear anything amended to the good news, though, which keeps it from being Good News, it is not the good news!

 


Let's try again:

Imagine yourself living in a kingdom. You have never met the king. You've heard about him, both good and bad, but all you know is, he's the king. One day there is a knock at your door. You open it, and there stands a man dressed in ordinary clothes, smiling and extending his hand. The man is so openhearted, so clear-eyed in his countenance, you involuntarily reach out and shake hands with him. Very courteously and respectfully, he tells you that he is the king's son! A moment of disbelief passes until you look closer at this man and realize he is not ordinary, in spite of his casual appearance. The stamp of royalty is on him, and suddenly you are overwhelmed. The king's son is indeed standing on your doorstep!

 Before fear can rise up, the son smiles a more reassuring smile and says, "My father sent me to extend a personal invitation to you. He would like for you to come to the palace to meet him. He wants very much to enjoy the pleasure of your company. I will escort you into the throne room personally and introduce you to him. Will you come with me and meet him?"

See the difference between a command and an invitation?

The good news of Jesus Christ is not a command, but an invitation to know God: an invitation sent in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. To be invited to know God, when He as God could do whatever He wants with me, confers the highest dignity and honor. It is an invitation that alters my heart, for such grace compels me to love Him as no command ever could. Will you join me and see yourself accepting the invitation offered by the Son? Jesus invites us to come to Him; He does not force us!

Here is one of the many Scriptural invitations from our Lord.

 

Matthew 11:28-30—"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."

Paraphrase by Frederick Bruner: "Come here to me all of you who are working hard and carrying too much, and I will refresh you. Here, take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and simple at heart, and you will experience refreshing deep down in your lives. You see, my yoke is easy and my burden is light" The Christbook by Frederick Bruner, p. 437. Translation of Matt. 11:28-31 by Eugene H. Peterson in his book, The Message: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me; watch how I do it... I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly"— The Message, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 1995.

 

The Invitation is to come to Him.

—v. 28—"Come to me..."

Jesus does not say, "Come to God" and receive the promise of rest. Instead, with no explanations, Jesus invites all troubled persons to Himself. Don't miss the significance of this! In Jesus' invitation to come to Him we feel quite natural in receiving it as an invitation to God, because

In Jesus, God gets a face.

Jesus so easily makes us think about God when He speaks of Himself, because He is God; i.e., true deity and true humanity in one. So this is more than an invitation to hear a great teacher, a moral leader, a guru, or the leader of a cult! This is God's invitation to come to Him. What a privilege! God in human form looks out at the faces of those gathered on that day, to those over the centuries, to us today and beyond and says: "come to Me."

 

The invitation is to a certain kind of person.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened..."
Definition of weary: to be beat out, to be faint, to be weary from labor and toil.  Definition of burdened: to be heavy, weighed down, oppressed with loads and burdens.

In summary, Jesus tells all to "come to Him" who are working hard and carrying too much. He meets those who know they have a need, are having a hard time, and feel overwhelmed.

 

  • Bonnard translates the invitation: "Come to me all you who are fatigued and overwhelmed."
  • Barclay says it this way: "Come to me, all you who are exhausted and weighted down beneath your burdens."
  • Luther exclaims: "Ah, what a strange invitation this is"! (834), for in it Jesus is saying, in effect, "my kingdom is a hospital for invalids (837). All people experiencing hard times are explicitly invited..."
  • Calvin 2:25 comments, "the particle 'all' is to be rooted... lest anyone should shut the door on himself by a perverted doubt." As quoted in The Christbook by Frederick Bruner, p. 438.

So who might this invitation include?

 

  • If you have a troubled marriage, you are invited to come to Jesus.
  • If your single life is out of control, you are invited.
  • If you have things going on in your life that you can't bear, you are invited.
  • If you are feeling the weight of loneliness, you are invited.
  • If you are hurt because of some physical ailment, you're invited.
  • If you hurt emotionally, you are invited.
  • If your goodness and reputation is to hard to live up to, you are invited. (In other words, you're not as good as people think you are.)
  • If you are in need of wisdom, or advice, or instruction about anything, you are invited.
  • If you are discouraged, have not achieved what you want, are burdened with a sense of guilt and inadequacy, or you are just tired out, you are invited.
  • If you're weary and burdened with anything—you are invited!

The needy are the ones God ministers to, and thus in Psalm 145:14 it says, "The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down." (I love that verse!) If we look at the immediate context of this passage, the invitation is to those "children in the marketplace" (Matt. 11:16-19), but especially the children described in 11:25—"At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26] Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.'"

Who are these children? They are in fact adults/followers whose religion has become a grind; who find that trying to be good is impossible; who are wise and needy enough to honestly say, "My pursuits and life haven't been what I thought they were going to be and I want out!"

 

Let's face it, men, sometimes we are the worst. We have a hard time admitting we have a physical or a spiritual need. Even if we know we have a big problem, we may not tell anyone. We won't go to the doctor to get checked when we have a problem; it is too embarrassing We don't want to give the impression we are weak or needy.

On the other hand, if you don't think you have a need and don't see why you need Jesus in your life, I need to point out you are probably blind or ignoring your spiritual state, just like the people of the Lord's day! In Revelation 3:17-18 Jesus replies to those who don't think they have a need. "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18] I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see."

 

A Personal Application:

Some of you are way too stubborn and untruthful about your needs. You hurt inside and have all kinds of needs, but you have learned to ignore the pain; or even if you feel it, you just don't want to bother anyone. Jesus is giving you an invitation to bother Him, to come to Him. Don't shut Him out because of your pride; it may cost you your spiritual life. Now again, He won't force Himself on you, nor demand you let Him help, but His hand is out to you to lift you off the floor!

The invitation of Jesus is also to His followers who have become proud or are ignoring their spiritual need. "Come to Jesus, all you who are weary and heavy laden."

What will be the result if we come? What help will Jesus offer to the needy? It is not what a lot of people might think.

The Invitation is to a yoke and work.

Jesus says, "take my yoke upon you..."
Don't miss what the yoke is: Yokes come in many different designs, but this is what the most common one looked like in our Lord's day and today in the Third World. A yoke serves to couple two things together. It's a wooden or iron frame with bows at either end, used for joining oxen or other animals together so they can pull a plow, cart, or other heavy load. A yoke generally consists of a single crossbar with rope, or leather nooses, or wooden rods fastened around the animals' necks, resting on their shoulders. The crossbar is attached to a shaft that pulls the load.

We need to grasp that a yoke is a work instrument. To the tired and burdened, this initially seems like the last thing they need. "I need a bed, a vacation, a doctor, some money, some skill, some help, not a yoke. I don't want more work!" Jesus realizes, though, that the most restful gift He can give to the tired is a new way to carry life and their responsibilities.

(Note: Our culture will wear you out, and the cults know that if you are tired, you are more susceptible to suggestion. It is no coincidence that one of the characteristics of a culture moving further from God is workaholism.)

There is no quick escape to heaven in Jesus' invitation, for He offers realism. Normal life is a succession of burdens we cannot get away from, so instead of "escape," Jesus offers "equipment." He means that obedience to His teaching (the taking of His yoke) will develop in us a peace, balance and especially rest; "a way of carrying life that will give more rest than we now find ourselves able to experience... a way to carry life that will give us rest we can't even imagine." Adapted from The Christbook by Frederick Bruner. "To keep Jesus' commands by faith (as the teaching of Jesus everywhere beckons us to do), is to breathe with new freedom, (to) live with new quality, and so in Jesus' words, to find oneself 'refreshed.'" Ibid.

Luther had a little different twist on this verse. He "clearly saw this two-foldness—the free justification of the 'come to me' and the costly cross of the 'take my yoke;' and Luther believed that the bearing of the yoke was 'the reason why people do not run to Christ.'" (W2, 7:837-38) But the yoke represents more than a work instrument and the cost of following Jesus. The yoke is best related to His teaching.

 

The Invitation is to learning.

Jesus says: "29] Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..." A yoke is also a place of learning, if you are yoked to Jesus. It comes with an instructing, teaching Jesus attached to it; He wants to be our personal teacher, our personal tutor. Think of it, as we go about our days "yoked" to Jesus, He will give us personal instruction about what we need. He's always there!

When life's experiences create questions, we have the opportunity to ask Jesus to answer them, as well as remind ourselves of what we already know! So we are not called upon to just take a cold, memorized word with us every day, to memorize a bunch of rules and regulations and then be on our own as we obey and apply them. Jesus indicates that we can converse and communicate with Him through His Word. A paraphrase might be: "Take my Word upon you and let Me be your personal Teacher through it."

Every time we hear the teaching of the Scriptures, or just read them, we are having a personal conversation with Jesus. Every week I should probably say, "Take your Bibles and your yokes please, and let's be prepared to learn something from our Lord." ("Learn from Him..." Wow! What an invitation!) I can't tell you how may times this has been my experience as I have studied the Scriptures. I love being yoked with Him and learning from Him!

Beyond the teaching of the Word, did you notice in what context it will be taught? Jesus doesn't say, "Take my chair and learn from me." He says, "Take my yoke and learn." Don't miss this! Jesus is an itinerant teacher, and He teaches best while we are moving. God not only directs a moving servant, He teaches a moving servant. Jesus wants to teach us en route, on the way, in the real stuff of life.

 

I'm convinced if I learn the Bible while in action in my everyday life and ministry, I will remember it. All good teachers and students know we learn best by doing!

Some of us, on the other hand, are not reading the Word anymore, or it never has been interesting to us. Why? Could our lack of interest in the Bible be because we don't have any practical reason to study it? Could it be we have never been yoked together with Jesus? I believe the Word will seem stale and distant when we aren't moving anywhere in our spiritual lives and service. We also won't think we need the Word if we aren't yoked.

Some of us need to take our yokes (our Bibles) and march to a place of service, so we can get acquainted with Jesus and His Word again while we are in service. Matthew 11:29b tells us another reason why this invitation to yoked learning and service is so life-changing! Jesus appeals even more personally in this invitation to learning and adds, "...because I am gentle and humble in heart."

Jesus was very different from the rabbis and teachers of the law in Christ's day and the cultists in ours. In His day, the teachers and their teachings were not disciplined by humility, so they actually came across as haughty and arrogant, as if they were far above the common people. Matt. 23:3-7—"So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4] They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 5] Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries [That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6] they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7] they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'"

In cults, business, sports and politics, "gentle and humble in heart" certainly isn't the description of the person(s) at the top. The Lord's invitation is a stark contrast to leadership styles today! Again, we see why serving Jesus is so different from the world's alternatives. In Christ's yoked school, His teachings and commands are accomplished with gentleness and humility, which compel Him to be an ever-present help with us in all the common areas of our lives. He is not above us in that sense, but in us and with us!

Jesus' gentleness likewise is the way He gets our attention and leads us in the challenges and corrections necessary for our lives! I also want you to see something important: This verse is one of the few descriptions Jesus gives of Himself. He states openly that He is gentle and humble. A teacher's manner and character is often nine-tenths of his effectiveness; this is why studying with Jesus has such a great impact. When we read the gospels, we don't feel put down or that we have to earn His acceptance.

Jesus' gentleness means He will be patient with His students and thoughtful in correction. His humility enables Him to bend to the lowest in His school of the yoked and teach whatever is needed. In our habits, temptations, relationships, finances, and much more, He operates with us in humility and gentleness.

We should also point out how His character should and does affect ours. If we spend a lot of time with someone who is a model to us, we will become increasingly like him/her. Obviously, if we study the Scripture over a lifetime, we will take on the characteristics of the One who is teaching us—our Lord.

Here's a profound truth: older men and women in the faith who are gentle and humble did not get that way because they were naturally humble. They were transformed in the yoked position with Jesus, as they studied His Word and served with Him. The converse is also true.

You and I will not remember the Word, nor reflect the Lord's character, if we regularly relate to Him only in prayer or in a crisis. Do you want to grow into an old grouch and be a pain to all who know you when you get older? Here's a surefire way: Ignore the yoke of learning and service from a gentle and humble Jesus! Don't extend yourself in service. Don't spend any time with Jesus in the work of the Kingdom. You will guarantee people will avoid you the older you get!

Jesus in Matthew 11 gives another reason we should accept this invitation to learning and instruction with the last phrase of verses 29b-30—"... and you will find rest for your souls. 30] For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This is a simple, but wonderful promise, "...and you will find rest for your souls."

Why is this promise true?

 

  1. Because Jesus said it was true. That is all we need to trust the validity of the promise.
  2. When we study with Him and seek to put it into practice, we will find Jesus' gentleness and humility relaxing and refreshing. Have you noticed how you relax in the presence of someone who is humble of heart and gentle with you? There is no threat or discomfort. You trust them because they are being normal. You don't feel uncomfortable and edgy, because you are in the presence of one who is on your level and is gentle with you!
  3. We find rest and are refreshed when we are yoked to the Lord and His instruction. As we have listened to Jesus and sought to obey His teachings, we find that His lessons are a better way to live, and a lot of turmoil is taken from our lives. We find that deep down in our lives, in our psyches (the actual word used here), we feel refreshed and renewed.

There are no better techniques for the refreshment and renewal of Christians or congregations than simply staying yoked to Jesus and taking Him seriously in His Word. On the other hand, if you are listless, tired, or even exhausted because you are attempting to carry your life with your own strength, you either don't know you were meant to live in a yoke, or you have never clearly heard the invitation of our Lord to take control of your life.

That's not all Jesus has to say in this invitation, though. He concludes these verses with the final reason all who are heavy laden should come to Him—"For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." How can Jesus describe His way as narrow and hard in one place in the Scripture, and now call His yoke easy and His burden light? Again we see the difference Jesus makes if we are yoked with Him in the practical, everyday experiences of life. Not living the Lord's way is harder and more difficult than the yoked Christian experience!

Christianity is not easy, but compared to the alternatives, we have a far superior and more refreshing road to follow! Do you enjoy working harder than you need to... doing things the hardest way possible, even if you know there is an easier alternative? Our Lord's yoke makes His way the best way to live, even with His toughest commands. As Augustine has reflected in his writings, loving the Lord makes living with Him easy.

 

So are we saying the teachings of Jesus are easy, or hard? We are saying they are both!

All experiences worth having can be both difficult and delightful, burdensome and light; and the Christian experience is similar. It is the difficulty of Jesus' Word that makes Christian discipleship invigorating; it is the personal presence of Jesus Himself that takes the burden out of His commands. The secret to the easiest way of life is having Christ in the yoke, teaching and enabling us in a gentle and humble way. That's when we can agree with Jesus when He says, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

 

Conclusion:

The invitation is out to followers and pre-Christians. Hear it again: Matthew 11:28-30—"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."

 

A Prayer of Commitment

Dear Jesus, thank You for making me and loving me, even when I've ignored You and gone my own way. I realize I need to accept Your invitation and come to You. I ask You take the burden of my sin and my and the weariness of living life MY own way. I ask You in my life and that we could be yoked together for eternity. I'm sorry for my sins; I ask You to forgive me. Thank You for dying on the cross for me; please help me to understand it more. I turn my back on my old way of living. As much as I know how, I want to follow You from now on and learn from You as my gentle and humble Savior. Please come into my life and make me a new person inside. I accept Your gift of salvation and lasting rest for my soul; help me to grow now as a Christian. Amen.