Jesus says: ‘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.’ Matthew 11:28-30
I wonder what comes into your mind when you hear that word, ‘rest’? Perhaps you think of a day off work when you don’t need to be up early and can stay in bed a bit longer? Or maybe a holiday by the beach when you can sit and relax and read a good book? Or simply time to yourself, doing what you like best.
We all know how important rest is to our health and well-being. Indeed, we can say that rest is the foundation for work. Rested people work better. Rested people are more likely to be healthy and happy. Rested people can sustain themselves over the long haul of ministry life. Clearly ‘rest’ is an important topic. Yet at the same time, rest is elusive. Our default position seems to be one of busyness, and most of us feel we don’t have enough rest. Even when we are free of work our minds are often still restless, and our bodies still geared for action.
My first thought for you is this: rest comes to us as a gift. ‘Come to me,’ Jesus says, ‘all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ True rest comes to us as a gift from God. Here Jesus promises to take our burdens and give us instead his rest.
A burden of course is a heavy load, and when we carry a heavy load for any length of time, we are likely to become tired and exhausted. So what burden is Jesus thinking about? And what kind of rest does he offer us? I want to suggest to you three different kinds of rest.
Firstly, spiritual rest – that is, rest from the burden of sin. The main reason Jesus came into the world was to save us from our sin. Sin weighs down upon us like a heavy burden. The weight of guilt and shame and regret is a heavy load to bear, but when we come to Jesus, and to his cross, he lifts that burden from us. He forgives our sin and brings us back into a right relationship with God. The result? We have peace with God, which is true rest, and the basis for all other rest. This is rest for your soul.
Secondly, physical rest – that is, permission to rest from our work. When God created the world he rested on the seventh day, which is the origin of the sabbath. So important is this principle of rest that it is enshrined in the commandments. Jesus upheld this principle when he said, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’. Work can often feel like a heavy burden. The demands are relentless. But work without rest destroys our health, undermines our relationships, and robs us of our joy. Jesus gives you permission to rest from your work, to rest your body. A weekly Sabbath is vital to our health and well-being, and we need not feel guilty about ensuring that we keep to this divinely-ordained patter of work and rest.
Thirdly, mental and emotional rest – that is, rest from the burden of worry or fear or anxiety. All of us know what it is to be burdened down with the cares of life. We worry about children, we worry about health, we worry about finances, we worry about security and keeping safe… the list is endless. But the Bible says, ‘Cast all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you (1Peter 5:7).’ Jesus is the great burden bearer. Whatever concerns you today, you may hand it over to him. He will carry it for you, because he cares for you. He is worthy of your trust and will make a way for you through your difficulties. Here is rest for your mind and your heart.
Spiritual rest; physical rest; mental and emotional rest. This is the kind of rest that Jesus offers to us right now. But we must receive it. We do so by faith. We do so by coming humbly to him in prayer and asking for the rest we so badly need. And he will give it to us, freely, by his grace.
Lord, encouraged by your promise, we come to you. We ask that you will give us again the peace that comes from knowing our sins forgiven, the renewal that comes as we pause from our work, and the lightness of heart that is ours when we truly hand our burdens over to you. Amen.