02 Aug Discipleship: Gracious Invitation
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Have you ever slept and wake up tired? Anyone? Research has shown us that what restores the body is not the length of your sleep but the depth of your sleep. It is not how many hours you sleep but whether your sleep is deep or not. They call it REM, rapid eye movement sleep. So, it is very possible for you to sleep for 12 hours and wake up feeling tired. Because there is a difference between sleeping and resting. Just because you sleep does not mean you are resting. In fact, this happened to me a few weeks ago. The week leading up to our church first Sunday service after COVID restriction, I was restless. I found it hard to sleep. And when I slept, I woke up every few hours. And I had random nightmares. In the morning when it was time for me to get up and go to work, I did not want to get up. I was tired. I might be in bed for more than 8 hours, but I was exhausted. That kept happening for the whole week. The worst was on Saturday night before our first Sunday service. I did not sleep a wink. And I had to be at church before 830 AM because the church started a new morning service. And if you remember, I was preaching at RSI that day. Let me tell you a secret. I was a preaching zombie that day. I was preaching but I had no idea what I was doing. I simply read and followed my manuscript. What was wrong with me? I was weary. But I was not weary because I was physically exhausted. It was not because I was so busy and had no time to rest. I had all the time in the world to sleep but I could not rest properly. I was weary because my heart was restless. Anyone can relate with me? What I needed was not a physical rest but a spiritual rest.
This is the idea that Jesus introduces to us in our passage today. Jesus is introducing us to spiritual REM. He is introducing us to a deep rest that our hearts need. There is a rest that our hearts need that a nap will not solve. There is a rest underneath all rest that unless we have it, all the other rest is worthless. But if we have this deep rest, then we can be in the midst of chaos and still able to sleep and wake up in the morning with joy and gladness. And this is what Jesus is offering to us in this passage. And we do not get this rest with a nap. This is a different kind of rest. This rest is what enables us to sleep and wake up refreshed. This rest is what enables us to sleep in the midst of chaos and wake up the next morning with joy and gladness. This is true rest.
Here is my conviction. I believe there are many weary people today. In our culture today, your identity and your worth are tied up to how well you perform. It is something that you must earn through sweat and hard work. Your identity is tied up to your personal achievement. That is why many of you feel like a failure if you don’t get High Distinction. Okay, maybe it’s just me. But all of us by default tied our identity to our personal achievement. All of us are trying to prove ourselves. That achievement looks different to different people. For some of you, it is an achievement in your study. For others, it is maybe achievement in your work, your relationship, or your family. A lot of my friends are already married and have kids. And sometimes when I talk to them, they already have the best of plans for their children. They told me that they will send their kid to this high school and that university and all the private lessons that their kid is taking right now. Mandarin lesson, Math, English, Swimming etc. And I asked them, “How old is your child?” “Four years old.” This is over-parenting. Some of you like, “Welcome to the story of my life.” I feel you. We live in a culture driven by achievements. We are very busy people. Even if we are not, we try to give the impression that we are. “How are you?” “I’m busy.” No wonder we are weary and tired.
Here is the problem though. It does not matter how hard you try, it is never enough. You know that you are not living up to the standard. There is a standard that you set upon yourself on what a good parent looks like. On what a good businessman looks like. On what a good child looks like. On what a good Christian looks like. And you think that if you just can get to that standard, then you will be okay. There is this constant urge that makes you feel like you always have to prove yourself. “If I can just get to this place in life, then I will be okay.” And yet you fail to live up to that standard and it creates guilt and anxiety in you. Or, if you do get to that place where you think you will be okay, you find yourself still restless. It is still not enough. Why? I love the way St Augustine puts it. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” He is saying that the problem with us is that our heart is restless and the only one that can give true rest to our heart is God. And here Jesus is saying to you and me, “I am the only one who can give you true rest. Come to me and I will give you rest that your heart desire.” However, the kind of rest that Jesus has in mind may not be what we have in mind. When we think of rest, we often think of a condition where we are free from all burden. That is not true. If I can summarize my sermon in one sentence, it is this. True rest is not found in freedom from burden but in carrying the right burden. Why this is important? Because a lot of time, when we think of discipleship, we think of a heavy burden. We think of the time, energy, and effort that we must put into it to make discipleship works. And we are weary enough already in life and the last thing we need is to add another burden to carry. But Jesus will argue with us otherwise. Jesus will tell us that the reason we are weary is because we are not carrying the burden of discipleship. In this passage, we will find that discipleship is Jesus’ gracious invitation for us to find true rest in him. There is no rest without discipleship.
I’ll separate this passage into three parts. The source of rest; The invitation of rest; The burden of rest.
The source of rest
Jesus is extremely clear. Matthew 11:28 – Come to me… He does not say, “Come to church” or “Come to Disneyland.” He says, “Come to me!” With another word, Jesus is saying that he is the only one who can give you rest. But what is it about Jesus that makes him so special? What is it about him that makes him able to give you rest that no one could? I am glad you asked. Matthew 11:25-27 – 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Pay attention to the logic of these verses. First, Jesus says that there is a special revelation of God that God hides from the wise and understanding but reveals to the little children. It is part of God’s gracious plan to reveal the revelation to little children. Second, no one knows God the Father like God the Son. No one knows God like Jesus. Jesus has special access to God’s revelation. He is the exclusive agent of God’s revelation. Third, God has given Jesus the authority to reveal God’s special revelation to whom he chooses. With another word, Jesus is the only one who can give you access to God the Father. The way to know God is not through human’s wisdom and intellect. The way to know God is to come to Jesus like little children.
What does it mean? It does not mean that if you are smart, you cannot know God. That is not what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is saying is that as long as you still rely on your own strength and intellect, you cannot know God. You can only know God if you come to him like little children. You don’t come to know God by human wisdom but by a simple trust. Let me make it clear. I often hear people say that you should not use your mind to come to God. Faith and reason are not compatible. This is not right. Children are not dumb. They think for themselves. They know how to think about what’s good for themselves. Let me borrow little Rere’s story. I have asked his dad’s permission for this. One of the blessings or maybe I should say one of the pains of working from home is that you are with your kid almost 24/7. There was one time where both parents were busy with their works and little Rere had to play on his own. And parents, you know what happened when you leave your kid to play on their own right? It was a mess. He took out most of his toys and it was all over the place. So his dad, being a wise dad, made an offer to Rere. Rere loved to watch Mickey Mouse. So here was the offer. “Rere, if you clean up the mess and pack your toys, I let you watch one episode of Mickey Mouse.” That’s good parenting there. And Rere is not dumb. He considered the offer from his dad and decided that the joy of watching Mickey Mouse was greater than the pain of packing toys. So, he packed his toys and was rewarded with one episode of Mickey Mouse. Rere trusted that his dad will give him what he said he would. And this is exactly what Jesus is saying.
Jesus is saying that as long as you rely on your own strength, you cannot come to God. What you need is a simple childlike trust. What you need is to admit your inability, swallow your pride and come to Jesus. He is the only one who can give you God. Jesus is the only one who can give you rest that your heart craves. Jesus is the source of true rest. What you need to do is to have a childlike trust on his invitation to come to him and find rest.
The invitation of rest
Matthew 11:28 – 28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. What a wonderful verse. The word labour means present exhaustion and the word heavy laden means overloaded. Jesus is sending a gracious invitation to all of you. Are you exhausted right now? Are you overloaded with the burden of life? Come to Jesus. The invitation is not to come to church. The invitation is not to believe a set of belief. Jesus does not say, “This is the list of things you need to do to rest. First, take a hot shower. Second, read your Bible. Third, pray before sleep.” No. Jesus is not giving you a prescription. The invitation is to come to a person. When you come to Jesus, you don’t seek a prescription, but you look to a person. Jesus is saying, “I am the only one who can give you rest. Come to me.”
But how does Jesus give us rest from our exhaustion and heavy burden? Let me ask the question differently. Why are you exhausted? Why are you weary? Let me tell you why you are exhausted. You are exhausted because you are still trying to prove yourself. Here is the truth about you and me. All of us are yoked to something. Not many of us know what a yoke is since we lived in the city. Let me explain what a yoke is. Look at this picture. A yoke is a heavy wooden bar that fits over the neck of an ox so that it can pull a cart or a plough. The yoke can be put on one animal or it could be shared between two animals. In a shared yoke, one of the animals will be stronger than the other and take the lead. This is the truth about you and me. We are yoked to something that guides our lives. All of us are governed by something that gives our lives meaning. None of us is yoke-free. We need something to validate our existence. Whatever we lived for, we are yoked to that thing. And that is the reason we are exhausted.
Let’s say that you are living for your love relationship. You are yoked to that person. You are mastered by that person. If that person’s love and happiness is the main thing in your life, you will be over-dependent on that person. You will continue to rely on him or her to validate your existence. You won’t be able to take criticism from them because it will devastate you and you won’t be able to give criticism to them because you are afraid they might respond in anger. Their life is your life. The same can be applied to your career, family and anything else. You have to live for something. You are not free from a yoke. And you are exhausted because it is never enough. You are constantly anxious. It is very tiresome. But that’s not the only thing. You also carry a heavy burden.
What is a heavy burden? In this context, it refers to the burden of the law. The people of Israel are living under the heavy burden of the law that is put on them by the teachers of the law. This is what Jesus says about the teachers of the law. Matthew 23:4 – They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. This is what happens. The teachers of the law put an impossible burden for people to carry. Let me give you an example. Drunkenness. The Bible is clear that getting drunk is a sin. So, you should not get drunk. But what the teachers of the law does is they created laws to protect the law. So now not only drunkenness is a sin, they say that you should never drink alcohol. On top of that, it is best to avoid temptation so you must not use any alcohol in cooking. Every time you go to a restaurant, make sure you check all the ingredients and that no wine is used in the preparation. But just to be safe, if you want to be faithful to the law, you should not eat a restaurant that serves alcohol at all. Can you see what happened? Let me state the obvious. People like me do this all the time. In order to protect you from harm, I as your pastor can easily add an impossible burden for you to carry. And not only that, but I make you feel like you are less of a Christian unless you carry that extra burden. So, what happens is that many people avoid coming to church because it makes them feel guilty. Instead of offering rest, I am adding shame into your life. Pastors are expert at making people feel guilty and shameful. But Jesus is different.
Instead of adding burden to your life, Jesus offers you rest. Jesus is telling you, “I know you are weary. I know you are exhausted. I know you are overloaded. Come to me and I will give you rest.” The main reason why you are exhausted and overloaded is because you still try to please God on your own strength. You still try to measure up using your own ability. You think that if you are just able to balance all the plate in your life, you will be fine. Jesus is telling you that you will never find the balance unless you first come to him. The invitation of Jesus is not to fix yourself so that you can be pleasing to God. The invitation of Jesus is to come to him because you cannot fix yourself. He is the only one who can. Stop believing that you can measure up and do enough to please God. It is a battle that you cannot win. Heed the invitation of Jesus to come to him. Come to him and he will give you rest. But that is not the end. It is not enough for you to simply come to him and find rest in him. You also must take the burden of rest.
The burden of rest
Matthew 11:29-30 – 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Now, I know what I am going to say next is counter intuitive. The burden of rest. How can rest involve a burden? But it is true nevertheless. A lot of time, when we think of rest, we think of doing nothing. Sitting on the couch, watch our favourite TV show, while drinking Heineken. Or vanilla coke if you were me. We think of a life free from all responsibility. For years, many of us have talked about how busy we are, how tired we are, and how we wish we could have a little extra time for us to stay home and rest. And now we have it. We spent most of our times at home because of this pandemic. We should all feel super rested right now, right? But if there is anything that this pandemic teaches us, it is that doing nothing is wearisome. Does anyone know what I am talking about? Watching Korean drama and Netflix are fun. But try spending your days doing nothing but watch Korean drama and Netflix. You will feel very tired even though you practically did nothing. It teaches us that rest is not a matter of less activities. You can do nothing all day and still exhausted. You must get this. The cure for exhaustion and a heavy burden is not to do nothing but to carry the right burden. True rest is not freedom from responsibility but having the right responsibility. And this is what Jesus is saying.
He says, “Take my yoke upon you.” Remember that we are yoked to something. And Jesus is saying, “I want you to take my yoke. I want you to live for me. I want to be your master. I want to be your meaning in life. I want to be the reason you do everything you do. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This is powerful. Why is Jesus’ yoke easy? Is that mean Jesus lessened the demands of the law? Of course not. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus does not lessen the demand of the law but increases the intensity of the law. Let me give one example. The law says do not murder. How many of you get a pass on this law? Raise your hand. If you do not raise your hand, please see the ushers after the service. But then Jesus increases the intensity. Jesus says that if you feel like punching someone on the face, you are liable to judgement. How many of you get a pass on this law? None. Jesus’ demand is far more radical than the demand of the laws. So why did he say that his yoke is easy? Jesus’ yoke is easy not because he demands less but because he fulfils the demands for you. Jesus comes to fulfil the demands of the law on your behalf. Therefore, you no longer have to perform. You no longer have to prove yourself. Jesus has taken your place and perform on your behalf. Now you can breathe. You can relax. Jesus is a different master from all the masters in this world. All other masters say, “perform for me and I will bless you.” Jesus says, “I have performed for you so now you can live in my blessing.”
Not only his yoke is easy, but his burden is light. So, there is still a burden to carry. But in contrast to the heavy burden of the teachers of the law, Jesus’ burden is light. Why? Because you are yoked to him. And when you are yoked to Jesus, you do not carry the burden on your own. You carry the burden with Jesus. Jesus not only fulfils the demands of the law for you, but he also carries the burden with you. So, when you carry his burden, you are not carrying it with your strength. You are carrying the burden with the strength that Jesus has given you. Jesus is the one who enables you to carry the burden. That is why the burden is light.
And he will not only help you to carry the burden but he will also teach you how to do it. That is why he says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” The phrase “learn from me” can be translated as learning about Jesus and learning from Jesus. My friend, do you know what this is? This is what discipleship is all about. Discipleship is learning about Jesus and learning from Jesus. It is learning about Jesus and what he has done for you and learning how to live like Jesus. This is how you find rest. And Jesus is different from other teachers in this world. No other teacher can say “Learn from me and you will find rest.” If anything, teachers create unrest in you. They give you assignments and exams. None of us can say, “Assignment and exams! Great! This is just what my heart needs for rest.” No. Assignment and exams create unrest in us. But learning from Jesus is a path of true rest. Discipleship is Jesus’ gracious invitation for you to find rest in him.
So, here is my concern. There are two parts of Jesus’ invitation to rest. First is to come to him and second is to take his yoke and learn from him. There are many of us who excel at the first part of the invitation. You are exhausted and overloaded. You come to church to meet Jesus. You heed the invitation of Jesus to come to him with all your junk. So, you come to ROCK Centre carrying you 100 kgs burden on your shoulder. And then you sing a song that reminded you of the goodness of Jesus. And you hear the gospel being preached. You hear how Jesus has died for your sin and you no longer need to perform. Jesus is your righteousness and now you are free from all your burden. Cast all your anxieties on Jesus because he cares for you. So, you do that. You might come to church with the burden of a relationship, family, work etc. And now you decided to give that burden to Jesus. You come to him and he gives you rest. So, you take off that 100 kgs burden off your shoulder and you put it at the foot of the cross. You feel relieved. You feel the touch of God. The gospel penetrates your heart and you can breathe. And then you thank the preacher for preaching the gospel faithfully and you make your way out of the church. But something very interesting happens. As you walk out from the church, you see that 100 kgs burden that you just let go a few minutes earlier. And here is what you do. You put that heavy burden back on your shoulder and walk out of the church. And you live out that week feeling extremely exhausted and heavy burdened. And you come back to church again the week after, hear the gospel being preached, cast your burden on Jesus, thank the preacher for preaching the gospel, and go home with the same burden on your back. You repeat this cycle week after week. And it won’t be long before you become extremely exhausted and disappointed with Jesus.
Why? Let me tell you why. Because you cannot live without a yoke. You cannot live without a burden. You are always yoked to something. It is not enough for you to come to Jesus and receive his rest. The invitation of Jesus is not simply to come to him but also to take his yoke on you. You need to exchange your yoke with his yoke. True rest does not come from avoiding yoke but by taking the yoke of Christ. If you are not yoked to Christ, you will be yoked to other masters. You will be yoked to your career, relationship, family, money etc. And you will continue to be anxious. You will worry constantly. You will be exhausted. It does not work. And this is the problem of consumer Christianity. If you only look to Jesus for what he can do for you, you will continue to be restless. Going to church once a week is good. But it is not enough. You have to take the yoke of discipleship. True rest only belongs to the disciples of Jesus.
Let me put it this way. Many of us think of Christianity like an elevator. What do you do? You get into an elevator, you press a button that takes you to heaven, and you let the elevator does all the work. It is fun and easy. But that is not Christianity. The invitation of Jesus is not for you to take the elevator to heaven. The invitation of Jesus is for you to walk up the stairs with him. Taking the stairs takes effort. It requires energy. It requires strength. It requires time. But the good news is that you do not walk up the stairs on your own. Jesus is walking up the stair with you. He shows you the steps that you need to take. He is teaching you what you need to know. And not only that, he supplies the strength for you to do it. You think you are the one who is taking the step, but it is actually Christ who lives in you that empowers you to take every step. So now, in your struggle with sin, you struggle with the power of Christ in you. You battle temptation with the love of Christ for you. You endure suffering in your trials with the hope of Christ in you. You do everything in the strength that Christ provides for you. You sing in Christ’s strength. You preach in Christ’s strength. You work in Christ’s strength. You serve in Christ’s strength. That is why the yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light. If you feel like following Jesus seems too heavy, maybe it is because you are still trying to carry your own burden. The invitation to rest is the invitation to discipleship. There is no rest without discipleship.
I love the way the Message Bible paraphrase it. Matthew 11:28-30 – “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll 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. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
My friend, Jesus is a different master to every other master. Every other master demand from you and put heavy burdens on you. Jesus is the only master who will give you rest and walk the journey with you. How can he do that? Because Jesus took our restlessness at the cross. At the cross, Jesus had no rest. The night before the crucifixion, he was restless. He prayed three times for God to take the cup away from him. He was anxious to the point that he sweat blood. And at the cross, Jesus carried the burden of all our sins on his own. Jesus experienced cosmic restlessness so that we can receive his rest as a gift. And when you take his rest, you no longer have to prove yourself. You are free from a performance mentality. A great burden falls off your back. You no longer need to prove yourself to God, to your parents, to your boss or anyone else. Jesus is your performance. Jesus is the proof that you are accepted in the eyes of God. You find rest in him and you live in that rest as his disciples.
Let me close with a story. One day a young man comes to a slave market. He looks around and his eyes are drawn to one particular young girl. She is stripped naked and is locked in the cage. He asks the trader, “How much for this girl?” The trader replies, “30 pieces of silver.” So, the young man takes out his money pouch and counts 30 pieces of silver. He purchases the young girl. She now belongs to him. As the young girl follows her new master out of the market, she fears the worst. She has seen what happened to other slaves after they have a new master. The master would put them in a chain and abused them. The master would put a heavy burden on them and overwork them. She will be restless for the rest of her life. After they walk for about 5 minutes, her new master suddenly stops. He turns toward her, takes off his jacket, clothes the girl with it, and takes off her chain. Then the young man says, “Take this money pouch. There is more than enough money in it for you to start a new life. From this moment, you are no longer a slave. Take this certificate of freedom. I have paid the price for your freedom and I am setting you free. You are free.” The young girl, surprised by what happened, asks the young man. “I don’t understand. Am I free to go wherever I want to go and do whatever I want to do?” The man replies, “Yes. You are free. I did not purchase you to make you a slave. I purchase you to set you free.” Then she says, “Then there is nothing that I want to do more than to follow you and serve you for the rest of my life. Because there is no other master like you.”
My friend, this is our story. Jesus has purchased us with his blood to set us free. C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully. “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising of the sun, not simply because I can see it but because by it, I can see everything else.” Coming to Jesus changes everything. It changes your perspectives on time, it changes your perspective on resources, it changes your perspective on career, it changes the kind of person you want to marry and live your life with. Coming to Jesus changes everything. My friend, this is the unforced rhythm of grace. You become the disciples of Jesus not because you have too but because you want too. Jesus is the only master who will forgive you when you fail and satisfy you when you come to him. Are you tired? Are you overloaded? Listen to Jesus’s gracious invitation. Trust him with childlike trust. Come to him. Take his yoke upon you. And you will find rest.
- When is the last time you experience deep restlessness? What happened?
- What does it mean to come to Jesus like little children? Why is it hard?
- Why is it important for us to be yoked to Christ? What happens if we don’t?
- Explain the statement, “True rest is not found in freedom from burden but in carrying the right burden.”
- How is Jesus’ yoke easy and his burden light?
- What yoke do you need to exchange with Jesus? Share with one another and pray for one another.