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Matthew 11:28  (ID: 3670)

Every invitation calls for a response—including Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Alistair Begg walks us through Christ’s gracious invitation, demonstrating how it is a timeless, personal, and universal call to all who are weary, burdened, lost, or sad. It is an offer not for the self-sufficient but for the broken and empty-handed. Yet while respite is promised, it’s not automatic; we first must respond to His invitation to “come.”


Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew and to chapter 11:

“When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.”

“‘Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you[’re] willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

“‘But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did[n’t] dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.’

“Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’

“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; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 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. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’”

Amen.

Father, we thank you that the entrance of your Word brings light into our darkness. Shine into our so-easily-and-quickly-clouded minds and hearts the penetrating truth of who Jesus is and why he’s come and what he does, in order that the things that we’ve been singing may either become or may increasingly be true of us as we seek to follow Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Well, we are all familiar with the privilege of both extending and receiving invitations. And it seems that at this point in a year, there are all kinds of invitations that are delivered and received—for example, graduation events, always birthdays, wedding ceremonies often taking place then, and even retirement parties. And I don’t know how things operate in your house, but sometimes the mail is picked up by one of us and is seen before the other person. And so conversations unfold along these lines:

“Did you see we had an invitation?”

“From whom? For what? For when? Is it RSVP?”

“No, it’s regrets only.”

And so that’s the way it goes. And the invitation has a deadline, and we have occasion to say, “You’d better hurry up and do something with that,” because every invitation demands a decision.

And I begin in that way because here at the end of Matthew 11, you have this amazing, gracious invitation that comes from the lips of the Lord Jesus himself. Verse 28 to 30—just look at it again. Jesus extends this invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So, over the next four Sundays that I have opportunity, we’re going to deal with this, or be dealt with by this, by looking simply at the verbs: “Come …. Take … learn … find.” And we begin this morning paying our attention to the first part of this invitation with the verb “Come.” You see it there? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Now, there are many ways that we could go ahead to expand this, to tackle it. I want to simply make three observations concerning this. They are these: first of all, to recognize that this invitation is timeless; secondly, that it is personal; and, thirdly, that it is universal.

A Timeless Invitation

First of all, then, it’s timeless. We could actually say it is eternal, for that would be true.

Most invitations have a deadline. And so we have to make sure that within the time frame of the invitation and the actual event, we have made a decision as to whether we are participating, attending, or not. But this invitation has no deadline, in the sense that two thousand years on from the occasion on which this invitation was extended to his listeners, the invitation still stands. Here we are this morning, and we live in the twenty-first century, far, far away from the dress and the context and the lives of those who were the first listeners to this. And yet it is timeless.

You say, “Well, why is it timeless? On what basis can we say this?” On the basis of two.

Number one: because of the identity of the one who extends the invitation. God, who stands outside of time, has stepped down into time in the person of the Lord Jesus. And Matthew has recorded for us here in chapter 11 the investigation that was taking place as a result of John the Baptist being in jail. And I chose to read the whole chapter so that when you go back and study again on your own, you will make sure that you recognize that this invitation falls in line with everything that Jesus has said before. They want to know, in verse 3: “When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ”—that is, the Messiah—“he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

Christ’s life and Christ’s preaching are the true revelation of God the Father.

And Jesus says, “Well, you should go back and tell John what you hear and see.” “What you hear and see.” What’s he referring to? Well, he’s referring to his preaching, his teaching, and he’s referring to the impact that he has made on the lives of people. And he does so by making it clear that what the prophecy of Isaiah said concerning the Messiah who was to come is actually fulfilled in him. That’s why in verse 4 he says, “Let John know that the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk,” and so on.

Now, that is a remarkable claim, isn’t it? And we ought not just to simply pass it by. It came home to us when we studied in Luke a while ago, at least in passing, when Jesus returns to the synagogue in Nazareth. And you’ll remember on that occasion, he quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah. And he, the hometown boy, comes back. He’s going to preach in his local synagogue. He reads from the prophecy of Isaiah. As Luke says, he “found the place where it is written,” quoting from Isaiah 61 and a little bit from Isaiah 58. And as he reads this, he then stops reading, and he sits down—sits down in the place of the teacher. And Luke says, “[And] the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,” waiting to hear what he would say. They could never have imagined that from his lips would come this statement: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] “I am the one for whom everyone has been looking, watching, and waiting.” And Christ’s life and Christ’s preaching are the true revelation of God the Father.

That’s what we discover here. How is it that God makes himself known? Finally and savingly in Jesus. Remember, in John 14, in one of our passages, Jesus says quite categorically, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”[2] And then Philip says, “Show us the Father, and that will suffice us.”[3] I love Philip for that! “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” When Paul writes concerning Jesus in Colossians 2:9, he says of Jesus, “In him the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.”[4] In Jesus, all that can be known of God in humanity is expressed in the Lord Jesus.

Now, we could belabor this, but we shouldn’t. C. S. Lewis, in his classic book Mere Christianity, asks the question, helping those who don’t necessarily believe in Jesus or don’t understand who Jesus is—he says to them, he says to us as readers: How are we to reconcile the lifestyle of Jesus in humility, the quality of Jesus concerning his character, and the profundity of Jesus’ teaching—how are we to reconcile that—with the megalomania which must cover his claims about himself, unless he is God? There’s no two ways about it. That’s why Lewis elsewhere in the book essentially says he’s either a bad man or a mad man, or he’s the God-man.[5]

Why is it that his invitation matters today, two thousand years after he walked on the earth? Because of who he is.

So, very well. The invitation is timeless on account of its source. And it is, secondarily, timeless because it applies to the needs of the listeners. Who are these people that he is addressing? Well, in particular, he says, “all of you who labor and are heavy laden.” Again, the context has to do with all of the laws and concerns that the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous about driving home, adding to that their own little accretions and bits and pieces. So there became a phenomenal burden for people to try somehow or another to live the life that God intended.

In fact, later on in Matthew, where, in chapter 23, Jesus pronounces woes on various situations, he says woe to these scribes and Pharisees: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and [they] lay them on people’s shoulders.”[6] And he knows that. And that’s why people said, “You know, we like the teaching of Jesus. He actually makes sense, and he speaks clearly, and he doesn’t try and tie us up in knots the way some of these religious leaders do.” He recognizes that as he looks out on the people to whom he is speaking, they have longings. They have burdens. They have needs. They have cares. Where are they going to find relief for the soul-crushing burdens and anxiety, from the sense of frustration that lays down upon them?

“Well,” you say, “that sounds very up to date.” For we are people who know what it is to labor and be burdened and heavy laden. This would be a strange invitation if it was locked somewhere away in the past. But it isn’t. When we preach from Sunday to Sunday, when we look upon one another, as we’ve said before, whatever our external framework, our lives are often marked by hidden fears, deep-seated concerns, that we would be worried if even the people who know us best were to discover it.

So what Jesus is addressing here is not peculiar, as I say, to the first century. And many people today—and you may be one of them, particularly—you find yourself on a Sunday morning like this, hoping against hope that somewhere there is rest, that somewhere there is relief, if only we could find the key to obtaining it.

And Jesus calls out from the long way away, calls into the culture of our world in all of its institutional life. This addresses law. This addresses education. This is addressing government. This addresses business. When you go amongst people, as you do—you live your life amongst people—do you find that they’re all so well-adjusted? That they’re happily secure? That they’re going about their business with a sort of tranquility that is almost—almost unbelievable? No, I think you don’t.

Seventeen years ago yesterday was the first iPhone. (That’s just a little snippet of information. You don’t have to pay for that.) It’s not the first mobile phone. Mobile phones came out in 1983. You remember they were about the size of a small suitcase? Yeah.

But those of us who have lived our lives over a period of time, we have lived in an era of those red telephone boxes that you see when you go to the UK, and you put your coins in, and you press button A, and the coins drop down. And if somebody answered and you were engaged, then you could proceed, but if they didn’t answer or if it was a busy signal, then you pressed button B, and you got all your money back again. And because people were often discombobulated in that experience, you discover people going in a telephone box, apparently doing nothing, and walking out again. What they’re doing is they’re putting their fingers in the “Press button B” place, because people often walked out and left those coins in there. Not something that I had done, but it seemed to me—it seemed to me like a great idea.

Now, I can speak with clarity concerning this, because I am a boomer. I am a boomer. The oldest boomers at the present time are seventy-eight years of age. Thirteen years ago, the boomers, who were at that point—the oldest—sixty-five, were described as men and women who knew that they were “living longer, … nursing … disappointment[s] [at] how their lives [had been] turn[ing] out”; they were “self-aware, … self-absorbed,” feeling somewhat self-satisfied, and at the same time victims of “self-pity.”[7] Because they were hanging on to the post-Enlightenment idea that somehow or another, we can dispense with any notion of revelation, any notion of God invading time, any idea that somehow or another, he has spoken finally in his Son, and he speaks clearly in the Scriptures. We can dispense with that. Instead, we can find in reason the answer to our morality or immorality and the answer to the meaning of our lives.

But it all collapsed. Fast-forward through Gen X, Gen Y (the millennials were Gen Y), Gen Z. If you were born between ’97 and 2012, you are part of the generation that makes up, at present time, 32 percent of the world’s population. And we’ve now arrived at the alpha generation, born between 2010 and 2020. So this is all they know. All they know is the third millennium. You tell them about “Press button A” and “Press button B,” they’d think you’re a neanderthal. And in some senses, we are.

And we’re still to see what this generation is going to make of it—whether the characteristics described of youth in the book by Myers, An American Paradox, will prove as true in this generation as it has proved in X and Y and Z. What is going to come of the generation consumed with selfies and Swifties and bracelets and goodness knows what, growing up in this fragile environment? Do they hear anyone extending an invitation that reaches into their young lives, with all their concerns about climate and all their fears about the future and all the uncertainties that are there?

In that book, Myers refers to these young people. And he’s referring not to people who are from an impoverished context but those who have come from secure backgrounds but find themselves baffled by a sense of emptiness: Their self-esteem is high, but their self is empty. They’re told they can be anything they want to be, but they don’t know what they want to be. They’re unhappy, but with no obvious cause for their unhappiness. They’re connected to more people through social media, and yet they’ve never felt more alone, wanting to be accepted and yet feeling alienated.[8]

And from the Man in Black album by Johnny Cash: “And the lonely voice of youth cries, ‘What is truth?’”[9] It still cries. They were crying it in the first century. They cried it in every century since. What an amazing weariness, to spend your life searching, searching, searching for that which will mean relief, rest, salvation, and at the same time not hearing the invitation as it comes! All down through the corridor of time, timeless, the invitation sounds.

A Personal Invitation

Secondly… (And I spent longer on the first; you should be encouraged by that. I will catch up.) Secondly, it’s not only timeless, but it’s also personal. That’s straightforward, isn’t it? “Come to me.” “Come to me”—the invitation of Jesus when he goes by the seaside, as we’ve seen. He says to the disciples, “Follow me.” “Follow me.” He says to those who become part of his band, “Trust me.” “Trust me.” It’s not an invitation to religion. It’s not an invitation to duty. It’s not an invitation to embrace ordinances or a structure of existence.

Speaking of these telephone calls: this is a person-to-person call. Because if you’re as old as I am, you know when your telephone was actually part of a larger system, and if you pick up the telephone, you might hear somebody speaking on it. And that might be the lady next door speaking to her boyfriend or whoever it might be. You put it down very quickly. Or you listen for a little longer! But then you have to go on. You say, “I’d like to make a person-to-person call. Who can put this together for me?” Well, Jesus is the one. He’s the initiator. He’s making a person-to-person call. He is extending this invitation to all who have ears to hear.

Jesus comes into the darkness of the great quest for meaning and for freedom from a guilty conscience as the Light of the World.

Now, when we studied in John, we paid careful attention in John chapter 6 to the passage that helps us with this. And I want just to remind you of it. This is Jesus speaking. Jesus said to the listeners,

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you[’ve] seen me and yet [you] do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I[’ve] come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes [on] him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.[10]

And then, as you go through the Gospel, Jesus is introducing himself again and again—not only “I am the bread of life” here in chapter 6 but “I am the light of the world.”[11] In chapter 8, what does he say? “I am the light of the world.” He doesn’t say, “I am a light in the world.” He says, “I am the light of the world.” Remember how John begins? “In him was life, and [that] life was the light of men.”[12] He comes into the darkness of the great quest for meaning and for freedom from a guilty conscience as the Light of the World. He is the Door: “I am the door”—chapter 10. “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”[13]

And since we’ve been in Matthew and in Luke and in John, let’s give Mark just a little cry out, in chapter 10. Because as I was studying it this week, this little scene came to my mind. Perhaps it’s come to your mind too. You say, “Well, tell me what it is, and I’ll let you know.” All right. Mark chapter 10. Mark 10:46:

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he[’s] calling you.”

That may be a word directly into your life this morning, without me having any knowledge of it at all. You’re sidelined. You’ve become aware of the fact that you’re a blind man or a blind woman, and you’re saying to yourself, “How do I get out of this labyrinthine existence? How do I get out of this into the light?” Take heart. Get up. He’s calling you, personally. Personally! He knows your name.

As you know, that usually triggers a song—which it did. I remembered it from my youth again. I didn’t realize that it had been written by George Beverly Shea. And he picks up on the scene that we just considered in Mark chapter 10, and he wrote these words:

One sat alone beside the highway begging;
His eyes were blind; the light he could[n’t] see;
He clutched his rags and shivered in the shadows.
Then Jesus came and [bid] his darkness flee.

And then he goes from there to the scene in the garden, where the man is cutting himself with stones—the demoniac. And he writes,

From home and friends the evil spirits drove him;
Among the tombs he [dwelled] in misery;
He cut himself as demon pow’rs possessed him.
Then Jesus came and set the captive free.

When Jesus comes, the tempter’s pow’r is broken.
When Jesus comes, the tears are wiped away.
He takes the gloom and fills [a] life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.[14]

You see, that’s the testimony of someone who understands, has responded to the invitation, realizing that it has reached down through the corridors of time right into your teenage life, right into your successful business career, right into your work in the lab. And this is your testimony.

A Universal Invitation

“Oh, but,” somebody says, “I don’t think this testimony, I don’t think this invitation is for me at all.” Can I tell you you’re wrong?

This is our final observation: it’s not only timeless, or eternal, and personal; it is also universal. You’ll notice that the terminology is straightforward: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden.” It goes out to all because “all have sinned and [fallen] short of the glory of God.”[15] It comes to all who are made aware of their need.

You know, when you go to the dentist, you think you’re fine—until he uses that implement, and all of a sudden you’re like, “Whoa! What’s that?” He says, “Well, that is something that needs attention.” You go to church. You want to feel good. And suddenly the Spirit of God uses the implement: “Whoa! What is that?” “That’s something that needs attention.” How gracious to give the diagnosis, to prescribe the answer to the predicament!

The invitation comes to those who are burdened by religion, to those who are wearied by a search for significance. And Jesus receives men and women not on the basis of merit, not on the basis of worthiness. When you go back and study this on your own, as I hope you will, you will see that the preceding verses, before we get to verse 28, make it perfectly clear that in the plan of God, the way in which God planned for men and women to embrace Jesus as a Savior was not on the strength of wisdom or on the strength of education. If you operated on that basis, then only certain ones of us, by dint of our absence of intellect, would be able to come to trust Jesus.

But Jesus is the one who says, “Unless you become as a little child, you will never enter it.”[16] There’s the problem, often, in a congregation like this, filled with human achievers, filled with university graduates, filled with people with postgraduate qualifications, with secure jobs, being able to give your CV out and explain to everybody that you, because of you, have been enabled to do all these things. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the trouble is that the wise and the clever bring with them a peculiar sense of self-sufficiency, and that self-sufficiency will bar you from trusting in Jesus. It is only when we recognize that in ourselves, we have nothing to offer save the sin from which we need to be forgiven.

Despite our rebellious wills, despite our indifference towards him, Jesus calls out to us. It’s an amazing invitation.

You say, “Well, are you suggesting somehow or another that wise and clever people don’t rejoice in salvation?” No, not for a moment! There are many wise and clever people in this congregation who will tell you the same story. But the way they came to know the story was not on the strength of their intellect. It was on the basis of the fact that they bowed their knees before Christ, and they said, “You know what? I am weary, and I am burdened, and I’m not making a go of this at all. And suddenly, the penny is dropping. I realize that you’re the one calling out to me. I’ve been reading these books. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been listening to my friends. But now I hear your voice.”

The invitation calls for a response. Respondez s’il vous plait. Have you responded to the invitation of Jesus? Have you been able to say, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come to me and rest’; I heard him say, ‘Lay down, O weary one, lay down your head upon my breast’”? Are you able to say, “I came to Jesus as I was, weary, worn, sad; I found in him a resting place, and he’s made me glad”?[17] And if not, why not today? Why not just face up to things? Why not just acknowledge the reality that we’re all in need of a Savior, that we’re all fragile creatures, that we’ve been made by him and for him that we might love him and follow him and serve him?

And despite our rebellious wills, despite our indifference towards him, he calls out to us. It’s an amazing invitation. Don’t miss the deadline. There is a deadline. “It’s appointed unto man once to die, and after this comes judgment.”[18] How gracious of God to send such an invitation, so personal, so universal in its appeal, so timeless!

Lord, we want to hear your voice. We want to hear your voice beyond any human voice. And I pray today for some who are listening to me now, either here, immediately, or by means of other technology, that where they are, that if they hear your voice, that they will not harden their hearts, they will not gather up to themselves their self-sufficiency, but they will say, “I need your mercy, I need your forgiveness, and I look upon that cross, and I see that there you bore the burden that I’ve been struggling with, the burden of my own sinful life. Thank you for your cleansing power.”

Hear our prayers, O God. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] Luke 4:17, 20–21 (NIV).

[2] John 14:9 (ESV).

[3] John 14:8 (paraphrased).

[4] Colossians 2:9 (paraphrased).

[5] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 2, chap. 3.

[6] Matthew 23:4 (ESV).

[7] Dan Barry, “Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65,” New York Times, December 31, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/us/01boomers.html.

[8] David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 23. These points are part of Wells’s summary of the issues discussed in David G. Myers, The American Paradox (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).

[9] Johnny Cash, “What Is Truth” (1970).

[10] John 6:35–40 (ESV).

[11] John 8:12 (ESV).

[12] John 1:4 (ESV).

[13] John 10:9 (ESV).

[14] Oswald Jeffrey Smith, “One Sat Alone beside the Highway Begging” (1940). Made famous and often sung by George Beverly Shea.

[15] Romans 3:23 (ESV).

[16] Matthew 18:3 (paraphrased).

[17] Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (1846). Lyrics lightly altered.

[18] Hebrews 9:27 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.