Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 11F

Chapter 11:28-30

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  • Tonight we transition out of studying the first reason for Jesus’ rejection and into a study of the second reason

    • The first reason as we learned was the hard, unrepentant hearts of the Jewish people

      • They would not turn away from their system of religious rituals and rules, called Pharisaic Judaism, to receive the Kingdom

      • Moreover, the Father left Israel unrepentant because it pleased Him to send Jesus to the cross

    • But there is a second reason for Jesus’ rejection

      • The second reason is closely related to the first in that it also traces its origins to Pharisaic Judaism 

      • But our second reason involves a different group of people in Jewish society

      • Instead of the fickle crowds, now the focus is on the Jewish authorities; the religious leaders over the people

    • Remember, the Jewish nation was formed by a religious law given to Israel by God Himself in a covenant

      • Because the laws of the nation were religious in nature, so also were the authorities over the people

      • The highest authority in the land was the High Priest, while the judges and lawyers over Israel were rabbis

      • Or as they had become known in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees

  • We begin our study tonight with Jesus highlighting the differences between Himself and the Pharisees

Matt. 11:28  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Matt. 11:29 “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.
Matt. 11:30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
  • I assume for most Christians the phrase  “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” is very familiar

    • But unless you understand exactly what Jesus is saying, His words may seem completely opposite to the truth especially in some situations

      • For example, I don’t recommend quoting this passage to a Christian friend enduring a great trial or persecution… 

      • It will offer them little comfort in the moment

      • Because often obeying Christ in a fallen world means enduring trials that are hard, not light or easy

    • Which is why we must understand Jesus words in the specific sense in which He intended, which was as a contrast to Pharisaic Judaism

      • “Take my yoke” was a rabbinical figure of speech in that day referring to attending school

      • Rabbis invited new students to join their school of studies by saying “take my yoke” which meant “come learn under me” 

    • But the fact rabbis compared joining a rabbinical school to shouldering the yoke of oxen reflects what life was like under Pharisaic Judaism  

      • The burdens were immense and altogether unimaginable for us today

      • The life of a Pharisee was scripted by thousands of rules that addressed every aspect of daily activity

      • Pharisees prayed multiple times a day in public places, fasted several times a week, performed various washings repeatedly, memorized thousands of lines of text, etc. 

      • From the moment a Pharisee woke to when he went to bed, he was bearing the burdens of that yoke

    • Even the word Pharisee reflects what it was like to live under these rules

      • Pharisee comes from an Aramaic word meaning “separated ones”

      • The effect of the Pharisaic lifestyle was to separate the man from the rest of Jewish society

      • So when a new rabbinical student heard “take up my yoke”, it reminded him of the difficult burden he was going to carry 

  • But then Jesus said “take my yoke”, but He quickly added that his teaching wasn’t going to be burdensome at all 

    • Jesus’ yoke was light and easy to bear

      • Jesus came offering freedom from following a strenuous religious system of rule keeping

      • Because by faith in Jesus, we instantly gain credit with God for the very thing that the religious are striving to obtain: righteousness

      • Jesus accomplished everything required in God’s Law

      • So by our faith in Him, the Bible says God credits us with Jesus’ work on our behalf

    • That’s what Jesus meant when He said His burden was light and easy

      • He’s already done the work…He kept the Law for us

      • And beyond that, He also paid the Law’s price for our sin debt before God

      • He lived a perfect life under the Law in our place, and He died in our place for our sin

      • So by faith, we get credit for both…you can’t get much easier and lighter than that!

    • By contrast, the yoke of Pharisaic Judaism meant trying to keep the Law plus the thousands of additional rules the Pharisees had added to it

      • And that was an endless burden…because it matters not how well you kept the Law yesterday

      • Each day you started over with the burdens again

      • That was the burden Jews of Jesus’ day knew, and Jesus said He was prepared to free them from that burden

  • Moreover, Jesus says His burden is light because He is gentle and humble in heart

    • Jesus is God, so He had genuine desire to help God’s people obey and honor the Father

      • That’s the heart of God…to help humanity become like Him, and the plan of salvation reflects God’s love

      • So when Jesus came to bring us salvation, He came in a gentle, humble fashion, as Paul explained

Phil. 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
Phil. 2:6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
Phil. 2:7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Phil. 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross
  • Meanwhile, the Pharisees were prideful, unloving men who cared nothing for God’s people

    • Far from being humble, the Pharisees took great pride in their rigorous lifestyle, wearing their burdens like a badge of honor

    • And they were certainly not gentle

    • They leveraged their many rules to accuse their opponents and extorted money from the people

    • So naturally the system they invented reflected their hard hearts

  • That was the system Israel suffered under, and Jesus invited those who were weary of its burden to come learn from Him and He would give them rest

    • And Jesus’ mention of rest brings us to our discussion of the second major reason Jesus was rejected by the Jewish authorities 

      • And that reason is the Jewish Sabbath Day; the day of rest

      • More specifically, it was Jesus’ refusal to acknowledge the myriad of Pharisaic rules associated with Sabbath observance  

    • If there was a time the average Jew felt the full burden of Pharisaic Judaism, it was on the Sabbath day

      • In the Law God directed Israel cease from work on the seventh day of the week, beginning at sundown Friday

Ex. 20:8  “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Ex. 20:9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
Ex. 20:10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
Ex. 20:11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
  • Despite the simplicity of that command, the rabbis soon made it very complicated

    • In fact, the Pharisees considered Sabbath observance God’s most important law 

    • The day was so special to the rabbis that it came to personify God Himself 

    • The Pharisees referred to the Sabbath day as the bride of Israel and the queen of Yahweh

    • Even today during Friday night Sabbath services in synagogues, the doors are opened for the congregation to sing a song entitled “Welcome my Beloved, let us greet Queen Sabbath”

  • Why were the Pharisees so enamored with Sabbath? Because God’s prohibition against work offered Pharisees endless opportunities to craft new restrictions 

    • Under Pharisaic Judaism there were more rules devoted to Sabbath observance than for any other area of Jewish life

      • The rules for Sabbath observance were Pharisaic Judaism’s crown jewel…their pièce de résistance

      • By one scholar’s count, the Pharisees recorded 1,500 rules in their Mishnah for proper Sabbath observance

      • In fact, even today the practice of Judaism is largely defined by three things: observing feasts, dietary restrictions and Sabbath rules

    • For that reason, the enforcement of these Sabbath rules was critical to the Pharisee’s power game

      • Breaking any of the Pharisee’s myriad of Sabbath rules could result in severe penalties, including even death

      • Since the people feared the consequences of breaking the Sabbath, the Pharisees gained great control over Jewish society

      • So ironically, the day God appointed for rest became the most burdensome day of a Jew’s week

    • But then Jesus came along and He didn’t play by the Pharisees’ rules, especially not when it came to their Sabbath restrictions

      • Those 1,500 rules that the Pharisees invented were not from God nor were they consistent with God’s heart

      • The Sabbath was intended to be a day of refreshment, but the Pharisees had turned it into a day of fretting and worry

      • Such that even the slightest deviation from those 1,500+ rules could result in condemnation

      • So far from being refreshed, the Sabbath observance was a particular burden 

  • Jesus’ refusal to keep the Pharisees’ Sabbath rules more than anything else turned the Pharisees against Him 

    • In the Gospels, most of the disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees center on Jesus violating one of the 1,500 Mishnah rules 

      • Often it was Jesus healing on the Sabbath, which the Pharisees outlawed as a form of work

      • And in Chapter 12, we’ll see that it was after one such healing on the Sabbath that the Pharisees decided Jesus had to die

      • From that point they plotted to kill Jesus and they turned the people against Jesus

    • Jesus knew that the Sabbath would become a major source of contention with the religious leaders

      • And Jesus even invited the conflict on several occasions by intentionally healing on a Sabbath day knowing the Pharisees would object

      • And so when Jesus tells the crowds that He would give them “rest” from their burdens, He’s making a subtle reference to the Pharisees’ Sabbath rules

    • In fact, notice Jesus uses the term “rest” twice in that short passage, first at the end of v.28 and again in v.29, quoting from Jer 6:16

      • In Jesus’ second use of the word in v.29 He says He is offering Israel rest for their souls

      • And if you glance ahead to Chapter 12:8 you find Jesus declaring that the Messiah is the Lord of the Sabbath

    • We’ll study that passage the week after Easter, but for now let’s understand Jesus is trying to explain the true purpose of the Sabbath 

      • Jesus was talking about offering Israel rest not merely from the Mishnah’s demands

      • He was talking about the true spiritual purpose of the Sabbath, which belongs to every believer who comes to Jesus in faith

    • Jesus was offering Israel Himself as their true Sabbath rest, which the daily Sabbath in the Law of Moses simply pictured

      • We find a full explanation of the Sabbath in Hebrews 4

      • So before we can understand why Jesus chose to pick a fight over the Sabbath rules of the Mishnah, we need to understand how Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

Heb. 4:1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
Heb. 4:2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
Heb. 4:3  For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, 
although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
Heb. 4:4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”;
Heb. 4:5 and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.”
Heb. 4:6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,
Heb. 4:7  He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, 
Heb. 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
Heb. 4:9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
Heb. 4:10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
  • The writer of Hebrews was concerned that some in the church in his day had “come short” of entering into His (Christ’s) rest

    • So the writer draws from multiple examples out of the Old Testament to explain what entering God’s rest means and what it doesn’t mean

      • Because before we can understand why Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ on the Sabbath, we need to understand God’s purpose in giving Israel the Sabbath in the first place

      • And it starts with Heb. 4:2-3…those who believe in the good news are entering Christ’s rest

    • Notice in v.2 the writer refers to those of Israel’s past who had good news preached to them

      • He’s talking about the Exodus generation of Israel who came out of Egypt

      • In Chapter 3, the writer reminded his readers that the generation that left Egypt ended up dying in the desert because of unbelief 

      • And now here in Chapter 4 the writer goes on to say they had good news preached but failed to believe it

    • The good news preached to that generation of Israel was that God was setting them free from Pharaoh to live in the Promised Land

      • But that generation of Israel didn’t believe in that promise

      • Instead, they believed the false report of the spies who claimed the land was filled with giants and terrors

      • So because of their unbelief, the Lord didn’t allow them to enter into the land…they all died in the desert for their unbelief 

  • Then in v.3 the writer establishes a principle from that biblical account…to believe in the promises of God is to enter rest

    • And to prove that principle, the writer quotes from Psalm 95 where the Lord declares that that generation’s failure to believe barred them from rest

      • Now we know that God is referring to entering the land of Canaan

      • Nevertheless, the Lord euphemistically referred to entering the Promised Land as entering His rest

      • So the Lord connects three ideas through that example: belief is equal to entering His rest which is equal to entering the Promised Land

    • So what rest is God talking about? The writer then goes on to explore that idea beginning with the first time the Lord uses the term rest 

      • After God finished the six days of Creation, the Bible says that the Lord ceased from His work of Creation 

      • So in that sense, the Lord entered into a state of rest

      • Ever since the sixth day of Creation, the Lord has remained at rest from His creative works

    • So we could say that all Creation is in God’s rest right now, in the sense that we share in God’s ceasing from the work of Creation

      • But in vs.4-5 the writer notes that this can’t be the “rest” God was talking about in Psalm 95

      • Because it was after God ceased from the work of Creation that He declared Israel wouldn’t enter into His rest

      • Therefore, the Lord can’t be referring to the Creation rest since it’s ongoing for everyone

      • He must be referring to some other kind of rest that Israel has yet to experience

  • So the writer concludes in v.6 that therefore, there is some other kind of rest that Israel must enter into – a rest that the earlier generation did not enter into

    • Perhaps God’s rest refers to inhabiting the land itself, so the earlier generations failed to enter the rest of the land for their unbelief 

      • In considering that possibility, the writer then reminds his readers what David wrote in the psalms on this subject

      • In v.7 the writer quotes again from Psalm 95 

      • David warns his brethren in Israel saying don’t harden your hearts like that prior generation of Israel who didn’t believe

      • Instead, David calls Israel to believe, saying today if you hear God’s voice, respond in faith so you might enter His rest

    • Now David’s psalm was written hundreds of years after the Jews had already entered into the land under Joshua

      • Notice in v.8 the writer says if Joshua had given Israel rest by bringing them into the land, than David wouldn’t have spoken of another day

      • In other words, if entering God’s rest meant entering the Promised Land, then Joshua would have given Israel rest

      • But long after Joshua, David was still calling for his countrymen to enter God’s rest even though they were living in the land

  • So in v.9 the writer makes the unavoidable conclusion from Scripture

    • There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people…

      • Entering God’s rest can’t mean the rest God enjoys after completing Creation…we’re still called to enter His rest

      • And it can’t refer to entering the Promised Land itself, since Israel entered it under Joshua yet David was still calling Israel to enter it years later

      • And we can add to the writer’s arguments that entering God’s rest also can’t refer to observing a weekly Sabbath day

      • Because Israel was observing a Sabbath day in David’s time, yet the King was still calling for people to enter God’s rest today…not just one day a week but everyday

    • So what does God mean by “enter my rest”? 

      • It’s something that requires faith, it remains true today just as it did in ages past

      • The answer is entering God’s rest means trusting in the Messiah, Who is Lord of the Sabbath 

  • Look what the writer says in Hebrews 4:10

    • He says the one who enters into God’s rest is the one who rests from his works, just as God rested from His works

      • The works the writer is talking about here are those religious  works we did before we come to faith in Jesus

      • In Jesus’ day those works were the rules and regulations of the Mishnah that so many Jews were faithfully keeping, hoping to please God

    • Those were the heavy burdens that the Pharisees had placed on the backs of the people which Jesus could remove for them

      • Jesus says come learn under me, and you will receive a light and easy yoke

      • Jesus will become your Sabbath rest, because Jesus will accomplish all those works for you

      • And having placed your faith in Jesus, you now gain credit for His work which means you do not need to perform any work any longer

    • That’s the rest of God…knowing that you do not need to work your way to Heaven but instead you can rest in the work of Christ on your behalf

      • Had the Jews of Jesus' day accepted His offer, they could have set aside the works of the Mishnah – including all the rules of the Sabbath

      • And in fact, they would have set aside the entire law of Moses knowing that Jesus had fulfilled it on their behalf

      • That’s what David was calling his countrymen to understand…that they could rest in God’s promise of a Messiah if they would only believe

      • That’s what the earlier generation missed…because they didn’t believe in the promises of God, they didn’t enter into His rest

  • And speaking of that generation, we’re also learning that God used their experience in the desert as a powerful picture of how faith brings us rest

    • In that Exodus story, entering the Promised Land of Canaan was connected with faith as the writer explained

      • By their failure to enter for unbelief, we learn that we cannot enter into the Promised Land without faith in Christ

      • Furthermore, the land of Canaan is called the Promised Land because in the Kingdom to come it will be the home of the Jewish people

      • So entering the Promised Land is itself a picture of entering the Kingdom

    • So when we connect all three ideas, we arrive at a fundamental truth of the Bible

      • We enter the Kingdom of God by faith, just as Israel could only enter Canaan by belief in God

      • And having salvation means entering God’s rest 

    • Simply put, Israel could not enter the Promised Land by keeping the Law, and we cannot enter God’s rest and the Kingdom by doing works of any kind

      • We only enter by faith in Christ, and when you place your faith in Christ you enter His rest; that is you enter into a Sabbath

      • The true Sabbath of God is placing faith in Jesus, and the the day of rest God gave Moses was just a picture of the greater spiritual  rest we receive in Christ

    • And to make that picture clearer still, the Lord didn’t allow Moses to enter the Promised Land

      • Instead, the people of Israel were led into the Promised Land by Joshua, who took power over Israel following Moses’ death

      • Moses represents the Law itself, so we can say that a person cannot enter the Promised Land by Moses – that is by law

    • Instead, we enter the Promised Land by following Joshua, and Joshua’s name in Hebrew is Yeshua, which is the same name as Jesus

      • Jesus leads us into the Promised Land, that is into the Kingdom  

      • We can’t enter God’s rest by doing works of the law, and certainly not by following 1,500 rules in a Mishnah invented by Pharisees

  • So the Lord gave Israel the Sabbath day observance to picture Jesus in this sense

    • Once every week, the nation followed in God’s footsteps

      • Just as God rested for a day after creating the world in six days, so Israel would work six days and then rest one day

      • This was a lesson to Israel teaching them they must enter into God’s rest by placing faith in their Messiah’s work

    • If they placed faith in the Messiah, then they could enter a rest that never ends; the rest of trusting in Christ’s work and of the Kingdom

      • It would be a rest for their souls not just their bodies, as Jesus said

      • And that rest would be never ending, unlike the weekly Sabbath that only lasted a day and then a new week of work began again

    • If you have placed faith in Jesus, you have rested from working your way to Heaven 

      • That’s the true Sabbath rest the writer was taking about, the true Sabbath Jesus was offering Israel

      • It’s the true Sabbath rest of every Christian

      • Once you place your faith in Jesus, there’s no need to keep a weekly Sabbath because you already have the greater Sabbath

  • So if you’ve ever been pressured by someone to keep a Sabbath day of rest, then you now know what a yoke feels like

    • Ironically, they may have wanted you to experience refreshment, but because it was presented as a mandatory rule, it actually created a burden

      • That’s how laws work…they exist to convict us when we fail, they don’t make obedience easier or more joyful

      • So when someone told you that keeping a Sabbath day was a requirement to please God, you felt constrained 

      • And of course, on days you couldn’t rest you felt guilty

      • Either way, it became a burden, a yoke on your shoulders that you were told to bear

    • That was a mini-Pharisaic moment, and if that’s you tonight, then please hear Jesus’ words again…His yoke is easy and light

      • With Jesus every day is your Sabbath, because Jesus kept that burden and all the burdens of the Law for you

      • By faith in Him you are freed from the burden of keeping meaningless rules

      • In place of that you live every day for His glory, following His Spirit, not worrying about old laws written for past generations

      • And (frankly) you couldn’t keep the Sabbath even if you tried

    • Because going to Church is not keeping the Sabbath

      • Keeping the Sabbath means no work on one day every week

      • So no driving, no cooking, no emailing, no web surfing, no yard work, no working out at the gym, no hunting, no fishing, no riding bikes, no homework, no chores, no work of any kind

      • That’s what keeping the Sabbath means, so who has ever actually kept the Sabbath that way in any case?

      • Once again, keeping Sabbath is a burden that Jesus has taken for us, so we may pick up His easy and light yoke

    • May I humbly suggest this is a good example of why our church exists…of why it needs to exist

      • Biblical ignorance leads people to accept burdens that Christ didn’t give His Church, burdens like those the Pharisees gave Israel 

      • And ignorance also prevents us from obeying Him in the ways He did intend, like serving Him seven days a week

      • Understanding the Bible properly removes unnecessary burdens to make room for a life of serving Christ in joy and freedom