30 July 2007

True Rest for your Soul

Do you feel overwhelmed sometimes? Tired, but not exactly sleepy? Unsettled in your heart, unsatisfied with your life? Ever wonder why? Is it just a physical problem, just based on our circumstances, or is it more than that? Consider these words spoken by Jesus Christ:

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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 shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NASB)

It seems a contradiction to rest, putting on a yoke and bearing a load, doesn't it? Didn't He just refer to all those who would come as weary and heavy-laden? How can He possibly promise to give us rest while at the same time putting on a yoke and bearing His light load? How does that work, anyway? Let's look at what Jesus is telling us to do.

1-Come to Me. Three words which mean so much! Come. Implies that you are not near, and must move in order to be near. To Me. It is Jesus to whom we are to come. James 4:8-10 says,

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you."

Why is this passage talking about such "downer" feelings of gloom and doom? Those feelings don't seem to bring about rest! What's going on here? To come into the presence of a holy God, we must also be holy, perfect, and without sin. God hates sin, and has no tolerance for it. How can we, who are sinners and double-minded, possibly cleanse our own hands and purify our hearts and come to Him? Scripture says in Revelation 21:7-8:

"He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Coming to Him sounds impossible, since we all could be described by one or more of those things on that list! Now that's a reason to be miserable and to lose sleep! Our own conscience nags and accuses us because we know that we fall short of the glory of God (see Romans 3:23), and we have to face God some day to be judged by Him (see Hebrews 9:11). Consider what it says in 1John 1:8-2:3:

"If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments."

So how do we come to God? We can only come to Him if we have Christ as our Advocate, knowing that we deserve God's wrath and punishment for our sin. And so we come. We come from a position of distance, separated from God the Father because of our sin, knowing that we deserve His wrath, yet trusting in Christ as our Advocate to get us through to Him.

-2 Take My yoke upon you. Of all the things you've heard about that Jesus wants to give you, why this? Why not love and peace and fulfillment? What's a yoke anyway? Isn't that what a farmer puts on the necks of large animals in order to pull a cart and to work? Didn't slave-owners put them on slaves for the same purpose? That seems to be an act of gearing up for hard labor, not for rest! To take a yoke and put it on yourself is an act of willing submission. You accept it being given to you, and you put it on. Christ doesn't tie you down and wrangle you into submission. You willingly accept Him as the One in control, trusting that He knows what is best and will lead you in the way you should go. In order to do this, you must trust Him with your life, be willing to give it to Him without reservation, and allow Him to be the Master. Then you must let Him lead. Christ describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart, and assures us that His yoke is easy and [His] load is light. What better description of a master can you find? And what is it that He wants us to do?

-3 Learn from Me. How do we learn from Christ? What does He want to teach us? We can learn from Him by observing who/what/where/when/why/how He lived, what He did, what He said, and what those who knew Him personally said about Him, even those who made scathing claims against Him. We can know Christ by studying the Scriptures. Evidence that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments (see above reference in 1John). It's that one idea that we tend to harden our hearts to: obedience.

Keep the mental picture in your mind of the yoke on your shoulders. Imagine the yoke as a double yoke, with Christ as the one beside you, sharing in your trials. You see, He lived a life of perfect submission and obedience to God the Father. He was tempted in every way that we are, and yet He never rebelled against His Father's will. (see Hebrews 4:15) When a younger, weaker animal is yoked together with an older, stronger animal, it learns to do what it is supposed to do. Its tendencies to be easily distracted, frightened, or strong-willed become diminished over time, and eventually, the animal becomes more and more like the one he is being trained to emulate. Since it is Christ we are to emulate, consider what the Scriptures say of Him in Hebrews 5:7-10:

"In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Did you catch that? Right there, in the middle of that paragraph: Christ learned obedience from the things which He suffered. He learned to obey, and so can we. And if we obey Him, we are obeying the One who is the source of eternal salvation! He learned from suffering. Suffering? Wait a minute. That's not what you signed up for, was it? Wasn't it just an easy decision to accept the love, forgiveness, and eternal life that Jesus wanted to give to you freely? There was no mention of suffering, was there? And when do we get to rest?

I will give you rest. Jesus. God. The great I AM. The gentle humble Master. Will give you rest. When you come to Him, weary and heavy-laden though you may be. First come to Him, then He will give you rest. Submit yourself willingly to Him as the Master of your whole life, and learn from Him how you are to walk, then He says

You will find rest for your souls.
Is that what you are longing for? Is that what is always evading your grasp? Rest for your soul? You cannot find it anywhere else, or from anyone else. Only through Christ, who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)

Eternal Rest. There is more to be learned about the subject of rest. Hebrews 3:12-4:16 talks specifically about rest. It is not only a temporal thing (a break from doing labor or a sabbath day off from work), but it also refers to an eternal rest which God does not allow unbelieving disobedient followers to enter into, referring to heaven. The Israelites in Exodus were an example of those who were followers of God, and yet because of their unbelief and disobedience, He did not let them enter into the Promised Land. If you are unsure whether you are a true believer and not just a follower of Christ, I want to hear from you, and help you to understand how you can know for certain where you will stand on the day of judgment. You can contact me by e-mail at Merrilee.Stevenson@gmail.com. I don't claim to have all the answers or know all of Scripture and what it all means, but I do know the One who created all things, and who has given us His Word as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, and I have found my rest in Him!

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