Jesus’ Personal Invitation
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 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.” (11:25–30)
The heart of the gospel is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Jesus said that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He tells men that because He is the Bread of Life, those who come to Him will never hunger and those who believe in Him will never thirst (John 6:35; cf. 7:37). Because He is the Light of the World, those who follow Him will “not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (8:12). Because He is “the resurrection and the life,” those who believe in Him will live even if they die (11:25).
The message of salvation is the theme of all Scripture. God’s promise to Adam and Eve after the Fall was that their descendant one day would bruise the serpents head (Gen. 3:15)—a figure of Christ’s conquest of Satan. Through Isaiah, the Lord pleaded, “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:22); and again, “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.… Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live” (55:1, 3). Among the last words of Scripture is a final invitation to mankind to be saved: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17).
As the hymn writer E. W. Faber reminds us,
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in His justice
That is more than liberty.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” (11:25a)
At that time could mean that Jesus’ invitation was given immediately after His upbraiding of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, in order to take advantage of any interest in salvation those sobering words may have evoked.
It is also possible that Jesus was repeating an invitation He had given on other occasions and would continue to give throughout His ministry. In that case, Matthew here calls attention to what may have been Jesus’ last invitation during His first and major Galilean ministry—as He offered the people one final appeal to be saved.
After Jesus’ performing countless miracles to attest His divinity and His messianic credentials (4:23–24), after His preaching in detail the message of the gospel and the Christian life (5–7), and after His having sent out the twelve (10:5–15) and then the seventy (see Luke 10:1–16), the people of Galilee had the greatest opportunity to learn of God and of His way of salvation than any people in history, before or since. Yet in spite of that great opportunity, the majority willfully rejected Christ and His message, either by hostility or by indifference.
Though the nation had turned its back on the Messiah, He continued to call to Himself that remnant who were weary of carrying their heavy spiritual burdens and who sought rest in God’s grace.
Jesus’ early period of popularity was ending, and opposition was growing in amount and in intensity. As Jesus would soon make clear, the only possible alternatives are acceptance or rejection. A person is either for Christ or against Him (Matt. 12:30; cf. Mark 9:40). Consequently, Jesus’ teaching became more and more specifically directed either to those who accepted or those who rejected Him. Side by side are messages of judgment and of compassion, of warning and of encouragement, just as we see here. Jesus had just presented the God of judgment and wrath (Matt. 11:20–24), and now He presents the God of love and mercy.
Answered and said is a Hebrew idiom that means to speak out openly, as opposed to privately or confidentially. Jesus’ invitation to follow Him was universal and open to everyone who would come on God’s terms.
Jesus’ prayer to His Father was meant to be heard by prospective believers. As He prayed, I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus called attention both to His unique relationship to the Father and to the Father’s sovereign control over salvation. Salvation is a provision of the Lord of heaven and earth, and is not a result of man’s wisdom, plans, purposes, or power; and for that truth Jesus gives praise to the Father.
Every faithful pastor, evangelist, and witness is sometimes disappointed that more people do not respond. He asks himself, “What more can I do? What new approach can I take? How can I make the message clearer and more persuasive?” Yet he also knows that some people will reject Christ no matter how clear, loving, and powerful the presentation of the gospel may be. If men could reject salvation from the very lips of the Lord Himself—and in the midst of awesome, authenticating miracles—we can hardly expect every person who hears our imperfect witness to fall at Christ’s feet.
We weep over those who refuse to be saved, just as our Lord wept over Jerusalem when it would not receive Him. But also like Christ, we should praise our heavenly Father that all things are under His divine control and that His sovereign plan for the world and for His own people cannot be frustrated. Men’s rejection of Christ proves their failure, not God’s.
God’s sovereignty should be the foremost thought in the mind of every witnessing believer. We should remember with confidence that His plan is always on course and that even the most unrepentant, wicked, vindictive, and cynical rejection of our testimony does not alter God’s timetable or thwart His purpose. Our responsibility is simply to make our witness faithful (1 Cor. 4:2); it is God’s responsibility alone to make it effective.
Because Jesus had an unyielding trust in His Father’s perfect will, He could rest in that will and give Him praise no matter what responses people made to Him.
As Jesus compassionately invited His hearers to come to Him and be saved, He set forth the five essential elements that constitute a genuine invitation to salvation.
Humility and Dependence
that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. (11:25b–26)
Jesus’ specific cause for praise is God’s sovereign wisdom in hiding these things from the wise and intelligent and instead revealing them to babes. He thanks His Father that the first step to salvation is humility, coming to God in utter despair of one’s own merit or resources. It is not by accident that the first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The kingdom belongs only to the humble.
These things refers to the kingdom, on which Jesus’ entire ministry focused. Even during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension Jesus was “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). His teachings about His messiahship, lordship, and saviorhood, and about salvation, submission, and discipleship all centered in the kingdom of God—the realm where He is sovereign, where His people dwell by grace through faith, and where His righteous will is done.
The wise and intelligent sarcastically refers to those who are intelligent in their own eyes and who rely on human wisdom and disregard God’s. The Lord does not exclude smart people from His kingdom but rather those who trust in their smartness. Paul was a brilliant, highly educated scholar, and he did not forsake his intelligence when he became a Christian. But he stopped relying on his intelligence to discern and understand spiritual and divine matters. It is not intelligence but intellectual pride that shuts people out of the kingdom. Intelligence is a gift of God, but when it is perverted by pride it becomes a barrier to God, because trust is in the gift rather than in the Giver. “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly; but the haughty He knows from afar” (Ps. 138:6).
The wise and intelligent include both religious and nonreligious people, who in their love of human wisdom are much more alike than different. Whether religious or irreligious, the proud person will not submit to God’s wisdom and truth and therefore excludes himself from the kingdom. The religious man who relies on tradition or good works to please God is just as far from God as the atheist.
The means God uses to hide these things from such people is the darkness of their proud, unregenerate hearts, which prevent them from seeing what God desires them to know and to accept. Paul said, “Just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:9–10). God’s spiritual truth is not empirically, objectively knowable. It cannot be externally discovered, but must be willingly received through man’s heart as God reveals it. As someone has said, “The heart and not the head is the home of the gospel.” No amount of human reasoning or speculation can discover or explain God’s saving truth, because, as Paul continues to say, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (v. 14).
No amount of evidence is sufficient to convince the confirmed unbeliever. John says of such people that, though Jesus “had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them’ ” (John 12:37–40). Those who hear God’s Word and refuse to receive it are subject to God’s judicial confirmation of that choice.
Just as wise and intelligent does not refer to mental ability but to a proud spiritual attitude, babes does not refer to physical age or capability but to a humble spiritual attitude.
A baby is totally dependent on others to provide everything it needs. It has no abilities, no knowledge, no skills, no resources at all to help itself. Nēpios (babes) is used in 1 Corinthians 3:1 and Hebrews 5:13 of infants who cannot eat solid food but only milk. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 it is used of those who have not yet learned to speak and in Ephesians 4:14 of those who are helpless.
During a question and answer period in a meeting one time, a young girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old, came up to me and asked, “What happens to babies and retarded children when they die?” She was obviously very serious, and I did my best to answer her from Scripture. Beginning with David’s comment about his infant son who had died, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23), I explained that God takes to Himself all of those, such as babies and retarded people, who are not able to choose Him. Afterward her mother explained that a younger brother was seriously retarded and understood almost nothing of what went on around him. His sister, young as she was, knew the way of salvation and was deeply concerned that her little brother might not go to heaven because he was not able to understand how to receive Christ as Savior. I reminded her that Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). She was greatly relieved when I said that her little brother was a living illustration of the kind of person Jesus came to save and to receive into heaven—the utterly helpless.
It is to spiritual babes, those who acknowledge their utter helplessness in themselves, to whom God has sovereignly chosen to reveal the truths of His kingdom. It is to the “poor in spirit” who humbly confess their dependency that God makes the way of salvation clear and understandable. By the Holy Spirit they recognize they are spiritually empty and bankrupt and they abandon all dependence on their own resources. They are the cringing spiritual beggars to whom Jesus refers in the first beatitude—the absolutely destitute who are ashamed to lift up their head as they hold out their hands for help.
Babes are the exact opposite of the kind of person the scribes, Pharisees, and rabbis taught was pleasing to God. They are also the exact opposite of the imagined ideal Christian touted by many popular preachers and writers who glorify self-assertion and self-worth.
The contrast between wise and intelligent and babes is not between the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the educated and the uneducated, the brilliant and the simpleminded. It is a contrast between those who think they can save themselves by their own human wisdom, resources, and achievement and those who know they cannot. It is a comparison between those who rely on themselves and those who rely on God.
People who are famous, highly educated, wealthy, powerful, or talented are often difficult to reach for Christ, simply because human accomplishments easily lead to pride and pride leads to self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction.
Yes, Father, Jesus continues, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. God is well-pleased with the gospel of grace because it brings glory to Him, which is the supreme purpose in the universe. “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’ ” (Isa. 57:15). God loves to help the humble and the repentant, because they know they are helpless. He is pleased when they come to Him for help, because that honors His grace and gives Him glory (cf. Luke 18:9–14).
Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself depart,
And for His dwelling and His throne
He chooses the humble heart.
“For consider your calling, brethren” Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Cor. 1:26–27).
Jesus referred to Nicodemus as the “teacher of Israel,” suggesting that he was perhaps the most highly respected rabbi in the land. He was a student of the Old Testament and of the many traditional writings of Judaism. Yet with all his religious training and knowledge he could not grasp Jesus’ teaching that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Even after Jesus explained, Nicodemus did not understand, and Jesus said to him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:3–12). Before he could comprehend or receive the gospel, Nicodemus had to go all the way back and start over as a spiritual babe, putting aside his human knowledge and achievements and coming to Christ with no merit of his own.
All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (11:27)
These words of Jesus are basically a commentary on verse 25, expanding on the truth that God has chosen to reveal His will to babes, the spiritually humble and helpless, rather than to those who are proud and self-reliant. A genuine invitation to salvation must consider God’s revelation, because no person, even the most determined or sincere, could know the way to Him unless the Lord had already made it known. The way of salvation is disclosed only through the sovereign revelation of God.
The first important truth of this verse is not so much taught as taken for granted. Jesus unequivocally equates Himself with God, calling Him My Father in a way that Jews would never do except when referring to His corporate fatherhood of Israel. Here is one of Jesus’ clearest statements of His deity, disclosing the intimate and absolutely unique relationship of the Father and the Son. In essence they are one and are inseparable.
There was no doubt in the minds of Jesus’ hearers that His referring to God as My Father was a claim to deity. The Jews had earlier accused Jesus of making Himself “equal with God” and sought to kill Him (John 5:18). When on another occasion He said, “I and the Father are one,” the crowd wanted to stone Him to death for blasphemy (John 10:30–31; cf. vv. 15, 17–18, 25, 29, 32–38).
That Jesus is Himself God is the heart of the gospel, because apart from His deity He could not save a single soul. No heresy so corrupts the gospel and robs it of its power as the teaching that Jesus is not God. Apart from His deity, there is no gospel and no salvation.
The second truth of this verse is explicit. In His deity Jesus not only was intimate with His Father but had received all things—all authority, sovereignty, truth, and power—from the Father. At some time in preexistent eternity the Father committed these things to the Son (cf. John 5:21–24).
It was because all authority had been given to Him “in heaven and on earth” that Jesus had the right to send out His followers to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18–19). The underlying purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to demonstrate His authority over illness, disease, demons, nature, life, death, and sin. He had authority to forgive sins, to save from divine judgment, and to sovereignly control everything on earth and in heaven. All things in the universe and pertaining to the universe are under His divine sovereignty. His power displayed during His ministry was a preview of the full display in the coming earthly Millennium, when He will reign over the earth.
The third truth of this verse is that no one knows the Son except the Father. Man has no way in himself of discovering what God is like, because his finite mind cannot grasp God’s infinite nature. Because the Son is divine, Jesus says, only the divine Father truly knows Him. The obverse is equally true: nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Divine truth can only be divinely perceived and divinely imparted (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9–16).
Philosophy and religion are utterly incapable of reasoning out God or His truth because they are of a finite, lower order. Human ideas and concepts are earthbound and totally fruitless in producing spiritual truth or guidance. God must break into the darkness and emptiness of man’s human understanding and show Himself before man can know Him.
What Jesus teaches here about God’s revelation of Himself is at once simple and utterly profound. It is to the person who sets aside all human knowledge and wisdom and becomes as an unlearned, helpless infant, that God chooses to reveal Himself. “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18). Only the person emptied of human wisdom can be filled with divine truth.
Martin Luther said, “Here the bottom falls out of all merit, all powers and abilities of reason or the free will men dream of, and it all counts nothing before God. Christ must do and must give everything.”
Come to Me, (11:28a)
Just as man’s part in salvation is to come humbly, it is also to come in faith. Although finite minds cannot fully comprehend the truth, divine grace and human faith are inseparable in salvation. God sovereignly provides salvation, which includes the fact that man must give himself to the Lord Jesus Christ in commitment before it becomes effective. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me,” and then immediately added, “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).
Salvation is not through a creed, a church, a ritual, a pastor, a priest, or any other such human means—but through Jesus Christ, who said, Come to Me. To come is to believe to the point of submitting to His lordship. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus declared; “he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Comes and believes are parallel just as are hunger and thirst. Coming to Christ is believing in Him, which results in no longer hungering and thirsting. Other biblical synonyms for believing in Christ include confessing Him, receiving Him, eating and drinking Him, and hearing Him.
Peter declared, “Of Him [Jesus Christ] all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). And the Lord Himself said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16).
Repentance and Rest
all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (11:28b)
All who are indicates a condition that already exists. Those whom Jesus invites to Himself are those who already are weary and heavy-laden. Although this aspect of Jesus’ invitation is mentioned after faith (“Come to Me”), chronologically it precedes faith, referring to the repentance that drives the humble, seeking person to Christ for salvation.
Kopiaō (to grow weary, or “to labor”) carries the idea of working to the point of utter exhaustion. John uses the term to describe Jesus’ fatigue when He and the disciples reached Sychar after a long, hot journey from Jerusalem (John 4:6).
Weary translates a present active participle and refers figuratively to arduous toil in seeking to please God and know the way of salvation. Jesus calls to Himself everyone who is exhausted from trying to find and please God in his own resources. Jesus invites the person who is wearied from his vain search for truth through human wisdom, who is exhausted from trying to earn salvation, and who has despaired of achieving God’s standard of righteousness by his own efforts.
Heavy-laden translates a perfect passive participle, indicating that at some time in the past a great load was dumped on the wearied person. Whereas weary refers to the internal exhaustion caused by seeking divine truth through human wisdom, heavy-laden suggests the external burdens caused by the futile efforts of works righteousness.
In Jesus’ day, the rabbinical teachings had become so massive, demanding, and all-encompassing that they prescribed standards and formulas for virtually every human activity. It was all but impossible even to learn all the traditions, and was completely impossible to keep them all. Jesus spoke of the heavy loads of religious tradition that the scribes and Pharisees laid on the people’s shoulders (Matt. 23:4); and at the Jerusalem Council, Peter noted that the Judaizers were trying to saddle Christianity with the same man-made “yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
Although the term itself is not used in the text, Jesus gives a call to repent, to turn away from the self-centered and works-centered life and come to Him. The person who is weary and heavy-laden despairs of his own ability to please God. He comes to the end of his own resources and turns to Christ. Desperation is a part of true salvation, because a person does not come to Christ as long as he has confidence in himself. To repent is to make a 180-degree turn from the burden of the old life to the restfulness of the new
Repentance was the theme of John the Baptist’s preaching (Matt. 3:2) and the starting point of the preaching of Jesus (4:17), Peter (Acts 2:38; 3:19; cf. 5:31), and Paul (17:30; 20:21; cf. 2 Tim. 2:25). The person who humbly receives God’s revelation of Himself and His way of salvation, who turns from the unbearable burden of his sin and self-effort, and who comes to Christ empty-handed is the only person God will save.
Anapauō (to give … rest) means to refresh or revive, as from labor or a long journey. Jesus promises spiritual rest to everyone who comes to Him in repentance and humble faith.
God’s rest is a common Old Testament theme. The Lord warned Israel, “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness; when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work.… Therefore I swore in My anger, truly they shall not enter into My rest” (Ps. 95:7–9, 11). After quoting that passage, the writer of Hebrews warns those who make a pretense of faith in Christ but have not really trusted Him: “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). To intellectually acknowledge Christ’s deity and lordship is a dangerous thing if it does not lead to true faith, because it gives a person the false confidence of belonging to Christ.
In the time of the early church many Jews were attracted to the gospel and outwardly identified themselves with the church. But for fear of being unsynagogued, ostracized from the worship and ceremonies of Judaism, some of them did not truly receive Christ as saving Lord. They went part way to Him but stopped before full commitment. “As a result” of such superficial allegiance, John says, “many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). Consequently they would not enter God’s rest, that is, His salvation, because they still possessed “an evil, unbelieving heart” (Heb. 3:11–12).
Just as those Israelites who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness were denied entrance into the Promised Land because of unbelief, so those who refuse to fully trust in Christ are denied entrance into God’s kingdom rest of salvation for the same reason (v. 19). “Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 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. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest’ ” (4:1–3).
The dictionary gives several definitions of rest that remarkably parallel the spiritual rest God offers those who trust in His Son. First, the dictionary describes rest as cessation from action, motion, labor, or exertion. In a similar way, to enter God’s rest is to cease from all efforts at self-help in trying to earn salvation. Second, rest is described as freedom from that which wearies or disturbs. Again we see the spiritual parallel of God’s giving His children freedom from the cares and burdens that rob them of peace and joy.
Third, the dictionary defines rest as something that is fixed and settled. Similarly, to be in God’s rest is to have the wonderful assurance that our eternal destiny is secure in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is to be freed from the uncertainties of running from philosophy to philosophy, from religion to religion, from guru to guru, hoping somehow and somewhere to discover truth, peace, happiness, and eternal life.
Fourth, rest is defined as being confident and trustful. When we enter God’s rest we are given the assurance that “He who began a good work in [us] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Finally, the dictionary describes rest as leaning, reposing, or depending on. As children of God, we can depend with utter certainty that our heavenly Father will “supply all [our] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
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.” (11:29–30)
Salvation involves submission, because it is impossible for Christ to exercise lordship over those who refuse to obey Him. Jesus’ invitation therefore includes the call to submission, symbolized by a yoke.
A yoke was made of wood, hand-hewn to fit the neck and shoulders of the particular animal that was to wear it in order to prevent chafing. For obvious reasons, the term was widely used in the ancient world as a metaphor for submission. The yoke was part of the harness used to pull a cart, plow, or mill beam and was the means by which the animal’s master kept it under control and guided it in useful work. A student was often spoken of as being under the yoke of his teacher, and an ancient Jewish writing contains the advice: “Put your neck under the yoke and let your soul receive instruction.”
That is the particular meaning Jesus seems to have had in mind here, because He adds, and learn from Me. Manthanō (to learn) is closely related to mathētēs (disciple, or learner) and reinforces the truth that Christ’s disciples are His submissive learners. They submit to Christ’s lordship for many reasons, among the most important of which is to be taught by Him through His Word. A yoke symbolizes obedience, and Christian obedience includes learning from Christ.
The power of salvation is entirely of grace and nothing of works. An unbeliever has neither the understanding nor the ability to save himself, just as a babe has neither the understanding nor the ability to help itself. But although good works do not produce salvation, salvation does produce good works. Believers are, in fact, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
But because Jesus is gentle and humble in heart, He gives rest, not weariness, to the souls of those who submit to Him and do His work. His yoke is easy, and His load is light. His burden is not like that of Pharaoh, who bitterly oppressed the children of Israel, or like that of the scribes and Pharisees, who burdened the Jews of Jesus’ day with a grievous legalism.
Christ will never oppress us or give us a burden too heavy to carry. His yoke has nothing to do with the demands of works or law, much less those of human tradition. The Christian’s work of obedience to Christ is joyful and happy. “For,” as John explains, “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Submission to Jesus Christ brings the greatest liberation a person can experience—actually the only true liberation he can experience, because only through Christ is he freed to become what God created him to be.
Thy precious will, O conquering Saviour,
Doth now embrace and compass me;
All discords hushed, my peace a river,
My soul a prisoned bird set free.
Sweet will of God still fold me closer,
Till I am wholly lost in Thee.
(William E. Blackstone)
Unbelief and a Wonderful Invitation
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Where did schools come from? Most people would answer by referring to the school established by Plato in Athens. Plato had studied with Socrates, but Plato was the first to offer a fixed course of study in one location extending over three or four years. Since Plato recruited his students from a public playing field on the outskirts of Athens, called Academus from the name of an athletic hero, Plato’s school became known as the Academy. The school passed from teacher to teacher and lasted for about nine hundred years.
Aristotle, who studied under Plato for twenty years, set up a school of his own, choosing as his site another public playing field called the Lyceum. The Greek word for these playing fields was gymnasium. It is interesting that from these two Greek institutions numerous countries have derived their names for a school. The Germanic nations call their primary schools gymnasiums, Frenchmen call their schools lycees, after the Lyceum, while English-speaking nations call many of their schools academies. The educational establishments of the Western world can be traced to these Greek schools, and millions of today’s students are the successors of those first Greek pupils.
Yet not nearly as many are in the school of Plato as are in the school of Jesus Christ. Jesus founded his school when he told those of his day, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30).
Refusing to Learn
Sadly, not all are willing to matriculate in Christ’s school. One of the problems with education today is that many students flatly refuse to learn. If we can carry the analogy this far, it might be said that this was true in the days of Jesus Christ, since the verses in which Jesus invites people to learn of him are in the middle of two chapters in which Matthew records three negative assessments of Jesus by such persons.
The first example of an at-least-partially negative assessment was that of John the Baptist. We looked at John in the last study. Jesus failed to fulfill John’s expectations of what he thought the Messiah should do, which was to bring judgment on the wicked of that day. So John sent disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). Jesus was the one, of course. He was not indifferent to evil. In the verses we are studying now he predicts a final judgment for those who refuse to receive his message (Matt. 11:20–24). Still, the time for that judgment had not yet arrived. Instead, it was the day for God’s grace, which Jesus proved by reporting how the sick were being healed and the poor were hearing the gospel.
The third example, which we will come to in the next study, was the hostile reaction of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, who thought Jesus was undermining their teaching, particularly about Sabbath observance. Theirs was a professional jealousy, and the bottom line of their jealous rejection was that they “went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus” (Matt. 12:14).
In the verses we are looking at now (Matt. 11:20–30), Jesus denounces the unbelief of the cities in which he had done most of his miracles. John’s doubt was not unbelief, but these people were not wrestling with doubt. They were completely indifferent, and their indifference was an expression of their utter disbelief. Jesus has done most of the miracles recorded by Matthew in Korazin, Bethsaida, and especially Capernaum. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5–13), cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Matt. 8:14–15), cast out demons and healed other sick people (Matt. 8:16), healed a paralytic (Matt. 9:1–8), raised a dead girl to life (Matt. 9:18–26), restored sight to two blind men (Matt. 9:27–31), and cast a demon out of a mute person, enabling him to talk (Matt. 9:32–33). Those are only a selection of the many great works Jesus did.
Still the people of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum would not repent of their sin and come to him, and he pronounces a judgment on them.
Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
Five Truths about Judgment
No one likes to think about judgment, and we are relieved that Jesus moves on from this point to talk about the electing grace of God and to issue a gospel invitation. Nevertheless, it is important to think about judgment sometimes, and this passage is one of the most helpful passages in the New Testament for understanding it. These verses teach us five difficult lessons.
- There will be a judgment. The reason we do not like to think about judgment is that we do not want to admit there will be one. We imagine that if there is a judgment, we will come out all right since we are nice people. Or we hope that if we are condemned, it won’t be so bad. Jesus does not treat judgment so lightly. He says it should be feared.
- There are degrees of punishment. One of the most frightening ideas in this passage is its teaching about degrees of punishment. Jesus says that as terrible as the judgment of Tyre and Sidon will be, it will not be as bad as the judgment of Korazin and Bethsaida. And as terrible as the judgment of Sodom will be, it will not be as horrible as the judgment of Capernaum. The people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom were wicked and will be rightly punished for their sins. But they had never heard of Jesus as the cities of Christ’s day had and thus would not suffer as severe a punishment as those cities.
- The worst sin of all is unbelief. We do not think this way, since unbelief is our chief sin. We prefer to point out the sins of others by observing how outrageous or inhumane they are. In your mind, who are history’s greatest sinners? Probably people such as Hitler, Idi Amin, Stalin, and, if we think back far enough, Genghis Khan or Nero. They are the sinners highest on our lists. Yet there is no record of the people of Korazin, Bethsaida, or Capernaum having done anything particularly offensive or inhumane. They were just people going about their business as we do. Yet they refused to repent and turn to Jesus, and Jesus said that their unbelief was a far worse evil than the sins of other notoriously wicked cities.
What was the root of their sin? Jesus suggests that it was pride and does so by linking the unbelief of Capernaum to the pride of the king of Babylon in verse 23. Verse 23 is an echo of Isaiah 14:13–15 in which the Babylonian king says, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.… I will make myself like the Most High” (v. 13). God informs this proud ruler, “But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (v. 15).
- God’s judgments take account of his contingent knowledge. This means that God’s judgments are based not only on what people have done but also on what they would have done if the conditions under which they had lived had been different. In this case, Jesus says that Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have repented if the miracles that had been done in Galilee had been done there. That is why their judgment will be less harsh. Or to put it another way, as D. A. Carson does in a comment that should be particularly sobering for us, “At the final judgment God will take into account not only North America’s and every North American’s moral standing and response to Jesus Christ and use of opportunities, as compared with, say, every Cuban’s use of the same—but also what both parties would have done if their roles and advantages had been reversed.”
When I think of the opportunities to believe in Christ that have been given to the people of America in our day, I tremble for America. And for you, if you have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ. No nation has ever had the opportunities to repent and believe on Jesus Christ as we have had. “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).
- God does not owe salvation to anyone. This is the final hard lesson of these verses. Although the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have repented and been saved if Jesus had done the miracles in those cities that he did in Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, he did not do them, and the people perished justly for their sins. We think God owes us mercy, but if mercy were owed, it would not be mercy. The only thing God actually owes us is justice, and we will get it if we do not commit our lives to Christ. God is merciful to many, but God owes mercy to none!
And yet God is merciful! This is a wonderful, uplifting, thrilling, and encouraging revelation. It is especially wonderful because it is our only hope of being saved. I think Charles H. Spurgeon was entirely right when he suggested that at this point in his teaching the heaviness that must have been on Jesus as he spoke of God’s judgment on the cities of Galilee lifted a bit and his brow must have cleared. For having spoken of judgment, Jesus turned to the subject of election—to God’s amazing, electing grace—and his words were a prayer, the tone of which is thanksgiving. As Spurgeon says, “with thanksgiving” is the only right way to think about election.
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (vv. 25–26).
When we talk about revelation, which is what Jesus says God’s electing grace gives, we need to acknowledge that there are two kinds of revelation. There is a natural or general revelation. This refers to the revelation of certain truths about God in nature. It is the kind of revelation Paul wrote about in Romans 1, saying that it is sufficient to condemn all persons because they do not follow it in order to seek out and worship God. Paul said, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (vv. 18–19). The response of unregenerate persons to this revelation is that “although they knew God [in this way], they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (v. 21).
The second kind of revelation, the kind Jesus actually speaks of here, is a personal or specific revelation by God to an individual as a result of which that person turns from sin and trusts Jesus Christ. Jesus says several important things about it: (1) the gospel—he calls it “these things”—is known to God only, since he alone is its author; (2) no one knows what God knows except Jesus, because the gospel has been committed to him by God and because, being God’s Son, he alone knows the Father; (3) it is the Father’s pleasure that the Son should reveal him to those the Son chooses.
This is an astonishing series of statements. In the first of these brief paragraphs the revelation is said to be given by God and according to God’s “good pleasure” (v. 26), while in the second paragraph the same revelation is said to be given at the discretion of the Son (v. 27). In other words, God the Father and Jesus are placed on equal footing, and what is affirmed of each is that the salvation of the lost is due entirely to their good pleasure. What is more, the revelation has to do with Jesus and his teaching, and it is made not to those who consider themselves wise and learned, which the citizens of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum must have thought they were. Instead of being given to such “wise” persons, it is given to those Jesus calls “little children” (v. 25). Jesus does not mean actual children, of course, though children are not excluded, but those who are humble enough to look to him for salvation.
The man who said this was either insane, a deceiver, or precisely who he claimed to be, which is how the great English apologist C. S. Lewis listed the options in Mere Christianity. Millions have wisely believed that Jesus is God and have trusted him for their salvation.
A Gospel Invitation
The chapter ends with a gospel invitation, an invitation to do what those who have believed in Jesus Christ have done. They have enrolled in Christ’s school in order that they might learn and believe all that he will teach them. Here Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (vv. 28–30).
It is difficult to think of an invitation more important or more gracious than this—and it comes from the lips of the one who has just pronounced the most withering judgment on the citizens of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. There are several reasons why this invitation is so gracious.
- The invitation is for everyone. Jesus’ words are for people of all ages, all nationalities, and all temperaments, and he calls them exactly as they are. We should emphasize this because we tend to think that Jesus’ call is for people who are somehow “suited” for religion or perhaps have “earned” a gospel invitation. But it is precisely here that the universal offer must be stressed, as it was by Jesus. Following Christ is, in a certain sense, the hardest thing anyone can ever do. But at the same time, it is possible for everyone, because Christ himself gives us the will to persist in our calling. What do you need to hear and obey the call of Christ? A hymn answers rightly:
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requires
Is to feel your need of him.
The citizens of Capernaum may have had their “felt needs,” as we do, but Jesus was not one of them. Therefore, they missed their opportunity and will perish in God’s judgment. Only the needy find salvation.
- The invitation is for those who are burdened by sin. The phrase “weary and burdened” does not refer to physical weaknesses or to what we might call the burdens of a difficult life, though it may include them. It chiefly refers to a sense of sin’s burden and the need of a Savior. The context makes this clear, for the earlier verses describe the rejection of John the Baptist and Jesus by the Jewish masses, followed by the Lord’s denunciation of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their failure to repent at Jesus’ preaching. They were not burdened by sin. They were getting along just fine. Still, there were people who were burdened, and these people believed that Jesus could lift sin’s weight and turned to him to do it. These people listened to him, trusted him, and found salvation. This is why times of great movement by God’s Spirit are also times of great repentance.
If you are awed by large numbers of professing Christians, regardless of the moral tone or spiritual usefulness of their lives, you will think this is a wonderful age, since, as the Gallup poll tells us, there seem to be more than fifty million born-again Christians in the United States. If you are impressed by large churches, you will judge ours to be an age of exceptional blessing, since we have built the largest auditoriums in church history. If you are impressed with money, you must be nearly ecstatic today, since more money is being given to Christian causes than ever before. Even the liberal churches report annual revenue gains, though their membership rolls continue to decline.
But if you are looking for something else—for a mature knowledge of God and real godliness in Christian people—and are bemoaning the accelerating moral decadence of our time, even within fellowships of professing believers, then you must grieve for the state of today’s church and sorrow for the lost. Where discipleship is present, people are sensitive to sin and turn from it. They turn to Jesus, where relief from sin’s dreadful burden can be found.
- The invitation is to learn about Jesus. When Jesus called his disciples to “follow” him, he was comparing Christianity to a path in which his followers were to walk, he going ahead of them. When he challenged his disciples to “learn from me,” he was comparing Christianity to a school in which he was to be both the subject matter and the teacher. This is the school in which every true believer has matriculated and in which a lifelong course of study is prescribed.
The Authorized Version of Matthew 11:29 translates the words “learn from me” as “learn of me,” thus making Jesus the subject matter of the Christian’s study rather than the teacher. This variation exists because the Greek preposition apo, which occurs here, has a variety of meanings, including “of” and “from,” and English has no exactly comparable word. Translators must choose one idea or the other when actually both may be involved. Here the root idea is knowing Christ himself, in the sense of John 17:3, where Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” But having come to know Christ himself, we also need to continue to learn about him in this school.
- The invitation offers rest for tired people. In fact, it offers rest twice. There is a rest that is given: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (v. 28). That rest comes instantly when we first trust in Christ. Then there is a rest that is found: “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” (v. 29). That rest comes as we increasingly learn to follow Jesus in our daily lives.
Jesus is the only rest you or any other poor, struggling, burdened soul will ever need. You may be laboring onward like Pilgrim, distressed at the burden on your back. No earthly master will lift that burden. Many will add to it. The majority will ignore it because they have burdens of their own. You need Jesus. He is the only one who can actually help you. Why not turn to him right now? Turn from all inferior teachers to the one who alone can teach true godliness and whose teaching will save your soul.
25 The Greek en ekeinō tō kairō (“at that time”) is a loose connective in Matthew (cf. 12:1; 14:1), loosely historical (it was about that time) and tightly thematic (this pericope must be read in terms of the preceding denunciation). Luke 10:21 has Jesus saying these words “at that hour” (en autē tē hōra; NIV, “at that time”) when the seventy-two joyfully returned from their mission, an event Matthew does not record. Luke’s connective relates to the success of the mission; Matthew’s assumes that there has been some success (God has revealed these things to little children) but draws a sharper antithesis between the recipients of such revelation and the “wise and learned,” who, like the inhabitants of the cities just denounced, understand nothing.
While exomologoumai soi (“I praise you”) can be used in the sense of “I confess my sins” (cf. 3:6), the basic meaning is acknowledgment. Sins truly acknowledged are sins confessed. When this verb is used with respect to God, the person praying “acknowledges” who God is, the propriety of his ways, and the excellence of his character. At that point, acknowledgment is scarcely distinguishable from praise (as in Ro 14:11; 15:9; Php 2:11; cf. LXX of Ps 6:6; 7:18; 17:50 et al.).
Here Jesus addresses God as “Father” and “Lord of heaven and earth” (cf. Sir 51:10; Tob 7:16). These are particularly appropriate titles, because the former indicates Jesus’ sense of sonship (see comments at 6:9) and prepares for v. 27, while the latter recognizes God’s sovereignty over the universe and prepares for vv. 25–26. God is sovereign, free to conceal or reveal as he wills. God has revealed “these things”—the significance of Jesus’ miracles (cf. vv. 20–24), the messianic age unfolding largely unnoticed, the content of Jesus’ teaching—to nēpiois miracles (cf. vv. 20–24), the messianic age unfolding largely unnoticed, the content of Jesus’ teaching—to nēpiois (“little children,” (“little children,” “childlike disciples,” “simple ones,” GK 3758; see Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 111; comments at 18:1–5; cf. Jn 7:48–49; 1 Co 1:26–29; 3:18); and he has hidden them from the “wise and learned.”
Many restrict the “wise and learned” to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but the context implies something broader. Jesus has just finished pronouncing woes on “this generation” (v. 16) and denouncing entire cities (vv. 20–24). These are “the wise and learned” (better, “the wise and understanding”) from whom the real significance of Jesus’ ministry is concealed. The point of interest is not their education, any more than the point of interest in the “little children” is their age or size. The contrast is between those who are self-sufficient and deem themselves wise and those who are dependent and love to be taught.
For revealing the riches of the good news of the kingdom to the one and hiding it from the other, Jesus uttered his praise to his Father. Zerwick (Biblical Greek, para. 452) argues that though the construction formally puts God’s concealing and his revealing on the same level, in reality it masks a Semitic construction. See Romans 6:17, which reads literally, “But thanks be to God that you were servants of sin, but you obeyed from the heart the form of teaching with which you were entrusted.” But this example does not greatly help here; for even when the construction is rendered concessively (“I praise you … because, though you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, you have revealed them to little children”), God remains the one who reveals and conceals.
Yet we must not think that God’s concealing and revealing are symmetrical activities arbitrarily exercised toward neutral human beings who are both innocent and helpless in the face of the divine decree. God is dealing with a race of sinners (cf. 1:21; 7:11) whom he owes nothing. Thus to conceal “these things” is not an act of injustice but of judgment—the very judgment John the Baptist was looking for and failed to find in Jesus (see comments at vv. 2–6). The astonishing thing about God’s activity is not that God acts in both mercy and judgment but who the recipients of that mercy and judgment are: those who pride themselves in understanding divine things are judged; those who understand nothing are taught. The predestination pattern is the counterpoint of grace.
25 In Luke 10:21–22 this saying begins with “In that same hour,” which links it with the return of the missionaries and their rejoicing that their names are written in heaven. Matthew does not make that connection, and so instead here “At that time” links the following declaration with the unresponsiveness of the people of Galilee, who exemplify the “wise and intelligent” from whom the truth is hidden. The very unspecific term “these things” must be understood in context of the whole revelatory process of Jesus’ ministry, both the truths he has taught and the truth about who he himself is. The division in response to Jesus’ message is here unambiguously traced to the will of God himself (see also the following verse); it is a matter of revelation to some and not to others, as 13:11–17 will more fully spell out. The basis of this division is not an arbitrary selection, but the fundamental principle of divine revelation, that it comes to those who are open to it, but finds no response with those who think they know better; with the “wise and intelligent” it is wasted like seed sown beside the path (13:4, 19). To describe this effect as God’s actively “hiding” the truth reflects the Jewish tendency to ignore intermediate causes and to attribute the end result directly to the divine purpose; we shall have more to say on this in relation to 13:11–17. If God is indeed “Lord of heaven and earth,” a form of address unique in the NT (though cf. Acts 4:24; Rev 10:6; 14:7) but typical of Jewish prayer, it is understood that what happens on earth, even in the minds of the human beings he has created, comes under his sovereign will.
The strongly Hebraic tone of the prayer is seen also in the word for “praise,” exhomologeomai, which occurs in only one other place in Matthew, where it means “confess” (3:6). Its use here reflects LXX usage, where the verb not only means “confess,” “acknowledge,” but also regularly translates the hiphil of the Hebrew yādaʿ, meaning to “make known,” “declare” the works of God, and hence to “praise” him. But while the tone of the prayer is thus familiarly Jewish, the address to God simply as “Father” breaks new ground. The imagery of God as Father of his people is not new, but while Jewish prayers might occasionally refer to God as “our Father,” as Jesus taught his own disciples to do (6:9), for an individual to address God simply as “Father” (presumably in the Aramaic form Abba, Mark 14:36) is, as far as extant records go, unprecedented. The familial tone of the simple “Father” in combination with the reverential “Lord of heaven and earth” provides a telling insight into the nature of prayer for Jesus.
“Wise” and “intelligent” are not in themselves pejorative terms. Indeed Jesus will speak in 23:34 of sending “prophets, wise people and scribes” as his messengers to an unresponsive Israel. But the wisdom which he has just celebrated in 11:19 and whose tones he will adopt in this pericope is not that of human cleverness but of divine revelation. Even the best of human insight which relies only on its own resources cannot penetrate the divine wisdom; it is “hidden” from it. By contrast, “little children,” precisely because they do not rely on their own resources, are open to receive the revelation; cf. the OT theme of wisdom given to the “simple” (Ps 19:7; 119:130 [in both of which LXX uses nēpios]; Prov 1:4 etc.). Nēpios, an “infant,” even a “babe in arms,” is a familiar NT image for the immature who remain dependent on others (Rom 2:20; 1 Cor 13:11; Eph 4:14); it is the opposite end of the human value-scale from the mature, self-confident adult. The unresponsive world may despise the humble disciple, but in the matter of divine wisdom as in so many aspects of the kingdom of heaven the first will be last and the last first; for a similar contrast, again using nēpios, see 21:15–16. We have already met in 10:42 the Matthean motif of Jesus’ true disciples as the “little ones,” and the theme will be resumed more forcefully in 18:6–14 as well as in the “least of these brothers of mine” in 25:40, 45.
Rest for the Weary
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:25–30)
When Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” even the happiest man, woman, or child here is thankful for the offer. For we all bear burdens. Consider some of the burdens we bear:
- We visit a couple we love and grieve when they speak most unkindly to each other. We worry about their marriage; we are burdened for our friends.
- We learn that a friend or mentor in a distant place has cancer. He may not live to the end of the year.
- We have a new job, helping a company improve its product. We thought we could help, and we certainly have the ability, but there are obstacles in the workplace that thwart every effort to turn things around.
- For some reason you cannot seem to get a good night’s sleep. You wake up every morning burdened by near exhaustion.
Jesus bids us to come to him, that he may bear our burdens and give us rest. It is one of the sweetest promises of Scripture, but to understand it we first must see that Jesus bears a burden—a burden he explains in Matthew 11:25–30.
When Jesus promises to bear our burdens, he does so at the end of a chapter that first revealed a number of hard truths. First, in Matthew 11 Jesus said that even a true disciple can suffer doubts and struggles (11:1–15). Second, many ordinary people are blind to God’s truth and hostile to it. In Jesus’ day, many Israelites were impossible to please. God sent John the prophet and they judged him fanatical. Then God sent his Son and they rejected Jesus for having too much fun (11:16–19). Third, therefore, Jesus pronounced judgment on the towns that witnessed Jesus’ miracles yet did not believe (11:20–24).
But as he considers the unbelief of the towns of Galilee, Jesus assesses the situation from a theological perspective. Even though so many Israelites are rejecting the kingdom, the Father remains Lord of heaven and earth because, Jesus says, he has “hidden these things from the wise and learned” (11:25). So Jesus broaches the mysterious topic of divine election—and praises the Father for it.
Jesus Praises the Father
We might expect Jesus to lament the sin of Israel, and he does. But he also praises the Father for revealing the gospel to children and hiding it from the wise. This praise is also a confession, a declaration of God’s nature. He is the Father, but lest anyone presume upon his kindness, Jesus adds that he is “Lord of heaven and earth,” Lord of all things. As Lord, he is sovereign. He is free to reveal or to conceal “these things” as he chooses. He has not hidden everything from everyone; we would not have the Bible or the church if he had. Rather, he has hidden the meaning of his miracles and the truths of the kingdom from “the wise.” But he has revealed the truth to “little children” (NIV), literally, to “babies” (11:25).
When Jesus’ first audience heard him mention “the wise,” they probably thought first of the Pharisees, but the wise also included any Israelite, Greek, or Roman who saw Jesus but did not believe. Today “the wise” means anyone who thinks he is self-sufficient, anyone who thinks Jesus has nothing to teach him. But babies know they depend on others. They are willing to be taught.
God’s Purposes Amidst the Rebellion of Israel
The spiritual question of the hour was this: Why did Israel respond so poorly to Jesus? The answer is twofold. First, Jesus says, it was their fault. Some were hard to please—fickle and spiritually lazy. Others had an academic consensus about the proper interpretation of Scripture and its laws. They were quite convinced of their orthodoxy and rectitude. But second, God hid the truth from those who claimed to be wise and revealed it to infants. He chose to turn the world upside down.
By this Jesus commends a childlike attitude. Some people think the commendation of children means that Jesus does not want us to bother with doctrine or with deep things of the faith. They say we must simply trust God and live by his commands. Anything more is superfluous. But this confuses the metaphor. Children are not thoughtless or foolish. Children think very hard about things that affect them, and so should we. Christians should have a child’s heart and an adult’s head.
Our clan recently had a family reunion. As preparations for the central meal came to their climax, some of the women started issuing crisp orders about who belonged in the kitchen, who could touch this or could not touch that, who should sit where, and so forth. The men, naturally, began cracking jokes about bossy women. Ten-year-old Andrew processed all this, then declared: “When I get married, my wife is never going to tell me what to do. I’m going to do whatever I want and she won’t say a word.” To this my fifteen-year-old daughter replied, “Well then, Andrew, you had better marry a mute.” Everyone laughed, except Andrew, who was pensive. Two minutes later, his face lit up and he declared, “Oh, I get it.” Andrew may have been naïve about the ways of marriage, but he was thoughtful and teachable. Similarly, God reveals his truth to those who are teachable, to those who know and lament their ignorance.
God’s Work of Election
Jesus describes the situation when he says God has “hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” But Jesus also rejoices over God’s will: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ ” (Matt. 11:25–27).
God does not, as Paul says, favor the noble, the rich, or the powerful (1 Cor. 1:26–30). Such people are prone to pride and the proud close their minds. They think they know everything, therefore they cannot receive the teaching of Jesus and Scripture.
Humans tend to seek splendor and honor. But God chooses to reveal his truth to ordinary people, to the poor, the uneducated, even the dregs of society. By human estimation, Western Europeans are the most sophisticated people in the world. But the faith is very weak in Western Europe. Each generation can also list the nations and regions of the earth that are poorest and least educated. In those places, the faith often grows and grows.
We should be humble, therefore, like little children. We must know our need of God’s grace and listen to him. God reveals himself as he chooses, but does not especially grant his blessings to those who are learned or accomplished. We do not come to faith through our skill, industry, or knowledge.
Of course, many who are noble and wise by the world’s standards do believe. In the end, God reveals and conceals according to his good pleasure. Some will say this is unfair, but we must be careful here. First, God is Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. We do not have the standing to criticize the almighty God. Second, we must not imagine that God looks at billions of innocent and hopeful humans and chooses to reveal his truth to and redeem some and to conceal his truth from perfectly fine people, so that they ultimately taste his curse.
God surveys a race of sinners. There is a veil over our eyes because we have placed it there. We are bent toward rebellion. Hateful thoughts, vainglory, selfishness, and foolish desires spring up unbidden. Sin runs through every cell. Every few months, the news outlets titillate the masses with tales of immorality among the most visible entertainers and political leaders of the land. It is always tempting to condemn the talented men and women who are guilty of immorality. But we have little right to condemn others. Whatever their follies, we are capable of many of the same sins. We are more like than unlike the sinful celebrities. Every human is a glorious ruin.
God relates to a world of sinners to whom he owes nothing except judgment. When he conceals his truth, it is not as though he erases a trail from honest hikers who hoped to climb God’s mountain. Quoting the Psalms, Paul says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away” (Rom. 3:10–12; Ps. 14:1–3). Therefore, it is no marvel that Jesus hides his truth from some. The marvel is that he reveals it so clearly to win so many.
Objections to Election
When people first hear of divine election, they commonly object that it seems unfair. It is unjust, some think, for God to reveal the truths that lead to life to some but not to others. But let us be careful to define fairness and justice. We can distinguish between what we may call retributive justice and distributive justice. Retributive justice grants everyone what they deserve, no more and no less. Distributive justice grants all parties the same treatment.
To illustrate, suppose a high school teacher gives a test that produces disastrous results. The highest grade, for her college-bound group, is 79 percent. The test itself was challenging but reasonable and timely. Unfortunately, it fell on the Monday after a big weekend, so that no one prepared properly. The teacher could simply give everyone the grade they earned, on a percentage basis, even if half the class failed and the highest grade was a C+. That would be retributive justice—everyone would get what they deserve. Or she could be merciful and add perhaps 15 points to all the tests to get fairly typical results.
But suppose the teacher took another approach and said, “The grades are entirely too low; therefore, to raise the grades, I am going to add 20 points to all the girls’ scores, but none to the boys’.” The boys would exclaim, “That’s not fair.” This cry is true in one way, but not in another. The teacher deprived no one of retributive justice. No boy received less than he deserved. Every boy got precisely what he deserved and nothing less. The boys complain about distributive justice: the teacher distributed mercy or favor to some students, but not to others.
The teacher’s method roughly resembles the ways of God. She treats everyone fairly in the sense that no one receives less than they deserve. But God does grant some far more than they deserve. The Lord does not bestow his favors equally to all. We need only survey society to see that some people are stronger, brighter, taller, prettier, and more confident than others. Some people get the breaks; they are always in the right place at the right time.
Perhaps this seems unfair. But God certainly has the right to build diversity into his creation. We ought to respect his work and give thanks for the variations that make life spicy. He also has the right to grant his favors as he pleases. God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15; Ex. 33:19).
God has the right to reveal his truth as he pleases. He has revealed his power and attributes to mankind in the pages of nature, but mankind has suppressed and perverted his truth (Rom. 1:18–25). He has the right to hide “these things from the wise and learned” and to reveal “them to little children” (Matt. 11:25–26). If we object to this, we object to the power and deity of the Lord. God is good and powerful and has knowledge we cannot fathom. He does as he pleases, and he always acts in a manner that expresses his eternal moral excellence.
So let us never chafe against the power and will of God. Rather let us join Jesus and praise the Father for all his works—his works of salvation and his works of justice. Let us join Jesus and praise the Father for revealing and concealing his truth. Further, we should praise him for committing all his power and knowledge to Jesus.
Jesus Declares His Power and Knowledge
God is Creator and Lord of all humanity. He is a Father to all who believe in him. Yet there are a unique intimacy and love between God the Father and Jesus the Son. Jesus is not just a son of God; he is the Son of God. No one knows each other like a family that has lived together, in openness, for a long time. Since the Father, Son, and Spirit have been together, equal in deity and in perfection, for more than a long time, the Father and the Son know each other perfectly.
Furthermore, as the Father reveals his kingdom and his gospel, according to his plan and pleasure, he makes the Son the unique instrument of revelation.
Since no one knows the Father as does the Son, Jesus is perfectly qualified to reveal everything committed to him by the Father. Further, the Father authorizes the Son to reveal things that no mortal can know. The Father bids the Son to reveal his truth to those “whom the Son chooses” (11:27). As the eternal Son of God, Jesus reveals the secret things of God as the triune God pleases.
Some things remain hidden (Deut. 29:29). For example, we do not know how God created the universe. Bound by space and time, we cannot fully know God’s relationship to space and time. We do not know why God chose to make a covenant and enter a relationship with Abraham, of all people, and Israel, of all nations. We do not know why he chose to redeem us or to bless any particular church.
God keeps his own council, but his will is never capricious or unreasonable. He created the universe with wisdom and power. He accomplishes redemption in love and faithfulness. If he chooses not to reveal himself to some members of this rebel world, he does so in justice and in a way that never destroys human choice or responsibility.
Some say the doctrine of God’s providence leads to fatalism. That is, if God determines the course of history, our choices and actions are meaningless. But no. God cares about us and governs history personally, so that he never violates our will. Rather he works in and with our will, so that his purposes are also our choices.
Suppose God plans that a young man should become a railroad engineer. He may place a children’s book about railroads, well illustrated and well written, to pique the boy’s interest at an early age. Later, a teacher with an interest in railroads will nurture that interest. Later, the young man will meet someone who will become his sponsor as he prepares to catch a break so he can enter the field. So God’s plan, the young man’s interests, and the interests of the moral agents whom he encounters all coincide.
Objections to God’s Providence
Some say the doctrines of election and predestination are the enemies of meaning: if God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, our actions have no significance. But no, the divine decree is the enemy of nihilism. Nihilism asserts that the universe is the product of impersonal material forces plus time plus chance. Nihilists say our choices are blind in the present and meaningless in the end. Beyond that, they may all have been determined by impersonal forces in advance. But if God is sovereign, the Lord invests himself in every moment, every action, every choice. That is hardly an absence of meaning. Some might think it entails too much meaning. Everything matters! God witnesses even the smallest act. If we take a break from work to look at a flower or a bird outside the window, even our pause falls within his purview.
People also say the doctrine of election spells the end of evangelism. If God enlightens and saves whomever he wills, the need, the urgency, for our evangelistic efforts fades away. But no, the providence of God liberates evangelism. It means the burden for success does not lie upon the evangelist. We need not worry about results. We must simply tell the truth and leave the outcome to God. God may at any time be pleased to work through our word to bring someone to himself. Surely that motivates evangelism.
When I was a young pastor, I taught myself a new system for presenting the gospel. The system required training and a mentor, but I thought I could learn it independently. The presentation was somewhat complicated, with quite a few set steps. It is hardly a surprise that the first time I tried the presentation on a young couple who had recently visited our church, I botched it at several points. At the end, I presented the prescribed question, “Do you want to receive the gift of eternal life?”
Without hesitation, without consultation, both the husband and the wife immediately said yes. I was startled. I wanted to say, “How can you say yes so quickly? Don’t you know that I inverted the order of two major segments and butchered the final illustration?” But God was drawing them to himself and chose to use my poor words to bring this man and woman to himself. They had thought about God often, but knew they were missing something. The gospel made sense and they believed.
If anyone thinks divine election spoils our evangelistic efforts, he need only look to our passage. In 11:25 Jesus says God has hidden “these things” from the wise. In 11:26–27 he says he and the Father reveal the truth as they please. In 11:28, he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.”
Notice the word “all.” Jesus invites all of the weary to come to him. The offer goes to all. Among them, God will draw many to himself. They will come to the truth and Jesus will give them rest. Again, this shows that God’s sovereignty does not thwart evangelism; it promotes it.
God has a plan of redemption that he will accomplish. He started with Abraham, he worked with the nation of Israel in good times and bad, and he finished his work through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Because he executed his plan, he can offer us rest in Christ.
Jesus Offers Rest To The Weary
Jesus invites the weary to find rest in him. Yet he also invites the weary to work, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). The metaphor of a yoke comes from agriculture, where farmers place a yoke on animals to harness their strength to plow fields or bear burdens. When Jesus says, “Take my yoke,” he means “Lift it onto your shoulders.”
In the Old Testament, the yoke became a metaphor for Israel’s bondage, when Babylon conquered the land and Israel had to serve their foreign conquerors (Jer. 27:2–7; 28:10–11; Isa. 14:25). But the yoke could also mean any service to a master, including a good one. Some rabbis spoke fondly of the yoke of service to God and his law. One saying declared, “He that takes upon himself the yoke of the law, from him shall be taken away … the yoke of worldly care.”
But the law, as the rabbis taught it, was a burden for most people, for the rabbis put heavy burdens on people’s backs, in two ways (Matt. 23:4). First, the rabbis concocted all kinds of laws that were meant to ensure that one never broke the law. Imagine it in these terms:
- Drunkenness is a sin. Therefore, one must never drink alcohol.
- It is best, to avoid temptation, not even to use wine or sherry in cooking.
- To avoid impurity, one must always check the ingredients of all prepared food. At restaurants, we must also inquire about cooking wine.
- Just in case a restaurateur would give an erroneous answer to the question above, the faithful should not even dine at a restaurant that has alcohol on the premises.
Now drunkenness is a sin and alcoholism is a plague, but we must wonder if such rules about fermented drink would improve the life of an earnest disciple. The rabbis did not promote these imaginary rules about alcohol, but they did have rules about tithing and the Sabbath that had this style. For example, they said a righteous man must never eat food given to him by a common man for it might not be tithed. And he must never buy food sold by a common man, unless he tithes it before eating, just in case it was not tithed before it was sold.
As for the Sabbath, a man could write a two-letter word, but not a three-letter word on the day, for three letters would constitute labor. As for food, he must lay out everything he might want to eat or drink on the Sabbath on the night before the Sabbath, lest he work. Clearly, such rules devised by men and not given by God, readily become burdens.
But the second burden imposed by the religious laws of Jesus’ day was even greater. The Pharisees demanded that the Jews, plus any Gentiles who wished to know God, must undergo circumcision and follow the food laws of Moses in order to be saved. Further, they said God had given enough grace that a good person could and should obey the law with a faithfulness that demonstrated covenant loyalty. This obedience was considered necessary for salvation.
At the Jerusalem Council, convened to discuss these matters, Peter asked the Judaizers, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). So the law became a burden (11:28). Jesus lifted that load. He perfectly obeyed the law; now he offers his obedience to all who trust in him, not in their own acts of fidelity.
There are still more burdens that weigh us down, and Jesus would lift them as well. We suffer from guilt over past sins and remorse over past errors. We bear the weight of fear—fear of illness and of failure, and of adversaries. We bear a load when we think we must pretend to be someone who we are not. We bear a load when there is a chasm between who we are and the persona we think we must project, when there is dissonance between our way of life and our image.
Jesus invites us to come to him and rest from all the pretense. In Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Because God has revealed the truth to us in his Son, we should both rest and labor in it.
Once we rest in Christ, our work changes. The cure for a heavy burden is not to have no burden, but a light burden, the right burden. Jesus knows the right burden. He offers rest not by inviting us to do nothing, but by leading us to the right activities. Two things wear an active person down: having too much work of the wrong kind (tedious meetings, for example) and having no work at all. Jesus is gentle. He gives the right kind of work. That is how his yoke is good and his load is light. Jesus’ way is easy in at least four ways. First, his commands correspond to reality. They work. Second, his commands are consistent. They cohere with each other. They hold together through all the layers of life—bodily life, spiritual life, and emotional life. Third, his commands are clear. We know what he expects of us. Finally, labor for him is a labor of love. It is sweet work, as the toil of loving newlyweds is sweet when they prepare favors for one another.
Jesus’ offer is sweet and light. He has drawn us to himself, has revealed the truth to us. If that is his good pleasure and you have responded to it, then you should both rest in it and labor in it.
Jesus the Son of God (11:25–30)
By all indications, 11:2–24 reports events of a single period. These closing verses are closely joined chronologically to the rest of the chapter: ‘At that time Jesus answered and said …’ (11:25a). The present passage is also connected theologically to the preceding, especially to verses 16–24. The picture of verses 16–17 does not apply to every Israelite of ‘this generation’: some of them are not childish in that way, but rather childlike in their response to the Father. Nor have all the inhabitants of those cities (11:20–24) remained unrepentant: as already observed, some have heeded the message of the kingdom (4:17) and have submitted as little children to the Father’s benevolent rule. Moreover, among those to whom the Son now offers rest (11:28–30) are people who heretofore have spurned his grace and refused to repent.
The Father and His Children (11:25–26)
Jesus said: ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, because this was your good pleasure.’
- The Father’s disclosure
Jesus’ repeated address, ‘Father’ (pater, then patēr), anticipates his words in 11:27 about the relationship between Son and Father. This address also recalls the prayer in 6:9–13, which likewise begins with pater. It was noted there that the Son’s relationship to the Father is unique, but also that disciples are granted an inexpressibly deep communion with the Father because they belong to his Son. Matthew 11:27 will witness to both those realities.
‘These things’ (tauta) which the Father has hidden from some and revealed to others (11:25) are the ‘mighty works’ of which Jesus has just spoken (11:20–24). In one sense, of course, Jesus’ works were on display before all: those cities are judged because they witnessed these miracles but still refused to repent. Yet in another sense they saw these mighty works but did not perceive their meaning (note the use of these verbs in 13:14), despite Jesus’ accompanying verbal explanations (e.g., 9:6; 12:28). As this prayer makes plain, the external evidence from the Son must be augmented by internal light from the Father. A human being cannot understand truth about God the Son unless God the Father reveals it (11:25b: the verb apokalypto). One such ‘little child’ was Simon Peter: he confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16:16), because Jesus’ Father had graciously disclosed this very truth to him (16:17, where apokalyptō recurs).
- The Father’s good pleasure
In 11:26a, Jesus acclaims the action just described: ‘Yes, Father [nai ho patēr].’ He then explains why the Father conceals that truth from some, and reveals it to others: ‘because [hoti] this [or thus: for the adverb houtōs] was your good pleasure [eudokia]’ (11:26b). This eudokia may be considered in two ways, both based on the fact that the One who shows such favor is ‘Lord of heaven and earth’ (11:25a).
- God’s sovereign initiative. It is the Father’s ‘good pleasure’ to reveal saving truth about his Son to those he has chosen for salvation, namely to his elect ones, and to withhold it from others. It is these eklektoi whom the angels will gather from the four winds at Jesus’ second advent (Matt. 24:31). Correspondingly, at his Son’s first advent God commissioned a multitude of angels to proclaim ‘peace among those with whom he is pleased’ (Luke 2:14, esv)—or, ‘peace to men of [his] good pleasure [eudokias].’ In the language of Paul, God ‘has predestined us for adoption as his own sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his good pleasure [kata tēn eudokian] and will.… He has made known to us the mystery of his will, in accordance with his good pleasure [kata tēn eudokian autou] which he purposed in Christ’ (Eph. 1:5, 9 [as translated by Lincoln 1990: 9]). The ground of salvation lies nowhere but in the Father’s good pleasure and saving purpose. It is because the Father has granted them light and insight that the disciples respond favorably to Jesus’ mighty works. The Son’s praise for the Father’s sovereign work (Exomologoumai soi, ‘I thank you’ [Matt. 11:25a]) anticipates the doxological theology of Eph. 1:3–14.
- God’s sovereign response. The Father also acts in accord with what he perceives in the human heart (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 138:6; Prov. 3:34). So on the one hand it is his eudokia to hide (the verb kryptō) truth about Jesus ‘from the wise [sophōn] and intelligent [synetōn]’ (Matt. 11:25b). It is not wisdom and intelligence as such that God opposes (how could we think so after reading Proverbs or 1 Corinthians?), but rather intellectual pride. Competitive as it is by nature, pride suppresses truth about God (he being the most serious threat to the proud) and instead makes human reason the final arbiter of truth. Is not a prime explanation for certain Jews’ opposition to Jesus, their reason’s inability to fathom—and therefore its unwillingness to accept—that Jesus is both God and man?10 Such thinking is not only a cause of God’s judgment but also a consequence. God resists these proud persons (cf. James 4:6) by hiding from them the truth about his Son. Does not their indifference to his mighty works (Matt. 11:20–24) show how foolish they are? Does not the charge of 12:24 betray the speakers’ stupidity? Yet on the other hand it is God’s eudokia to give grace to the humble (James 4:6 again): he reveals (the verb apokalyptō) truth about Jesus to ‘the childlike’ (nēpioi, Matt. 11:25c). Jesus here speaks figuratively (hence this translation for nēpioi rather than ‘little children’), as in 18:3, where he says listeners must ‘become like little children [paidia]’ to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is not a call to become innocent (even paidia become selfish without the least instruction), but to be trusting and teachable, helpless and dependent, in the presence of truth from God—or, in the language of Matthew 11:29, ‘meek and humble in heart’ (cf. 5:3, 5). The only hope for ‘the wise and intelligent’ is that they become ‘childlike’ in this sense. Let them acknowledge their sinful folly (1 Cor. 3:18) and humbly entreat God to grant them the true wisdom.
With both those paragraphs in view, we may observe (i) that both the judgment against ‘the wise and intelligent’ and the salvation of ‘the childlike’ are foreordained by God; (ii) that the cause for the election of the latter and not the former lies not in human behavior (whether pride or faith), but solely in the eudokia of God’s sovereign will; (iii) that the pride of ‘the wise and intelligent’ is to blame for God’s hiding truth from them; (iv) that the faith of ‘the childlike’ is God’s appointed means for the salvation of his elect; and (v) that ‘the Lord of heaven and earth’ is hereby praised, both for his justice (in the condemnation of the wicked) and for his mercy (in the salvation of his elect).
- Praying to the Father
How might the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 11:25–26, viewed together with that of 6:9–13, affect our own prayers? a. At the very moment Jesus uttered the words of verses 25–26, there were perhaps thousands of other prayers being offered to God. One of ‘the childlike’ might well ask: ‘How can God hear all those prayers at one time?’ But this Father is different from earthly fathers who may have difficulty listening to two children at once. He is ‘the Father in heaven’ (6:9), ‘Lord of heaven and earth’ (11:25). He is not imprisoned within time but reigns above time. He is not in fact listening to ‘all those prayers at one time’; on the contrary, he ‘has infinite attention to spare for each one of us.’ b. Since perceiving the truth about Jesus depends on revelation from the Father, let us boldly and persistently ask him thus to illuminate our unbelieving friends. Will not their salvation achieve the Father’s will on earth, cause his name to be hallowed, and advance his rule (Matt. 6:9b–10)? Who knows how many of those scornful skeptics and proud professors are among God’s elect? c. Having witnessed the salvation of ‘the childlike’ (including some from the ranks of ‘the wise and intelligent’), let us too give thanks to the Father (11:25) for his goodness and grace.
The Father and the Son (11:27)
The linguistic simplicity of this text is matched by its theological profundity. ‘All things [Panta] have been entrusted [paredothē] to me by [hypo] my Father, ‘begins Jesus. The neuter plural panta signals a manifold endowment: the Father so loves the Son that he gives all things into his hand. The Father bestows the Spirit of wisdom and might (Matt. 3:16; 12:18 [cf. Isa. 11:2; Luke 4:18]). The Son is thus empowered to work miracles (chs. 8–9; 11:20–24 [the panta of v. 27 recalls the tauta of v. 25]; 12:28). He is also equipped to teach (chs. 5–7, 10). The verb in 11:27a, paradidōmi, was used to denote the transmission of sacred tradition (so, e.g., in 1 Cor. 15:3); but whereas ‘the tradition [paradosis] of the elders’ (15:2) was traced from one authorized rabbi back through another, through the men of the great synagogue (in the post-exilic time) to Moses, Jesus receives instruction directly from his Father (note the preposition hypo)—the One who imparted the Torah to Moses in the first place. This is one reason Jesus’ teaching possesses an authority lacking in that of the scribes (Matt. 7:28–29), which is to say that among the panta which the Father grants the Son is the universal authority (pasa exousia) of 28:18. Yet foremost among those panta are people—as is clear from the prayer of 11:25 (with its reference to ‘the childlike’), the remainder of 11:27 and the appeal of 11:28–30 (with its masculine pantes [11:28a]).
Jesus continues: ‘and no one knows [epiginōskei] the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know [epiginōskei] the Father except the Son’ (Matt. 11:27b). Jesus affords a glimpse into the incomparable and incomprehensible communion between Father and Son. In the verb used here, ginōsko (‘know’) is prefaced by the preposition epi. In some such compounds the preposition intensifies the meaning, so that epiginōskō might be rendered ‘fully know.’ But a simple ‘know’ (as in the above translation) suffices: sometimes the adding of a preposition does not affect the meaning of the verb; the parallel in Luke 10:22 uses ginōskō; and the rest of Matthew 11:27 shows this to be the fullest and deepest knowledge imaginable. Moreover, it is plain from other texts (i) that the language of ‘knowing’ expresses not just intellectual recognition but the love that Father and Son have for one another; (ii) that the Holy Spirit participates in this holy communion; and (iii) that the knowledge of 11:27c–30 is based on and akin to, but not equivalent to, the knowledge of verse 27b; i.e., that believers will truly know God, but not in the very way the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit know each other.
The sentence concludes: ‘and anyone to whom the Son wills [boulētai] to reveal [apokalypsai] him’ (11:27c). Knowledge between the Father and the Son is incomparable, but it is not exclusive. Each reveals to human beings truth about the other: this aorist infinitive of apokalyptō recalls the aorist indicative of this verb in 11:25; in each case persons receive instruction from the One who best knows the other. The Son’s ‘willing’ (the verb boulomai) corresponds to the Father’s ‘good pleasure’ (eudokia, 11:26); and it is implied that the Son reveals the Father to the very kind of people the Father chooses, namely ‘the childlike’ (nēpioi, 11:25). Nor do 11:25 and 27 represent different curricula: as Matthew 11:27b itself reveals, it is vital not only to know the first and second persons in the Godhead, but to know them as Father and Son, i.e., to know the relationship between them.
The Son and His People (11:28–30)
Jesus’ words in 11:25–26 are a prayer to the Father; those of verse 27 are a declaration in the hearing of the crowds (cf. 11:7). Jesus now appeals directly to his listeners: ‘I will give you rest … you will find rest’ (11:28–29). Verses 28–30 are clearly to be interpreted in the light of (and, by all indications, were spoken at the time as) verses 25–27; and as noted on page 626, these closing six verses are joined both chronologically and theologically to the rest of the chapter, especially to verses 16–24.
‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened [pantes hoi kopiōntes kai pephortismenoi], and I will give you rest [kagō anapausō hymas]’ (Matt. 11:28). Jesus addresses persons who toil under burdens others have imposed on them. Scribes and Pharisees ‘tie up heavy burdens [phortia], hard to carry, and place them on men’s shoulders’ (23:4); lawyers ‘burden [phortizete] men with burdens [phortia] hard to carry’ (Luke 11:46).
While human commands are doubtless included (cf. Matt. 15:1–9), the principal ‘burdens’ are God’s own laws. Do not the scribes and Pharisees ‘sit on Moses’ seat,’ and does not Jesus command his followers to practice what they teach (23:2–3a [words spoken just before the censure quoted above])? Are not God’s laws far weightier than man’s (Acts 15:10)? Does not the law Jesus condemns in Matthew 15:5 relieve people of the burden of honoring their parents (15:4, 6)? In light of all that, Jesus makes his present appeal; most significantly, he first calls burdened people to himself (‘Come to me,’ 11:28a), and only thereafter to his law (‘Take my yoke,’ 11:29a). ‘And I [kagō] will give you rest,’ he promises (11:28c). Otherwise, trying to keep the law—even God’s law—will bring you toil and misery. Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5); in my power, you can do all I require (Phil. 4:13). The help other teachers refuse (Matt. 23:4b), I will provide (11:28–30). Those teachers’ hearts are far from God (15:4); I know and love the Father as does no other (11:25–27). As Jesus also exemplifies love of neighbor, he issues this invitation to faithful law-keepers who, loving God and desiring to obey him, feel the weight of his commands most acutely; to transgressors of the law who will not or cannot bear its burdens; to scholars and teachers of the law whose own disobedience (23:3) reveals law-keeping to be a greater burden for them than might appear; and to persons (including some of the above) who heretofore have spurned or opposed his witness (11:16–25).
‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, because I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves’ (11:29). 1. The yoke. A yoke (Greek zygos, Hebrew ’ōl) on one’s neck and shoulders was a means for bearing a load. Used figuratively, the term could denote both servitude to an oppressive master and service to Yahweh—who is also praised as the One who frees his people from the yoke of slavery.28 Jewish sources from Jesus’ time and afterwards speak of serving Yahweh as accepting ‘the yoke of the law’ or ‘the yoke of the kingdom.’ Accordingly, verse 11:29a—‘Take my yoke [arate ton zygon mou] upon you’—is a command to submit to God’s rule as Jesus proclaims it, and to God’s law as Jesus expounds it. The expression ‘my yoke’ (mou is a genitive of possession) reflects Jesus’ unique authority as Yahweh incarnate to establish that rule and to interpret that law. 2. The teacher. In commanding listeners to wear his yoke, Jesus appears to be increasing rather than lightening their load; for God’s laws as expounded by the New Moses (e.g., 5:17–48) are the weightiest of all. For this very reason, Jesus directs attention on the character of the teacher himself: ‘and learn from me [mathete ap’ emou], because I am meek and humble in heart [hoti praus eimi kai tapeinos tē kardia]’ (11:29b). This is the sort of language Jesus used in the beatitudes: the plural of praus occurs in 5:5, and tapeinos tē kardia is very close to ptōchoi tō pneumati, 5:3 (and the Son who knows the Father, 11:27, is utterly katharos tē kardia, 5:8). That is, Jesus identifies himself as a person who needs, trusts and obeys God (see pp. 313–20). Unlike the teachers of Matthew 23:3, he submits to God’s rule and keeps his commands. He chiefly instructs his students by embodying the truth he expounds (see p. 322–24); he himself is his most potent lesson. He, the lowly Servant, deals gently and mercifully with the weary and the erring (12:17–21; 9:13; cf. the Servant’s words in Isaiah 50:4). Himself ‘meek and humble in heart,’ he is not too proud to bear the burdens of the frail and the fallen (Matt. 8:17; 20:25–28; contrast 23:4b). Moreover, in his meekness (prautēs) he conquers the powers of darkness. And since the Son discloses his Father (11:27b), those who study Jesus learn that the Father too is ‘meek and humble in heart.’ 3. The rest. Once you obey those commands—‘take’ (arate) and ‘learn’ (mathete)—‘you will find rest for yourselves [tais psychais hymōn]’ (11:29c). Disciples find rest (the noun anapausis) because Jesus gives rest (the verb anapauō; 11:28); and paradoxically, they find rest by ‘taking up Jesus’ yoke’—by obeying his commands.
What better example than the fourth commandment, which dominates 12:1–14? One experiences the sabbath rest precisely by keeping the sabbath command; and it is rest not just for the ‘soul’ (so most translations of 11:29c), but for the body as well. Yet, this only happens for persons intimately related to ‘the Lord of the Sabbath’ (12:8). In Jesus’ hands, the law is an instrument of grace, a guide for loving God and neighbor. Wielded by alien powers (demonic or human), the law becomes enslaving and destructive.
‘For [gar] my yoke [ho … zygos mou] is easy to wear [chrēstos], and my burden [to phortion mou] is easy to bear [elaphron]’ (Matt. 11:30). Joined to the preceding by the opening gar, this verse further explains the rest promised in 11:29c. The yoke and the burden are distinguishable but inseparable: ‘the function of a yoke (the sort worn by humans) is to make a burden easier to carry.’ In verse 30, the ‘yoke’ stands for Jesus’ commands, and the ‘burden’ for the law keeping he requires. Both remain his: each instance of mou here, as in verse 29 (ton zygon mou), is a genitive of possession. This means both that Jesus himself keeps his commands, and that he helps his people to do so (see again John 15:5; Phil. 4:13). To the latter end, he imparts to them his empowering Spirit (see, e.g., Gal. 5:16–6:5; Rom. 8:1–17). Therefore, his commands are ‘not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3).
Jesus’ overture of grace (Matt. 11:28–30) is sounded in the presence of persons already threatened with condemnation (cf. 11:6, 16–24). If they refuse this invitation, what hope can remain for them?
Inviting others to come and serve (11:25–30)
It is interesting that, precisely at the point where Jesus is reflecting on those who have rebelled against his ministry, he says, ‘Thank you, Father.’ We are (rightly) thankful when people do believe; Jesus is thankful even when they remain stubborn and rebellious. The source of his thankfulness is the fact that God is sovereignly in control of all these matters.
This passage is profoundly important for our understanding of the effectiveness of the gospel, as well as for our approach to gospel evangelism. On the one hand, Jesus emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God in the matter of salvation. No one can be saved apart from God revealing himself to sinners. And God reveals himself only to those sinners whom he chooses. It may be a difficult doctrine but it is unmistakeably part of the gospel of Jesus: ‘no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (v. 27). Jesus’ choice of us precedes our choice of him.
Yet no one is saved without choosing Christ. That is why, on the other hand, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation is to be taken hand in hand with the full and free offer of the gospel, written so majestically in these words: ‘Come to me’ (v. 28). Jesus offers himself and promises rest. He promises freedom from sin’s burden under his own yoke. His call is not to the strong and self-sufficient, but to the weak and the weary. These are the twin themes of all our gospel work: the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. These are not equally final: we must always give the priority in the work of the gospel to God’s absolute sovereignty. But we must do so in a way that also does justice to the responsibility of each one of us to respond to the voice of the King.
11:25–26 / The final section of chapter 11 (vv. 25–30) comprises three rather separate utterances: a thanksgiving, a soliloquy, and an invitation. The major question raised by commentators regarding these verses has to do with authenticity. It is commonly held that the high Christology of the passage, combined with similarities to Gnostic thought, places its origin at a later period. Beare comments, “This meteorite from the Johan-nine heaven (von Hase) is undoubtedly a theological (christological) composition from the hand of an unknown mystic of the early church” (p. 266). The following discussion holds (with Green) that the material is integral to Matthew and to its context (p. 119).
Jesus gives thanks to his heavenly Father for revealing to the childlike what is hidden from the proud. The opening of his prayer of thanksgiving, Father, Lord of heaven and earth (v. 25) resembles Ben Sira’s prayer, “I will give thanks to thee, O Lord and King” (Sir. 51:1). The wise and learned are the scribes and Pharisees, the official guardians of Israel’s wisdom. Paul speaks disparagingly of the “scholars” and “skillful debaters of this world,” noting that according to the Scripture, God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars” (1 Cor. 1:19–20, gnb). The little children (“babes,” av) are the followers of Jesus who, unimpeded by preconceived ideas of how God should act, respond with simple faith to Jesus and his mighty works. It is paradoxical but true that study can separate a person from truth as well as bring a person to truth. It is the attitude of the learner that determines the result. It has always been God’s gracious will (v. 26) to resist the proud but give grace to the humble (James 4:6).
11:25 hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father (11:25–27) the twin motifs of revelation and hiddenness come to the fore. Matthew will highlight these themes across this section of his Gospel (11:1–16:20) and will particularly focus on them in the Parables Discourse (13:1–53). Given the hiddenness of the kingdom (its “not yet” quality), revelation and corresponding faith are needed in order to receive the word of the kingdom. Jesus’ prayer also signals the reversals of the kingdom: those who respond favorably to the kingdom message and messenger are unlikely recipients (as already at 5:3–10). Those of low status and who lack understanding—here exemplified by “little children”—will receive revelation about the kingdom (see comments on 18:2). Those expected to respond with understanding—“the wise and learned”—will experience the kingdom as hidden from them.
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