Responding to Rejection (Matthew 11:25-30)

Published on Sunday, 10 September 2017 18:32
In this set of verses, we see the response of Jesus to the circumstances he was facing. The verses highlight three things – a prayer, an explanation of his role, and a most gracious promise to those who were burdened. We can see how observing this and listening to what he said would help and encourage the disciples as they listened to what he had to say.

Prayer

Not many of the prayers of Jesus are recorded. Most of us are familiar with his prayer for his people in John 17, a prayer that is much longer than the one recorded here by Matthew. This prayer is connected to the situation that the Saviour was facing as attitudes towards him began to change among the people in general. It is striking that he prayed when the opposition increased, and what is also striking is the particular petitions he made. His prayer is one of thanksgiving.

The first detail that we see is that Jesus addressed the Father by two names – Father and Lord of heaven and earth. One describes the intimacy of their relationship and the other affirms the sovereignty of the Father. The title ‘Father’ reveals an eternal relationship whereas the name ‘Lord of heaven and earth’ recognises a position that is connected to what happens in the created world. He is Lord of heaven and earth even although rebellion was expressed in heaven by the devil and had been present on earth since the Garden of Eden and the fall of Adam. Nevertheless, the Father was still in charge.

In the prayer, Jesus gives thanks for the Father’s twofold response to the hearers of Jesus. Regarding some, the Father hid the gospel from them, and regarding others he revealed it to them. I suppose when he refers to the wise and understanding, he means those who were wise in their own estimation; and when he refers to little children, he probably does not mean only literal children, but all those who became like little children and accepted what they heard from Jesus. Here we have an example of the consequences that Paul later describes concerning people who heard the message – for some, it was a savour of life to life, and for others it was a savour of death to death.

The Saviour mentions that this response was gracious. We may be surprised at this description initially, but then we should ask what it was that made some believe the message. The answer to such a question is that God graciously brought it about and enabled them to accept what Jesus was teaching about the kingdom. Those who have tasted the salvation of God always recognise that they did so because the Lord showed mercy to them.

We should also observe that Jesus was delighted with what had occurred. Luke, in his account of this prayer, mentions that Jesus was rejoicing as he prayed (Luke 10:21).

Purpose

Jesus now summarises his role, which can be summarised by the words ‘receiving’ and ‘revealing’. The receiving is described in the first clause of verse 26: ‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father.’ This statement concerns a decision made in eternity when the Father entrusted to the Son the work of redemption. He is the Mediator whose roles will involve providing salvation for his people and judging the remainder. It must have been extraordinary for people to hear an individual, who looked very ordinary, say such an incredible statement. But he had more to say that was surprising because he then highlights his unique role.

Jesus claims two things: first, no one knows who he really is but the Father; second, normally no one knows the Father but Jesus, and to whom whoever Jesus chooses to reveal the Father. Of course, in making those claims, Jesus was saying that he was equal with the Father in ability. We can put them together and say that the Father revealed through Jesus the great truths of the gospel. There was divine harmony as they conveyed the gospel to sinners.

Promise

Matthew here records one of the great gospel texts that has often been used to encourage sinners to draw near to Jesus. His words are a call to discipleship and they also indicate who the ‘little children’ are. They are the ones who come to him for spiritual blessings.

First, we can think about who Jesus means by those who labour and are heavy laden. Among them would be the many people in Israel who were trying to please God by obeying the ceremonial law with all its demands. Peter was later to call this attempt a burden that was too heavy to bear (Acts 15:10). It was endless and demanding, and very easy to fail to keep.

Then there would be those who were trying to obey the instructions of the Pharisees, with all their many additional laws. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for imposing such laws on people (Matt. 23:4). Instead of functioning as shepherds who led people to the pastures of refreshment that God provides, they were like slave drivers who made life intolerable. They produced a religion that was marked by self-righteousness and misery, and they often go hand in hand.

Another type of person who can be described by such terms are those who find life in general to be hard. Life is laborious and brings into lives all kinds of burdens. Sadnesses and disappointments abound for many people. The variety of such experiences is very wide.

Jesus says to all such to come to him and if they do he will give them rest. Rest here refers to inner satisfaction and release of burdens. The burdens that he wants to remove is the burdens connected to being separated from God. All the searching in which those people had engaged in had been merely an accumulation of heavy burdens.

What does it mean to come to Jesus? It does mean taking a step, but it is not a step that is measured in feet and yards. Instead it is moving away from all those attempts to find satisfaction and security towards Jesus. This journey is made by faith, and it can take less than a second to make contact with him. As we make the journey, we repent of all those previous attempts or refusals to come to Jesus for his blessing.

At the same time, the weary sinners recognises the welcome he will receive from Jesus. The word ‘come’ points to Jesus accepting sinners with his arms wide open. We have no real grasp of the great delight he experiences when a person comes to him for mercy. He told his disciples in a parable that there is great joy in heaven when a sinner is converted. We are welcome to come to Jesus Christ. 

Process

The Saviour then reveals the path of discipleship. When an individual followed a religious teacher, the decision to do so was usually described as taking on the yoke of the teacher. I suppose the reason behind the description is that a follower would do everything the teacher required. Discipleship is a journey of submission, but then it all depends on what the teacher is like.

This leads us to ask what kind of teacher is Jesus. He must have anticipated this response because he goes on to describe his method and his character. His method of teaching is always personal – ‘learn from me’. We can see that would have been the case literally when Jesus was here, but how can he teach us personally? The answer to that question is that he does so by the Holy Spirit, who takes the teachings of Jesus in the Bible and explains them to us in our minds. The presence of the Spirit is almost like having Jesus inside us rather than having him outside us, as was the case when he was with his disciples.

The character of our Teacher is that he is gentle and lowly in heart. Pupils who want to learn respond to a gentle instructor, but would be frightened of one who threatened them. They also recognise that the more a person knows the humbler he is. How much does Jesus know? As God, he is omniscient. He knows everything about his disciples and is able to instruct them according to their capacity.

The teaching that Jesus gives brings rest into their souls. This should lead us to ask what are the subjects he teaches to his disciples. There are many of them, so we can only mention a few of them. He informs his disciples about the salvation he has provided and they discover that it is far bigger than they first imagined. His description of God’s gracious plan brings assurance to their hearts.  

Jesus also instructs his disciples about the fact that the heavenly Father is sovereign and is always working everything for their good. There is no doubt that on many occasions they wonder at what is happening in their lives, especially when things go wrong and when nothing seems to make sense. On such occasions, they should remember that the Father has not forgotten them, but instead is focussed on preparing them for roles he has for them in the future.

The Saviour also informed them of the wonderful relationships they would have with God and with one another. They would become the children of God and all the members of his kingdom would be brothers and sisters of each other. As God’s children, they could pray to him as to a Father.

The disciples of Jesus also heard him explain to them how they could live for the glory of God. He informed them that the Holy Spirit would work in their lives to renew them and change them. Instead of being servants of sin, they would love righteousness. Instead of being selfish, they would love mercy.

Jesus also delighted to instruct his followers about the world of glory that would yet appear. He told his disciples that it was the Father’s good pleasure to give to them the kingdom. The day was coming when they would find themselves in a perfect world without any of the consequences of sin. This new world would be their home for ever.

The reality that those disciples would discover is that the yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light. Obviously, there is comparison here with the burdensome requirements of religious teachers and with trying to live for God without grace in operation in one’s life.

At the same time, Jesus is saying that his yoke is comfortable – we can imagine how difficult it would be for an animal to be attached to a yoke that did not fit. In contrast, the requirements that Jesus makes fit exactly and suit those who follow him. They delight to obey his commandments.

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