I’ve often thought that the language of Jesus in Matthew 11:28 requires greater specificity. Jesus’ invitation for weary and heavy laden people is not given to the physically beleaguered as much as it is to the spiritually destitute. Jesus gives rest to sinners who have come to feel the weight of their sin. This, I have thought, is the best way to take this passage, and thankfully I am not alone.
In his sermon on Matthew 11:28, Christ the Only Rest for the Weary, George Whitefield takes the same line of thought and aims Christ’s text towards those who are overcome with sin, weary and heavy laden with the burden of guilt brought about by unforgiven sin. To be sure, this spiritual plight leads to physical exhaustion (see Psalm 32), but make no mistake, it is spiritual and related to one’s standing before God and not just physical and one’s standing on the earth.
Thus, consider Whitefield’s illuminating remarks on Jesus’ words.
SECONDLY, I am to show you what it is to be weary and heavy laden with sins.
1. You may be said, my brethren, to be weary and heavy laden, when your sins are grievous unto you, and it is with grief and trouble you commit them.
You, who are awakened unto a sense of your sins, who see how hateful they are to God, and how they lay you open to his wrath and indignation, and would willingly avoid them; who hate yourselves for committing them; when you are thus convinced of sin, when you see the terrors of the law, and are afraid of his judgments; then you may be said to be weary of your sins. And O how terrible do they appear when you are first awakened to a sense of them; when you see nothing but the wrath of God ready to fall upon you, and you are afraid of his judgments! O how heavy is your sin to you then! Then you feel the weight thereof, and that it is grievous to be born.
2. When you are obliged to cry out under the burden of your sins, and know not what to do for relief; when this is your case, you are weary of your sins. It does not consist in a weariness all of a sudden; no, it is the continual burden of your soul, it is your grief and concern that you cannot live without offending God, and sinning against him; and these sins are so many and so great, that you fear they will not be forgiven. (Lee Gattis, ed., The Sermons of George Whitefield, 1:362–63)
Friend, take account of your soul. Is it weary with sin? Surely, it is. The only question is if God has granted you perception of it. Ask God to make you acutely aware of your spiritual condition and then find comfort in Christ. All who are wearied by sin are invited to find rest in him.
This is why Christ came—to befriend sinners and to remove from them the weight of sin and replace it with a yoke (his yoke) which is light and easy. This is what Jesus promises in Matthew 11:28 and why he invites all to come to him and find rest.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds