Jesus invited all who were weary and burdened to come to him and promised that he would give them rest (Matt. 11:28ff). This was then, and continues to be, a welcome and attractive offer; an overwhelming majority of individuals experience soul-destroying, life-quenching exhaustion from the labor and troubles characteristic of life on this planet. Desperate for relief, multitudes have responded to Christ’s offer, seeking the promised rest. Sadly, only a portion of these finds this radical relief, the experience of revitalization. Some of the disappointed retain their membership and languish within our churches, while others relinquish their faith, often uncertain whether their inability to obtain their soul’s rest resided in a personal flaw or fraudulent claims made by Christianity’s proponents.
Perhaps the problem is located in the failure to hear Jesus’ entire saying on the matter. His promise is completed with the words, “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 promised rest is contingent upon accepting the yoke.
In Hebrew parlance, “taking the yoke” referred to becoming the disciple (a learner, a student) of a particular rabbi. As a student, the disciple assumed a humble and teachable stance, a quiet (as opposed to contentious) spirit that did neither disputed nor contested his rabbi. The student sought to master the rabbi’s teachings, assimilate his instructions and wisdom, copy his actions and ultimately “form” himself (develop his character) in the image of his teacher.
With this being said, it is clear that the rest Jesus’ promised came as a by-product of accepting Christ as teacher and incorporating his teachings. As Jesus remarked, “ You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am “ (Jn 1313). For seekers of the promised rest, the question remains, “What are the critical elements of Christ’s teachings
While Jesus frequently taught in parables, whose meanings are not always immediately transparent, his essential teachings can be extracted from those parables, the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, his private instructions to the disciples, and his life of radical compassion and grace. These teachings, when incorporated into the heart and life of a believer, form the basis of the rest that he promised.
The following underscores the major points of Jesus’ teachings, and thus grants us insight into one needs to learn from him:
1. God, the Source of all creation, the Giver of life, the Great redeemer and Judge of the nations, is love. God’s love, the essence of his being, is all-inclusive and accompanies every being no matter where they may be or personal merit.
2. Believe God, the Alpha and Omega. Believe God that he is love and that love will have the final word when all things are brought to completion. God, who assumed flesh and was born as Jesus, did so in order to demonstrate his nature and clarify the Law of love. Jesus’ life of compassion, redemption and restoration was God’s fullest revelation. Even more clearly than nature and Scripture, Jesus, who claimed that he could only do what he saw his Father do, revealed that God is always at work healing, and would give his own life rather than to have harm befall us. As Jesus would ask, what greater demonstration of love is there than that he laid down his life for us?
3. Trust that God’s love and grace are sufficient to carry a human through any situation. While expecting to encounter tribulations, clear that the faithful are not exempt from the calamities that befall humankind, be alert to God’s mercies and grace. Be assured that God finds ways to bring blessings from every situation, whether we can perceive them or not. Trust that God keeps his promises, and those that ask for his good gifts will receive them, those that seek his will shall find it, and that the door to God’s house will always be opened to those who knock. With Job and Jesus, know that God can be trusted with one’s life and spirit even to the grave.
4. Embrace God’s law as the transcript of his character, a revelation of the elements of peace and well-being. Allow the Law to be written on the heart and rule over all actions. God’s Law, whether found in the 10 commandments and summarized by the dictum, “Love God, and your neighbor as yourself,” or as fully incarnated in Jesus, is the Law of love. Love was Jesus final instruction to his disciples, and he presented it as a commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another” (Jn 13:34). To love God is to love the Law, the law that Jesus embodied, and keep the commandments. “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15). As the law is God’s description of the life-path that connects earth to the heart of Heaven, embracing the Law allows one to journey with God from here into eternity. “I am the way,” claimed Love’s incarnation.
5. Accept your own and others’ humanity. We are wonderfully and fearfully made, in God’s image with the capacity to give and receive love, to build up or set aside, to create and sustain beauty and grace. We have the ability to imitate God’s generosity, inclusivity, acceptance, good-will and forgiveness. We can reflect his love and use our energies to care for the planet and its peoples, to heal the broken-hearted and liberate the captives. We can be stewards of the earth and participate in the redemption of the willing. And yet, we are limited, finite mortals, not God. Unlike God, we do not possess limitless time, energy, power, nor control. We are dust and soon return to the earth. Life is short and wisdom is hard-won, so we must proceed with must proceed with humility and compassion for self and others. We are not in the position to pronounce judgments on others: we do not fully know even ourselves. God alone is the worthy judge.
6. Stay on the path. “He has shown you, O human, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act just, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Love for one another is not primarily an emotion; it is a prescription for how to live. Every transaction needs to be fair and just, leavened with compassion and goodwill. Each person we encounter must be viewed as God’s valued child whose well-being is connected with our own. This includes those who define themselves as enemies and seek to do us harm. For these, go the second mile, hoping that the additional time spent together will afford an opportunity for us to be a conduit of grace to them. Pray for them, responding with compassion rather than seeking retaliation. Accept difficult people and events as opportunities to demonstrate the power of God to bring peace where discord reigns.
7. Remember what is valuable and what is not. We have been given the wondrous creation, God’s ever-present love, and the delight of companionship. Gifted with the ability to touch and heal the hearts of others and the wounds of the planet, to be witnesses to the restorative power of God’s love, we can find our rest in knowing that who we are, what we can do, and what we have is enough. Our lives matter, whether short or long, and our deeds matter, whether public or private. What lasts is the love that we give away, so we must continually cultivate our own hearts that we may have love to give. Each becomes a leader, and great in God’s eyes, when compassionately serving, tending to the needs and wounds of others.
Sabbath retains a vital role in the rest Jesus promised as a training ground for disciples. The Sabbath offers a prime opportunity to celebrate the life of freedom and peace that flows from heaven to us. It provides a space in time to review our own hearts, renew our vision, and recharge our energy. It is a day of worship and fellowship, of tasting the first-fruits of the kingdom. It is a day when we as an assembled group acknowledge that God is God and we are beings in his image, each valued and loved, equal before the throne.
Sabbath’s biggest contribution to our walk may come in the process of “remembering” it throughout the week. Sabbath defines the rest of the week: it establishes the vision and sets the tone for the days that follow. Keeping the Sabbath, we journey from rest to rest, from celebration to celebration of God our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, and of our design in His image. It remains a memorial to Love, and a promise of a day when love will rule. It is the weekly rest that foreshadows everlasting rest and joy in and with God.
What do we gain by reviewing Jesus’ essential teachings? We learn that the major obstacle to the longed for soul rest is the illusion that other things are more important than love. It is love that we need, and that love flows like a river from the throne of God. It is the acceptance and adoption of love as our life-style that brings the desired rest. When love is our master, life’s burdens are light. There remains rest for the weary, peace for the beleaguered, joy for the sorrowful. The yoke of love wears lightly. It replaces the world’s heavy burdens as we sit at Jesus’ feet and learn how to live in love from the Great Heart of the universe.