Pastoral Devotion May 19, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

There is no doubt we are living in strange and unsettled times.  For most of us, recent events with the coronavirus, and all that has been associated with it, have shown us how quickly the circumstances of life can change.  I pray that during this time, we would realize that our hope is in Christ and Christ alone. Our reliance must not be on ourselves, as we can see how much we are not in control.  Even for Christians, it can be tempting to fall into fear, anger, sadness, or despair as we dwell upon the current situation.  There are people, maybe even ourselves, suffering economic loss and hardships due to no fault of our own.  The situation can seem overwhelming at times. May God be our great Comfort.

And as Christians, we know and regularly affirm that God is in complete control of the situation and to that I give a hearty, “Amen!”  But sometimes God can seem far away, removed from our plight. Oh, we know He will not leave us nor forsake us, but sometimes we struggle with personally applying this great truth to our lives.  God is transcendent (above the events of the day), but He is also immanent (in and through the events of the day).  I often struggle with the second aspect of this.  I want to look at a passage that is designed to show that God’s love and care is for us right here and now at a very personal and intimate level.

Matthew 11:28-30  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

These are the very words of our dear Savior Himself.  In their context, Jesus is preaching to great crowds, mostly to Jews.  Some disciples of John the Baptist were also present, inquiring as to whether Jesus was the Messiah. He explains that if they have ears to hear, He is.  He then turns His attention toward some prominent unrepentant cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  He expresses judgment for their defiant unbelief.

Jesus then declares that it is to the humble, the “little children” in verse 25, that God had granted belief in Jesus and His gospel.  Then, in our passage verses 28 and 29, we find out why.  The entire passage is encouraging and glorious. Jesus tells the predominantly Jewish audience to come to Him as He will give them rest for their souls.  They have had heavy burdens placed upon them for generations.  Pharisees and others had twisted Judaism to impose many unbiblical rules and regulations upon them.  Their ancestors were once slaves in Egypt and now they were subjugated by their own system of religion, as well as subject to the harsh Roman government. Jesus is calling sin-laden, burden-bearing, broken and humble people to Himself for rest for their souls (verse 29)!

Now it is here that I want us to pay attention.  Here is where I think we often get tripped up. I know I do. We see the big sweeping picture of God’s plan of salvation and know God is working it all out.  We know “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  We glory in it.  God is worthy of our trust and our worship.  But, sometimes we can’t quite connect this grand cosmic plan to our lives and our struggles.  Even in our Matthew 11:28-29 passage we can miss something crucial.  We know Jesus is loving and compassionate.  We see this demonstrated over and over in the gospel accounts.  He singles out both rich and poor who humbly trust Him for healing and even resurrection from the dead (Luke 8:40-58); He heals the marginalized and crippled, as well as forgives sins (Matthew 9:1-8); He even restores sight to the blind (John 9:1-41).  But here in Matthew 11:29, Jesus says something about Himself that is remarkable.  He says, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart…”  Jesus, the Messiah, the second person of the Triune Creator of the universe makes the astonishing declaration that He is gentle and lowly!  Let’s look at this more closely.

Jesus is gentle in heart.  His very nature, His very heart, and the core of who He is, is gentleness.  This word is used only three times in the New Testament.  One time is in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:5 where he proclaims, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  Also in Matthew 21:5, quoting Zechariah 9:9, a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”  Christian, your Savior’s very essence is meekness.  He is forbearing, patient, tender, and has a soothing disposition!  How wonderful is this?  Dane Ortlund writes of this, “Humble. Gentle. Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.”  His heart is disposed to soothe and take care of those who humbly come to Him!

Jesus is lowly in heart.  There is overlap with these two concepts of “gentle” and “lowly”.  Both have been translated as “humble” in certain biblical contexts. For example, in James 4:6 the Greek word is translated as “humble”.  “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  But in other passages it is translated as lowly.  James 1:9 translates it, “let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation.”  The word carries with it the idea of low degree, modesty, one who has been afflicted.  Jesus is glorious and grand and full of splendor and holiness, for certain.  But here, in this passage Jesus says of Himself that He is lowly.  The point being, especially in contrast with all of his detractors and those who are high and lofty and tie up heavy burdens upon people’s backs and consciences, Jesus is not like that.  He knows affliction and temptation, and He stoops down to us in our weaknesses, pains, and fears. He is accessible and relatable.

Dear saints, do you think about the Lord Jesus in this way?  You should.  His very heart is one of intimate gentleness and accessibility.  When you are burdened with sin and doubt and fear, He welcomes you into His loving and kind embrace.  Jesus is actually quoting Jeremiah 6:16 when he says in verse 29, “you will find rest for your souls.”  In the context of the Jeremiah passage, Jeremiah 6:16-21, Israel was experiencing disaster because of her own sinful disobedience.  God, in his humble grace, invited them to find rest by asking, “where the good way is; and walk in it.”(Jeremiah 6:16).  They would then “find rest for their souls.”  Here in Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites those in the crowds to come to Him, gentle and lowly as He is, to find rest.  He is inviting them into an intimate union and bond.  They were not required to do anything but come to Him with His light burden and easy yoke.  They would find rest.

Brothers and sisters, as we navigate through these times, may we find great application and comfort for us in this passage.  Jesus, majestic and lifted up as He is, is not beyond the scope of our burdens and fears.  He is not aloof to our afflictions and sufferings.  He is not looking for us to mess up so He can wag His finger at us.  His patience and gentleness with us is infinite and perfect. He is not critical of us as we try to make our way.  Our natural inclination is to think this is the case.  We think we need to impress Him.  We think we need to have it all together.  But Jesus is saying to us, “Come to Me.” He does not recoil at our neediness, but because He is gentle and lowly, He desires to draw us in and provide comfort and encouragement and rest for our souls.  Our neediness, fragility, and humility are what we need in order to come to Him.

Dear Christian, are your burdens, spiritual, physical, financial, emotional, or otherwise too much for your burdened soul to bear?  Your Savior has carried those burdens.  Sinless, spotless – yet His entire earthly life and ministry was marked by gentleness, humility, love, and compassion.  He went to the pain of the cross and died a sinner’s death for the sins and burdens of you and me. As our high priest, Hebrews 4:14 and 15 tell us concerning Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  God is sovereign and not caught off guard by events or actions of governments, politicians, and medical professionals.  At the same time, Jesus is near and He is full of grace and compassion and mercy.  In Colossians 3:3, Paul says of believers, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Believer, you are safe.  Your life, come what may, is hidden with Christ and wrapped up in God.  He has your back and desires to give you peace and rest and comfort. Run to Him and live in His embrace today.


In His loving grip,

Greg Ferreri