A USA Today article confirmed what I’ve been thinking: I’m tired. I’m tired of bad news, the 24-hour news cycle, shootings, Congress, Tweets, screens, talking heads, arguments, and politics. I’m tired of zealots, protests, terrorists, bombings, and assassinations. I’m tired of hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards with names, missile testing, election meddling, special investigations, and dictators. And it turns out I’m not alone. We’re all exhausted, according to that Jim Beckerman article, and it’s not getting any better.
Doctors report we’re losing sleep, gaining weight, and suffering anxiety in greater numbers. We toss and turn and fret and work up a sweat. “There is a sense of danger,” one therapist said, “that we’re living in very dangerous times.” And no one is predicting relief anytime soon. Which makes these words all the more important:
Come unto me.
If any period in biblical times seems to mirror our own, it’s the first century, especially in Israel. A massive empire is in charge, a foreign power ruling from a distance, but the Pax Romana seems a farce. The peace of Rome? What peace? Troops march in the streets of all the major cities to keep a lid on the boiling pot. And in Jerusalem, the local government is threatened by activists plotting political and religious takeover. Thinkers are searching for solutions, and regular people want deliverance. Not even their religion offers relief. If anything, it only adds to the weight they carry, piling rules upon rules, and making daily life harder.
In this environment, Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden.” That is an address to an ample and ready audience. What he says next is especially nervy: “I will give you rest.”
The text in Matthew 11 is familiar and beloved. The rest Jesus offers is from the burden of religion. The Ten Commandments weren’t enough; the Jewish teachers had mounted up 613 rules for daily living that still couldn’t keep adherents in right relationship with God. The yoke Jesus offers is his own teaching, by comparison easy, like well-fitting shoulder gear, and lightweight.
But it’s not only a new teaching the itinerant rabbi offers. Jesus gives himself as a living example.
“Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”
In The Message, Eugene Peterson phrases it this way: “Are you tired? Worn out?…Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
In times like these, we need especially to keep company with Jesus. The answer for our trying times is not to add more strident voices to the cacophony, but to follow the example of Jesus, who, by his definition, is gentle and lowly. When we spend time with Jesus, learn more of Jesus, and live like Jesus, we find real rest.
As the writer of Hebrews points out, we’ve been seeking rest since God’s people fled Egypt.
“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people…Let us then make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:8-9, 11 CSB).
For believers, there is rest in eternity, but in the spirit of “abundant life,” there is rest now as well. The key, I think, is “keeping company.”
This scene in Matthew isn’t the only time Jesus invited his followers to escape the fray. “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest awhile,” Mark recorded as Jesus’ response to a frantic season of ministry (Mark 6:31). His disciples were so busy tending and teaching that they didn’t have time to eat. Jesus, the rest-giver, declared a Sabbath.
Sounds good to me.
On a country road outside the small town where my mother grew up is a white wooden church on the flat top of a rise. It’s called Pilgrim’s Rest. Halfway to the next largest town, it seems a good place to pull the wagon off the road and give the horse a drink, before attempting the second half of the journey. Here, pilgrims rested. And a few learned to live there permanently.
Perhaps that’s what we need in these tiring times: to pull off the road, camp out with Jesus, and rest awhile.
Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.