A Vindication, a Warning, and an Invitation
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities…Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:1-30)
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples,” after he had commissioned them and sent them out to the various cities in Jerusalem and Judea to preach the gospel of his grace, “he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities” (v. 1). Our Master sent his original preachers out in pairs to preach the gospel in all the cities of Israel. Then, it seems, he followed them in person, to confirm their message by his own word of instruction. Thus, in the mouth of two and three witnesses, every word was established (Matt. 18:16; Deut. 17:5).
Notice the words “their cities!” That is an unusual expression. It appears that wherever the Lord sent a pair of gospel preachers, he gave the city to them. That city became their responsibility and their possession in a strictly spiritual sense, as the peculiar and particular domain of their labors. As the Lord Jesus entrusted Jerusalem to the hands of Peter and James, so he entrusts to each of his servants the care of his church wherever he places them (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Then, at the time appointed, Christ will come to take his sheep from the hands of his servants into his own hands. What a privilege that man has to whom the Son of God entrusts the care of his people, and what a responsibility!
In this chapter we will hear the Lord Jesus speaking to a great, mixed multitude of genuine believers, curious, questioning people, religious hypocrites, unconcerned unbelievers, and weary sinners in need of his mercy and grace. In these thirty verses our Lord Jesus vindicates the ministry of John the Baptist, warns men against despising the gospel, and graciously invites weary, heavy-laden sinners to come to him for rest.
A Word for a Troubled Disciple
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (vv. 2-6).
John the Baptist was in prison for honestly telling Herod that his intention of taking his brother Philip’s wife was unlawful (Matt. 14:4). He must have realized, perhaps by special revelation from God, that he would never be released. He was soon to be executed. Because of his testimony for Christ, the greatest preacher the world had ever known, except for the Lord Jesus himself, was beheaded.
Perhaps, in his low condition, when his heart was heavy, John began to doubt everything he had believed and preached. I know some strongly object to the idea that true believers sometimes have doubts and fears. They confidently assert, “He who doubts is damned.” But that just is not so. Many of God’s dear saints have a weak faith that is often troubled with doubts and fears. And many who are very strong in faith are sometimes weak. Gideon asked for a sign because he doubted. Elijah fled from Jezebel because he feared. Peter temporarily went back to his fishing career because he thought all hope for him was lost.
It is not our faith that saves us, but Christ, the Object of our faith. Weak faith is not necessarily false faith. And strong faith is not necessarily true faith. What, or rather, Who is The Object of your faith? That is the question! If your faith is pitched upon the Lord Jesus Christ alone, be it weak or strong, it is true faith.
To give John the assurance that he sought, he pointed this troubled heart to three things. First, the Lord Jesus pointed John and his disciples to himself and to his works (vv. 4-5). Then he pointed them to the Scriptures, the Holy Word of God (Isa. 29:18; 35:4-6; 42:6-7; 61:1). Finally, he pointed John the Baptist to his own persevering allegiance to him (v. 6). Those who endure to the end, who follow Christ unto death, who are not offended at him, with him, or in him, have evidence of grace in them.
Yet, I am of the opinion that John’s question was intended not for himself, but for the benefit of his disciples. Perhaps he sent his disciples to the Lord Jesus because he wanted to have them see for themselves the power and glory of Christ. Perhaps he wanted to put an end to the jealousy that had arisen between his disciples and the Lord’s disciples. Perhaps he sent his disciples to the Lord Jesus, as his dying act, to urge them to cleave to Christ alone. Whatever his reason, I cannot imagine that John himself had any doubts concerning Christ. He had given clear testimony to the Redeemer’s person and work, being convinced of God regarding him (Matt. 3:13-17; John 1:29-34). He sent his disciples to the Lord Jesus that they might be personally convinced of him.
Whether John’s action here indicates a time of doubt and unbelief on his part, or on the part of his disciples, what a gracious testimony the Lord Jesus here provides for his poor, doubting, fearful disciples, who, in the absence of other evidences, can still say they love him, even when their behavior denies him (John 21:17). The Lord God says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” He does not say, “When you see the blood.” He saw the blood before you did. He saw the blood when you did. He sees the blood now. He sees the blood better than you ever can. And he will see the blood, even if the time comes when you cannot see it!
A Word of Vindication for His Prophet
“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (vv. 7-15).
People are always curious about a preacher who is a bit unusual, who does not fit the mold of what men think a preacher should be, or who creates a stir among men. The same thing was true in that day. People were curious about John the Baptist. When they went out to hear him, they expected to see and hear a preacher just like the others they knew, perhaps one who could preach a little better than the others. They expected to see a timid, unstable, vacillating “reed shaken with the wind.” (v. 7). They went out to hear John, expecting to see a worldly, pampered, easy living man (v. 8). But when they met and heard John the Baptist, for the first time in their lives, they met and heard a prophet of God. John was a bold preacher of repentance. He was a self-denying prophet of God, content to wear camel’s hair, rather than gorgeous robes. More than a prophet, John was the forerunner of Christ. He was that Elijah of whom Malachi spoke (vv. 9-15).
Robert Hawker’s comments on verse 10, as compared with Malachi’s prophecy are excellent…
“I conceive the 10th verse to be the most weighty. If the reader will turn to the Scripture, which the Lord Jesus quotes from his servant, the Prophet Malachi, (Chap. 3:1), he will discover a very striking difference in the manner in which Jesus useth the words; from what, they are there. In the words of the Prophet, it is Jehovah the Lord of Hosts speaking to the Church concerning John. He shall prepare the way before me. But here, as the Lord of his temple, Christ is spoken to on the same subject. Now the words are, “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” What a decisive proof of the Oneness in the divine nature, in the me and thee. Jehovah’s way and Christ the Mediator’s way is one and the same. And what can be more full in pointing to the Godhead of Christ? And hence it must undeniably follow, that the way of both, being one and the same; He who is the Lord of his temple and the Angel of the covenant is One, with the other Persons of Jehovah, in nature, in essence, in way, will, and work, in property, honor, and worship; and in all the divine attributes, perfections, and glory! Hail! thou Almighty Jesus, whom all thy people delight in! Oh! for ears to hear what the Spirit saith concerning time to the Churches!”
All God’s prophets are the forerunners of Christ. As the Lord Jesus vindicated John, so he will vindicate and honor all who serve his interests in this world (1 Sam. 2:30). He will honor his servant in time by honoring his labors, blessing them to the hearts of his people. And he will vindicate and honor his servant in the day of judgment (Matt. 15:34). Let no servant of God despise “the day of small things.” At his own appointed time and in his own appointed way, God honors those who honor him (2 Cor. 2:14-17).
A Word About Preacher Critics
“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (vv. 16-19).
In every generation (and in most local churches) there are many carping critics who are convinced that it is their unique calling to nit-pick everything a faithful gospel preacher declares. They are totally unconcerned about the glory of God, the gospel of his grace, and faith in Christ. They can never be taught anything, because they know everything. In a word, they are lost religious men and women, acting like peevish, pouting children playing games (vv. 16-17). They always find convenient excuses for not hearing God’s messengers. The Pharisees thought John was too strict, so they refused to hear him. They thought the Lord Jesus was too loose, so they refused to hear him (vv. 18-19).
The fact is neither the sweet melody of grace and salvation by Christ, nor the terrible thunders of the law of Moses have the least influence on the unregenerate heart. The silly behavior of ignorant children is a striking illustration of a lost religious man’s obstinacy to the things of God. From such obstinacy only God the Holy Spirit, by omnipotent grace, can deliver a sinner.
A Word to Those Who Hear the Gospel
“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (vv. 20-24).
Every time I read these verses of Holy Scripture, two striking facts are forcibly driven home to my heart by the Spirit of God: (1.) God almighty is totally sovereign in providence and grace. He sends the gospel to whom he will! And (2.) the most heinous wickedness in this world is the sin of unbelief! Those people who hear the gospel and yet believe it not are guilty of the greatest evil in the world. They may be moral, descent, and respectable in behavior before men; but before God they are guilty of crimes far more abominable than the idolatries of Tyre and Sidon, and more vile than the homosexuality of Sodom. That crime is willful unbelief (Pro. 1:23-35; 29:1). In the light of what is said here of Chorazin and Bethsaida, and the great woe pronounced upon those cities, which were favored with such high privileges and regarded them not, I cannot help thinking, “What horrid condemnation awaits this generation in hell!”
A Word of Praise and Thanksgiving
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (vv. 25-26).
Here the Lord Jesus gives thanks to his Father and ours for the distinguishing grace bestowed upon chosen sinners. While hiding the wonders of redemption from “the wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21), the Lord reveals his mercy unto the humble and the lowly. Salvation comes by divine revelation. But this revelation of grace never comes to any but those who receive the Word of God by faith as humble children. God will never lift up any by his grace until he has brought them down to need his grace. He will never teach any until they are made to see that they need to learn of him.
Our Savior here assigns to God’s own appointment, decree, and sovereign pleasure alone the cause of salvation. “To all the bold and presumptuous reasonings of the human mind, which have been or may be hereafter brought forward, against the exercise of Jehovah’s sovereignty,” Robert Hawker wrote, “the answer is direct. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ Surely the Lord is not called upon to give account of the motives of his holy will and pleasure to any of his creatures. One thing we know, namely, that ‘his counsel and purpose must stand, and he will do all his pleasure,’ and that all He doeth is right. His conduct towards his creatures is by an unerring Standard. His mercy is not moved by any good in us, neither is it kept back by our undeservings; for neither our merit, nor our misery, can be said to have had any hand in disposing the purposes of His sovereign will towards us. That the Lord hath taken occasion from our misery to magnify the abounding riches of his mercy, is true; but then his mercy was before our misery, and his own everlasting love the sole cause of our blessedness in Christ, therefore our Lord’s own words are most blessed in point: ‘Even so Father! for so it seemed good in thy sight!’”
A Word For Needy Souls
“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vv. 27-30).
We usually think of these words as being a gospel invitation addressed to the lost. But we must not place such a limitation upon them. They are gospel words of grace addressed to needy souls, both the lost and the saved.
Here is a declaration of our blessed Savior’s greatness. — “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (v. 27). This is to be understood of Christ, as our Mediator. As God nothing was delivered to him. In his essential divinity the Son possesses all things eternally with the Father and the Spirit. As our Mediator all creatures, all men and angels, good and bad were delivered into his hands. Indeed, all creation was put in his hands to be ruled and disposed of by him for the glory of the triune God in the salvation of his people (John 17:2). All God’s elect were delivered to him to be kept and saved by him. They are all “preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1) from all eternity. All power in heaven and in earth are his. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in him. All the blessings of grace, all the promises of mercy in the everlasting covenant, and all the glory and happiness of his people are in his hands.
So infinitely great are the mysteries here spoken of that our Savior says, “and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” No mere mortal knows the transcendent glories and perfections of the Son of God, or the fulness of his works and offices as our covenant Surety and Mediator, or all that is committed to his charge from eternity as Jehovah’s righteous Servant. We shall spend eternity discovering all that he was commissioned and volunteered to do, and suffer for us, all that he has done for us, and all that he has bestowed upon us as the blessings of his grace from eternity as our Savior (Eph. 1:3).
“Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son.” — No man knows the infinite, eternal glory and essence of God as God, except that Man who is God our Savior. None know the mind and will of the triune God, none know his purposes and decrees, none know his infinite grace and fulness of love toward chosen sinners, and none know the things he has prepared and laid up for us, the things he will give us in our eternal inheritance with Christ, except Christ himself — “and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” What sweet, sweet words of grace and assurance these are! There is among the fallen sons and daughters of Adam a people to whom the Lord Jesus Christ reveals all the glory and grace of the triune God by his Spirit, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure.
“It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19). It is the purpose and pleasure of the triune God that all the fulness of grace and glory dwell in the Lord Jesus Christ, our God-man Mediator and Savior. Whatever we get from God we receive of his fullness (John 1:14-16). All things were created by him. All things were created for him. He is before all things. By him all things consist. God the Father has given him preeminence in all things. And all things shall be reconciled to God by him. Dwelling forever in the Lord Jesus Christ there is a superlative, infinite, immeasurable wealth of grace and glory. He is an artesian well of fulness. Everything is in him.
In verses 28-30 Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, commands, invites, and persuades sinners to come to him, promising salvation and eternal life to all who do. “Come unto me.” The Lord Jesus calls sinners to come to him. He does not call us to come to an altar, the church, a priest, a preacher, a baptistery, the Lord’s table, the law of Moses, or even to his doctrine. He says, “Come unto me!” What does that mean? What is it to come to Christ? He does not leave us to guess about that. He explains his meaning in John 6:35. To come to Christ is to “believe on” him. It is an act of faith.
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” The word that is here translated “labor” means “toil with weariness.” All who toil with weariness and are heavy laden, burdened down with a load they cannot get rid of, are bidden to come to Christ. Some labor and are heavy laden, seeking salvation by their own righteousness, by their own works. They are engaged in an impossible task.
If that is your case, quit trying to save yourself, and come to Christ (1 John 1:7-9; Rom. 10:1-4; Gal. 3:10-13). Are you laboring and are heavy laden with the temptations of the devil, inward corruption, unbelief, or worldly care? Come to Christ (Heb. 2:18). The Lord Jesus Christ promises that he will, without exception, receive all who come to God by him – (John 6:37).
“And I will give you rest!” — This word “rest” expresses much more than relaxation. It also has in it the idea of refreshment. This is the rest our Savior gives to sinners, both a cessation from labor and a reviving of life. It is given rest. It cost him dear. But he gives it to us freely. He earned it and bought it for us. Now he gives it freely to all who trust in him. It is a present rest. All who believe do, when they believe, enter into rest, the rest of faith (Heb. 4:3). And this is a satisfying rest (John 1:45), because it is a rest from all guilt and fear, a rest from all toil and legal work, a rest from all curse and condemnation, a complete rest from the law (Rom. 7:4; 8:1; 10:4). And the rest promised in this passage is, also, a future rest (Heb. 4:9). It is a rest beyond all that can be experienced here. It is the perfect rest of complete salvation: a rest from all sin, a rest from all afflictions, a rest from all temptations, a rest from all sorrow, a rest from all unsatisfied desires!
“And learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart.” — Here is the appointed means by which sinners are enabled to bear this threefold yoke. He has given us an example to follow. He endured great hardship for us (Heb. 12:3). He became obedient to God to save us (Phil. 2:5-8). He submitted to the will of God for us (John 18:11). In all these things, our Redeemer has left us an example that we should follow his steps (1 Pet. 2:21-25).
“And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” — Trusting Christ alone as our Savior and Lord, God’s elect find rest for their souls in him. In him, trusting his obedience unto death as our only righteousness and redemption, we obtain the rest of a good conscience. Following his steps, trusting and obeying his revealed will, we obtain the rest of a faithful servant. Trusting his providence, we obtain the rest of a believing heart.
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” — All who come to Christ find it to be so. The easiest, most pleasant, most tranquil existence in this world is the life of faith in, submission to, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. He calls you now to this life in him. Christ’s yoke, to a believer, is no more of a burden than feathers are to a bird. His commandments are not grievous. His ways are the ways of pleasantness. And all his paths are peace (1 John 5:3; Pro. 3:17). Oh for grace to be always coming to Christ! ¾ Always free, yet always bearing his yoke, always having the rest, yet always finding more! This is the experience of those who are ever coming to Christ for everything. Blessed heritage of grace, and it is ours in and by our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!