004. The Great Invitation

The Great Invitation

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11:28)

“Of course nothing can compete with the 9th,” I wrote to a friend, closing an email exchange about great music. Immediately he shot back, “Which 9th?” I was incredulous. “Beethoven’s,” I answered. “Is there any other?” “Mahler’s 9th Symphony,” he immediately answered. Mahler? Gustav Mahler? Sorry… I don’t get it. Yet he does. He loves Mahler.

Why is it that some music resonates with one person and not with another? Why does a given speech motivate one person and leave another untouched? Why does one artist’s work inspire while others remain unmoved? My father brought home 78 rpm album sets of Beethoven’s nine symphonies when I was in junior high school. I immediately loved, loved passionately the Great One’s 5th Symphony, the 2nd movement of the 7th Symphony, and the 2nd and 4th movements of the 9th Symphony. The passion and power of Beethoven’s music deeply moved my soul.

Let me clarify lest you be misled. I wasn’t a complete dork. I also loved the Beatles and Beach Boys, Boston and the Bee Gees (I had a decided preference for the “B’s”), Simon and Garfunkel, Cosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Chicago, the Carpenters (I earned some scorn from the boys on that one), Elton John, and lots of other late 60’s to mid-80’s popular music. Still, Beethoven was in a class of his own, followed closely by Bach (yet another “B”).

The same curious phenomena seems to occur in believing circles regarding the impact of a given sermon, passage, or verse. I recall an elderly man in the hospital passionately reciting Psalm 84:10 (KJV):

For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Another memorable moment came when one of our deacons at the Tuesday morning prayer meeting led out with great earnestness, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth” (Ps 8:1). Clearly he had been touched by that verse. In the spiritual realm we should attribute this difference not to mere aesthetics, but to the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ “Great Invitation” was such a verse for me. It resonates. It inspires. It moves me. It opens a window into the heart of Christ in a way that little else does. Nowhere “is the veil so fully lifted from the Redeemer’s soul, and His inmost thoughts and deepest emotions more affectionately described, that here,” says the 19th century Scot David Brown.

Come unto Me

The sheer openness of His invitation stirs my soul. “Come unto me,” He urges one and all (KJV). None are excluded. He doesn’t qualify who may come. He doesn’t disqualify who may not. “Come unto me all,” He says, without discrimination. The rich and poor, the religious and irreligious, the moral and immoral, are all extended this most gracious of invitations. He doesn’t ask for promises. He doesn’t require that we get our life together. He doesn’t demand that we clean up our act. He simply says, “Come.” This is biblical religion. This is the God of the Bible.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev. 22:17) (see Isa 55:1, 2)

“Whosoever” (KJV), or “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13). “Come unto Me all” expresses what the theologians have called “the universal offer of the gospel.” The most degraded of sinners, his life in ruins from a lifetime of evil, and the most self-righteous of hypocrites are urged by Jesus to come to Him.

Weary and heavy-laden

While Jesus does not demand conditions to meet, He does describe motives to come. We are to come because we are conscious of being in “labor and are heavy laden,” or “weary and heavy-laden” with sin (NASB; KJV). He speaks not of physical weariness per se, though that may be a consequence of the pursuit of illicit honors, pleasures, and things. Rather what primarily is intended is weariness of soul, the opposite of rest for the soul (v 29). He welcomes those who are burdened by sin, “both the guilt and power of it,” says Matthew Henry. Sin weighs us down. “The way of transgressors is hard,” the Proverbs warn us (13:15, KJV). David describes the impact of sin that is indulged in the 32nd Psalm:

3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  (Ps 32:3, 4)

Guilt brings the heavy hand of God down upon the soul. Guilt eats away at the conscience. Guilt absorbs our strength, sucking the life out of us. A life of sin, of trying and failing to do what is right, as well as a life of defiant rebellion against God’s authority, brings weariness and weight upon one’s existence. “The wicked,” says Isaiah, “are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.” There is a restlessness among the unbelieving. Their souls are ever churning, perpetually unsettled. Sin stirs up anxiety. Sin stirs up fear. Sin stirs up envy and jealousy. Sin stirs up hate. Sin stirs up restlessness and discontent. It wearies and burdens the soul. It exhausts the soul in its pursuit of ever-evasive happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction. “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isa 57:20, 21). How does Jesus regard all such? He is tender-hearted and merciful. He says, “Come.” He’s not disgusted with a soul soiled by sin. He is not threatening the soul sold out to sin’s pleasures. He is not scary. He is not intimidating. He is welcoming. He is eager to help, ready to serve, eager to save.

“I will give you rest”

What can Jesus do? We see that He is willing to rescue us. However, is He able? Indeed. He can provide rest for our souls. For all souls. For every soul. It is a remarkable claim. “I will give you (all) rest.” He commands an extraordinary power. Think of sin as a vicious master who harnesses us to a wagon full of lusts, demanding hard service all day, every day. We expend all our energy trying to serve those lusts. Yet they are never satisfied. More is always demanded. Pleasures, honors, and material things are like monsters that, the more they are fed, the bigger and stronger they get. We become “slaves of sin” (Jn 8:34; Rom 6:17; 2 Pet 2:19). Yet Jesus is able to set us free from this slavery. No longer shall it have dominion over us (Rom 6: 14, 18).

He breaks the pow’r of reigning sin,

he sets the pris’ner free;

his blood can make the foulest clean,

his blood availed for me.

His truth makes us free (Jn 8:32). He liberates us from the guilt of sin, forgiving all our sins, and from the power of sin, breaking its grip on our souls. Do His words resonate? Do I know what soul weariness is? Am I weighed down by guilt? Am I exhausted pulling the wagon-load of lust all day long every day? Am I tired of feeding the monster that continually oppresses me? Then I am a candidate to accept the “Great Invitation.” Jesus welcomes all such to Himself. He is “gentle and humble of heart.” He is gentle with sinners, however twisted they may have been, however vile and corrupt. He promises “rest for the soul,” rest from the guilt, rest from the weariness, rest from the compulsive service of sin, rest from our slavery.

Take My yoke and learn

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. (Mt 11:29)

What is a yoke? A yoke is what hitches an animal to a plow or wagon. It’s like a harness. Jesus doesn’t unhitch us from our bondage to sin so that we can harness ourselves to a new form of illicit servitude. Rather, He says, “Take (my) yoke upon (you).” “Take” is imperative, a command, yet it is still an invitation, and a gracious one at that. We are to unhitch our harness from the wagon of lust and re-hitch it to the wagon of righteousness. By coming to Christ we become slaves of God and of righteousness, which is true freedom (Rom 6:18-22).

Jesus says, “Learn from me.” “Learn,” along with “Come” and “Take” is also an imperative and a gracious invitation. Learn what? Learn most everything. Learn right from wrong, truth from error, the important from the unimportant, the worthy from the unworthy. Learn from your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and inability. Learn the difference between worldly freedom (which is bondage) and true freedom that Christ secures for us. Learn to establish right priorities and view life from the right perspective. Learn to trust Christ and depend upon His strength. This is true freedom. How so? Because His yoke hitches us to the purpose for which we were made. That is why Jesus can say that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light.”

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt 11:30)

There is a yoke. But it is an “easy” yoke. There is a burden. But it is a “light” burden. As we are harnessed to Christ and our design for our lives as image-bearers, we find rest for our souls.

How does Jesus do this? We repeat. By offering atonement for our sins through His death. He provides for us forgiveness and the removal of our guilt. He cleanses the conscience. He restores us to our Father. He liberates the soul from the yoke of this sinful world. He transforms our nature, recreating us in His own image (2 Cor 5:17). He imparts His Holy Spirit who indwells and empowers us to live wisely, lovingly, and obediently.


As I’ve gotten older, I have developed a passion for Mozart’s piano and wind concertos. I listen to them as I study, particularly when reducing my sermon to an outline on Friday mornings. They are profoundly beautiful and moving. Now they resonate, whereas before they did not. Similarly, I once read past John 6:35, “I am the bread of life,” etc. whereas today I find Jesus’ words to be as profound as anything ever spoken.

I quote Matthew 11:28-30 at every communion service as I serve the cup to the elders and conclude the distribution of the elements. Each time I do I am emotionally moved. Jesus is welcoming us to Himself. Follow the pronouns. “Come to Me,” He says. “I will give you rest.” “Take My yoke.” “Learn of Me.” I am gentle and humble of heart.” “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (KJV). We are invited to Him, to a Person, not a power, to a relationship, not a religion. Christianity is a religion but hat is not primary. Jesus Himself offers His help to all who will accept it, help that meets all of our fundamental needs. He says, “Let not your heart be troubled” (Jn 14:1). He says, “My peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). Believers enjoy a peace that is “not as the world gives” (Jn 14:27), a “peace that passes understanding” (Phil 4:7). His promise is that His joy will be in us, “and that (our) joy may be full” (Jn 15:11). Believers are able to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) and experience “a joy inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet 1:8). Believers enjoy contentment “in any and every circumstance” (Phil 4:12). How could one possibly reject such a gracious offer? How could one possibly refuse an opportunity so kindly extended? He who spoke these words is One who can be trusted, One to whom we can “hitch our wagons” and trust for the good of our souls.

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