Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WHAT IS IT TO LABOR AND BE HEAVY LADEN?

Matthew 11.28

 

For the last several days, some of you have been exposed to a verse in the Bible that you had never previously given much attention or thought to, Matthew 11.28. Please turn to that verse. Several comments have been made about the verse, but no thorough treatment of the verse has been attempted. However, it is a very important verse, because in it is contained one of the most important “invitations” ever extended to the lost by the Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly, however, this verse is almost universally misquoted.

Even Charles H. Spurgeon, famous pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, back in the 1800s, once said about this verse, “It is not once out of a dozen times that I have ever had the good fortune to hear this text quoted correctly.”[1]

If you have found Matthew 11.28, please stand and read along quietly as I read this evening’s text aloud:  “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

One of the truly exciting things about being a Christian is that you never get tired of the old, old story. Lost people get tired of the gospel after hearing it for so long, but Christians never get tired of the gospel, the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, and believers eagerly anticipate the conversion of sinners whenever the gospel is preached.

Over the last few days, we have seen God wonderfully work in people’s lives. Conversions have been prayed for. Conversions have been hoped for. Conversions have been earnestly desired. You know how reluctant I am to give false hope, but I dare to think we will look back on this time as a time of fruit bearing.

It is to you who remain lost that I direct my sermon tonight. From among the three phrases that comprise the verse, I am selecting the middle phrase for my text. Before we deal with that middle phrase, let me quickly dispense with the other two phrases, each magnificent in themselves as sermon texts, which will have to wait for another time.

First, there is the so-called “invitation,” which is not an invitation at all but a directive: “Come unto me.” It would strike the Jewish mind that Jesus is not, here, sending sinners to God. Neither is He sending sinners to the Law or to Moses. He is bidding them to come to Him. And, truly, you must come to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness of sins and cleansing, for the Law cannot save, and Moses cannot save, and your sins prevent you from approaching God.

The night before His crucifixion Jesus would say, in John 14.6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” And some time after His glorious resurrection from the dead and ascension to His Father’s right hand, Peter would thunder forth in Jerusalem with these words: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” Acts 4.12.

Therefore, it was only right, proper, and good for Jesus to direct sinners to come to Him, since there is nowhere else to go to find salvation from your sins.

Now notice the last phrase of our verse: “and I will give you rest.” More than you may realize, this phrase, too, was astonishing to Jewish ears. You see, there was another time when rest was promised, way back in Exodus 33.14. Turn there and read with me and you will see the significance of what I mean: “And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”

Therefore, you see, in Exodus 33.14, the LORD promised rest to Moses. However, in Matthew 11.28, the Lord Jesus Christ promises rest to sinners. Once again, Jesus shows them that a greater than Moses is here.

We have, then, a wonderful directive to come to Jesus. In addition, we have a wonderful promise given by Jesus to those who do come to Him. However, in between the two we have a phrase that is almost universally overlooked. In addition, those who do not overlook the phrase almost always misinterpret the phrase.

Three questions, whose answers will help you to more fully understand what it means to labor and be heavy laden:

 

First, WHOM IS JESUS “INVITING” TO COME TO HIM FOR SALVATION?

 

An additional comment about this so-called invitation. Jesus is not inviting anyone here. The word translated “Come” has the force of an imperative.[2] Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ is issuing a directive, not announcing an invitation.

From time to time, here at Calvary Road Baptist Church, we have a men’s meeting after the Sunday evening service. At other times, such as tonight, we have a women’s meeting after the Sunday evening service. When I extend a real invitation to all those who are men greater than high school age, does that mean that everyone is invited to the men’s meeting? No. Does that mean all males are invited to the men’s meeting? No. Only certain males. Moreover, the same thing is true when I invite women to the women’s meeting. No men are invited to women’s meetings, and no girls of school age are invited to women’s meetings.

Therefore, to fix upon the word “all” in this verse, “all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” while ignoring the words “ye that labor and are heavy laden,” is to misinterpret the entire verse and to misread what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying. It is to miss entirely whom He is directing to come to Him.

He does not, in this verse, direct everyone to come to Him. The word “all” could refer to “everyone” if it were not for the qualifying phrase that we are looking at. Jesus does not instruct all sinners to come to Him here. He instructs all of those who “labor and are heavy laden.”

There are some preachers who have responded to me by saying, “But everyone labors and is heavy laden in some way.” This refers to construction workers, to pipe fitters, to teachers, to iron workers, to everyone who works and gets tired. Oh, I do not think so. Look at the next verse: “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.” Jesus is offering spiritual rest, here, not physical rest. Therefore, this directive is not to those who are physically tired from physical labor. He is directing those who “labor and are heavy laden” in a spiritual sense.

Thus, if you do not labor and you are not heavy laden by your sins . . . Jesus Christ does not direct you to come to Him, He does not instruct you to believe on Him. Jesus commands all to come to Him, all who labor and who are heavy laden. That is why, when a child comes into my office for counseling, I will oftentimes ask, “What would you like for Jesus to do for you?” I will frequently get an answer like, “Nothing.” Is it any wonder that I will tell the child he can go?

From time to time, a kid will come into my office, and as the child is walking toward me, he will make faces or do something silly with his body language. Does that suggest that the child is laboring and is heavy laden? Nervous, perhaps. A bit shy around the pastor, maybe. But laboring and heavy laden? No.

“O, but he really wants to be saved, pastor.” Does he? “O, yes, pastor. I am sure that he wants to be saved. All he ever talks about is getting saved.” Is that so? Let us go our next point.

 

Next, WHY IS JESUS DIRECTING ONLY THIS GROUP TO HIM FOR SALVATION?

 

There are two ways of answering this question:

First, Jesus is only directing this group to Him for salvation because only those who are in this group will actually come to Him. Listen to what Jesus said, in John 5.39-40: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” People thought they could be saved by studying and learning the Bible, not realizing that the Bible shows that Jesus is the only Savior of sinful men’s souls. Even so, you will not come to Him that you might have life. Your refusal to truly come to Jesus Christ will continue until your heart is properly prepared so that you will want to come to Him. A sinner’s heart must be pierced with sorrow, must be run through with conviction, must be pricked as on the day of Pentecost, must be opened as was Lydia’s heart, or must be made to quake and tremble as the Philippian jailor’s heart. However, such only happens to those who labor and are heavy laden. This never happens to those who are thoughtless about their sins, who are careless about their sins, who are nonchalant about their sins, who are unfeeling about their sins, who are not guilty of their sins, who are unconscious about their sins.

Second, Jesus is only instructing this group to Him for salvation because only those who are in this group can come to Him. Romans 10.10 shows very clearly that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” No man comes to Christ and finds salvation by means of cold intellectualism. In the Bible, we see what is sometimes called “crisis conversion.” This is because there is no saving faith, which is entirely a matter of intellectual thought processes. For true conversion to take place, for the sinner to really come to Jesus, he must believe in Jesus in his heart, which refers to his full faculties and desires.

You see, the human heart is a veritable cesspool of iniquity. Filled with hatred for God and animosity toward God’s Son, Isaiah shows that sinners despise and reject Jesus, sinners hide their faces from Jesus, and sinners have only the lowest opinion of Him, Isaiah 53.3: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Jeremiah’s explanation of this attitude and posture toward the only One Who can possibly save you from your sins is the very familiar Jeremiah 17.9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

However, when a sinner labors and is heavy laden something is done to his heart. Pressed down under the burden of sin’s guilt, awakened to a sense of his own wickedness in the sight of God, persuaded that his sin deserves the harshest of penalties, the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit of God affects the affections of the heart.

I have mentioned from time to time, in my preaching that a flash of illumination sometimes occurs. With Saul of Tarsus, it was the appearance of Jesus to him on the road to Damascus. With Belshazzar, it was the handwriting on the wall. With one hopeful convert, it was the sudden realization that she had been placing the importance of her own family too high. Remember, Christ gave Himself for the church, Ephesians 5.25, and there is no place in the Bible where anyone is warned against overvaluing the church. But Jesus did caution us against overvaluing both our families and our own lives, when He said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” Luke 14.26.

This can be particularly problematic with single moms, who struggle valiantly to keep their families together, only to see one child after another lost to sin as they reach their late teens. This is why I suggest to single Christian moms that they instruct their children to come to Christ, even if it means that they “feel” like they are forsaking their families. This counteracts the subtle influence of unsaved older siblings or other family members to prevent them from being dragged into Hellfire because of a false sense of loyalty.

It is only when that child emotionally separates from the others in the family long enough to come to Christ that he or she will then be useful to God to bring the others to Christ. Sadly, this rarely happens because of a foolish and childish notion of family loyalty, resulting on one after another, after another, after another, being in turn destroyed by sin.

However, should that flash of illumination and insight occur you begin thinking of things differently, seeing things differently, evaluating things differently than you ever had before. You see your own depravity. You see your own guilt. Sin becomes hateful and worthy of the most severe punishment. You are not only helpless, but your situation is also hopeless. Far from feeling happy and optimistic, you now see yourself against the backdrop of stark reality. There is no reason to feel happy about anything. There is no reason to be optimistic about anything. Your wickedness and wrongness overwhelms you. Should the gulf between you and God seem to you to be infinite, with God high and holy and you low and miserable, then you will be open to the truth that you need a Savior, since you do need saving and you cannot save yourself.

Can you span that great gulf between you and God caused by your sins? No.

Do you possess the strength or will to come to Christ on your own, by your own initiative, because of your own prompting? No.

Thus, God must summon you. In John 6.44, Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” When God draws you to His Son, you can and you then will come to Jesus.

However, remember, they are called from that group of sinners who labor and who are heavy laden.

 

Finally, HOW DO YOU BECOME A PART OF THIS GROUP TO BE DIRECTED TO JESUS FOR SALVATION?

 

Is it not obvious? You have to labor, and you have to be heavy laden. There is an active and a passive part to being in this group:

The active part, the part that you must do, the part that you must play, is to labor. What does it mean to labor? Does the word “labor” refer to manual labor, working a backbreaking job? To be sure, there are a number of places in the New Testament in which the Greek word translated “labor” means precisely that. Nevertheless, the context in which the word is found here in Matthew 11.28 shows the word to refer to spiritual activity, not manual labor.

Turn to Colossians 1.29, where we see the word used with another important word: “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” The word “labor” means, “to grow weary from toil, to toil on.”[3] Paul shows that “labour” overlaps in meaning with the word “striving,” which refers to “contending and agonizing.”[4]

My friend, this has to do with your sins.[5]

You are coming to grips with your sins.

You are dealing with your sinfulness.

You are struggling against committing sins.

You are resisting the domination of sin over every area of your life.

You are a slave to sin, but you are no longer a willing slave.

This labor, this striving, makes you weary. Not weary of body, directly, though there is obviously some of that, but weary of heart and weary of soul. This is the active role you take in coming to grips with your own sinfulness.

The passive part, the part that is done to you, is to be heavy laden. This translates a word that refers to being weary and burdened.[6] It is the direct result of laboring with sin, of striving to enter in at the strait gate, Luke 13.24, of wrestling with your sins and fighting against your sinful nature’s propensity to do that which wrong and not do that which is right. There will be no feelings of weariness over sin, no profound awareness of your own wickedness, no sense of your separation from God, no recognition of your deadness in trespasses and sins, unless you labor, unless you strive.

It must be recognized that the weariness that Jesus describes as being “heavy laden” is not the product of your own self-work. It is the result of the Holy Spirit of God convicting you of your sins and of your sinfulness. Though the Savior here is focusing on your personal responsibility, do not make the mistake of discounting what only the Holy Spirit can really do, according to John 16.8-9. He must reprove of sin, which will spur you on to more laboring, and will result in you being more heavy laden.

Please recognize that if this did not happen to you, either quickly or slowly, then you never did come to Christ. Only such as labor and are heavy laden are directed by Jesus to come to Him. Only such as labor and are heavy laden are drawn by the Father to His Son.

 

Therefore, you see why the little ones who come into my office and tell me “I want to be saved” are so quickly, but gently, dismissed once I find out that they have no concept of laboring and are not heavy laden. However, every person I talk to is carefully instructed to come to Jesus to be saved, whether I think they are serious about their sins or not.

If a sinner is not alarmed by the preaching there is very little which can be done to guide him to Christ. An adjustment here or a correction there, perhaps. My heavy lifting must be done during my preaching. The sinner’s heavy lifting takes place after the preaching, as you think, and meditate, and ponder, and weigh, and evaluate, and consider, and chew on, what you have heard.

I have heard some good questions from our young people: “Pastor, what does being heavy laden mean?” However, others are showing that they do not yet see themselves as sinners in any real sense. These are the ones who, when I ask, “What do you want to talk about?” will say to me, “. . . about getting saved.” After numerous sermons on the subject, they still have not grasped that Jesus does not direct to come to Him but those who labor and are heavy laden.

 

Therefore, parents, you must point out the problem to your children, but I would suggest great caution about raising the issue of the solution to them. In other words, let us carefully work to get your child lost, but be very cautious about talking to them about being saved. I say this because unless wisdom is exercised, we will not succeed in getting your child truly lost. As well, we may mistakenly end up with yet another young Christian who grows up to discover he was never truly saved when his momma said he was.

When a child gets lost, truly lost, desperately lost, hopelessly lost, helplessly lost, then you can be sure that the One Who came to seek and to save him will certainly find him. We need to recognize that we oftentimes do children a disservice when we prematurely talk to them about being saved, before they are appropriately conscious of their sinfulness and lost condition. This is the natural consequence of a parent’s heartbreak when you see them miserable. However, it must be understood that every sinner must be miserable from the Holy Spirit’s convicting work before he can know the joy of the Holy Spirit for sins forgiven by truly coming to Jesus. To be sure, we must not bar little children from coming to the Savior, while at the same time not pushing them in His direction before their sinful hearts are properly prepared to voluntarily come to Christ. We simply cannot make our children become Christians until they sincerely want their sins forgiven.

Now, let me turn my attention to you adults and teens that are lost. Understand clearly that you have not been “invited” by Jesus Christ to come to Him for salvation. It has not happened. In addition, the reasons it has not happened is because, #1, He directs not invites, and, #2, to invite you to come to Him prematurely would be casting pearls before swine. I am not accusing you of being swine, but pointing out that to any directive to you to come to Christ is entirely unsuitable so long as you refuse to labor and experience the resulting weariness that comes from being heavy laden by your sins.

You must become so burdened by your sins, so burdened by your sinful nature that is inclined against God, that you abandon your notions of asking Jesus for help. He is not interested in helping you. He is interested in saving you, saving you from your sins.

Therefore, until you come to the place where you see your sins as despicable, as soul damning, as that which separates you from God, as the worst of all possible evils, there is no hope of you getting converted, but until then you have no directive from Jesus Christ to come to Him.

I conclude with this request: If you are laboring and are heavy laden, please come and talk with me so I can talk to you about coming to Christ. If you want some specific advice on how to labor, so that you will become heavy laden, in the hopes that you can then come to Christ, then you too should respond so I can talk to you.



[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, sermon # 3352.

[2] See comment about deute by A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1934), page 1023.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol IV, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1930), page 486.

[4] Ibid.

[5] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., The International Critical Commentary, “The Gospel According To Saint Matthew,” Vol II, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), page 288.

[6] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 1064.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org