“WHAT IS IT TO LABOR AND BE HEAVY LADEN?”
1. Over the course of the last week to ten days, some of you have become more concerned about your lost condition than you have ever been before. Your conscience has been aroused and your heart has become unsettled in a way you have never before experienced. Yet, through these experiences you have not yet come to Christ.
2. Allow me, this morning, to set before you a verse in the Bible that you probably have never before given as much attention or thought to as you should have, Matthew 11.28. Please turn to that verse.
3. Some of you may not ever have even read this important Bible verse. Perhaps you have heard me make a comment or two, or perhaps quote the verse a time or two, but you have never been exposed to a thorough treatment of the verse.
4. Keep in mind that our text for today 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.
5. 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.”
6. If you have found Matthew 11.28, please stand and read along quietly as I read this morning’s text aloud: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
7. One of the truly exciting things about being a Christian is that you never get tired of the old, old story. Amen? 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.
8. Over the last two weeks, at camp, downtown, and here in Monrovia, several hopeful conversions have occurred, conversions that have been prayed for, conversions that have been hoped for, conversions that have been earnestly desired. But there remain among us a whole host of unsaved people.
9. It is to you who remain lost that I direct this message from God’s Word. From among the three phrases that comprise the verse I am selecting the middle phrase for my text. But 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.
10. First, there is the invitation: “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, because the Law cannot save, and Moses cannot save, and your sins prevent you from approaching God.
11. 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.
12. So, it was only right and proper and good for Jesus to invite sinners to come to Him, since there is nowhere else to go to find salvation from your sins.
13. Now notice the last phrase of our verse: “and I will give you rest.” More than you 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, before the children of Israel had entered the Promised Land.
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.”
15. So you see, in Exodus 33.14, the LORD promises rest to Moses. But in Matthew 11.28, the Lord Jesus Christ promises rest to sinners. Once again, Jesus showed them that a greater than Moses was there.
16. We have, then, a wonderful invitation to come to Jesus. And we have a wonderful promise given by Jesus to those who do come to Him. But in between the two we have a phrase that is almost universally overlooked by so-called soul winners, pastors, evangelists, and Bible commentators. And even those who do not overlook the phrase almost always misinterpret the phrase.
15. Three questions, whose answers will help you to more fully understand what it means to labor and be heavy laden.
1A. First, WHO IS JESUS INVITING TO COME TO HIM FOR SALVATION?
1B. From time to time, here at Calvary Road Baptist Church, we have a men’s meeting after the Sunday evening service. At other times, we have a women’s meeting after the Sunday evening service. When I extend an 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. And the same thing is true when I invite women in a certain age category 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.
2B. 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 who He is inviting. He does not, in this verse, invite 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 invite all sinners to come to Him. He invites all of those who “labor and are heavy laden.”
3B. There are some preachers who have responded by saying, “But everyone labors and is heavy laden in some way.” They insist that this refers to construction workers, to pipe fitters, to teachers, to iron workers, to everyone who works and gets tired. Oh, I don’t 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. So, this invitation is not extended to those who are physically tired from physical labor. He’s inviting those who “labor and are heavy laden” in a spiritual sense.
4B. Thus, if you do not labor and you are not heavy laden by your sins . . . Jesus Christ does not invite you to come to Him, He does not invite you to believe on Him. Jesus invites all to come to Him, all who labor and who are heavy laden. That’s why, when a child comes into my office for counseling I will oftentimes ask, “What would you like for Jesus to do for you?” And I will get an answer like, “Nothing.” Is it any wonder that I will tell the child he can go?
5B. 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.
6B. “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’s go our next point.
2A. Next, WHY IS JESUS INVITING ONLY THIS GROUP TO HIM FOR SALVATION?
There are two ways of answering this question:
1B. First, Jesus is only inviting this group to Him for salvation because only those who are in this group will come to Him.
1C. 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. But even so, you will not come to Him that you might have life.
2C. And your refusal to really and truly come to Jesus Christ will continue until your heart is properly prepared so that you will want to come to Him. How is the heart to be prepared? A sinner’s heart must be pierced with sorrow, or must be run through with conviction, or must be pricked as on the day of Pentecost, or must be opened as was Lydia’s heart, or must be made to quake and tremble as the Philippian jailor’s heart. Each person’s heart is prepared somewhat differently, but prepared it must be.
3C. But 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. With some it happens slowly. With others it occurs with astonishing quickness. But it must, so some degree, happen.
2B. Second, Jesus is only inviting this group to Him for salvation because only those who are in this group can come to Him.
1C. Romans 10.10 shows very clearly that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” No man comes to Christ intellectually and finds salvation. There is no saving faith which is entirely a matter of the mind. For true conversion to take place, for the sinner to really come to Jesus, he must believe in Jesus in his heart.
2C. But 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.”
3C. 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?”
4C. But 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 affections of the heart are affected by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit of God.
5C. I have mentioned on occasions that flash of illumination that 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.
6C. 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.
7C. When that flash of illumination occurs, you begin thinking of things differently, seeing things differently, evaluating things differently than you ever have 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.
8C. 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.
9C. Can you span that great gulf between you and God caused by your sins? No. Do you even possess the strength or will to come to Christ on your own, by your own initiative, as a result 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.
10C. But remember, they that are called are called from that group of sinners who labor and who are heavy laden.
3A. Finally, HOW DOES ONE BECOME A PART OF THIS GROUP TO BE INVITED TO CHRIST 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:
1B. The active part, the part that you must do, the part that you must play, is to labor.
1C. What does it mean to labor? Does the word “labor” refer to manual labor, working a back breaking job? To be sure, there are a number of places in the New Testament in which the Greek word translated “labor” means precisely that. But the context in which the word is found here in Matthew 11.28 shows the word to refer to spiritual activity, not manual labor.
2C. 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.” But Paul shows that “labour” overlaps in meaning with the word “striving,” which refers to “contending and agonizing.”
3C. My friend, this has to do with your sins. 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.
4C. And this is the active role you take in coming to grips with your own sinfulness. How long must you labor? Some labor for only minutes. Others labor for weeks and months. My labors were over a 24 to 36 hour period of time. Your labor might have begun when I commenced this sermon and might conclude by the time I am finished.
2B. The passive part, the part that is done to you, is to be heavy laden.
1C. This translates a word that refers to being weary and burdened. 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.
2C. 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.
3C. Now, it must be recognized that this 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 your personal responsibility is being focused on by the Savior, here, 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.
4C. 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 invited by Christ to come to Him. And only such as labor and are heavy laden are drawn by the Father to His Son.
5C. But do not let the devil deceive you into misunderstanding what transpires here. When I was converted I was brought to a sudden realization of my condition and my condemnation. So, though my laboring was for only a few hours, I was what would be termed here heavy laden for only moments before come to Christ.
1. So you see why the little ones who come into my office and tell me “I want to be saved” are so quickly dismissed once I find out that they have no concept of laboring and are not heavy laden? With those who are older I will usually provide a booklet or a sermon to read in the hopes they will gain a sense of their real condition and will then be prompted to labor and become heavy laden.
2. Generally speaking, 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. But the heavy lifting by me must be done during my preaching. The heavy lifting by the sinner must be done after the preaching, as you think and meditate and ponder and weigh and evaluate and consider and chew on what you have heard.
3. But do not fall into the trap so many your age slide into, of overanalyzing themselves and critiquing every word, thought, gesture and motive. Oh, no. Once you have looked inwardly long enough to see sin and depravity and the absence of any goodness or merit, then you must look outwardly to the source of your deliverance, Jesus Christ, sitting at the Father’s right hand on high.
4. Have you given serious thought to your sins of late? Has it dawned on your consciousness that you are estranged from God, even though you do not fully understand all the details of your condition? Are you aware that you are damned in your sins and by your sins? Then you may be among those who are invited to Christ.
5. Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross to atone for your sins. He was buried and rose again from the dead on the third day, in a physical glorified body, and ascended to the Father’s right hand, where He is now seated.
6. Rather than deliberate on how much you must labor, and how heavy laden you must feel, to be invited by Christ to come to Him, I challenge you to just come to Him now. If you are not laboring properly or are not sufficiently heavy laden then you will not come to Christ. But rather than overmuch introspection and self-scrutiny, and to avoid the danger of being too inward, I want you to come to Christ right this moment.
7. Do not allow the devil to turn you so deeply inward that you fail to look with the eye of faith to the Savior outside you. Come to Jesus Christ now.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, sermon # 3352.
 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol IV, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1930), page 486.
 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.
 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.