March 17 – Matthew 11:28-12:14


Main Focus: The burdened and heavy laden encounter the Lord of the Sabbath and receive rest from him.

Throughout the Jesus & People series you’ll see examples of folks who met Jesus and were glad about it, but this week we’ll see a few who weren’t. Here in Matthew 11:28-12:14 we’ll first hear from Jesus about receiving rest from him (11:28-30) before seeing two example cases of his interpretation of rest in defiance of the Pharisees. In the end we’ll see that receiving rest from Jesus means following him (even when there’s a cross involved), and the rest Jesus offers doesn’t just replenish us but changes us from the inside out.

In Matthew 11, Jesus is teaching and ministering in the region of Galilee, going from town to town and in and out of synagogues teaching about the Kingdom. In 11:28 we pick up in the middle of a teaching session where Jesus explains the nature of rest found in him. Matthew purposefully includes the two scenes that follow because they connect to this theme of rest; Jesus both taught and showed the crowds what he meant by receiving rest from him.

Let’s talk about yokes and Sabbath before we run through the discussion questions below. First, yokes—when Jesus talks about taking his “yoke” (11:29) he’s using a rabbinic phrase. A non-figurative yoke was a bit of farming equipment used to harness an animal to a plow, but a rabbi’s “yoke” was his set of teachings, and taking this yoke meant living according to his instruction and manner of doing things. Taking Jesus’s yoke is synonymous with what he commanded the disciples to do in the Great Commission, to make disciples by “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).

Next, Sabbath. In the two subsequent stories, Jesus encounters the Pharisees twice on the Sabbath and both times they accuse him of profaning it. In reality, Jesus defied not the specifics of the Torah but the Pharisees’ interpretation of it; they were so intense about it they even had laws about what knots could and could not be tied on the Sabbath. It’s this restrictive stance that Jesus argues against when he brings up David eating the bread of the presence (1 Sam. 21) and how the priests work on a day everyone was supposed to rest from work. Jesus points out the tolerances within the Torah for doing good on the Sabbath, such as feeding the poor or healing the sick, to contrast the Law’s inherent wiggle room with the Pharisees’ legalism, showing they’ve misunderstood God by observing his Sabbath in a way that prevented them from obeying his Law.

Now, it’s pretty challenging for anyone without an observant Jewish background to understand just how important Sabbath keeping was to Jesus’s audience. As a more modern point of reference, the rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described the Sabbath as “not an interlude but the climax of living” (The Sabbath, 14). The Pharisees maintained rigorous rules for keeping the Sabbath due to their zeal. However, Jesus doesn’t just undermine their interpretation here; he goes after their authority, revealing himself as the “Lord of the Sabbath” to tell them he has the right to say what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath, and this is his right not just because he’s God but because the Sabbath is ultimately about him, a signpost meant to point people to the rest only found in him.

In discussion we’ll pick up some of these details about Jesus’s yoke and Sabbath keeping when we ask about how Jesus treats people in the passage and about the nature of the disagreement between him and the Pharisees. In partial response to those questions, 1. We see how Jesus demonstrates his giving of rest by helping feed the hungry and heal the man and 2. We see how the Pharisees were stuck on trying to find rest in rule keeping rather than in trusting the Lord of Rest. We’ll then ask how this passage teaches us about Jesus—we see the sort of tenderness we saw last week coupled with his resolve to free people from the tyranny of legalism.

The heart of our discussion will land on what it takes for us to receive rest from Jesus and what this rest does to us. To receive the rest Jesus offers we must submit ourselves to his yoke in obedience, though we find our rest not in this obedience but directly from him—we rest not in our work but in his. Simultaneously, we have to stop seeking rest elsewhere, coming to realize that what looks like rest outside of Jesus is really just a mirage. And finally, we’ll talk about how this rest doesn’t just replenish us but changes us. It does things to us like grounding our hope in Jesus regardless of the cost, easing our trouble and anxiety because nothing can ever take what Jesus gives us, and helping us live unhurried and gracious lives that stand out in a hurried world.

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Matthew 11:28-12:14 for us?

– What stood out to you from the passage?

– How does Jesus relate to the various people here?

– The Sabbath is a day for the people of God to rest—what’s the disagreement Jesus and the Pharisees are having here about the Sabbath?

– What is Jesus teaching about himself here?

– What do you think is required for you to receive rest from Jesus?

What do you think receiving rest from Jesus is meant to produce in our lives?