His Burden is Light - Matthew 11:20–30

Have you ever had your arms full, carrying something heavy and uncomfortable, and all you wanted to do was find a place to set it down? Heavy furniture, boxes, luggage, groceries, or maybe even another person – you felt the strain and you knew that as soon as possible, you would put down the load. You would relieve your burden. At the end of Matthew 11, Jesus speaks to people who carry a heavy burden, not in their arms, but within their hearts.

His Burden is Light  - Matthew 11:20–30

They carry a heavy burden within themselves that is the result of sin. At some point, all of you have stepped on a scale and been weighed. You wouldn’t get on a scale with a load in your arms, would you? No, because the load makes you heavier. Sin makes our hearts heavy, and holding onto sin is willfully burdening yourself. With heavy furniture or boxes, you naturally look for somewhere to put them down, but with sin, we naturally cling to the burden. We prefer to resist God and hold onto sin.

However, Jesus came to overcome our natural response to God and relieve our burden. So, we should come to Jesus, but when we do, we see something surprising: he says he has a burden for us. But unlike our sin, his burden is not heavy. What is this burden that Jesus has for those who come to him? Well, the burden or load consists of some obligations. Jesus has some requirements.

The difference is that everything sin requires of us is a curse. Everything Jesus requires of us is a blessing. What does Jesus require – what is his burden? You’ll see a list on page 6 in the worship guide. Jesus requires that we: turn from the heaviness of our sin, (v.20-24), humble ourselves like little children. (v.25-27), and that we feel our need and come to learn. (v.28-30)

Now this idea of the heavy burden of sin is not unique to the New Testament Scriptures. We see it in the OT as well. The central event in the history of OT Israel was the Exodus; their deliverance, led by Moses, from slavery in ancient Egypt. God reveals himself to Moses as “I AM” and instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him that “I AM” says he must let the Israelite people leave Egypt. But God tells Moses that he will harden the heart of Pharaoh, so that Pharaoh will not want to release the people from the burden of slavery.

Then throughout the narrative, the Scripture states at times that the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and at times that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. This “hardening” in the Hebrew language could also be translated as “making heavy.” It helps to know some archeological background. Dr. John Currid points out that during that era, which is called the “New Kingdom period” of ancient Egyptian history, the Egyptians believed that when a person died, they went to judgment in the underworld, and the person’s heart – their very essence – would be weighed on the double scales of truth. Currid says the Egyptians believed that on one side of the scale sat the feather of truth and righteousness – obviously very light.

On the other scale lay the person’s heart. If the person’s heart was heavy with wrongdoing, that person would be eternally condemned. However, if the person’s heart was pure and thus, light, that person would go on to the Egyptian afterlife. The Israelites were no doubt familiar with these Egyptian beliefs, having lived in Egypt for generations.

Israel eventually left Egypt, and Moses wrote these things down and read them to the people, and at that time the people understood that Pharaoh’s evil deeds and his efforts to burden them was the result of his sin. Pharaoh had stored up sin in his heart, making it heavy or hard. Do you know that when Moses first went to Pharaoh and told him that I AM said to set the people free from their slave labor, Pharaoh, in anger, increased the heavy load of work for the Israelites. He increased their burden. But he was increasing his own burden.

After that time, God performed one supernatural work after another, but Pharaoh was not convinced that he was dealing with the God of the universe. God sent plague after plague, but Pharaoh hardened his heart, making it heavier and heavier with the weight of sin. Now look again at Matthew 11, verses 20-24. Matthew describes similar people. They have seen the mighty, supernatural works of the one true God. But they hardened their hearts. Verse 20, “they did not repent.”

They would not turn from and reject sin. They held on to the heavy burden. Jesus’ reference in these verses to the ancient cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom is significant. They were historically pagan places, not part of ancient Israel, where I AM was not worshipped and honored. Jesus tells these Jewish towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – places filled with “God’s people” – that they are worse than the people in those pagan places.

Jesus says that if those people had seen his miracles, they would have turned from sin. But like Pharaoh, these Jews hardened their hearts and would endure God’s judgment. Without repentance, they would be brought down to Hades or hell. Jesus called people to lay down or turn from sin’s burden and lighten their heavy hearts. True faith is accompanied by true repentance. Repentance removes the heavy burden.

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a conference in Atlanta, GA, and he described one example he had seen of the burden of sin. He said, “I have…decided to stick with love…And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate…hate is too great a burden to bear.

The sinful nature of man, what we call “indwelling sin,” and of all its outward expressions in our sinful desires, thoughts, words, and actions, are a terribly heavy burden. Sin is a weight. What burden are you holding onto today? Bitterness, lust, greed, anger, a need to be control? Are you holding on to pride? A.W. Tozer says this of the burden of pride or self-love: “The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed…The sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism…tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them. Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest.” How do you know if you’ve laid down your burden and if you continue to be free from it? You’re at rest in your soul. If we are heavy with sin, then, at that moment, we don’t see Jesus.

Jesus also requires that we humble ourselves like little children. In verse 25, he says that the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, “has hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” In fact, Jesus expresses thanks for this. Is this true, that the unrepentant people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum could not see the glory of Jesus because God hid it from them? It is true. Jesus is not exaggerating. He says it is God’s will. We know Jesus is speaking literally because he goes to explain this. Verse [27] “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Our sinful nature causes us to naturally reject God the Father. We can only know God and be attracted to a personal relationship with him if Jesus chooses to reveal Him to us. This calls to mind God’s treatment of Pharaoh. Exodus 8 says Pharaoh hardened his heart. Exodus 9 says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Both are true. God left Pharaoh to his own devices. God let Pharaoh do what came naturally, what he wanted to do, which was to treasure self-centered cruelty and evil. We all will do what comes naturally unless Jesus the Son opens our eyes to the truth.

The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that the gospel is veiled or hidden from some. He says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” To see Jesus, he must cause us to see.

For anyone to humble themselves, repent and trust in Jesus is all grace. There is no island of righteousness in you or me, no neutral place in your will or mine, that would ever choose to turn from sin and humbly receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. Salvation is of the Lord! Dr. Steven Lawson explains. He says, “…every aspect of man’s salvation is from God and is entirely dependent upon God. The only contribution that we make is the sin that was laid upon Jesus Christ at the cross. The Apostle Paul affirmed this when he wrote, ‘From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11).’ This is to say, salvation is God determined, God purchased, God applied, and God secured. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord alone.” We are all naturally wise in our own minds and we all think we know and understand it all.

We think we know better than God. To repent – to lay down the burden of sin and receive Jesus, the Father and the Son must show us our error that we may humbly come to Jesus in faith. We cannot come puffed up with self-confidence.

What good father does not like to teach his children things they don’t know? It is the delight of a dad to be the one to explain things to his young children, things that the dad learned years and years ago. When children are young, before they think they know everything, they are humble learners. All of us go through it. Little children revere the good father who teaches them. They respect and trust him.

Have you come to God the Father in this way, and do you daily approach him in this way? Before the eighth plague, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, Exodus 10, “Thus says the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself.” Are you humble in your marriage, in your home, where you work, where you play, where you worship? How long will you refuse to humble yourself before the God of heaven and earth, and before Jesus Christ, His Son? Pride is a heavy burden.

Now, in the final verses of Matthew 11, Jesus tells us about his burden. Remember, his burden is light. The Jewish religious teachers had presented God’s laws as a way to earn salvation. The demands of it had become a yoke of slavery, as Paul says in Galatians 5. Much like how OT Israel needed deliverance from burden of slavery, NT Israel needed deliverance from the burden of the law. They labored to please God and felt heavy laden. They needed rest.

Jesus says, verse [29] 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.” The yoke was a device worn by animals or humans to pull plows and wagons. The yoke connected the one wearing it to a burden, to a heavy load. The law of God had become an unbearable burden for these people. But Jesus has a better yoke.

Verse [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Jesus, gentle and humble, reintroduces us to the law of God. We learn that he has fulfilled the law’s moral demands for us, and through repentance and faith in Him, His Spirit enables us to obey God with joy. The Holy Spirit enables us to let go of the heavy load of sin and carry the light load of obedience to our gracious God who loves us and redeems us from sin through Jesus his Son. We still strive to obey God, but not with the heavy burden of earning God’s love.

We strive to obey to him with the continual confidence of his gracious love, even when we fail. His grace is enough. Christ upholds us by his grace. What must we do? Feel our need. One great hymn says, “All the fitness He requires/Is to feel your need of Him/This He gives you/’Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.”

Richard Sibbes puts it this way: “God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, and gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives." God does it all in Jesus Christ. That’s why he gets all the glory. Feeling our need, we come to Jesus and learn. We learn about love, and sacrifice, and God-centeredness, and worship, humility, kindness, boldness for God, grace, mercy. Would you carry Jesus’ light load through this life and know His rest? Then be a student of Jesus and his gospel. In every devotional or time of prayer, every time of family worship, every bible study session, you must see Jesus. The Father and the Spirit want you to see the Son. They exalt and point to Him.

We enjoy the light load of discipleship because he bore the heavy load of our sin. He lived a perfect life in our place, unencumbered by the burden of sin as we are. Yet, he died the death of a burdened, hard-hearted sinner. Jesus bore the punishment of those who see themselves as wise and understanding when in fact they foolish and ignorant of the truth.

Jesus died a proud man’s death, so you and I could humble ourselves before the living God. And Jesus went out where the criminals were, to the cross, the destination of those far from God. He went out so you and I could come in. Have you laid down sin’s heavy burden and taken up the light load of following Jesus? Cry out to him. Repent and receive him. He died and rose again, so that we could find rest for our heavy souls. Let’s pray together.