In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus calls His listeners to “‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’” The heavy burdens Jesus is referring to are those demands laid upon them by the religious leaders. They demand strict adherence to Moses to such an extent no one could ever live up to their expectations. But the Law is even heavier than the religious leaders thought. Jesus told them that the command against adultery included the idea of lusting. He told them that the command against murder dealt with hatred as well (see Matthew 5:27). The law of Moses as properly understood is a burden impossible for us to carry. Its intent, as Paul explains, is the make us conscious of our sinfulness. He makes it clear that any righteousness that we might attain through the law is insufficient. He says in Galatians 2:21 “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

There is no rest in the law for anyone, but there is plenty of rest in Jesus! If we put our confidence and hope in Christ alone there is rest indeed. But even believers can miss out on this rest when they drift back into the system of law in which they must earn God’s acceptance and love. There are always those around who will warn us and exhort us and nag us and cajole us of the importance of keeping God’s laws! Even professing Christians slip from God’s grace into the trap of law keeping and what happens to the rest we enjoy in Christ? It is gone! Hebrews 3:7-11 is a quote from Psalm 95 about the loss of God’s rest by the children of Israel. It says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, they always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways. As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest.”

There was no rest for that generation because they failed to trust God’s promise to give them rest across the Jordan. They lost confidence in God’s provision and forfeited His rest. The generation that came out of Egypt remained God’s household even though they didn’t enjoy the rest He promised them. The loss of enjoying Jesus’ rest is still a possibility for true believers today. Tanner observes, “This warning is directed to God’s people (genuine believers) indicating that believers are capable of hardening their hearts against God and experiencing His judgment. To suggest that all those who died in the wilderness were unbelievers (and eventually went to hell) is simply not sustainable.”[1] If we step out of the wonderful rest Jesus gives us from the impossible demands and burdens of the law, we will miss out on what matters most in life.

[1] J. Paul Tanner, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1043.