The meaning of Matthew 11:28 applies to those who have been striving to be close to God but feel like they can never be good enough or perfect enough to reach that goal. It is becoming more and more challenging to live lives that please God.
We are bombarded by so many things that God easily gets crowded out. Then we end up feeling exhausted by just our own unfulfilled desires to grow spiritually.
Scripture has encouragement for those who feel spiritually battered and bruised and just need some real peace.
Matthew 11:28 meaning in context
Jesus had chosen his inner circle of 12 disciples and started His ministry. He had already visited a few places but the response from the people in those cities was poor. For all the miracles that Jesus had performed, they rejected him.
Jesus mentions three of such places in Matthew 11:21,23 : Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.
These cities rejected Jesus because they didn’t believe that He was the promised Messiah. They didn’t believe that he was God.
The religious leaders were so consumed by the conviction that the way to salvation was through keeping burdensome laws. The focus on these laws prevented the people from truly knowing God. Jesus desired to change this.
You see, in their own eyes, they had no need of a Savior because they had kept the laws perfectly in a way that no one else could. For the cities that rejected Him, Jesus declared woes for them.
But to those who felt a deep spiritual need, Jesus extended an invitation. And that is the focus of our study in this post.
What is the meaning of Matthew 11 verse 28?
In this Matthew 11:28 devotional we will explore why Jesus extended this beautiful invitation and why he made the powerful promise of rest to those who accept this invitation.
Come to me all who are weary meaning
As I said before, in Jesus’ audience were many religious leaders who felt that they were set for glory. In their minds, they did not need to be saved; they were already saved by the fact they could keep all of God’s commandments perfectly.
Jesus’ invitation was not for them. It wasn’t for those who had judged their own cases and rendered themselves perfect before.
The invitation is extended to a specific group: all who are weary.
Who exactly were members in this group?
What did Jesus mean by Come to me all who are weary?
The Greek word for weary that Jesus used is kopiao.
This word refers to physical exhaustion as a result of intense labor or heat. It describes the kind of tiredness that makes you want to keel over.
It’s like you have taken such a beating that your legs cannot support the weight of your body, so you faint.
If you use this word figuratively to describe your emotional state, it would paint the picture of being so discouraged and hopeless that you just want to give up.
This kind of weariness that Jesus describes comes as a result of something specific. That something is hidden in the meaning of the phrase heavy laden.
Let’s dig into it.
Heavy laden meaning in the Bible
What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “heavy laden”.
I think of someone trying to go up a hill with an oversized sack of potatoes that is three times their body weight.
If you have a similar image in mind, you would be on the right track.
What does heavy laden mean in Matthew 11:28
The Greek word for heavy laden is phortizo. It means to load something or give someone to carry.
But, there’s more to this definition.
The load is a burdensome one. Phortizo carries the idea of overburdening someone.
Why did Jesus use this word? What’s this load that he’s referring to?
Let’s use Scripture to help us understand some more of what Jesus was saying. Here are two Scripture portions to cross-reference:
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down [phortizo] with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. Luke 11:46 NIV
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:4 NIV
Notice in these two verses that Jesus talks about the teachers of the law burdening other people?
This gives us hints into the idea that it is not a physical burden that is being placed on people. Instead, the burden has something to do with the laws.
What does heavy laden mean in the Bible?
Let’s go back to the Old Testament a little bit.
When the Israelites were released from Egyptian slavery, God brought them through a process. This process was intended to set them up to be God’s special people among the nations of the earth.
To help them live lives that would set them apart as well as to help them develop a relationship with their heavenly father, God inspired Moses to write a number of laws that would guide various aspects of their lives.
The books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy describe these laws in detail.
Over time, these laws that were supposed to help the Israelites live holy and wholesome lives became more like nooses around their necks.
How and why did this happen?
Because of the religious leaders.
Yes, those who were in charge of helping God’s people grow closer to Him turned these very laws into what God never intended them to be: a big bundle of burdens.
Not only did they add more laws to what Moses wrote through God’s inspiration, but they watched the people intently to ensure they didn’t break any.
Here is one example:
and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” John 5:10
Yes, God had given the Sabbath commandment. But the religious leaders had added the part about carrying a mat. In the mind of the religious leaders, these added stipulations would help the people to keep the laws more perfectly.
Imagine that Jesus had just performed a miracle to heal this man and the religious leaders were more concerned about the breaking of the law than with the miracle.
This man’s rejoicing was completely sidelined because he was confronted with the idea that he had broken the Sabbath commandment by carrying his mat.
What do you think God was more pleased with? His praise and worship or his mat carrying?
God’s compassion and love had been smothered by law-keeping ideals. How were people to experience freedom in their relationship with God in such an environment?
Jesus came to relieve this burden. That’s why He offered rest.
What does it mean for God to give you rest?
The Greek word for rest that Jesus used is anapauo. It refers to the act of giving permission to stop moving or laboring with the intention of allowing time for refreshing and regaining of strength.
It carries the idea of pausing, taking a break from strenuous tasks because one has been given the freedom to do so in order to recover from exhaustion and restore energy and strength.
Here is how this relates to what we were discussing earlier about the laws:
God’s laws and commandments are a necessary part of the way we should practice our faith.
Observing them and obeying God is an expression of our love for God:
If you love me, keep my commands. John 14:15 NIV
In the context in which Jesus made the promise of rest, the problem was that people were being required to do things or forbidden from doing things which were burdensome man-made traditions instead of God’s commands. In some cases, these traditions actually contradicted the commands of God.
Jesus came to give permission to stop observing the burdensome man-made traditions and to call people’s attention back to what God says.
This is why Jesus says in Matthew 11:30: For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (NIV)
Jesus was saying that His requirements, His commands does not carry the negative experience of weariness, discouragement and hopelessness. That’s why He describes His burden as being light.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 ESV
How can we accept the rest that Jesus has offered to us so that we don’t have to carry unnecessary burdens?
Matthew 11:28 devotional application
The invitation to get rest is extended to those who are weary and burdened because they are trying to earn salvation and reach God through their own works and by attempting to keep God’s laws perfectly.
This is bound to cause frustration and discouragement. In our sinful, carnal state, it’s a daily struggle to obey God. We don’t have what it takes to accomplish perfect obedience to God on our own.
That’s why Jesus came to die for us. In His death, burial, and resurrection we have been empowered to live lives that please God. Jesus came to make it easier for us.
It’s not about what we are able to accomplish on our own. It’s about how we allow Christ to live out His own commands through us on a daily basis:
… for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13 ESV
How can we live out this truth in our lives each day?
Here are two practical ways.
Get to know God for yourself
Knowing the difference between man-made traditions and God’s commands can only happen if we know what is in the Word of God.
God reveals His requirements in Scripture. I will be the first to admit that the Bible is not always an easy book to understand.
But I have hope that we can learn to study it for our benefit and to the glory of God.
Any interaction with Scripture will grow you spiritually because you will meet God on the pages of the Bible. Plus God promised us help to discover the truth about Him:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:13 NIV
So know that when you pick up your Bible, you are not alone. Invite Holy Spirit to come and teach you about Jesus.
Get to know God for yourself. It will be harder for other people to make serving God a burden for you because you will know for yourself exactly what God says.
Exchange your checklist for a relationship
Many of us were raised in legalistic church environments where God’s wrath was the emphasis in the sermons instead of God’s love.
God has been presented to us as a whip-carrying taskmaster who watches to see when we break a rule so he can lash us.
God does not want us to serve him based on a checklist. He wants us to serve Him out of a deep, meaningful love relationship with Him.
God is good. God is kind. God is gentle. God loves you…all of you…completely.
He wants you to get to know Him as much as He knows you.
The purpose of God’s commands is to establish boundaries in our relationship with Him (because every decent relationship has boundaries).
God’s commands are for our freedom and our flourishing. To ensure our relationship with God is mutually beneficial.
But, if you are consumed by checking things off on a list, you are bound to miss the relationship that God wants to have with you because you will be giving your attention to fear and God’s punishment.
This isn’t the way God wants us to function at all.
So, if you are one of those people who keep a Bible reading log for example, don’t get anxious if you have a few weeks in a row that have no checkmarks.
There are two ways to process that:
1 – What else did you do over those weeks to nurture your relationship with God? Were you constantly playing praise and worship music? Did you listen to or watch sermons or other Bible-based materials? Did you read Bible stories to your kids? Count that towards God’s desire for you and Him to get closer.
2 – Ok, so you haven’t read Scripture in a while. When can you start again? Make a date with God and jump right in. Be determined to always get up and try again every time you fall off….And refuse to feel guilty about it especially if you were nurturing your faith in other ways.
Focus on building your relationship with God. When you do this, the checklist will get filled in automatically.
Let go of guilt
A byproduct of a legalistic church environment is that people carry shame and guilt for all kinds of things.
Some things are legitimate sins and others things don’t come close to violating any of God’s commands because they were never a requirement anyway.
Whatever the case, know that you have God’s permission to live in freedom.
The reality is that we could never save ourselves from our sins. Even if we kept the laws perfectly, that would still not be enough to save us.
That’s why Jesus had to come.
Because what really saves us is His blood sacrifice on our behalf, not our law-keeping.
When we accept Jesus, we also get the benefit of both freedom from sin and power to live holy lives.
Wherever we fall short (which we always will) Jesus doesn’t just make up the difference. He covers us completely and presents His life in place of ours.
There is no need to live with guilt. You have been totally and completely forgiven.
There is no need to live with the burden that you are not perfect in obeying God.
Stop striving to please God through perfection.
Your Christianity should not be a burden. It should be quite the opposite.
Do what is in your power to do. Give God’s requirements your absolute best effort that is humanly possible.
Leave the rest to God.
He’s more interested in your progress over your perfection.
His promise is sure: if you exchange your burden for His, rest will be yours.
Final words on Matthew 11:28 meaning
My prayer for you is that as you studied this verse with me you experienced new freedom in your relationship with God.
God wants so badly to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to know that serving Him is not burdensome at all.
Being in a relationship with God is restful. In this world that is filled with so much hopelessness and pain, we could all do with some rest.
Rest in Jesus my friend.