Most realtors will tell you the three most important things to consider when buying a house are Location, Location, and Location. And one might speak similarly about Scripture. The three most important things about reading God’s word are Context, Context, and Context. I thought about the “context” principle as I read again through Matthew 11.
My favorite verses in that chapter are 28-30: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. But this time as I read my eye slowed at verse 16, and for the next ten minutes I read and reread the context of verses 28-30, beginning at verse 16.
The Lord Jesus said in verses 16-19: But to what shall I compare this generation? . . . . For John [the Baptist] came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ . . . . Just as the rebellious found fault with John the Baptist, and then with Jesus, those who make a conscious choice to not follow Christ will often find fault with the messenger. That way they will not have to consider the message.
I’ve heard it before, and perhaps you have, too: To him who believes, no evidence is necessary. To him who will not believe, no evidence is sufficient. I can’t count the times people have said to me, “If God shows me a miracle, I will believe.” That’s nonsense. If we do not believe what God has already told us in Scripture, we will not believe even if someone returns from the dead. In fact, Jesus warns about this in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (see Luke 15:19-31).
The Lord then continues in verses 25-26 with what I think is one of the more frightening texts of Scripture: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
To those who refuse to see the evidence before their eyes, God hides further evidence from them. Such concealment is not without historical precedent. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to truth when Pharaoh first hardened himself against God (Exodus 3:19; 4:21; 8:15, 32). Centuries later, Solomon warned of spiritual blindness sent by God to those who mocked Him and His laws (Proverbs 1:20-31). And centuries later still, the Holy Spirit warned through St. Paul: For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (for context, see 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).
The Lord continues now with verse 27 in the Matthew passage: 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. In other words, we cannot find Jesus on our own. St. Paul tells us we are all ‘dead in our transgressions and sins” before becoming a Christian (Ephesians 2:1). The Greek word he uses for ‘dead’ is nekros, from which we get the English word, “necrotic.” Dead people see nothing. That is why the Lord next says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (28-30). When the Holy Spirit infuses His life into the dead, they see Jesus -- and they come to Him.
When the Lord Jesus offered rest to those who labor and are heavy laden, He did so in context with several prerequisites inherent in the context. Those prerequisites include our willingness to make conscious choices -- choices to obey God, to not hide our sins, to seek His forgiveness, and to bend our knees in homage to Him. To refuse any of those prerequisites puts us inexorably in danger of becoming further hardened against God, unaware – until it is too late – of the horrible and eternal destiny that awaits those who turn Him away.
Oh Holy Spirit, draw us that we may come to Jesus, that He may give us eternal life. Teach us to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him who is gentle and lowly in heart, and we will find rest for our souls. Amen