The Heart of Christ
Nick Esch, 1/3/2021 Cornerstone Baptist Church
This is the time of year for resolutions and goals, and I shared in a church email the other day that my great goal for 2021 is simple faithfulness. And I said that in part because at New Years in 2020 I had all these plans and goals for how I would glorify Christ that year, but as soon as Covid came they all went by the wayside. So this year I decided not to make any big plans, but to be faithful come what may. And I think that’s good and right. But, if I’m honest, there’s a big part of me that feels like I didn’t do enough for God’s glory in 2020, because for so much of it I was stuck at home. But, by God’s grace I came across a book in 2020 that showed me I was extremely wrong.
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, is a book about the heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers. It’s by far the best book I read in 2020. It gets its title from Matthew 11:25-30, where Jesus tells us that He is gentle and lowly in heart. So in many ways the book is a meditation on that passage, along with the heart of Christ revealed in the whole of Scripture. I’ve read through this book multiple times now, and every time I’ve read through it I thought to myself, “I have to preach this passage from Matthew 11.” So that’s what I plan to do today. But what that book lays out, and Lord willing, what we’ll see in our passage today, is that the way we most glorify Christ in this life is not in our good works or acts of faithfulness, but in our total surrender to Him, in our running to Him for grace and help in time of need… in our going to Him for forgiveness and rest, and most of all in our going to Him for Him. In other words, we magnify the glory of Christ most when we go to Him in our brokenness and our neediness. It’s not in our doing for Him, but in our resting in Him that we make the most of Him. And I think that’s a message we desperately need right now… And that’s what we’re going to marvel at today; so look with me at Matthew 11:25-30.
At this point in Jesus’ life and ministry He has done many miracles and clearly testified to who He is as the Messiah, the very Son of God in the flesh, yet He has been rejected again and again. Just before this Jesus denounced the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. So, in view of this Jesus says in verse 25, “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.” So, our passage begins with some remarkable irony.
Jesus has just denounced city after city, pronouncing woes or curses upon them for their lack of repentance and faith. However, in verse 25 He says that it is the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, God Himself who has hidden these things from them. By these things He means the truth of who Jesus is, what He has been doing and will do. But notice, He doesn’t simply say that the Father has hidden the truth of Christ, the truth of the gospel from the people in these wretched cities, but rather that He has hidden these things from the wise and understanding. You see, in order for God to hide the truth of the gospel from these people all He had to do was to give them over to themselves. God isn’t covering their eyes or hiding Jesus under a basket… I mean, Jesus, God in the flesh has just been before them doing miraculous works. Jesus isn’t the problem here, their arrogance is.
These people are actively having to ignore who Jesus is… As Herman Bavinck once said, “Unbelief requires enormous effort.” They are actively suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, and thus God gives them over to what they are already doing… that’s how He hides these things from them. When Jesus speaks of them as being wise and understanding, He’s not giving them a complement. He means they are prideful and full of themselves, though from the world’s point of view they seem to have everything figured out. So, God has hidden these things from them by leaving them to wallow in their worldly wisdom. And that’s how things still are today.
God does not force unbelievers to do or believe or to not believe anything, and He doesn’t keep anyone from seeing anything they want to see, when it comes to the gospel; He simply gives them over to what they have already convinced themselves of… He merely allows them to carry on in their faulty worldly wisdom, in their false preconceived notions. These people in our passage who think they are wise and understanding, in their pride feel they have no need of a Savior, and so they have rejected Christ; and here God is simply respecting their wishes. He’s handing them over to the hardness of their hearts. And again, that’s still happening today. But there is an ironic contrast in this verse. Those who think themselves wise and understanding are blind, but those who are like little children see the truth, and that’s the irony here…
God reveals these things, the gospel truth to little children, to those who are weak, frail, and know they have much to learn. In Matthew 18:3-4 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (ESV). To be childlike is to have humility, trust, and vulnerability, feeling within yourself a sense of helplessness and dependence. Time and time again my youngest son Isaiah will say to me, “I’m too little… I’m just a kid… Dad, I need your help.” And in that statement he shows that 1) he believes that I can help him, 2) he believes that I will help him, and 3) he truly knows that he needs help. And that’s exactly where we all need to be if we are going to see and receive the gospel rightly.
In verse 26 of our passage Jesus says, “yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Notice what He’s saying here; while it is certainly a part of God’s will, His sovereign plan to give the prideful and arrogant over to their hardness of heart, here we see it is God’s gracious will, that is His kind, merciful, and compassionate will, to reveal the truth and beauty of the gospel to the needy and broken, to those who are truly childlike. As Jesus says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (ESV). And that’s what He’s saying here as well. It is God’s gracious will to reveal the beauty and truth of the gospel to needy sinners; not to those who think they are well and have no need of Him, but to those who know they are sinners in need of a Savior… this is God’s sovereign and gracious will.
And God is indeed sovereign… both God the Father and God the Son for that matter. Jesus says in verse 27, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father…” Jesus is the sovereign God of the universe in the flesh; He is sovereign over all things, and all things have been granted to Him. That being the case then, it makes sense that the sovereign gracious will of God in Christ is the only hope for sinners like us. J. C Ryle comments on this verse, “all power and authority, in everything that concerns our soul’s interests, is placed in our Lord Jesus Christ’s hands. ‘All things are delivered unto him.’ He bears the keys: to Him we must go for admission into heaven. He is the door: through Him we must enter. He is the Shepherd: we must hear His voice, and follow Him, if we would not perish in the wilderness. He is the Physician: we must apply to Him, if we would be healed of the plague of sin. He is the bread of life: we must feed on Him, if we would have our souls satisfied. He is the light: we must walk after Him, if we would not wander in darkness. He is the fountain: we must wash in His blood, if we would be cleansed, and made ready for the great day of account. Blessed and glorious are these truths! If we have Christ, we have all things.”
Jesus is our only hope of being made right with God because Jesus is the sovereign gracious God of the universe in the flesh. As He goes on to say in the rest of verse 27, “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.” Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. As Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus, by His very nature and union with the Father, reveals the Father to those whom He chooses; He reveals who God is in His gracious will; and He revels Him to whomever He chooses. And what He lays out beautifully in the rest of our passage is who He is and who these people are that He chooses to reveal God to.
In verses 28-30 Jesus 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.” Notice first who He calls to come to Him: all who are heavy laden. These are those whom He has chosen to reveal the Father to. Not those with the most to offer, but those with the most need. These are the same childlike people in verse 25. In verse 25 we saw that God reveals the gospel truth to little children, to those who are weak, frail, and know they have much to learn; to those who have humility, trust, and vulnerability, feeling within themselves a sense of helplessness and dependence. And here we see that these same people are those who are weary from labor and heavy laden, burdened from their work and the weight of their depravity and the brokenness of this world.
So in contrast to what Jesus said in verse 25, about the gospel being hidden from the wise and understanding, here we see the gospel call, a call to come and rest to those who know they lack perfect wisdom, who know they lack perfect understanding, who are weary, broken, and needy. The only thing we need in order to come to Christ is to be needy. The only prerequisite for being included in Jesus’ gospel call here is to be broken, vulnerable, and in much need. We don’t have to buy or trade, or bring anything; in fact, to get in on this we are simply required to come to Christ empty handed, offering nothing but our brokenness and our baggage.
Charles Spurgeon notes, “This is all to our advantage, and to the display of our Lord’s great graciousness. We come, and therein he obtains the company of a beggar, a leper, a patient, a repulsive rebel: this is no gain to anything in him except his pity. But surely he expects something of us to reward him for receiving us? By no means. We are to come to him, not that we may give him something, but that he may give everything to us. What a Lord is this!”
This immediately makes me marvel at those who would reject such an invitation, at those who think themselves too wise and understanding for such a gospel and such a Savior. Why would you not want to get in on this?… But on the other hand, I used to be one of those people… and I can see how some might think this sounds too good to be true, or perhaps think that this isn’t safe. Like, if Jesus is calling us to come to Him in our neediness, in our brokenness, in our vulnerability, it seems like we’re taking a big risk of getting hurt. I mean, most of the time we are trying to act like we’re better than we are, like we have it all together. We clean our house spotless before guests come over because we want people to think our house always looks perfect. We post perfect pictures on social media and hang perfect pictures on our walls as if we always look like that, or that we have the perfect life or perfect family, when we really know the truth is quite different… truthfully, we’re a mess. And that’s what we are afraid people will find out if we take Jesus up on His offer… We are afraid that we’ll be rejected or that we’ll simply be found out, so this call to Christ doesn’t seem safe. But here we see that coming to Jesus with all of our brokenness is the safest thing we can do because of who He is.
Jesus says He is gentle and lowly in heart. And you need to understand that when He refers to His heart He isn’t simply speaking of His emotions. As Dane Ortlund points out, “The heart, in biblical terms, is not part of who we are but the center of who we are. Our heart is what defines and directs us…. The heart drives all we do. It is who we are.” And Jesus says the heart of who He is isgentle and lowly. That Jesus is gentle in heart means that He is meek, kind, gracious, and understanding. Ortlund says it means that, “The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.” And that Jesus is lowly in heart means that He is humble and accessible; He isn’t so high and mighty that He’s unapproachable and aloof from us, but He is approachable and welcoming. And this should utterly amaze us. Jesus, who is one with the Father… Jesus who is God in the flesh, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, the very God whom we have sinned against, says that He is not just gentle, not just lowly, but gentle and lowly in heart, at the very core of who He is… this is who He is, this is who God is…
God says of Himself in Exodus 34:6-7, He is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” And that’s exactly what Jesus is saying of Himself in our passage, only He’s showing us that the love, grace, and mercy of God are far more amazing than we ever thought. He is so gracious, so merciful, and so loving to sinners that He is meek, kind, understanding, humble, accessible, and welcoming towards them, even when they are at their worst… even when we are at our worst. He doesn’t merely point fingers, but opens His arms and bids us to come and rest… to place our heads upon His chest and to find rest for our souls. As the puritan Samuel Rutherford once said, “There’s are many heads resting on Christ’s bosom. But there’s room for yours there.”
There is no safer place for a weary soul to rest than upon Christ. He will not lose us; for He promises all that will come to Him, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). As His Word promises in Romans 8:38-39, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And just as He will not lose us neither will He reject us. In Romans 10:13 we’re told that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” In John 6:37 Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
In the King James it says He will in no wise cast us out. And the author of my favorite book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, marveling at the beauty of this promise helps us feel the weight of it. “But I am a great sinner, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I am an old sinner, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I am a hard-hearted sinner, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I am a backsliding sinner, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I have served Satan all my days, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I have sinned against light, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I have sinned against mercy, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ. But I have no good thing to bring with me, [you say]. ‘I will in no wise cast out,’ says Christ.” He will not reject us; He will never cast us out. We are safe in Him. We need nothing but our need of Him. Yes, your neediness will be found out, but the rest you find in Him is far better than the praise of the world.
The puritan Thomas Brooks comments on this beautifully. He says, “‘Come,’ says Christ, ‘and I will give you rest.’ I will not show you rest, nor barely tell you of rest, but I will give you rest. I am faithfulness itself, and cannot lie, I will give you rest. I who have the greatest power to give it, the greatest will to give it, the greatest right to give it, come, laden sinners, and I will give you rest. Rest is the most desirable good, the most suitable good, and to you the greatest good. Come, says Christ; that is, believe in Me, and I will give you rest; I will give you peace with God, and peace with conscience: I will turn your storm into an everlasting calm; I will give you such rest, that the world can neither give to you nor take from you.” This rest, this Christ is worth losing the praise of the world for; indeed He is worth counting all things as loss for. Come with nothing and you find everything in Him.
We come with our nothingness and our brokenness, and in Christ we find rest for our weary souls, we find peace and joy in Him. We have to be open and vulnerable, which feels risky and scary, but He is worth it. This openness and vulnerability, this willingness to count all things as loss is the yoke Christ speaks of in our passage. Again, He says, “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.” A yoke is a device that joins an animal to another animal or to a wagon or plow, but biblically it’s often used to refer to that which binds someone to someone else or even sometimes to refer to the burden of slavery and bondage. But here Jesus says His yoke is easy, His burden is light. By easy He doesn’t mean without hardship or suffering, but that His yoke is kind and gracious. And when He says His burden is light He means it’s like no burden at all. Dane Ortlund explains, “What helium does to a balloon, Jesus does to His followers.” Like a drowning man putting on the “burden” of a life preserver, so it is for us to put on the burden and the yoke of Christ. For it is when we come to Jesus with all of our sin and baggage, with all of our brokenness, with all of our weariness that we find true genuine rest. And the rest we find is in Him. He’s the One who restores and comforts us; and He is worth any and every yoke and burden.
J. C. Ryle notes, “He says, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ No doubt there is a cross to be carried, if we follow Christ. No doubt there are trials to be endured, and battles to be fought. But the comforts of the Gospel far outweigh the cross. Compared to the service of the world and sin, compared to the yoke of Jewish ceremonies, and the bondage of human superstition, Christ’s service is in the highest sense easy and light. His yoke is no more a burden than feathers are to a bird. His commandments are not grievous. His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace.” In short, Jesus is worth it, because Jesus is better.
What we see in this passage is simply Jesus offering us everything in Him. We aren’t to do anything or bring anything, but only to receive the treasure that is Christ. And this isn’t meant only for those who are coming to know Jesus for the first time, but this is for us Christians as well. We’re at the start of a new year, following a year that’s been full of hardship and baggage. Most of us feel weary and heavy laden, especially after the last few weeks we’ve had; we all feel how broken and needy we are. And here Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” He’s not calling us to come and be amazing for Him, but to come and be amazed by Him.
As I said earlier, I always feel this great urge to devote myself all the more to glorifying Christ at the start of a new year… And that can seem burdensome. But, here we see that it is as we look to Him and marvel, as we look to Him and find rest and satisfaction for our souls, that we truly magnify the glory of Christ. We don’t glorify Christ by acting like we are better than we are, or by merely trying harder or doing better… We glorify Christ by showing how good and gracious He is with our lives, and we do that first and foremost by resting in Him.
Jesus displays who God is by being who He is, because he is God in the flesh. And who He is at the very core of His being, in His heart, is gentle and lowly. And we display who Jesus is with our lives when we trust in Him and rest in Him. That’s how we glorify Him, and that’s how we receive all that we need. His glory and our rest, His glory and our joy, His glory and our salvation are linked. We magnify the glory of Christ, we display who He is and how good He is when we take Him up on His offer to come to Him and rest in Him. Who He is is gentle and lowly; and who we are is broken and needy… And Jesus says to come to Him just as we are. And when we do we truly magnify who He is. And that’s how we glorify Christ. No doubt, we must fight sin, pursue holiness, and seek to be faithful in this world… But that starts with and is fueled by this glorious Christ who grants weary sinners like us rest for our souls. So let’s commit ourselves to magnifying the glory of Christ this year by running to Him and resting in Him again and again. Let’s not focus so much on being amazing for Christ, but being amazed by Christ, and there find rest for our souls.