Jesus makes a lot of promises to those who follow Him, but not all of them are comfortable promises:
“Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
“You will be hated by everyone because of my name” (Matt. 10:22).
“For I came to turn a man against his father, daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matt. 10:35-36).
It seems, in fact, that though tremendous crowds of people gathered to listen to Jesus teach and witness the miracles He would perform, Jesus sought to thin the crowds when it came time to actually stop merely listening and start actually following. He made no bones about the cost of discipleship; to follow Jesus involves laying down your life. And, as we see in these promises, the life of following Jesus is anything but comfortable.
Promises like these, and the reality of what it might have cost or is going to cost you, seem to contradict something else Jesus said about following Him. For He made another promise – the one with a seemingly different vibe than the others:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-29).
Hatred; persecution; conflict; yes, we can expect all these things when we follow Jesus. But according to Him, we can also expect rest. How can these things fit together? After all, a life riddled with conflict, hatred, viciousness, attack, and loss upon loss seems anything but restful. It seems, actually, like the exact opposite. How can Jesus, then, have the audacity to promise us rest when we come after Him?
Perhaps part of our difficulty in understanding this is rooted in our misunderstanding of what rest really is. See, real rest is not sleep because we can take a nap only to wake up feeling even more tired and burdened by the worries and anxieties of the day. Neither is rest leisure, for leisure can be merely a means of temporary escape from the responsibilities and conflicts awaiting us back in real life. No, rest is something else – something deeper:
“Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).
The kind of rest described here isn’t so much an isolated instance but a state of being that’s lived inside of. But also notice that this is an intentional state we must pursue, making every effort to do so. And thirdly, true rest is only capable because of the gospel. And that’s the key to understanding why following Jesus is really the only thing that can bring us rest. It’s because though following Jesus might bring conflict, suffering, and even persecution, it also enables us to lay down the things that truly keep us from resting.
Why are we unable to rest? Why can’t we put down the project at work? Why can’t we stop worrying about the future? Why do we stay up at night plagued with anxiety? It’s because we are failing to believe all the things that the gospel confirms for us:
That we have nothing left to prove before man and God.
That our identify is secure as a child of God in Christ.
That God will give us our daily bread as surely as He sacrificed His Son for us.
That come what may, we will never be separated from His love in Jesus.
These are the things that keep us from resting, and these are the things the gospel tells us. So how do you make every effort to enter this state? To live with a sense of rest? You do it by believing the gospel. And that belief moves us moment by moment, over and over again, into the firm conviction that we can lay our burdens on the back of Jesus. Real rest comes when we trust in and celebrate the finished work of Jesus Christ, and follow Him.