Friends: This is the fourth chapter of a short book I wrote a couple of years ago. Comments welcome! Subsequent chapters to follow!
Saved! Chapter Four: LEARNING!
Calvin (not the Reformed theologian, but the cartoon character of “Calvin & Hobbes”) is standing in the pouring rain, waiting for the school bus. He says with great disgust, “Why do I have to go to school to learn things I don’t want to learn?”
“The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.” (Flannery O’Connor)
“Make no mistake about it — the demands of following Jesus Christ are indeed taxing. But it needs to be said in this context that the price of not following him is higher still.” Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus
We have seen in our study thus far that being saved means we have been rescued from our lostness, been loved by the Savior, and been lured into His family to go and catch others. In this chapter we will see that we have also enrolled in what I call “Jesus University.” We are called to be disciples, a word that simply means “learners.”
We read in Matthew 11:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
By Invitation Only
Jesus wants followers, but He describes the kind of people He wants to come. Those who qualify need to be “weary” and “burdened.” Those who are fully rested and carefree need not respond to the invitation.
Jesus promises rest to those who are invited. What about those who don’t think they need His rest? They can continue to live their lives spiritually restless rather than restful, independent of rather than intimate with the only One who can meet their need for soul rest.
Many factors bring a weariness of soul, not the least of which are our own shortcomings, our failure to put God first in our lives, our internal sense that we have not met God’s holy standard and therefore rightfully merit His judgment. This weariness of soul can be covered up, ignored, even anesthetized by the things of this world, but only Jesus’ rest will bring it relief.
Burdens can be good or bad for the soul. Some burdens drag us down, shove us to the brink of despair, cause us to question God and His goodness. Other burdens cleanse our souls of our self-focused mania, redirect our energies towards others, strengthen our resolve to trust God in the dark. The burdens which make it hard to take that next breath, which crush us with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, are not burdens given to us by a loving Creator. These burdens are efforts by the Evil One to bombard us with the questions, “You think God is GOOD?! Are you out of your mind? How could a good God treat you like THIS?!”
Burdens have the great potential to either turn us away from the Lord or guide us to Him, realizing that He and He alone can lift that burden, can transform it into an opportunity to see Him work.
Volunteering to Work
Jesus does not provide only soul-rest. Following Him doesn’t mean we have been given the gift of a present or eternal vacation. He also deploys those who have found His rest into His work. “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says. Yokes in the animal world are not freely chosen by the beasts of burden. They are imposed on them. Jesus appeals to our choice — “Take my yoke upon you.” But the voluntary acceptance of that yoke indicates that we are joining Jesus in His work. There is work to do. And the Savior invites us — the weary and the burdened — to yoke ourselves with Him in doing that work.
When I was a pre-teen, one of the more popular TV shows was “Dobie Gillis.” It was in black and white and featured the dating adventures of a loveable young man whose best friend was Maynard G. Krebs. Maynard was a beatnik (you might need to look that word up). What I remember most about Maynard was that whenever anyone used the word “work,” he would freak out and shout, “WORK? WORK!?!?!”
I’m afraid that’s how a lot of us feel. But we were created to engage in meaningful work (work was not a result of the fall in the Garden; weary work was).4 I believe we will even have work to do in the New Heavens and the New Earth!5
We are not commanded merely to take His yoke upon ourselves. We do not become slave labor in the plan of
4 Udo Middleman’s book Proexistence discusses this issue of the goodness of work.
Jesus. We become co-workers who also need to be educated.
Jesus issues the challenge to “learn from me.” Joining Jesus is not just a working environment; it is also a learning environment. We are to learn from Him. What does that mean?
When I was a first-year Bible college student, I had a particular attitude toward studying which I would not recommend. My attitude was most noticeable on Monday nights. I would take a quarter and flip it. “If it lands on heads,” I would say, “I’ll stay up half the night and watch ‘Monday Night Football.’ If it lands on tails,” I would say to any who were listening to me, “I’ll play chess until the wee hours of the morning with my roommate. But if it lands on its edge, I’ll study for tomorrow’s mid-term exam!”
The entire Christian life, from conversion to glorification, is a life of study. In fact, I believe that in eternity we will be learning and growing and more deeply appreciating the character and works of God. The one who loathes study has simply joined the wrong religion!
Perhaps a large part of our work for Jesus is learning of Jesus. He is our curriculum. Studying His character ought to merit the very best efforts of every one of His followers. We read in I John 2:6- “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
We need to study how Jesus lived His life — and follow Him! The four gospels provide abundant information on how He acted; how He reacted; what stirred His emotions of anger, disappointment, frustration, joy. This is far more than a “What Would Jesus Do?” kind of approach to life. This involves what would Jesus say?, how would He react?, what would Jesus have thought?
Becoming like Jesus begins with learning about Jesus. And learning about Jesus is not an elective course — it is the required curriculum for any who claim to be His followers.
One of my few academic strengths is my grasp of English grammar. When I was in high school, I struggled with grammar and punctuation issues. I would dangle a participle with nary a concern, split infinitives with reckless abandon, and not hesitate to cruelly splice commas wherever my adolescent mind would direct me. Someone advised me that the way to become excellent in English was to “fall in love with your English teacher!” My English teacher in my senior year was, amazingly, a knock-out! Falling in love with her was a no-brainer. I learned everything there was to learn about gerunds, misplaced modifiers, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, the proper care and feeding of an ellipsis, etc.
Now as a graduate professor I get to read papers from students who apparently did not fall in love with their English teachers, whose sentence fragments would fill twelve baskets full if Jesus were feeding the 5000, and who seem to have an unending supply of the words “it” and “thing” to use in their research papers (two words that should almost always be avoided).
One of my graduate students wrote me an email asking for approval of a particular research topic. Her brief email had at least five grammar mistakes in it! I wrote back, approving of her chosen topic, but also reminding her that her paper should be carefully proof- read because I am death on grammar and form issues.
She emailed me back and said, “Did you intentionally try to hurt my feeling with your comment about grammar?” I assured her that my intention was not to
“hurt her feeling,” but to help her strive for excellence in her work.
May I suggest that learning about Jesus will often “hurt our feeling”? He does not save us to make us happy, but holy, and His lesson plan does not have our emotional well-being at the top of His list!
Why should we learn from Jesus? There are many reasons, of course, but Jesus Himself provides a justification for our pursuit of Him. He tells us, “for I am gentle and humble in heart . . .” (v. 29). We read of the Messiah’s gentleness in Isaiah 42:
2 He will not shout or cry out,
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” That Isaiah 42 passage is quoted in Matthew 12:
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
till he has brought justice through to victory. 21In his name the nations will put their hope.”
This is the One we should study. He is not quarrelsome; He does not shout out in the streets. His gentle touch will not break a bruised reed. A wick almost out, barely smoldering, will not be pinched or extinguished by Him. His character is gentle, non- violent, kind. That is the Person we get to study.
He is also humble. He describes Himself as “humble in heart.” One is reminded of Moses who, when his authority was being challenged by Aaron and Miriam, wrote parenthetically, “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” (Num. 12:3). Moses did not defend himself on that occasion. Nor was his self-description refuted by the Lord.
What is the reward for learning of the Lord Jesus? Jesus Himself says, “and you will find rest for your souls.” (v. 29). It is one matter to find and enjoy rest for the body, but what about one’s soul? Where do we find true soul-rest? Answer: only in Jesus. We have been saved to come to Him, to labor for Him, to learn of Him, and to rest in Him. May I ask you, my friend, “Have you found your rest in Him?”