Jesus' Invitation, Part 2

(Matthew 11:28-30)

"Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me." These opening words to the beautiful hymn, "Softly and Tenderly," fit with Jesus' description of Himself as "gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29b). Through the noise and commotion of our times, Jesus is calling us to Himself.

In contrast to Jesus' invitation there are many loud voices calling us today. Commercials and advertisements are louder and riskier than years ago. They want our attention. Some beckon us to indulge in human vices. The opening themes to sports shows are flashier and noisier than ever before, attempting to heighten our interest in the games. Many pop singers cry out their angry observations and assertions about the world and relationships. Our streets and skies are filled with the noise of people on the go.

Against this noisy backdrop comes the calm invitation of Jesus, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." The modern noise can grind us down. Jesus offers to refresh us and redirect us into the ways of His Father. People need to hear His invitation.

In Evangelism

People in Jesus' day were often confused about who He is. Jesus invited them to come and learn of Him. In our first article on Jesus' invitation last month in October, we noticed that He gave His invitation while talking with various groups about who He is. Jesus showed John's disciples that He is God's Messiah (Anointed One) based on His mighty works and the good news. Jesus referred to Himself as the "Son of Man" and "Lord of the Sabbath." He is "greater than the temple" and "greater than Jonah." The proof is in His death, burial and resurrection.

Jesus' invitation occurs in this context of reaching out and sharing the good news. He reveals the Father, not to the hardened unrepentant, but to those whom He chooses, to those with tender hearts that are weary and burdened.

The purpose of this article is to look at practical ways in which we can use Jesus' invitation in sharing the good news in different settings. Many people today are still not sure about who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. They need to hear His invitation.

In Small Groups

As we have seen, Jesus gave His invitation while teaching and preaching to various groups (Matthew 11:1). This passage is great for use in small groups. We have used it in our Bible Talk ministry. In this friendly setting of an evangelistic home Bible study, it is possible to engage the group in dialogue on the meaning of the passage.

Jesus' teachings raise many open-ended questions that will act as sparks to ignite discussion. Some of the questions we have used include: "Who did people think Jesus was in His day?"; "What does Jesus tell them to clarify just who He is?"; "To what kind of people does God reveal Himself?"; "What are some of the cares and burdens that God wants to free us from?"; "What does it really mean to put on Jesus' yoke and be His disciple?"; "How is Jesus' yoke easy and light in contrast with that of the world?"; "How does this passage give us a much clearer picture of who Jesus is, and of His saving power?"

In the broader context of the passage, Jesusí statement about the sign of Jonah (His death, burial, and resurrection) opens the door for discussing the gospel and God's plan of salvation. Jesus died for our sins so that we donít have to die. We come to Him in faith, repenting of our sins, confessing His name, and being immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins.

With Individuals

In working with individuals, the passage has potential to be virtually therapeutic. We face many questions of identity and purpose in this complex and often bewildering age. Jesusí invitation draws us to the one truly redemptive and refreshing way to find peace and meaning in life. We only find it in Him; He is the way.

This is much more than just temporary intellectual or mental relief. It is being engulfed in Jesus' love and compassion. It is life transforming. As individuals, we die to live in Him. He lives in us. We surrender our heavy burdens for His easy yoke and light load. It is light because it has a simple clear focus: the will of God.

There is as much, or more, confusion today about who Jesus is as there was when He walked on earth. There are hundreds of denominations and cults with their own views about Him. In one way or another, most of these dethrone Jesus from His rightful position as Lord, Messiah and Saviour. All of this can be confusing and wearisome to individuals.

Thankfully, instead of leaving us to learn about Him second-hand, Jesus invites us to come and learn about Him directly from Himself. This passage is one of many helpful starting places for learning of Jesus. Sincere seekers can hear straight from the Master Himself and learn His true identity from His own words.

We all know individuals who are in the midst of intensely difficult life situations. Perhaps they need to hear Jesus' invitation, not because it offers a quick answer, but because it leads to the only lasting way. In Him they can find rest, refreshment and purpose.

As a Sermon

Jesus first gave His invitation to a multitude of people in a public setting. It was part of Jesus' preaching ministry. As a sermon today, it is ideal for an outreach occasion such as a Bring Your Neighbour Day. A possible focus for a sermon from this passage could be: Jesus, the Messiah, calls us out of the cynicism and cares of the world to be His disciples, to learn from Him, and to find rest. The sermon function could aspire to arouse in people, who may have never though about Who Jesus really is, the desire to become his disciples. In Him, learning and working with Him, they will find their true purpose.

The sermon form could be much like the structure of Matthew 11 and 12. In the middle is Jesus' invitation to rest and His commands to take his yoke upon us and learn of Him. Jesus' invitation occupies a central position in Matthew 11 and 12. The first part of the sermon could be the questions and confusion, and finally the clarification, of who Jesus is. The last part, after the transforming invitation, could reflect on the true meaning of being His disciple.

Following the interactions between Jesus and those questioning Him, the style of the sermon could be deliberately conversational. Its conclusion could powerfully repeat Jesus' invitation and command to rest and discipleship and invite people to respond to Jesus in faith, repentance, confession, immersion, and holy living.

Following Another Message

In churches of Christ we normally end our sermons with an invitation for unbelievers to obey the gospel. This is a very important part of the lesson. It is sometimes helpful to sing a hymn or two between the end of the sermon and the invitation. This can make both the sermon ending and the invitation more powerful and memorable.

In this way, Jesus' invitation to rest and discipleship could follow a sermon on another, but related, Scripture or topic. It stands somewhat alone in its original context, like a beacon in a storm. It can also stand alone as a readily identifiable and memorable call to obedience.

We see that there are many ways in which we can extend Jesus' invitation to others in evangelism. We can help fulfil God's purpose for this wonderful passage by being the hands, feet and voices that carry Jesus' invitation to others, people with names and faces, people who Jesus is calling to Himself.

Paul Birston

November 2000©

Part 3 >>

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