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Matthew 11 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Rest for the Little Ones

Just as Israel was wrongly secure in its status before God vis-a-vis the Gentiles (vv. 20-24), so the wise and powerful failed to recognize that God favored the children, the meek (vv. 25-30). Jesus summons not the mighty or wise to follow him, but the humble laden with heavy burdens (v. 28; compare 23:4), the weary, like Israel in exile, hoping in God alone (Is 40:29-31).

God Favors the Weak, Not the Arrogant (11:25-26)

Before the Lord of heaven and earth, human wisdom and power are nothing, so no one can protest if it was the Father's purpose (compare 3:17) to hide these things from the wise (compare 10:26; 13:11; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Job 12:24-25) and reveal them to little children (literally "infants," but applied figuratively in Greek to the helpless in general), the "little ones" (10:42; 18:10; on the revealing, see especially 16:17).

The wise of Jesus' day had careful rules for interpreting the Bible (including many we would now consider wrong); they prided themselves on their knowledge of traditional interpretations and sayings of the wise who had gone before them; they emphasized practical piety. But human tradition is hardly a dependable interpreter of God's Word (15:6-9), and faith built on mere human reason rather than the pure revelation of an unapproachably infinite God is doomed to fail, as the following narrative suggests (12:1-14). Intellectual and spiritual pride defy the fear of God, for we make our own minds and lives, rather than God, the judge, the final arbiter of right and wrong (compare 7:1-5). We should take heed; Jesus' religious contemporaries stressed humility far more than do most of our own (Bonsirven 1964:157-58).

Jesus Alone Reveals the Father (11:27)

In contrast to the wise and learned (v. 25), Jesus alone is in a position to declare exactly what God is like (v. 27). The Father has given Jesus the sole prerogative of revealing him, so anyone who approaches God a different way will not find him. Although other images (such as of a new Moses) may also be at work, Jesus describes himself here especially in the language of divine Wisdom (Witherington 1990:227; Davies and Allison 1991:296-97). Many Christian scholars suspect that Jesus' identity is a stumbling block even today for many of the colleagues among the wise and learned who trust in scholarly tradition more than they fear the Lord.

Jesus Offers Rest for the Broken (11:28-30)

Jesus speaks here of a figurative bondage of unprofitable labor under an inadequate understanding of God's law (23:4; Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1; compare Sirach 40:1; Did. 6; 1 Clement 16). Other teachers in Jesus' day and afterward spoke of accepting the "yoke of God's kingdom," or God's rule, by submitting to the yoke of the law rather than merely human rule. Like a good sage, Jesus invites disciples to learn from him. Yet Jesus did not interpret the law, including the law of rest (Mt 12:1-14), the same way his contemporaries did; his yoke was lighter. In contrast to his opponents (23:4), Jesus interprets the laws according to their original purpose, to which he is privy (5:17-48; 11:27; 12:8)-for example, interpreting sabbath laws in terms of devotion to God rather than universal rules (12:7) and divorce law in terms of devotion to one's faithful wife rather than a loophole to reject her (19:4-8).

By speaking of God's law as his own, Jesus implicitly claims authority from the Father greater than that of Moses himself (11:27); other Jewish texts would have spoken only of "God's" yoke here (Smith 1951:153), or of the yoke of Torah (Davies and Allison 1991:289). Jesus models his words directly after the invitation of Ben Sira in Sirach 51:23-27, but here it is Wisdom herself who speaks (compare Sirach 24:19-21). Obeying God will bring his people rest for [their] souls (Jer 6:16 MT).

They will find Jesus' yoke light because he is a Master who will care for them (Mt 11:29). Jesus' yoke is not lighter because he demands less (5:20), but because he bears more of the load with us (23:4). In contrast to unconcerned religious teachers who prided themselves on their own position, like some religious leaders today (23:4-7, 29), Jesus was going to lay down his life for the sheep (20:25-28).

When as a young Christian I first began to know what Jesus was like, I decided that no one could know what he was like and not fall madly in love with him; my new motive for obedience was not to disappoint the One who loved me as no one else had. When we learn of Jesus (see also Eph 4:20-21), we find the very Lord of the universe to be humble, preferring to dwell with the humble, the "little ones." If Jesus is meek, the people in whose lives he rules cannot be proud or self-centered either, for the kingdom belongs to the meek (5:3, 5).

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Judgment on Unrepentant Cities

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