By Tom Wells
Let us look at the words of the Lord Jesus once more:
There is the closest connection between these words and the barriers I have been speaking about, and I want to show you what it is.
Earlier I said that God became man to put aside the barriers that stand between Him and us. We have seen that those barriers are our corruption and our guilt. The problems are entirely on our side, in us and in our relation to God's law. That is why God became man. That is why we must listen when the God-man, Jesus Christ, speaks to us. We would be wise to pay attention even if His words were words of judgment and terror. But here we catch the sound of mercy. These are gracious words. He invites us to Himself. Let us see if we can grasp what that means.
At first glance the problem involved in coming to Christ seems to exist because He is not physically here. When daddy says "Come here", or "Come to me", a child knows what to do. He crosses the room, the field, the street, or whatever space there is between him and his father. In that way he obeys his daddy's command. For the most part it is not hard to answer this call when a small amount of space lies between two people. And if Jesus Christ were here we could answer His call in the same way.
But, of course, we cannot see Jesus Christ. And even if we could, that would not meet our need. After all, the people who heard the Lord Jesus say these words were in His presence physically. Crowding closer to Him would not have given them rest. No, when Jesus said, "Come to me", He had something else in mind. And we, who cannot see Him, may be thankful that He did!
The day Jesus spoke these words He gave the same invitation in two different ways. I think it will help us to put the two side by side:
If we look closely we will see that each statement has three parts. The same brief outline will serve for each:
1. An Invitation (which is also a command)
The first column has the invitation as we have been looking at it already. But note the second column. It too is an invitation, the same invitation. Both start with a command from Jesus. And both end with a promise. In each case it is the same promise, a promise of rest. Clearly Jesus is repeating Himself. He does it for emphasis. And He does it to make Himself clear. In this matter we dare not misunderstand Him.
Between His invitation and His promise Jesus has put two descriptions of men. In the first column He describes men who feel the crush of life. They are "weary and burdened". In the second column Jesus describes Him-self. "I am gentle and humble in heart", He says. Jesus is the very kind of person a weary, burdened man would like to meet.
I want us to look closer at the two ways Jesus puts His invitation. Do you see that Jesus evidently intends to make both opening statements mean the same thing? "Come to me" and "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me" are twins. What one means, the other means. To come to Christ is to take up His yoke and to embrace His teaching.
In using the word "yoke" Jesus touched the world of His hearers in two ways. First, they came from a farming society. Yokes were a commonplace in their daily lives. They themselves plowed with oxen yoked together, or they often saw others do so. Beyond that fact, however, was another. The word "yoke" had a further frequent use. It was used by the rabbis (Jewish teachers) of a man's obligations. They spoke, for instance, of "the yoke of the Law". A man in Israel was obliged to keep God's Law in its fulness. His obligation was his "yoke". If a man took up some new obligation, he took a new yoke upon himself. He was now bound in a new way.
A "yoke", then, meant submission. When Jesus spoke of "my yoke" He was calling His hearers to submit to His authority. His call was not first of all to a set of rules. He was urging men to be loyal to His person. Jesus was speaking as a King who wants His subjects to love and to trust Him as well as to keep His commands. And He does so still. When He says "Come to me" He presses you to give yourself up to Him as Lord. You must never read His words as if they were impersonal. In the New Testament the Lord Jesus says "Come to me" in many ways. Each time He is calling for your allegiance.
Sometimes Jesus urges men to come to Himself with the simple word "believe". It is a word that is easy to misunderstand, so I want to take it up next. But here, first, are some examples of Jesus' use of it:
Later on, the apostles put the same emphasis on believing in Christ. Paul, for instance, says to a jailer in Philippi,
Clearly, to believe in Jesus Christ is the central part of the Christian message. But what does it mean?
To believe in Jesus Christ means to trust Him. If we think about what we do when we really trust any person at all, we will have a good idea of what Christ meant when He invited men to believe in Him. I want to pursue this for a moment so that the process will be clear in our minds.
Let me start with a distinction. In my book, Faith: the Gift of God, I put it this way:
To make this clearer let me put it in story form. Suppose I am driving my auto from Cincinnati, where I live, to Chicago. That is a distance of about 300 miles, so I would be glad for some company. Along the way I see a poorly dressed hitchhiker. I stop and pick him up.
This fellow's face does not inspire confidence. His eyes have that beady look that is always associated with villains in western movies. In fact, it is not long before I wish I had heeded my wife's parting advice, "Don*t pick up hitch-hikers!"
Outside Indianapolis I see that I am low on gasoline. While I am stopped to get gas I turn to my newly found "friend" and hand him a dollar bill.
"Here, take this and get us both a Coke."
"Okay," he grunts, and off he goes with my dollar. In a minute or two he is back with our drinks. But the errand has done nothing for his appearance; he looks as villainous as ever. In fact, I am glad to end the story here, just to get rid of him!
Now let me ask you a question. Would you say that I trusted that man? After all, I gave him my money. Isn't that trust? What about it?
The truth is this: I trusted him to buy us both a Coke. When he said, "Okay", I believed him; I took him at his word. But you could never say, "Tom trusted him", and stop there. You would come nearer the fact if you said just the opposite!
Let me quote my earlier book once more:
Now this is what Jesus Christ presses upon you: a settled attitude of reliance toward Him. He asks you to rest upon all His claims and statements. And when you have done that you will have trusted in Him.
I think there is some confusion about this in the minds of many. It is so easy to say you trust Jesus Christ to do this or that for you. But that will not do. That is what is sometimes called "easy believism". It is Jesus Christ, the person, whom you must trust. You are not allowed to take up just one promise of Christ and rest on it. You must rely on Him.
I feel that I must pursue this further so that there can be no mistake about it. Many years ago I had a conversation with a girl I will call Millie. She was living an openly immoral life. The conversation went something like this:
"Millie," I asked, "are you a Christian?"
"I certainly am!"
"But, Millie, how can you live such an ungodly life and still make that claim?"
"I know the gospel as well as you do," she countered. "It says, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. I believe in Jesus and therefore I am saved. Someday I'll go to heaven just like you!"
I am ashamed to say it, but back then I was at a loss to know how to answer Millie. I see now what Millie's problem was, but I could not see it then. It appears that Millie did truly believe that the Lord would take her to heaven. There was a good deal about the Lord that she did not believe in, however. She did not believe that He knew better than she did how her life should be lived. Of course she would not have said that. If I had asked her, "Don't you think the Lord was wise in forbidding sexual looseness?", I do not doubt what her answer would have been. "Yes", she would have said. After all it does not take any of us long to learn to say the right words. That is easy. But Millie's life showed that she thought she knew better than the Lord.
Now, of course, I am not Millie's judge. We may both be thankful for that! But the idea that Millie illustrates is very widespread. It comes to something like this: if I trust Jesus to keep me out of hell He will do so. Or this: if I believe that Jesus died for me I shall be all right. Or even this: since I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart, and I believe that He came in, I am now a Christian.
What do these ideas have in common? Each of them may - I emphasise the may - each of them may fall far short of faith in Christ in any comprehensive sense. They may represent something much less than faith in Jesus Christ as a person.
Follow me closely here; I do not wish to be misunderstood. No one knows better than I that a new Christian may not be able to set forth his faith in a way that would satisfy a theologian. For that reason a true Christian might say any of the things I have mentioned above. He might truly trust Christ and describe his faith by the simple words, "I believe Christ died for me", or "I believe Jesus will keep me out of hell". I would not want to deny that. A man or woman can be a Christian in the fullest sense without being skilled at analysing all that is going on in his or her heart. Or without being good at expressing it!
But here is the point. In our anxiety that you should become a Christian we may offer you something less than Jesus Christ Himself. We may isolate one promise and offer you that. Yet that will not do. It is not enough. It is not this that promise you are to trust, but a person. And when you believe in Jesus Christ you will not find it hard to believe that His commands are as important as His promises. You will think that each was shaped by the same immeasurable wisdom. And in thinking that, you will be right!
If you have followed me thus far, you will see, I think, why the Lord Jesus spoke as He did. "Come to me" is a good way to express what He asks of you. So also is "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me". At first glance these may seem to be different things. But each says "Trust Me, believe in Me, follow Me". That is what "coming to Jesus" is all about.
There is one more word that describes the change that Jesus is pressing upon you. That word is "repent". I want to take it up next.
In simplest terms, "to repent" means "to change one's mind". The word, by itself, does not tell you what you are to change your mind about. You need the whole Scripture to tell you that. But there is the root of the matter. When you are told to "repent" you are commanded to change your mind.
Some Christians object to the phrase, "change your mind". They do not like it, I think, because we so often "change our minds" about trivial things. A man may want an ice-cream cone. He settles on strawberry. Then, just before it is dipped up, he picks another flavor. "I think I'll have chocolate instead; I've changed my mind!" How easy it is, in this instance, to change one's mind! It makes not one particle's worth of difference in this ice-cream lover's way of life.
The Bible's command to repent is of another kind. It calls for a comprehensive change of mind. No cranny of a man's being is left undisturbed when he repents in the biblical sense. He has new values. He sees life differently. New feelings excite him. And I must not leave out his actions: they are turned about, in the direction of godliness. When a man "changes his mind" in this sense, his "mind" is equivalent to his entire inner life.
How would you change if you were to repent? Well, for one thing, you would have a change of mind about God. Let me tell you the extremes a man's mind is likely to run to when he thinks of God. You will know better than I whether what I say describes yourself.
On the one hand a man will often put thoughts of God as far from himself as possible. That extreme is to avoid God. Paul spoke of men who "did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God" (Romans 1:28). To a natural man it often seems desirable to ignore his Creator. It has to be done, he fancies, in order to get on with the "important things" (such things as pursuing his own career and ambitions). God, he is sure, will not be offended. For, of course, no offense is intended!
How easy it is for a man to cast off all serious thoughts of God!
But there is another extreme. A man may often think of God . . . as a means to his own ends! He is poor, and God is a means to prosperity. He is sick, and God is the way to health. He is in danger, but courting God may yet bring him safety. How convenient, in these cases, to fall back on God! No wonder Paul warned against men "who think godliness is a means to financial gain" (I Timothy 6:5)!
And how will you think of God, if you repent? How will your mind be changed? In this way: you will begin to be attracted to the God of Scripture. God will seem worthy to be known for who He is. You will realize the folly of thinking of God as the means to some "higher" end. You will not only pray the prayer, "Thy will be done" (as you may have prayed it many times before), but you will rejoice in praying it, even in adversity and pain. I do not say that you will never again give in to the extremes I have mentioned above. You will not be perfect, nor on the verge of perfection! But you will look on avoiding the thought of God, or using Him for your own ends, as temptations against which you must fight. And you will frequently win the fight!
You will also have a change of mind about the barriers I have spoken of. Take the matter of guilt. It may be that right now your guilt troubles you for two reasons. First, it makes you uncomfortable, and second, it may send you to hell. But, if you repent, a third thing will come into play. It is this. You will hate the thought of grieving your Maker. It will seem to you the height of ingratitude and thanklessness to offend the gracious God.
And as for your corruption, you will view it in a new light. In fact, it may not be too much to say that you will glimpse the depth of it for the first time. But that is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite! It is a giant step in coming to appreciate our Savior, the Lord Jesus. You will set a new value on Christ when you see the pit from which He will save you.
So there you have it, the meaning of Jesus' invitation, "Come to me . . ." It means to believe in Him, to trust Him, and to learn from Him. It means to take a new view of God and of your guilt and corruption. It means a thorough change of mind. It means submission to Another and seeking to do His will. In a word, it means taking up a new life and leaving the old life behind. All of that is implied in coming to Christ.
In the following chapters you will hear the Lord Jesus say repeatedly, "Come to me!" I hope you will listen.
But suppose you had a friend you wanted me to believe in, and to whom I should entrust my life. How would You go about convincing me? Would you say, Believe, believe, believe!"? I do not think so. That would not be the wisest way. And it is not what I hope to do in the rest of this book.
No, if you had a friend whom you wanted me to trust, you would show me your friend! It would be necessary, of course, to tell me to trust him. You might do that more than once. But that would not be the main burden of your conversation. Instead you would tell me of his qualities and show me his character. That is what you would do if you were wise. And that is what I want to do in your case.
In the following chapters I hope you will hear Jesus saying "Come to me" and "Believe in me". And I pray that you will respond. But I have the most pleasant part of my task in front of me. I want to tell you in detail about the Lord Jesus. I will seek to display Him in His person and work. No Christian could ask for a more satisfying task. I trust you will join me.