The Great Inclusion
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:28a-e (Holman) “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and
burdened,. . .”
The Great Invitation (“Come”) is offered by Jesus, the Great Inviter (“to Me”) and the Great Includer (“all of you who are weary”). This broad invitation to all who are weary is far-reaching, but not widespread enough to satisfy Jesus’ huge heart. Christ thus added what I call the Great Inclusion (“and burdened”).
“Weary” refers to those seeking to earn their own salvation, striving to merit Heaven through good works. They grow fatigued because they keep straining.
They never know if they’ve done enough to earn everlasting life. Insecure, they work harder and harder, yet assurance of salvation continues to elude them.
Jesus, knowing uncertainty can be disconcerting, addressed this dilemma, dealing with both the active and passive side of trying to earn salvation. “Weary” (KJV “labor”) is the active side; “burdened” (KJV “heavy laden”) the passive side.
By doubling the phrase, talking of active and passive sides of this quandary, Jesus highlighted the load’s enormity. People struggling to win God’s favor are encumbered, worn out seeking for security. The burden of uncertainty exhausts.
Fear about where one will spend eternity is the burden of burdens, casting gloom over all of life, making death a terror, and turning the grave into a prison.
Atlas, carrying the whole world on his back, bore a small load compared to frail humans straining under the cargo of insecurity about Heaven and fear of Hell.
God never meant for people to suffer this mental torture. No farmer forces a mule to pull a wagon of freight and at the same time carry on its back a big load.
What a farmer wouldn’t do to a Missouri Mule, Satan does to human beings. He convinces them to pull huge loads, to exert themselves to drag the wagon of salvation. Then he jumps on their back, exhausting them even more with burdens.
The sinner, striving to merit God’s smile, pulls and tugs with all his might, to what end? Merely to further exhaustion. The active effort does not relieve the passive suffering. The heavy load of efforts at merit gives no relief to the heart.
Contemplating the possibility of being the object of God’s wrath is enough to sink anyone into a fit of depression and tension. The old superstition said anyone who laid on their back all night staring at the moon (Latin, luna) would be a lunatic by sunrise. If a person spent every second of one full night pondering the possibility of everlasting punishment, maybe they would indeed lose their mind.
To keep from pondering this scenario too seriously too long, people make one of three responses to the inner angst this unsettling speculation can cause.
First, people try to ignore it. Confused by the din, noise, and babble coming at them from every direction, people shut it out of their minds. Overwhelmed by the tidal wave of opinions and competing religions, the hearers shut down, turn off their spiritual ears, discard all spirituality, and instead embrace only the secular.
More and more people are choosing this option. Secularism (atheism) was the world’s fastest growing “religious” persuasion during the twentieth century.
This resolute denial of all things spiritual is an ostrich mentality, but does enable one to live life without constantly worrying about suffering God’s wrath.
Second, a person can reject Biblical Christianity, and accept one or more of the other options tendered about how to know God. This option forces a person to undertake the task of earning God’s favor according to the tenets of their religion.
These varied religious options look different on the surface, but a closer look reveals one huge common denominator. All these options, without exception, teach that the devotees of their faith system have to earn God’s favor.
The concept of grace is unheard of outside Biblical Christianity. The vast majority of the world’s people laugh at the notion, deeming it too good to be true. They labor endlessly, trying to merit salvation, to compensate for sinful failures.
Third, a person can heed our text, and come to Jesus. A sense of separation from God is a depressing burden. Guilt can bend us to the ground, and crush us.
We can try to ignore this inner brooding about our distance from God, or we can labor endlessly, trying to bridge the gap, or we can come to Jesus. The only hand able to lift from our shoulders the burden of sin is the nail-scarred hand.
Our salvation and peace of mind are the very reasons Jesus allowed His hands to be pierced. For our deliverance and assurance He died. Christ died not only to save us from our sins, but also to give us confidence about being saved.
Jesus sweetly speaks gentle comfort to a groaning world. Listen. He wants to interrupt our toil. “Come to Me, all who are weary of working for salvation, and burdened by a nagging fear of everlasting separation from God.” He tries to catch our attention. Hear Him. “Stop! No longer carry the burden of failure.”
Jesus spoke against Pharisees and other religious leaders who laid heavy burdens on people, “They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders” (MT 23:4a Holman). Rejecting grace, the leaders demanded adherence to God’s Law, and to their petty, meticulous embellishments on it.
Even some early Christians deemed grace a message too good to be true. Many tried to force unbelievers to try to earn their salvation by keeping the Law.
To debate this issue, a council of church leaders was convened in Jerusalem. Peter rebuked the anti-grace crowd. “Why, then, are you now testing God by putting on the disciples’ necks a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (AC 15:10-11a Holman).
Christians still struggle with grace, often deeming it too good to be true. Religious rules, legal requirements, and manmade regulations are a never ending nuisance, barnacles which always tend to attach themselves to the ship of Zion.
For many, this trying to wade through manmade rules and requirements is their “burden,” their ultimate spiritual vexation. Others, though, find the heaviest “burden” to be a crushing sense of sin, a smitten conscience, bitter remorse.
They echo the cry of David, “My sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear” (PS 38:4 HSB). They groan out Wesley’s song.
Depth of mercy! Can there be Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear, And the chief of sinners spare?
I have long withstood His grace; Long provoked Him to His face;
Would not hear His gracious calls; Grieved Him by a thousand falls.
Jesus, answer from above; Is not all Thy nature love?
Wilt Thou not the wrong forget? Lo, I fall before Thy feet.
Does the fountain of God’s grace run dry? Never. Can a sinner go too far to be saved? No. No. No. But some may feel they have gone as far as they can go in trying to earn salvation or ease their guilt. The road has become weary.
If the pressure is about to make you explode, if you can’t take much more, don’t give up on God. Don’t ever believe Satan’s lie that all hope is lost.
Instead of collapsing under the load of uncertainty and guilt, look over your shoulder. You will see God’s grace close behind in hot pursuit of your heart.
The load of our guilty conscience may be huge, our weight of sin crushing, yet Jesus offers relief. Sin is a load too heavy to be carried by anyone except Jesus. He can bear the load, He already did. On the cross, He bore it all that I might live.
Whether your “burden” is rules or sins, walk away from your obsession with them. Come to Jesus. Lay down your troubled mind and burdened conscience.
Heed the Great Invitation of the Great Inviter and Great Includer. Become part of the Great Inclusion. “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”