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Come unto Me: Sin and Salvation

Many are tormented from time to time with doubts that Jesus loves them. They see something judging them on Facebook or You Tube. A works-righteousness church they left tells them they are going to hell because they have converted to salvation by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone. Family members and friends can add to the torment.

Dear one, let me say kindly but plainly to you: Listen to Jesus.

What does Jesus say?

Jesus says:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

What labor? Heavy laden by what? What is the rest Jesus gives? How is his yoke easy? How is his burden light?

From these words of Christ we hear:

  • The call of sinners to repentance, which is contrition and faith. Here we have Law and Gospel, sin and salvation.
  • The call of sinners to the Sacrament of the Altar.
  • The assurance of sinners who worry about secret counsels of God in his election unto eternal life.

We can confirm this from our Bible commentaries, Luther’s sermons, the Lutheran confessions, and the Catechism.

Lenski says:

“All those laboring” . . . are all those who are trying to work out their own salvation, and the more serious they are, the more they will toil. “All those who have been loaded down” . . . are all those who have let others load them down with what the latter think will secure salvation.[1]

This interpretation matches Jesus’ words later in Matthew, “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matthew 23:4)

Also in accord is Kretzmann:

Full of both authority and kindness is His call, going out to the fatigued and the burdened, to the poor sinners whose weight of transgressions is bowing them down to earth, who can find no solace or relief in all the wide world.[2]

Again, G. Jerome Albrecht and Michael J. Albrecht say:

The weary and burdened are the ones to whom Jesus chooses to reveal the Father. These are the same people Jesus has described as the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who acknowledge their sinfulness and realize that it is a burden too heavy for them to bear, that this load will drag them down to hell if they must bear it by themselves—they are the ones to whom Jesus promises rest. And this rest is his gift. “I will give you rest,” Jesus says.[3]

Luther preaches:

You “who labor and are heavy-laden,” that is, with the law, with sin, with anxiety and affliction, and with whatever also may burden the conscience.  . . . So whoever feels his sinfulness and who knows his inability to fulfill the law of God, let him come confidently and boldly; he will be helped. “I will give you rest,” he says to those who are oppressed, as it were, with hard labor and toil.[4]

This interpretation is a matter of confessional principle in the Lutheran church, for we confess it in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

Christ says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Here there are two parts, The “labor” and the burden signify the contrition, anxiety, and terrors of sin and death. To “come to” Christ is to believe that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. When we believe, our hearts are brought to life by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word. Here, therefore, are these two chief parts: contrition, and faith. In Mark 1:15, Christ says, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” In the first clause He convicts of sins, and in the second He comforts us and shows the forgiveness of sins. Believing the Gospel is not the general faith that devils also have, but in the proper sense it is believing that the forgiveness of sins has been granted for Christ’s sake.[5]

Luther says:

The yoke that Christ lays upon us is sweet, and His burden is light. When sin has been forgiven and the conscience has been liberated from the burden and sting of sin, then a Christian can bear everything easily.[6]

So, Jesus is talking about sin and salvation, guilt and forgiveness, Law and Gospel, unbelief and faith, self-righteousness and the righteousness of Christ given to us by his Word and Sacraments. This understanding is both confessional and catechetical for Lutherans, for Luther makes the connection between the call of Christ in Matthew 11:28 and the Sacrament of the Altar in his Large Catechism. While speaking of Christ’s words, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” Luther says:

Here He offers to us the entire treasure that He has brought for us from heaven. With the greatest kindness He invites us to receive it [the Sacrament of the Altar] also in other places, like when He says in St. Matthew 11: 28, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[7]

Luther uses this as motivation to move people to come to the Sacrament. He continues:

Because of your distress, this command, invitation, and promise are given to you. This ought to move you.  . . . He means those who are weary and heavy laden with their sins, with the fear of death, temptations of the flesh, and of the devil. If, therefore, you are heavy laden and feel your weakness, then go joyfully to the Sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength [Mathew 11:28][8]

This teaching also is given in the article on “The Holy Supper” in the Formula of Concord:

Some Christians have a weak faith and are shy, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the great number of their sins. They think that in their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and Christ’s benefits. They fell their weakness of faith and lament it, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience.  These are the truly worthy guests, for whom this highly venerable Sacrament has been especially instituted and appointed. For Christ says:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28).[9]

The Formula of Concord also uses this verse when teaching our Lutheran faith and confession concerning election unto salvation.

Whoever would be saved should not trouble or torment himself with thoughts about God’s secret counsel, about whether he also is elected and ordained to eternal life. Miserable Satan usually attacks with these thoughts and afflicts godly hearts. But they should hear Christ, who is the Book of Life, and hear about God’s eternal election to eternal life for all of His children. Christ testifies to all people without distinction that it is God’s will that all people should come to Him “who labor and are heavy laden” with sin, in order that He may give them rest and save them [Matthew 11:28].[10]

The words of Christ in Matthew 11:28 are his Gospel invitation to salvation and his revelation of the will of God that you be saved.

As we confess in the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried.

Think of this: the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, for us and for our salvation was incarnate and made man, and for us and our salvation was crucified. For us he suffered and was buried. That is who He is and what He did. Did He do this with only half a thought, half a heart for you? No, of course not. He gives everything, his whole self and life, for you.

Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
See on the portals, He’s waiting and watching
Watching for you and for me

Come home, come home
Ye who are weary, come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling, “Oh, sinner, come home”

Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised
Promised for you and for me
Though we have sinned He has mercy and pardon
Pardon for you and for me

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 456-457.

[2] Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament, vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), 65.

[3] G. Jerome Albrecht and Michael J. Albrecht, People’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, rev. ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 171.

[4] Martin Luther, Sermon on St. Matthias’ Day, February 5, 1525, Luther’s Works: Sermons I, vol. 51, John W. Doberstein, ed. & trans. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 129.

[5] Philip Melancthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XIIA.44-46, Paul Timothy McCain, Ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 163.

[6] AE 26:133.

[7] Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Part V, The Sacrament of the Altar, Paul Timothy McCain, Ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 438; LC V.66.

[8] Ibid., 439; LC V.71-72.

[9] Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Paul Timothy McCain, Ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 573-574; SD VII.69-70.

[10] Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Paul Timothy McCain, Ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 611-612; SD XI.70.