I am studying Matthew these days, and this weeks reading returned me to Matthew 11. since I am yet again experiencing physical limitations after a 5th shoulder surgery, Jesus’ call encourages me afresh. How about you? In what ways do you need to rest more?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and 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
In our crazed world, we all want rest. The invitation to come to Jesus and receive rest appeals to most of us weary and heavy-laden people. And yet, we don’t think much about where our burdens come from or what it means that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Part of the reason we miss the full beauty of the invitation in this verse is that we don’t know what a ‘yoke’ is. A yoke is literally a bar or frame used to join two animals to pull a load. In the Bible, the imagery implies subjection and joining. As followers of Christ, we are yoked to him. As kingdom servants, we are meant to be in service, in subjection – to Christ our King. We are given loads to bear, burdens to carry, and we are equipped with tools to accomplish these tasks. According to Matthew 11:28-30, Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light. If this is true, why do so many of us experience our lives as a burden of burnout?
I think it’s because of our tendency to take on the yokes of other demi-gods who seem to promise us great reward for pleasing them. Romans 7 tells us that we will continue to wage the war against sin until Christ returns. Ephesians 6 tells us to put on armor because our battle is not against flesh and blood. In other words, we are constantly in a war for our hearts. The evil one works to bring us back into bondage to our sinful flesh and to his evil subjection. Satan, the accuser, lays all sorts of heavy loads on us, some subtle, some blatantly cruel. And we bow before them. Before we know it, we look and sound like a mean old octogenarian stooped over with osteoporosis, crabby-faced and claw-tongued, aching under the heavy yoke we wear.
And then we hear the incarnate Word, calling to us with his lessons of rest…
Oh dear sinner saint – are you a slave to the law? Are you trying to perform well enough to please the Lord who already delights in you? Hear the lesson of rest Jesus wants you to learn: “Let me put this question to you? How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?” (Galatians 3:2-4, The Message). Jesus beckons, “Yank off that yoke of the law, and join with me in free praise and glory to the King.”
Oh dear sinner saint – are you a slave to Satan’s accusations? Do you hear his angry voice condemning you over every failure, small and large, sinful and mistaken, as you walk through your day? Hear the lesson Jesus wants you to learn, “So sing, Daughter Zion!/ Raise the rafters, Israel!/Daughter Jerusalem, /be happy! celebrate!/God has reversed his judgments against you/ and sent your enemies off chasing their tails./From now on, God is Israel’s king,/ in charge at the center./There’s nothing to fear from evil ever again!” (Zephaniah 3:14-15, The Message) Jesus beckons, “Yank off that yoke of Satan, and hear me singing over you.”
Oh dear sinner saint – are you a slave to the cycle of addiction? You say you will not work 14 hours today and miss another volleyball game, you say you will not have that ‘one more glass of wine, just so I can relax’, you say you will follow the doctor’s orders and walk for 20 minutes today. And then you do it again. Hear the lesson of rest Jesus wants you to learn: “I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” (Romans 7:24-25, The Message) Jesus beckons, “Yank off that yoke of the flesh, and receive my grace to help in time of need.”
And so it goes with the lessons Jesus calls us to learn from him. We are yoked to the one who bore a yoke for us , except that Jesus was nailed to his yoke, this yoke a Cross. Nailed to this yoke, he bore the burden of Satan’s yoke of shame and he burst the chains of sin’s bondage, forever. Remembering the lesson of the One who broke sin’s yoke for us, we return to Jesus, bowing down for him to place his yoke upon our bodies. And then we laugh in wonder, thinking ‘this can’t be a yoke, it’s way too light.’ This is TOO EASY. Light and free, our bodies straighten and our chins rise; we carry ourselves like the princesses and princes we are. We run, we sing, we dance, free to live as we were meant to live. We go forth in service and subjection, plowing Kingdom ground for his honor and glory, and discovering that this work provides rest for our souls.