"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" - Those are the words of our Lord Jesus from Matthew 11:28-30.
I read this passage once to a group of teenagers and none of them knew what a yoke was. I really wasn't surprised. In the context of farming, a yoke is a device used to join (or connect) two animals so they could work together and share the load. Originally, yokes were constructed of a wooden bar that would be attached to oxen at the base of their horns. Later, the yoke was modified somewhat as man found better ways to do things.
Yokes were very important to mankind in days of old when mechanical inventions weren't available. Back then, they had to either do things themselves by hand, or get an animal to provide the brute strength to accomplish the task. Some designs for yokes, as you might expect, were better than others. Anytime a carpenter constructed a yoke, he would have to carefully measure the oxen and the dimensions of the neck and shoulders. If this wasn't done properly, the yoke wouldn't fit correctly. If a yoke was too big or too small, it would be more of a hindrance than a help. It's kind of like wearing shoes that are either too big or too small. It's an annoying experience to have shoes that are too large and slipping all over the place. Likewise, it is uncomfortable and perhaps even painful to try to squeeze into shoes that are too small. If a yoke was too small, then it would be totally useless since it couldn't even be put on the animal. If it was too big, it would be slipping off all the time and the farmer would spend more time putting the yoke back on than he would getting any work accomplished.
So, the key to a good, efficient yoke is to make sure that it fits properly. If a yoke fits snugly around the neck of an animal, then that animal can do his job very well and carry a heavy load. That's what Jesus meant when He said - "My yoke is easy" (Matt. 11:30). A yoke that fits is an easy yoke. In these verses, Jesus offered a great invitation to everyone, and part of that invitation includes receiving His yoke. Obviously, Jesus was talking about a spiritual yoke, not a physical one. He promised several things in this passage, but many people overlook the obligations that He imposed! Yes, Jesus promised rest, actually, He promised it twice (once in 11:28, and again in the next verse). Most believe that when Jesus said, "I will give you rest", that He was referring to the inner peace that comes from having one's sins washed away. Then, He went on to say, "and you will find rest for your souls." This time He seemed to be referring to that eternal rest that the faithful will enjoy in heaven--rest for our souls. In any case, before you can have this rest from your sins, or a home in heaven, you must first come to Jesus. Second, you must take His yoke upon you and bear the burden that accompanies it. And third, you must learn from Christ. Then, and only then, will you find true rest.
Let's examine each of these three points separately.
1. YOU MUST COME TO JESUS (Matt. 11:28).
As human beings, we all have trials and problems in our lives. Jesus invited all humans to come to Him when He said "all you who are heavy laden." Every human being will, at one time or another, be laden with difficulties. Jesus wants to help. But, we must come to Him! Jesus calls everyone to Him, but the tragedy is that relatively few answer the call! "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 20:16). Very few are chosen, because the majority won't come to Jesus on His terms. Many are indifferent or lukewarm. The prodigal son of Luke 15 would have never been reunited with his father had he not gotten up and left the far country. He said, "I will arise and go..." (Luke 15:18). And we must come to Christ! He is the giver of rest. He can refresh us and give us peace both on this Earth and in the life hereafter.
But, how can we come to Christ? Initially, our interest must be aroused enough so we will listen to the gospel and believe it. This is how we begin to answer His call. However, simply coming to Christ as someone who is curious about religion is not enough. In fact, it is not enough to just believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That alone will not save you!
Jesus taught this clearly in John 12:37-43. He had done so many miracles for the people. He had given them so many proofs to establish His identity as the Son of God. But, in spite of the mountain of evidence, their hearts were such that most of them simply would not believe. Their perversity and stubbornness of will had blinded them to the truth and no amount of evidence would have convinced them. However, some did believe, but their faith was shallow and superficial. Their faith did not prompt them to a full acknowledgment of Christ as the Son of God because they preferred the praise of men to the favor of God! They believed, but would not openly confess Him, and thus they were still lost according to Romans 10:9,10 - "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." They believed, but they would not confess, hence they only pretended to come to Christ. They weren't really willing to continue with Him and take up His yoke.
2. YOU MUST TAKE HIS YOKE UPON YOU AND BEAR THE BURDEN THAT ACCOMPANIES IT (Matt. 11:29,30).
Everyone who wants to be a follower of Christ must take up His yoke and bear the burden that accompanies it. But, how does one take Jesus' yoke upon himself? Well, as we mentioned before, this is a symbolic, spiritual yoke, not a physical one. We take the yoke of Christ upon ourselves when we submit to Him; when we give ourselves completely to Him and His cause. We become His servants in a similar way as oxen serve their owners. That may be a crude illustration, but it is fitting. Animals are supposed to do what their masters want simply because they command it. God expects the same of us, not as His animals or pets, but as His loving followers who want to serve Him.
When we follow our faith through with repentance, confession of faith, and baptism, as the Bible prescribes (cf. Acts 2:38), we take His yoke upon us. And, in the same way in which the yoke allows an ox to carry a great burden rather easily, so it is for us with Christ's yoke. When we obey the gospel we take Christ's yoke and all of the "burdens" of Christian life upon ourselves. Stephen, what do you mean "the 'burdens' of Christian life"? What are some of these "burdens"?
For example, we have the burden of denying self. Self-denial is a big part of serving the Lord. Paul spoke of this very thing in Romans 8:17. If we suffer with the Lord, then we will be glorified! Accepting the yoke of Christ implies the burden of no longer living for oneself and passing earthly pleasures. We must realize that we've been bought at a price. We're not our own. Therefore, we must glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits, which are God's (cf. I Cor. 6:19,20).
Another burden we have under the yoke of Christ is to grow in understanding and sound doctrine. The only way to be able to defend against error is to know the word of God! II Timothy 2:15 commands us to - "Be diligent to present yourselves approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." One of our responsibilities is to protect ourselves and each other from false teachings. This too is a burden to bear.
A third burden of the yoke of Jesus is a life full of service. Ephesians 2:10 reads - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Paul also wrote in Galatians 6:10 - "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." Our lives should be overflowing with good works for the Lord (e.g., evangelistic efforts, acts of benevolence, etc.).
There are other "burdens" or responsibilities of Christian living that we could elaborate upon, but suffice it to say that when we obey the gospel, we put on the yoke of Christ and it binds obedience upon us to the fullest extent.
The "burdens" that accompany the yoke of Christ may seem like a lot. One may wonder how Jesus could state that these burdens are "light." I think the key to understanding this point is the realization that Jesus' yoke is the burden that makes all other earthly burdens bearable! That is the beauty of the yoke of Christ. It makes all other burdens bearable! How so, Stephen? Under the yoke of Christ, men can withstand all the arrows that the devil has in store for us. Whether it be sorrow, misfortune, disease, death, or even such trying things as fame and fortune, all of these earthly burdens can be withstood; all of these trials will seem as a light traveling load for a Christian with the yoke of Christ! No man can overcome these things without Christ and His yoke! The weight of the world is too much without help from the Lord, and help is readily available. In fact, one of the beautiful things about the yoke of Christ is that we share it with others. Just as Paul said in Galatians 6:2 - "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."
When oxen are bound together with a yoke, they must work together or get nothing done. If one ox decides to do nothing, the other ox that wants to work has a much more difficult job since they're linked together. This is also the way it is with the Lord's church and His yoke that belongs to all believers. If we work together as a team, we can accomplish great things. But, if we're not all willing to go the extra mile--if we're not willing to make the Christ and His church our priority--then the whole group is negatively affected. Now it is true that we will all be judged individually when Christ comes again, but this does not negate the yoke that we share with each other now in this life. We need to remember that we're here to help one another in our journey to heaven, and God Himself helps us with the yoke! We work together with God, our loving and gracious Master (II Cor. 6:1).
3. YOU MUST LEARN FROM CHRIST (Matt. 11:29).
As we stated earlier, before a person can have rest from his sins, or a home in heaven, he must first come to Jesus. Then, he must take Jesus' yoke upon himself and bear the burden that accompanies it. And then, he must also be willing to learn as a servant of Christ. What do we learn? I believe we learn the same thing Jesus did when He was on this earth--obedience. That's right, we learn obedience. Hebrews 5:8,9 teaches - "Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Once the yoke is in place, we must learn to carry the burdens by faithfully obeying the Lord.
As we conclude, let us read Jesus' marvelous invitation again in Matthew 11:28-30 - "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."
Friends, Jesus wants you to come to Him. He is inviting you to come and share in the peace that only He can offer. Will you come to Jesus? Will you take the yoke of Christ upon you? Matthew 16:24 - "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'" Will you submit to Jesus Christ? Will you let Him be your Savior and your Lord? Men often want Him to save them, but they won't make Him their Lord. They want the crown, but they don't want the cross. They don't want the yoke. But, the yoke cannot be separated from the blessing of eternal life--that wonderful rest for our souls that Jesus spoke of! Jesus is "gentle and lowly in heart"; He is compassionate toward us. Take His yoke upon you by believing, deciding to turn away from sinful living, and being baptized into His kingdom, the church. Then, you must take up your duties and obligations as a fellow servant of Christ. Yes, the yoke of Christ may appear to be heavy when you first see it. It's not easy to be a faithful Christian. But, taking that burden upon yourself is the only way to make all earthly burdens seem light. And you'll see that the burden is even lighter when the load is shared by fellow Christians.
So, have you put on the yoke of Christ? If not, what are you waiting for? If you have, how does it fit? I hope that you haven't tried to loosen the straps that hold Christ's yoke in place. It can't be adjusted to suit our desires or preferences. We must learn to love it as it is. If we change or modify the yoke, we ruin it.
If you need assistance taking the blessed yoke of Christ upon yourself, please contact us. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.