By Jessica Brest
Do you feel overworked? Is the unceasing strife of life wearing you down too much? If so, you may have heard this verse before as a response to that weariness…
“Come to me, all 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 (ESV)
This passage probably sparks memories of pastors who instruct us to take off the yoke of the world in exchange for the yoke of the Son. These words are in fact a recording of Jesus’ own words of command for our own good.
But what exactly does his yoke consist of? And why is it better than that of the world (or myself)?
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary says a yoke is, “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.”
A second definition listed is, “servitude” or “bondage.”
“Servitude” means “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one’s course of action or way of life” or “a right by which something (such as a piece of land) owned by one person is subject to a specified use or enjoyment by another.”
With these in mind, read the following illustration:
“Farmers used to train young oxen to plow by partnering them with stronger and more mature oxen. The job of the younger ox was simply to follow in the same direction and keep pace with the teacher ox. The older ox pulled most of the weight and understood the commands of the plow driver. As long as the young ox followed the older ox, everything was fine. But if the younger ox decided to speed up or lag behind, the work became much more difficult. Only by keeping pace with the older ox could the younger ox complete the day’s work without collapsing from exhaustion.” – Kerri Weems in “A Yoke for Rest?”
When you first hear that the solution to a heavy yoke is not to be unyoked but to take on a second yoke—Jesus’ yoke—it can seem illogical. Our natural inclination is to desire ultimate freedom, but what we don’t realize is how incapable we are of handling ultimate freedom. Freedom comes with a lot of responsibility and to use it well takes a great amount of wisdom and self-control—otherwise we will ultimately destroy ourselves.
Going back to the definitions of “yoke” we can see that one’s yoke is basically what they choose to serve. When we choose the yoke of the world—we are submitting ourselves to the burden of fulfilling the world’s desires, ways, and needs. When we choose Jesus’ yoke, we are choosing His desires and ways as our new burdens, submitting all others to Him
Why choose Jesus’ yoke?
When you choose the yoke of the world, you are choosing to let the world reign in your life. Its ways of cheating, suffering, fighting, corruption and loneliness will guide you.
On the other hand, when you choose the way of yourself, it is the choice to ride on your own pleasures, satisfaction and extremely limited wisdom. Why choose this and all of your mistakes over the guidance of a God who knows everything?
This brings us to the yoke of Jesus which is full of peace as He promises.
- Jesus’ yoke satisfies all of our needs as a human being.
God created us to desire things that ultimately point us back to Him as our intelligent designer. Christianity—living a life like Jesus’—while not easy, will fulfill all of those desires. We will be satisfied in our self-esteem as created in the image of a God. We will be satisfied in our value as having a God who died for us and will listen to us whenever we call. We will be satisfied in our needs for intimacy by a God who dwells inside us, knows every piece of us, yet loves us fully anyway. We will be satisfied in our need for a purpose and motivation in life by a God who has commissioned us and promised each of us a purpose. We are satisfied in our need for a specialty and responsibility by God’s promise to have given us spiritual gifts that we can use to expand His name. I could go on, but I think you get it!
- The yoke of Jesus is light.
Notice that Jesus said his burden is light in contrast to the heavy one from before. That his yoke is easy, but not completely non-existent. The yoke of the world is a heavy burden and it holds you hostage by every natural desire and corrupted motivation it can come up with. It tells us we have to acquire certain titles, a level of status, or various goals. On the contrary, the burden of Jesus is to let go of all of these worldly, effort-filled goals for the singular effort of keeping faith and trust in Him. Jesus only calls us to have faith in Him, which by extension means we seek to understand His desires, which will lead us to love Him, which will guide us into obedience. When we follow Jesus’ desire for our life, all other things will fall into place just as He intends rather than by our own striving and futile effort.
- Jesus’ yoke fulfills the law for us.
The primary burden spoken of by Jesus that the Israelites lied primarily in the Law that had been provided by God and then expanded on by the Pharisees. This Law was supposed to be followed without fail in order to produce a life just worthy enough to be presented to God. Jesus’ alternate burden was the idea that they no longer had to work in order to be accepted by God, but instead have faith in Jesus and He would do the work for us. Jesus perfectly performed the Law while He was here on earth so that His perfect record could be shown to God in place of ours.
Nothing worth doing is easy. Similarly, the completely fulfilling life that Jesus has planned for us is completely worth being yoked for—it is freeing in thousands of ways—but it is still a yoke, and we have to be prepared for that. Many people walk away from the Christian faith because of its demands for repentance and pursuit of righteousness—for them it is easier to do whatever one pleases and pursue the whims of the world instead. But “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control,” (2 Timothy 1:7).