“Come to Me, (JESUS SAYS) all 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 humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11)
I have always understood this invitation “come to Me and I will give you rest” by itself, as if Jesus is saying “Come to me, TAKE A NAP. I’ll do everything else.” And Jesus has done it ALL. All our spiritual needs are met in Him. The search is over. When we find Jesus, we’ve found God. And there’s nothing wrong with a good nap.
But a spiritual nap is not what Jesus is promising here. Because to find the promised REST, we have to “take His yoke upon us and learn from Him”.
In Jesus’ day, “yoke” was a common metaphor for
- The Law: specifically, the “yoke of the law” was the rabbinic teachings, traditions, and regulations ruling life and added to the written law.
- A specific rabbi’s teaching: if you followed a certain Rabbi or teacher, you were said to have taken up his yoke.
Jesus’ audience would have understood it this way – to take His yoke would be to live according to His teaching.
So the invitation here is not just to come to Jesus and find rest. It is to find rest by taking the yoke of Jesus and learning from Him…
Most of us here have responded to this invitation to come to Jesus and learn from Him –that’s why we’re here at Bible study on a Tuesday morning.
But we place a 21st century understanding on learning.
How have we learned our entire lives? In school, in college, even on Sunday mornings? By sitting and listening to someone talk. Perhaps by reading a book, written by an expert or at least someone who knows more than we do. This is how we “learn”.
It’s easy to see why we might think that Jesus is making an invitation to sit and listen to Him. To study our Bibles alone and together, to learn facts about God.
None of which are bad things. But that’s not the invitation here.
Look at these sweet oxen: there are TWO in that yoke.
I did a little research on oxen and yokes in ancient farming, and learned something really helpful:
“When the farmer wanted to train a young ox to pull a plow, he did not put two strong, untrained oxen together in the same yoke. It would be too hard to manage them, and the farmer’s field would not be plowed straight. Instead, he yoked the young ox together with an experienced ox. The older ox had long experience serving the farmer and knew how to hear and obey the voice of his master. Through the yoke, the young ox could feel the authority of the older animal and learn how to obey the commands of the master.” (Israel Bible Society)
What a beautiful picture Jesus paints for us: He is the SON. He knows His Father, and He knows how to work in His Father’s field.
Come learn from Me, He invites, “Take my yoke upon you.” Yoke yourself to me, Jesus says, and I’ll lead you. I’ll teach you, moment by moment, day by day, how to live in the Father’s world.
The yoke of Jesus is not life FOR Jesus, it is LIFE WITH JESUS. And it is a learning process – the work not of one class or seminar, but of a lifetime.
Our response to God’s Word, the Bible, can’t be to memorize facts about God. We need to live out God’s values and heart WITH Jesus.
To take up the yoke of Jesus is to live out His teaching, to live the Jesus Way. In the context of Matthew, the way of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount & the beatitudes, blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger for justice, are merciful and pure hearted, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for right. And it’s the great commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
But we learn to live the Jesus way like this ox – joined with Jesus Himself, finding His leading and companionship as we go through our days. Letting the Word dwell in us, letting Him love through us.
I mentioned earlier that “yoke” is an ancient metaphor for teaching – it was the way you followed as a disciple. It may not feel like it, but we have all taken up a yoke of some kind. We have scripts and patterns and ways of being OK in the world. And they can be heavy.
And it is very easy to come to Jesus and Follow Him – using our same old scripts and patterns. We are trying to go a new way – the Jesus way, but we are under a yoke formed by our own egos and this world system.
Maybe for you, it is a yoke of perfectionism. You know that Jesus has saved you, and in Him you have life, now and forever. But it still feels like there is a distant, narrow target you have to hit in order to be OK. And that target is always moving higher and higher.
Maybe for you, it is a yoke of acceptance, receiving your worthiness from others. You feel safe when you are necessary, when someone needs you. So you feel a tremendous obligation in response to what Jesus has done for Him – you OWE Him.
Maybe for you, it is a yoke of achievement, reputation. It is so easy to fall into achieving for Jesus, to use the principles of Christianity to meet our selfish need to be admired.
Or maybe it’s a yoke of worthlessness. You find it impossible to believe that you are chosen and dearly loved, that you have a GOOD heavenly Father, who loves you not because of what you offer, but because you are HIS.
For many of us, it is a yoke of religious activity. We prefer rules and boundaries and certainty to Spirit and mystery and a God who surprised every human person He ever interacted with.
We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes.
Are you weary and heavy laden? Worn out and worn down by the ways you make yourself OK in the world? Me too. Perhaps we’ve yoked ourselves to something besides Jesus.
I don’t want you to respond to this by feeling like Jesus is disappointed. He’s neither disappointed nor surprised, and He is still calling us.
TODAY, are you ready to lay down your ways of making ourselves OK in the world and:
…Live as a DAUGHTER, one dearly beloved of the Father?
…Stop trying to live FOR Jesus, and begin living WITH Jesus? We don’t earn His presence in our day to day, He freely gives Himself. We can live with Him moment by moment, day by day.
…Begin to see the ways in which our relationship with Him is colored by earning, by hard work and expectations, rather than by His GOODNESS? Does He feel gentle to you? His yoke is GOOD, it is gentleness, not ill-fitting or heavy, and it leads to living freely and lightly.
Over the next few weeks, I’m sharing my own lessons and thoughts from a Bible study I wrote with my friend Stacey and did with a group of (amazing) women last Fall. This 8 week study, The Call of Jesus, is available for free here or by clicking the “Free Bible Studies and Resources” link in my blog header. If you’re looking for a Bible study to do yourself or with friends this Fall, check it out!