“Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because 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 11:28-30)
Taking the yoke of Jesus. This is a familiar verse that is most often referenced when someone is going through a struggle or life just seems to be dropping its immense weight on one’s shoulders. Its other popular use comes into play when the topic of the law is mentioned with some asserting that old crusty law of God was for days past and is a yoke of bondage while the yoke of Jesus is full of grace, with the two never needing to meet.
So just what is this yoke Jesus speaks of in the closing verses of Matthew 11? Is He speaking of laying our burdens on his shoulders? Or is Jesus speaking of complete freedom from God’s law with grace being the new paradigm? Or perhaps some of both or neither.
We know one thing and that is Jesus calls us to come to him and he will give us rest. This rest involves taking upon us a yoke, namely the yoke of Jesus and in doing so we will find rest for His yoke is easy and his burden is light. This means complete freedom from something is not a possibility as a yoke was a device that provided guidance and direction to the oxen. That guidance and direction was given by someone with the purpose of plowing a field or moving a cart. Without any guidance from the driver, the oxen would wander in anything but a straight line, going wherever they please.
Another interesting element of this command by Jesus is the fact that by taking on His yoke, we will be in a state of learning from him. This means this yoke, along with providing guidance, also provides instruction and by taking this yoke of guidance and instruction, we will find rest.
This certainly is an interesting word picture painted by Jesus. Something most would consider and constraining (a yoke) is presented as a source of rest. A heavy wooden device is stated to be easy and light. With all that said, what could be this yoke Jesus speaks about in this passage?
The Meaning of Matthew 11:28-30
The yoke Jesus speaks of is both Himself and the Word of God. We know the yoke is Jesus because we have His command to come to him. We also know from Scripture that in Jesus we find our rest, partially in this life and in fullness in eternity (Heb. 4:9-10). Efforts done outside the framework of the work of Christ on the cross are done in vain and are a heavy yoke. They are directionless and chaotic at best with the individual taking the reins of their life without God as their master. When Jesus takes the seat as our Lord and Master, we place ourselves in submission to His reins and leading. Instead of human effort driving the cart of our life, Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit guides us.
What else in Scripture is presented as a guide for our lives, a source of instruction, a place of rest, and a light burden, at least for those willing to submit to it? Scripture fits all of those descriptions. Psalm 119:105 reminds us that God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path”. Hebrews 4 speaks repeatedly of entering into God’s rest with a closing argument about the penetrating power of Scripture and the priestly work of Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I John 5:3 states, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
We can see that God’s Word fits all the descriptions noted by Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30. To present the yoke of Jesus as freedom from God’s Law is to misunderstand what God’s Law and the function of Scripture. When the Holy Spirit writes God’s Word (His Law) on our hearts and we demonstrate our love for God by keeping His commands, we are taking on the yoke of Jesus. Being obedient to God’s commands is not a burden. It is only a burden when we desire to take matters into our own hands and when we attempt to guide our own lives. When God leads and directs our lives and when we take the approach of loving God and keeping His commandments, we are truly finding a place of rest under the yoke of Jesus.
Unlike the yoke of bondage found in personal piety outside of God’s leading, the yoke of Jesus is easy. This word easy does not mean there is no effort involved and all of life is now a bowl of peaches and cream. The word easy means “something that is pleasant”. Proverbs speaks of the way of wisdom which of course is found in a life devoted to God and His commands. In fact, Proverbs 3:17 reminds us “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace”, with her of course representing wisdom.
When we put all this together we find that taking on the yoke of Jesus is all about submitting to him with God’s Word being the reins that guide our life through the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s commands are not a burdensome yoke. They are presented as being quite the opposite, specifically, they are a place of rest, comfort, instruction, and guidance. The yoke Jesus wants us to take is found only through him.
Today will you take off the burdensome yoke of self and put on the yoke of Jesus? Will you be willing to devote yourself to the reading of God’s Word and being obedient to God’s commands? Will you cease striving to find rest in any other place than Jesus and the Word of God?
If you feel burdened, it because you have a yoke of self that is resting on your shoulders. Let Jesus take that yoke of fleshly bondage and replace it with his yoke. In doing so, you will have a desire to follow God’s Word and to allow those healing words of life to provide you with instruction, rest, and direction with God taking the reins to the yoke and to your life. Taking the yoke of Jesus is not freedom from God’s commands. Conversely, it is about finding freedom by obeying God’s commands not through our own vain efforts, but out of love for God who in His grace and mercy removes the yoke of self and gives us the yoke of His Son Jesus.