Yoked with Christ

By Kasey Knowlton
“Come to Me, 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 11:28-30
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have been feeling quite dismayed as of late.  From the Covid restrictions, a push for mandatory vaccinations and recent loss of life within our own church, my soul has been weary.  In kindness, the Spirit brought this verse to mind. But as with many of the quotable sayings of Jesus, this one is often taken out of context.  The fear of doing so almost kept me from teaching on it.  After studying the verses, I later realized the irony of my response, which is why I decided to proceed.  We will be looking at several insights into this passage, but first it would be helpful to define the word “yoke.”  A yoke was a wooden neck harness put around one or more animals to pull something.  The typical use would involve two oxen pulling wooden implements to till the soil for planting at the beginning of spring.  This would have been the understanding of Jesus’s audience as they heard this teaching.
The first common insight into this passage is that it is an invitation to salvation in Christ.  Certainly, this fits within the context of the previous verse - Matthew 11:27 - in which Christ states, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  By asking Jesus into our hearts to be Lord of our life, we receive the yoke of Christ.  He becomes the Shepherd of our hearts, and to Him we belong forever.  John 10:28 reminds us that “…no one can snatch them from my hand.”

Another common interpretation relates to the religious tyranny of Christ’s day.  The invitation to the Jews of the time to come “learn from me,” showed Jesus declaring his authority as a Rabbi.  And yet, Christ was setting himself apart from the teachings of the scribes, who had been burdening the faithful with endless rules and dictates.  The religious laws of the time had been heavily weighed down by dogma and the opinions of men.  The practice of Sabbath was one of the specific areas Jesus tackled, a command that had been heavy-laden with nonsensical tradition.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus freed the people from this heavy load, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  This was in stark contrast to the long list of do and don’ts.  Jesus later rebukes the Pharisee’s for their religious hypocrisy in Matthew 23:4: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.”  The irony of this week’s teaching is that I was feeling crushed under the weight of religious perfectionism, not wanting to get anything wrong.  So, the offer of these scriptures was almost lost to me due to a similar spirit at work, one that I had to pray against!

This brings me to my final insight on this passage: taking on Christ’s yoke requires us to lay down our own.  At the end of last week, all I wanted was to receive the offer of a lighter burden, and rest for my wearied soul.  It is here that the tension of the passage was most prominent for me.  I realized that I was trying to carry the weighted yoke of the world on my shoulders.  I first had to lay down this burden, in order that I might receive the blessings of Christ’s yoke.  It is here that we must all lay down that which is not ours to carry at the feet of our Savior, allowing him to direct the plow to which we are yoked.  As John 16:33 says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Today, let us remember the lightness of Christ’s yoke as we face the heaviness of this late hour.  As St Francis of Assisi said, “Wear the world like a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly”.  May your yoke be easy and light today, friends.
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