12 March, 2007

The Yoke of Christ

Do you ever find it difficult to follow Christ?

Why is it so hard to follow Jesus sometimes?
Do you ever get tired?
Do you ever find yourself in need of rest?
How can I find rest while following Jesus?

Matthew 11:28-30 MKJV

28) Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29) Take My yoke on you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls.

30) For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Notice what Jesus doesn’t say.
He doesn’t say, “Come to me, for I have no burden!"
Nor does he say "Come to me, for I don’t make any demands!”

Hey, let's be honest... Wouldn’t that have been more appealing?
But a yoke involves subjection to a master.

There are more than 50 references to "yoke" in the Bible that speak of the wooden bar or frame used to join animals to enable them to pull a load. It is an image of subjection, service or bondage, just as a yoked ox is subject to its owner. A yoke is usually a negative thing—something a person would do virtually anything to avoid. Sin is described as a yoke around a person’s neck.
But when Jesus talks of his yoke, the imagery has a positive meaning of good subjection to him.

For those of us in the individualistic and permissive West, talk of surrender, submission, and radical obedience may be difficult for us to swallow. We tend to want to have our cake and eat it too. But when Scripture pays honor again and again to Jesus as “Lord,” it is clear that this term refers to a master who owns and controls servants or slaves.
Paul understood himself to be Christ’s slave (doulos), who is compelled and controlled by his master to do his master’s bidding and to serve his purposes. Most English translations of the Greek NT tend to use the more socially acceptable term “servant” instead of “slave” in translating some 190 words that refer to slavery (because of our collective shame over the history of slavery in the West).
But one of Paul’s most common self-designations is “slave of Christ.”
Paul makes it clear that using the image of slavery to understand one’s relationship with Christ has to do with obedience.
For Paul, the issue is clear: everybody obeys something, and whatever or whomever you obey, you are enslaved to.

We wear a yoke. But is it on you alone?
In the scripture text I mentioned above, Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves and he will give us rest.
That sounds like quite a paradox, doesn’t it? To put on a yoke, which symbolizes work or labor, and expect to find rest there.
But the truth of this test is that we find rest when we discover that the yoke’s also on him (29b) Jesus’ generous invitation is to the broken and the burdened. It is grounded in his own gentleness and humility. He was not simply a powerful lord who ruthlessly crushed all opposition, but one who sought the good of others and promised rest for their souls.

There is a famous study that was done on two horses. The first one could pull 10,000 lbs on a sled while the second could pull 14,000 lbs.
What would you think they could pull when yoked together in the same direction?
Most people would guess something like 24,000 lbs, but the answer is 49,000 lbs! The sum is greater than a combination of the parts.

Like many of the "crazy" things Jesus said, this truth is paradoxical.
We lay down our burdens, our agendas, and take on God’s yoke, “easy” and “light.” Even though his is a burden, it is easy compared with ours because we are joining Jesus in his work. On the other side of the yoke pulling with us is the powerful and almighty resurrected One, carrying the weight of the world. It feels easier and lighter because of who is helping carry the load.

Imagine two men in boats; one a row boat, the other a sail boat.

A rower gets to a destination by personal strain, struggle, and effort. A sailor arrives under the wind’s power. Rowing is a good way to keep in shape but a lousy way to travel. Sailing on the other hand, taps the power of the wind and allows us to go much farther, much faster, with far less human effort than rowing.

The scary thing is, I often try minister like I’m rowing a boat—out of my strength, in my wisdom, by my power. When I do that, my ministry lacks powerand I grow quite weary. God may still use me, graciously, but sailing is a far better way to go.

Jesus makes it clear that following him is a slave to master relationship, which involves submission and obedience. The yoke’s on us. But that means the power comes from the One who directs our lives.
Christ offers a liberating enslavement. The yoke’s really on him.

The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon once said: “The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also.”
The yoke’s on us, but the yoke’s really on him.

But what about that rest we’re looking for?
We find rest when we realize that no one gets tired of a really good yoke.
The New Living Translation of this text says: “For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

If I put a flat, uncarved piece of wood on an ox’s neck and use it to pull a cart, very quickly pressure sores will break out on that animal’s neck, and he will be useless.

A good yoke must be formed to the shape of an ox’s neck. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It should also be smooth, rounded, and polished with no sharp edges, so that no one point will endure unduly high stress. If I succeed in my workshop, the yoke I make will fit snugly around the ox’s neck and cause him no discomfort. The animal can haul heavy loads every day for years, and his skin will remain perfectly healthy, with no pressure sores.

Can I tell you that Jesus offers each of us a well-fitted yoke, of custom design. He does not call us to the kind of rest that means inactivity or laziness--that would lead to spiritual atrophy. Instead, he promises a burden designed to fit my frame, my individual needs, strengths, and capabilities. The problem so often is that we try to wear a yoke of our own design, or that someone else wants to put on us, rather than the one that Christ has designed for us. When we do that, we get weary, or hurt, and render ourselves useless. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to direct us and put on us the yoke, or labor that he designs for us, not man.

Here’s the picture that we must see: We come to him weary and heavy-laden. He removes those crushing burdens that would destroy any human being, and replaces them with a yoke of appropriate stress designed specifically for you and me.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me," he says, "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."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks, my friend. the clearest explanation of this yoke I have ever seen.