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)
Try to imagine that you have never heard these words before. What would you expect Jesus to say after “I will give you rest”? You surely would not expect Him to say “Take my yoke upon you and go work like a beast of burden!”
On the surface, this doesn't sound exciting, for two reasons:
1. “Yoke” referred to the piece of wood that would unite a pair of oxen as they pulled a plow or a cart. And remember, in this time period, oxen performed all the most difficult tasks. They were the heavy machinery of the day. So to have a yoke around your neck was to be engaged in the most difficult physical work imaginable.
2. “Yoke” always refers to something painful, such as the yoke of legalism, or slavery, or political oppression. Outside of this passage, there are no positive uses of the word “yoke”
What then does Jesus mean when he invites his followers to take on his yoke?
I was helped by the little phrase, my yoke. Jesus is also wearing a yoke. Jesus built the yoke and he invites us to take his yoke and walk with him. This is not an invitation to walk alone, or work alone, or struggle alone. This is an invitation to live in close relationship with Jesus. This is an invitation to rest!
Apart from him, our earthly burdens are heavy and soul crushing. Coming to him, we must throw off our yokes of trying to be perfect, trying to find acceptance for ourselves through pleasing people, or trying to appear happy in the midst of our pain.
Instead, he invites us to walk next to him under his yoke. You are already loved, accepted, and forgiven through the work of Christ. This is why it is easy and light.
Are you weary and burdened? Are you burned out, just going through the motions? Are you living in a fog of unbelief, struggling by your own power to do endless tasks, saying with your mouth that you believe in God’s promise of power but proclaiming with your life that only you can accomplish God’s work?
Stop whatever you are doing and come to Jesus through prayer. Imagine taking off the heavy, oppressive thing that weighs on you. Imagine him coming beside you right now, today, to help you live your life and face your problems one day at a time.
As you work, strive, labor, remember that you labor through His energy that works powerfully within you. Actively depend on God's strength to accomplish His work through you.