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.
What image comes to mind when you think of a yoke? Please don’t say the yellow goo inside an egg. I picture an old wagon train pulled by oxen. The device that bound them together by the neck was called a yoke. In Biblical times, a similar harness was used for plowing.
In a figurative sense, yoke represents bondage, affliction, subjection, or servitude. Anyone who wears a yoke carries a heavy burden inflicted by another. The end result is a loss of freedom, harsh demands, and extreme fatigue. Undesirable to say the least.
But Jesus has invited us to take His yoke. That means giving Him control of our lives. If His offer stopped there, we would decline. But it’s the following words of His statement that are most appealing. “…for I am gentle and humble in heart…”
Jesus isn’t an unreasonable or harsh taskmaster. To take on His yoke is to “learn” from Him. And His teaching method in the school of life is gentle.
When Jesus spoke these words, He was speaking to a predominantly Jewish audience. All they had ever known was the law of Moses and the rigid oral traditions of the scribes and Pharisees. Their world was ruled by “thou-shalt-nots” and burdensome regulations. They had become yoked to legalism.
By comparison, the yoke offered by Jesus produced a right relationship with God without legalistic bondage. Rather than more rules and regulations, Jesus promised rest for their weary souls.
I have always struggled with the belief that I don’t measure up. In all of my careers, I have felt that I have fallen short. I used to joke that I planned to write a book entitled My Long Hard Climb to the Middle. By the way, this is not a healthy way of viewing your place in life. And I suspect it comes from setting the bar too high and a bad self-image. If we’re not careful, we can build our own legalism, strict rules and unattainable goals.
But when it comes to my relationship to Christ, I’ve never felt like a second class citizen. His yoke has never been an excessive burden, but rest for my soul. While I’ve been slow to forgive my shortcomings, the Lord has been quick to forgive. I came like the song says, “Just as I Am.”
If we’re not careful, our freedom in Christ can turn to legalism. When I first started preaching, I was invited to a small country church. My contact at the church briefed me on the rules of conduct expected of a preacher. White shirt. King James Bible. And if my wife came along, she was not to wear pants.
I point out these prohibitions, not because they are bad, but because they are based more on tradition than God’s word. In Biblical times, man’s methods of following the letter of the law were more strict than the law itself. These interpretations became burdensome traditions. The Apostle Paul warned, “…do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Life in Christ is intended to give rest, not burden. However, the freedom He gives should never be abused or taken for granted.
Taking on His yoke requires yielding to His gentle instruction. That requires a lifetime of learning as we consistently study His word, seek His counsel in prayer, and apply what we’ve learned to our lives.
In Christ, we find rest for our souls because He has made it possible for us to be at peace with God. The Lord’s active presence in our lives provides us with constant help in times of trouble. And no matter how difficult our challenges, we have the promise of eternal salvation by grace and through faith. Why? Because we’re not fighting the good fight by ourselves. We have been yoked to the Lord.
For more on this topic, check out this article: Great Is Your Reward in Heaven
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 3 (July – September) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.