(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
12th July 2007
Many of us are familiar with Jesus's words "my yoke is easy and my burden is light". But what did He mean? We find this saying in Matthew Chapter 11:
Jesus had been talking about some of the deep truths of the Kingdom of God (see the earlier verses of Chapter 11). Now he says (verse 25) that God has hidden these things - the things of the Kingdom - from "the wise and learned" but shown them to little children. Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message, puts it this way "You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people". I like that. It's ordinary people that get revelation of the Kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1v27 says "God chose the foolish thing of the world to shame the wise". So don't boast about how wise you are!
While writing this column, I noticed that I said last week that "it seems to me that far too many Christians – especially Christian leaders – think they know it all". Well, I'm back this week with the same thought. God conceals His truths from those who think they know it all. Those who think they're wise are too foolish to realise that they're fools.
But for those of us prepared to acknowledge our foolishness, God is the revealer of great mysteries :-) And Jesus tells us (verse 27) that all things are in His control - the Father has committed them to Him. We foolish types are prepared to believe that! And we derive great comfort from knowing that Jesus has got everything in hand - that He has planned our futures out before time, and that He will keep us safe.
And we can come to Him (verse 28) with ALL our burdens, and give them to Him. And, in exchange for all our burdens, He will give us His yoke and ask us to bear His burden. And He promises that His yoke is easy (that is, it suits us; it's tailor-made by God Himself, just for us) and His burden is light - light enough to carry.
To wear His yoke is to let Him control our lives. The picture is of an oxe, pulling a cart. Jesus drives the cart, and he pulls on the yoke (a wooden collar) worn by the oxe (you) to steer. What a huge burden we lose the moment we let Jesus steer! If we have any self-knowledge, we know that so often we don't know how to steer our own lives. But we can trust Jesus to steer us really well. Someone said recently that "we find happiness when we give up our desire to control the future". But that's only true if we can trust Jesus to take over.
To bear His burden is to do what He wants us to do. Most of us have spent most of our lives trying to carry burdens that Jesus never gave us: the burden of our parents' expectations, the burden of our husband's, or wife's, or church's expectations. The burden of what God told someone else to do, and that person made the mistake of thinking that everyone has to do what God only told him to do. Most churches seem to have someone like that. Such people seem to have forgotten 1 Corinthians 10v28, which asks the rhetorical question: "why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?".
Jesus says He can remove all these burdens, if we will just take His burden.
But many of us take on Christ's burden, and still try to carry everyone else's, as well. We can't do it! We're not strong enough. And we're not supposed to.
Finally, Jesus says that a major part of taking on His burden is to "learn from me [that is, Him]" (verse 29). He is "gentle and humble in heart" and we should live the way He lived, with the same attitude. We should ask ourselves the almost cliched question "what would Jesus do?" and other, similar, questions, like "how would Jesus react?", and "what would be Jesus's priorities?" But most of all we should be gentle and humble. Gentleness and humility are not an act, but the attitude of a heart transformed by God's power. We must love one another from the heart (1 Peter 1v22) not merely according to our outward acts.
To put that another way, serving God is not about obeying the law - obeying the law is about serving God. What I mean is this: we serve God by loving Him and loving our fellow men and women. If we love genuinely, gently and humbly, then we will fulfill every letter of the Law.