"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your weary souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11: 28-30
When most of us have read this passage, or heard this passage, we've mostly understood it to speak of an exchange. We bring our burdens to Jesus, he takes them and frees us from them. Then we go on our merry way, leaving all those heavy burdens with him. But, is that really what this passage teaches? Let's have a closer look.
The passage begins with Jesus saying "Come unto me...". He didn't say "Come to my religion", or, "Come to this philosophy". He calls us to enter into a relationship with himself!
Who is he calling? Everybody? No. Though he does want everyone to be in relationship with him, he only calls the heavy laden. What does that mean? In the Greek it means "loaded up and overburdened". Why does he only call these folks?
Humans are basically proud. As long as everything is going smooth for us, we think that we are just fine and in NO need of help. This is why God allows troubles and trials in our lives. When things begin to pile up and life seems to be more than we can handle- when we just don't think we can take another step- that's when Jesus tells us to come to him! It's at this point that he understands that we know that we are not as big and bad as we think we are. During the hard times, we know that we MUST have outside help, if we are going to be able to make it to the other side of the valley that we're in. At this time, we are humbled enough to ask for and accept the help that we need.
So what happens when we come to him? First of all, we humans are sinful creatures. Sin has a way of piling up on us like barnacles onto a ship. Left unchecked, these barnacles will slow us down, effect our navigation, and eventually, destroy our ship- causing us to sink and die. However, he made a way, through his death, burial, and resurrection, to remove these barnacles from our lives. When we are obedient to the Gospel message (Acts 2:38), an awesome exchange happens! Jesus was made "sin for us..., that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."(2 Cor 5:21).
What an awesome event! Our whole past is washed and made new to the glory of God! Our sins are washed away in his blood and our spirits are made new! He has given us a new nature. Instead of the old sinful one, if we will walk in his spirit, we will then be able to make heaven our home.
It is here that the Matthew scripture picks back up. Jesus takes his analogy a little further. He tells us to take his yoke upon us. What is a yoke? In those days, the oxen or beast of burden they were using were grouped together in yokes of twos. A yoke was the device that was used to strap the two animals side by side and make them work together. It actually made it easier for their master to keep them headed in the right direction, as well as making it easier for the individual animals involved to pull the load. This analogy actually began when Jesus told "all that are heavy laden" to come to him. If the burden becomes too heavy for one animal to carry, it will either stop moving or fall under the weight.
Jesus is telling us that we need help. In order to make it safely through and accomplish what he has given us to accomplish (take his YOKE upon US), we need help. He is telling us that, though he may have given us a lot of work to do, if we will but allow him to place a yoke on us, HE will help us. Who are we working with, who are we plowing with? JESUS!
When I was in the Army, I was an enlisted soldier. By military statute, I had to obey the orders of all officers. It didn't take me long to discover that there were two types of officers. One type used his authority to order those under his command to GO and DO whatever the task was. Either he, or his representative, would be back to check on your work at a later time. These were the officers that you did only what you had to do out of respect for his rank. You didn't have much use for the man behind the rank, but you obeyed the rank.
The other type were the ones that used their authority to say, "Let's Go do..." whatever the task was. These officers understood that they commanded men that needed to be respected. They understood that when they showed respect to their men, not only did the task get done, it was done well- many times above what was actually needed. They didn't think themselves better than their men. They thought it a privilege to lead these fine men and cared for the welfare of each and every one of them. These officers could give nearly impossible orders and knew that their men would put their lives on the line in order to try and accomplish the goal!
Jesus, the king and creator of the universe, became a man and describes himself as "meek and lowly of heart". Think about it. Our creator doesn't think himself better than we are! Our creator made a way for us! Our creator BECAME SIN FOR US, so that we can BECOME HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS! It's the becoming part that he refers to, when he says for us to "take (his) yoke upon" us. Here, take this yoke and let me help you to become my righteousness in a very unrighteous world.
Jesus is saying, "I realize that I've given you a big job to do. I'm asking a lot of you. But, I've taken care of the barrier that was between us (sin), and If you will enter into relationship with me- attach yourself to me- I'll help you pull the load that I've given you to pull! I'll help you become what I plan for you to become. Just attach yourself to me, and stay attached to me, and I'll see you through to glory!"
Jesus is calling us to relationship (Acts2:38) and Partnership! What a great idea! I, for one, say YES! What will you say?