Taking the Easy Yoke, Matthew 11:28-30

In this case we come to a famous Bible verse that many older Christians have memorized. Experience tells me that lots of Christians love this verse because it offers something they want (rest), but they lack understanding of the all-important details. The situation is something like getting one of those offers for a free dinner at a local steak house only to realize when you get there that it is a sales event, not the outright gift you were wishing for. We all like gifts and dislike obligations.

For many of us, life is a struggle, though in North Texas the struggle often occurs in comfortable surroundings, and frustrated dreams are too familiar. On top of everything is our relationship to God. Has that relationship become just one more burden among many?

Matthew 11:28-30

28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Who gives rest? What does he require of you in doing so?

Commentary

If “those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him [the Father]” of verse 27 sounded selective, verse 28 opens the invitation to “all you who are weary and heavy laden.” Yet, it is important that you be clear on the fact that those who do not “come to me” (verse 28a) do not get the “rest” that Jesus is offering.

In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, “come to me” has to start with repenting because the rule of God has come, and that has been Jesus message from the start (Matthew 4:17). But repenting is not like a drunk shifting from whisky to rum — a meaningless change. In our case, repenting involves turning away from those who say they need nothing from God, if he exists, and going to Jesus, the man from heaven, who assuredly lives! So, “come to me” is a call to discipleship under Jesus.[1]

As to being “weary and burdened” (verse 28), the first condition (weary) is expressed by a Greek form that suggests weariness is an ongoing condition. The second condition, being burdened, arises from a Greek form suggesting that the burden was put on them long ago and never taken off. Since Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46 use the same verb to express the Jewish religious requirements used to regulate people’s behavior, these burdens seem to have a religious origin. So, the people in first-century Israel are worn out from carrying out the burden of the law as it has been interpreted in detail by the scribes and the Pharisees.

Christianity has also had groups similar to the scribes and Pharisees, and these groups have at times made Christian faith more of a burden than a gift from God. It should become apparent from what Jesus is saying that those groups were not carrying out his intentions. They had an agenda of their own.

Has your personal history included painful, discouraging experiences from some Christian group or church? Did these experiences drive you away from Christ, or did you seek him again with a different group?

It is entirely possible that the weariness and burdens also involve parts of our lives that we do not normally associate with God, though he is truly Lord of all. Living, working and getting an education in a world gripped by sin and spiritual darkness can produce a weariness and burden all its own. Only Jesus can teach you how to deal with all that, because he had to do it too.

It has proven remarkably difficult to narrow the concept of “rest” (verses 28-29). First, Jesus’ words seem to look back to Exodus 33:14, where Yahweh says, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Yahweh was speaking to Moses and possibly to the entire nation in the aftermath of a serious incident involving rebellion by the Israelites on their way to Canaan. In that context, rest was connected with settling in Canaan, the land of milk and honey, where God would vanquish their enemies, give them abundant land, and dwell with them in security from future enemies.

New Testament theologian N. T. Wright shows us a way forward when he says, “Jesus was replacing adherence or allegiance to Temple and Torah [law] with allegiance to himself.”[2] Jesus sees the spiritual burden put on the people by the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, and he invites the people to come to him, the Son of Man from heaven, to put themselves into submission to him and his interpretation of the law. This submission is what is meant by the yoke — “take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (verse 29) — a device that comes from the imagery of plowing a field. Discipleship does not exempt anyone from work but makes it manageable.[3]

In the near term, those who come to Jesus find their spiritual burden lightened due to the presence of Jesus and the wisdom provided by his teaching. That is more restful than the crushing burden they have had before, and it allows them to look forward to the ultimate rest that will follow when they are with Christ in heaven. Rest now and better rest later is the blessing Jesus offers them.

All of this is possible because of who Jesus is. He is not only the Son of Man, offering them rest, but he will be with them on the way as a master who is “gentle and humble in heart” (verse 29). This rest does not consist of complete freedom from all restraint and obligation, something sought by twenty-first century hedonists. Taking the yoke of Jesus means that he is our Lord, and this teaching prepares us for Paul’s message in Romans 6 that those united to Christ are slaves to God.

Our secular world offers a life without significance, a struggle to keep the ever-changing moral requirements that emerge from an elusive human consensus, and no hope that the struggle will matter beyond our own insignificant, and utterly final, death. Jesus offers rest for your soul, both now and forever.

Will you either take Jesus offer for the first time, or will you continue to learn how to put down the burdens of this world and further embrace the easy yoke of Jesus? How will you do that?

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)441.

[2] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997) 274.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)194.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!