Last Monday night my thirteen-year-old daughter Kayla played the cello in a Christmas concert with the Mobile Symphony and the Mobile Opera. The historic First Baptist Church was filled with people who came to sing Handle's Messiah, and it was a beautiful and worshipful event. Near the end, right before the “Hallelujah Chorus,” comes a simple chorus called “His yoke is easy, His burden is light.” As the congregation sang, I closed my eyes and thought about the inviting power of those words.
In Matthew Chapter Eleven, Jesus sends out a call to all people which still echoes throughout history:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). NIV
What an invitation. Never before or since has such a standing invitation been given to all people who are weary and hurting. Jesus invites us all to come and take Him at His word, accepting His promise of eternal life. It's a powerful invitation with an even more tantalizing promise of rest. Are you tired? I am. I'm weary, yet I find Jesus' yoke to be a safe place for my burdened soul. Then Jesus adds:
“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" (Matt. 11:29). NIV
Do you realize this is the only time Jesus ever described Himself? The reason He's a safe place for hurting and harassed people is that He has a soul that has been tamed from any agenda except the agenda of God's redeeming love. Why a yoke?
Jan Scoper is a young mother in our church family who moved to America from Singapore. She lived among us for over fifteen years and last year finally became a citizen of the United States. We were so proud of her when she stood to take her oath as a U.S. Citizen. Jan becomes a American by assent. She raises her right hand in a solemn ceremony and assents to certain ideals about freedom and responsibility and--boom--she becomes an American. Many come to these shores come casting off yokes of oppression, never to bear them again. Becoming a Christian is different. It's responding to Christ's invitation to come to Him, to draw near to God with the promise that He'll draw near to you. By this we trust Him to bear our sins, and once saving faith is exercised, a relationship begins. Then we take on His yoke.
A yoke is a single object built for two. When yoked together, two oxen can pull more than one alone can. It cuts work in half and multiplies the effect of their labor. Think about Jesus' yoke. Christmas is the celebration of the fact that Jesus came to earth as a flesh and blood human being. John 1:14 says that God became flesh and dwelt among us. Why? So He could invite us to His yoke. The Hebrews had strict laws concerning the abuse of animals, especially those placed under the yoke. An ox and a horse could not be hitched together in the same yoke. Why? One or both will get hurt. So Jesus came as He did, to do what He does--carry the heavy burdens of life with us. He came for the heat of the struggle, when your body is weary, when the sound of the cicada reminds you that pain does not always go away quickly, and the humid heat of the day is still young.
He is strong. He takes up the load that you can't handle. He carries the load when you stumble. He holds the yoke in place when you refuse to go another inch. His strength makes the yoke easy and the burden lighter for us. In the midst of our struggle and pain, we have His gentle and humble heart to teach us His way, the way to a cross. He knows how to handle heavy objects and weighty things. He manhandled the cross up Calvary. The Christian life begins by placing faith in Jesus, but it continues victoriously as we learn to walk like Him--by walking with Him under the yoke.
I don't know where one finds rest while still in the struggle, except with Jesus.
With warm, salty tears moving down my face, I listened to the heavenly music played with skill and operatic voices singing in amazing harmony. The notes faded away as the music paused, and the conductor swept his arms upward. The orchestra began playing the familiar triumphant refrain that caused us all to rise in honor of the great God and King, Jesus Christ. He is worthy of my tears of praise. He is worthy of our standing and rejoicing in chorus as we sing Hallelujah! To God be the glory!
Merry Christmas from the Yoke!