Do you ever feel that life has thrown more at you than you can handle? Do you sometimes feel overloaded and burdened, needing rest? Take a moment and let the words of Jesus flow over you: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus offers rest for our souls in troubled times. Twice in these verses Jesus promises rest: “I will give you rest” and “you will find rest for your souls.” Additionally, notice whom Jesus invites to His rest: all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.
A few nights ago I was tossing and turning in bed, feeling burdened and weary, but sensed Jesus saying: “Tim, why do you insist on carrying all of those burdens? Why don’t you let me carry them? Experience the peace our Father has for you!”
God did not create us to carry burdens by ourselves. As Jesus invites us to take His yoke and learn from Him, He is using the language of a first century Galilean rabbi. At that time a rabbi would seek out a few young men, the best and the brightest, and invite them to “take up their yoke”. By taking up their yoke rabbis meant to learn and follow their way of keeping Torah and the laws of Judaism. And that yoke was a heavy yoke of “do’s and don’ts”, leaving people feeling weighed down, carrying heavy burdens. It was an invitation to legalism and rule-keeping rather than living a life in God’s grace and love.
But Jesus, rather than calling a select few, invites “all” who are weary and heavily burdened by life with its troubles: “Come to me,” Jesus warmly invites, and “… I will give you rest.” “Learn from me,” Jesus asks, “for I am gentle and humble in heart.” While the religious leaders of Jesus were demanding and harsh, Jesus was gentle and humble. Our wearied souls will find rest with Him.
In these verses Jesus speaks the language not only of a first century rabbi, but also as a carpenter offering a hand-carved yoke. Jesus was a carpenter by trade who knew something about crafting yokes for oxen to wear. We learn from the Church Father Justin Martyr, who grew up near the Jordan River in the second century, that Jesus made “plows and yokes” before beginning His ministry. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho) This tells us that Jesus knew something about measuring an ox and shaping a well-fitted yoke that would not irritate or chafe an ox’s neck.
Notice what Jesus the carpenter is saying about the yoke He invites us to take: “My yoke is easy…” The Greek word translated “easy” is chrestos, meaning “gracious” “good” and “suitable”. As a village carpenter Jesus knew how to specially fit a yoke for each individual ox that would not irritate the ox’s neck. So Jesus knows how to make a yoke for you and me that is “gracious”, “good” and “suitable” for us. Then, as we follow Jesus we find His yoke easy and His burden light, freed of legalisms and their demands.
My seminary professor, J. Dwight Pentecost, told that while he was student preaching in a small country church, he saw a farmer plowing with a team of oxen. What he saw looked very strange to him as one full-grown ox was yoked together with a younger and smaller ox. It did not make sense to my professor to see the large ox teamed together with such a small ox to pull the plow.
The professor asked the farmer the reason and the farmer told him to look closer. “See that the rein of the little ox is not connected to the plow. The little ox is not pulling any weight. Rather, the little ox is learning how to walk in a yoke with another ox.”
My professor was quick to make application: When we take Jesus’ yoke we find Jesus with us in the yoke, pulling the weight, so that His yoke is easy and gracious. His burden is light.
I like the way The Message translates this passage: “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Here is how we find real rest in the middle of the night, or in any other troubled time. Let Jesus pull the weight!
Name and reflect on the thoughts and feelings today’s reading stirs in you. Take a few moments to talk with God about them.