How do you kick back and relax?
Do you sink into your favorite recliner in front of the TV? Do you lounge on the couch with a blanket and a good book? Do you walk around with a large piece of wood fastened to your neck?
The last option doesn’t sound too relaxing, which is why it seems strange that Jesus would use this mental image to describe what it means to rest in him.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30
A yoke (that crosspiece of wood fastened around the necks of two oxen working at a plow) doesn’t connote the idea of relaxation and rest. Instead, it conjures up an image of hard, physical labor. How can a yoke be restful?
It is restful because it is his yoke. Jesus’ yoke.
We have to remember who he is talking to in this passage. Specifically, he is speaking to “all who labor and are heavy laden”. It seems that his target audience already has a yoke around their necks (whether they realize it or not). Some may wear the yoke of comparison (always feeling the need to be as good as or better than the next guy) or the yoke of performance (trying to live up to our own or someone else’s standards). Or, as it was in Jesus’ day, it could be the yoke of the law, the system of religious rules that weighed down those who tried to live up to their rigid requirements.
Jesus’ yoke, by contrast, is easy and light. It is restful because it is based, not on rules and requirements, but rather on a relationship of grace, trust and forgiveness. And freedom.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
— John 8:34, 36
Ironically, the yoke of Jesus — a symbol of his mastery over us — actually brings us freedom.
Those who understand this irony and allow that easy yoke to be slipped gently upon their necks will find the amazing relief of having their heavy yokes lifted and the unbelievable joy of serving a Master who is “gentle and lowly in heart”. Our act of surrender, rather than putting a heavy burden upon us, actually removes the yoke that is already there and replaces it with one that is easy and light.
Now, doesn’t that sound like a yoke worth wearing?