In Matthew chapter eleven, we find Jesus teaching and preaching in the cities. He receives a message from John the Baptist–now sitting in prison–who asks whether or not He is really the Messiah who was foretold. After responding to John’s disciples, Jesus begins to lament the fact that so many people have rejected both He and John because they did not live up to their expectations. He says the people are like children who complain, “We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance for us.” Jesus then begins to denounce the cities in which he had performed many miracles because the hard-hearted people there, having seen firsthand the power of God in their midst, did not repent.
But then Jesus praises God the Father that He chose to reveal truth to men, not through human intelligence or wisdom, but through humble, childlike hearts that are willing to believe. It is in this context that Jesus appeals to the people,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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 is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
The image of a yoke may bring many different thoughts to mind for many different people. Most simply, a yoke is typically used to harness two animals together, often two oxen. By yoking the animals together, the weight of the burden is shared and both pull together in the same direction. In Jesus’ day, rabbis often used the word yoke to refer to their school or teaching as students were expected to take up the burden of the teaching and follow in the path of the rabbi.
For some, the thought of taking up a yoke is repugnant. It sounds oppressive and heavy, like voluntarily placing yourself under the burden of legalism–being forced to follow a long list of rules for a strict taskmaster who is impossible to satisfy. But that is not at all the picture that Jesus presents. In fact, that is exactly what He is offering relief from. He offers refreshment and rest to those who have been trying to carry burdens that are too hard and too heavy to bear.
Jesus is not offering to place a burden upon your shoulders, He is offering you the opportunity to come alongside with Him and share in the work He is already doing. He is offering you the chance to leave your heavy burdens behind and step into the path He is walking. When you take His yoke upon you, He will lead you and guide you, but He will carry the weight of the burden. His yoke is easy–the Greek word is kind–and your share of the burden will be light.
Over the years, I believe there has often been a misunderstanding in regards to this passage. Sometimes, I believe people have had the idea that Jesus is offering to join us in our path, to walk alongside us, and to lift our burdens and make our way easier. I was probably one of those people. And certainly, Jesus often does come and meet us where we are to lift us up and pour out His mercy and love upon us. But I have come to understand this passage differently.
I believe Jesus is offering us something more. I believe He is offering us the opportunity to partner with Him in what He is doing, to walk along His path. What an amazing offer! To step into His yoke and to walk alongside He who is gentle and humble in heart! To have a part in accomplishing what only He can do! To say along with Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” (Phil 4:13)
But there is a cost. You must leave off the path of your own way. You must lay aside the old man and put on the new. (Eph. 4:20-24)
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25)
Jesus is offering you His yoke of partnership. Will you turn aside from your own way to join Him?