Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Yoke of Christ

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, "Come unto me, all you that are weary and are 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 is light." (1)

This passage is amongst the special treasures of Matthew's Gospel. No sublimer words exist than this call of Jesus to the toiling and the burdened in a state of weariness to come to him. He assures us, "I will refresh you." Far more than mere rest, it is rejuvenation.

A Wooden Yoke
You may be puzzle by the expression, "For my yoke is easy." A yoke is a wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of a single ox or two oxen. It is attached to a plough or a piece of equipment the oxen are about to pull. Like the Pilgrim in "Pilgrim's Progress," it reminds us of the heavy burdens in life we often carry or pull behind us.The sins or wrongs we have committed and are ashamed of, the guilt we feel for sin, the bad conscience that lingers in our minds, or fears both real or imaginary. Then there are the hurts or pressures we experience from others or from our society.

Strangely, by taking Jesus' yoke upon our necks, he frees us from all these burdens. The rest that Jesus promises is love, healing and peace with God. Martin Luther writes in "Creation and Fall," "In the Bible, 'rest' really means more than 'having a rest.' It means rest after the work is accomplished, it means completion, it means the perfection and peace of God in which the world rests, it means tranfiguration, it means turning our eyes absolutely upon God's being God and towards worshipping him." (2) A relationship with God changes meaningless, wearisome toil into spiritual productivity and purpose.

Two Oxen with a yoke
So Jesus says ..."For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus offers refreshment in his partnership and promises to make the burden light, because he is a meek, a patient and a humble teacher.

I will always remember listening to Mr Hogarth, a teacher at the Bible Training Institute that I attended in Glasgow, Scotland, who was once a missionary in Argentina.  He told us about a ploughing festival held each year involving oxen. Elders first brought out the oldest most mature ox draped in flowers and beautiful decor. He was led gently and easily to his place and a yoke was placed around his neck without a problem. As he stood patiently waiting, another young unbroken ox was dragged out bellowing and pulling on its ropes, resisting at every step. With great difficulty, a group of strong men forced his head down and the yoke was tied around his neck. Both oxen were then let go and off they went, the young one dragging the older around the field at a great pace, The older ox allowed this at first but then as time passed started resisting the younger and pulling him into line. At last, the young one was too tired to resist and submitted to the older and was ready to plough. We are often stubborn like this young ox and resist Jesus' yoke. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me," says Jesus.

Oxen pulling cart
When Matthew writes that Jesus says, "my yoke is easy," he uses the Greek word "chrestos" which can also mean, "well fitting." (3)

There is a legend that, as a village carpenter, Jesus made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee, and that people from all over the country came to buy yokes from him. In Palestine, ox-yokes were made of wood, so the ox was brought, and measurements were taken. The yoke was then roughed out, and the ox brought back to have the yoke tried on. The yoke was carefully adjusted, so that it would fit well, and not chaff the neck of the patient beast. The yoke was tailor-made to fit the ox. 

In those days, as now, shops had their signs above the door, and it has been suggested that the sign above the door of the carpenter's shop in Nazareth may well have read,


Jesus may well be using the words over the his shop when he says, "My yokes fit well." What he means is, "The life I give you is not a burden to weigh heavily upon you, your task is made to measure to fit you." Whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly. We would be wise to do as Jesus suggests and, "Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Thats what I think anyway,

Rev Ron
(1) Matthew 11.28-30 (2) Martin Luther "Creation and Fall"  (3) Dr. William Barclay "Daily Bible Study."

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