Summary: A sermon to show the liberation that is available through sharing the yoke of Christ
How often have you just wanted to get away from it all, to escape the burdens of your everyday routine? How often have you felt that life is getting the better of you and had the feeling that you can’t go on any longer? How often have you felt that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for you to do everything that is expected of you? I know I have, especially since taking over command of Merthyr Tydfil & Aberdare. Or you may have felt that a certain someone in your life is simply expecting too much of you, or that they don’t really appreciate everything that you do for them. I’m sure that everyone here today has felt that way at least once in their lives; some may even be feeling that way now. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”
A yoke was a heavy wooden harness that fitted on the shoulders of oxen, later versions, like the ones my grand-dad would have used on his horses were made of leather, but they all served the same purpose; which was to be attached to a heavy piece of equipment which the ox or horse had to pull. Yokes were intended to ease the discomfort of bearing heavy loads, but they were also used to steer the oxen or horses in the direction the farmer wanted them to go; which is why the term is also used to symbolise obedience and the acceptance of responsibility. The religious leaders in the days Jesus walked the earth, often spoke of taking on the yoke of the law, but the consequences of doing that, often meant that under their direction the burden of the law as they portrayed it became heavy and the yoke ceased to relieve the discomfort. However, Jesus said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Was he saying that by following him we would free from obeying the law? He answered that question in his teaching with the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5: 17, we read “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” He makes it very clear what will happen if we fail to keep any of the commandments, in verses 18 and 19 we read “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others
to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Perhaps he was saying that by following him, our lives would become easier, in Luke 21: 12 we read “...they will lay hands on you and persecute you.” And in verses 16 and17 “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me...” I don’t know about you, but these words don’t really paint a picture of the ideal recruitment advertisement, why would you want to follow Jesus knowing this could happen? Actually, had I read the passage from Luke within the context it was written; it would have given an entirely different perspective. I used the words out of context to suit my purposes, which is what the religious leaders had done with the Law, by distorting the original meaning of the Law to suit their own devices, they were placing heavy burdens and restrictions on the people, in effect they were using the Law in direct contradiction to its original purpose, which was to show people how to live in order to have a relationship with God. The yoke which they had placed on the shoulders of the people had itself become a burden, and was actually preventing people from drawing near to God.
What Jesus was actually saying was that because of the special relationship he has with the Father as he says in verse 27 of Matthew 11. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No- one knows the Son except the Father, and no- one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” All that is required to have a relationship with the Father is to accept the invitation of the Son, nothing else is needed. He was freeing them from legalistic burdens placed on them by the religious leaders, who had placed so much emphasis on rituals and sacrifice to release the people from the burdens of their sins. He was inviting them to come to God the Father in true repentance by removing the rituals that the religious leaders had turned into nothing more than empty offerings. The rest Jesus was speaking about wasn’t an invitation to remain idle, this was rest for the soul, rest from their weariness in their search for God, because only by accepting his invitation would they experience God in his fullness.