Summary: In this short passage, Jesus gives three simple invitations to bring rest for the stressed: come to Jesus, take his yoke, and learn from him. Here is the essence of Christian discipleship, to bind ourselves to our Lord 24/7.
Rest for the Stressed
I choose our scripture each week from the Lectionary, which is a systematic reading through most of the Bible over the course of three years. On any given Sunday, it contains an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and a passage from the gospels. So, a month or two out, I prayerfully review each of the passages coming up and choose one for each given Sunday. I think about what scripture might relate to our needs. And every now and then, I see a scripture and think, “Boy, could I use that!”
And that’s why I chose today’s scripture. Me preaching on “rest” is similar to a priest giving marriage counseling. I don’t have a lot of firsthand experience. I tend to fill my schedule to the full. And if there’s any area I need to grow, it is this concept of “rest for the stressed.”
As I studied today’s passage, I was surprised by the context: Jesus gave these words thinking primarily of religious stress. People were getting stressed out trying to follow God. The Jewish religious leaders had come up with these cumbersome regulations on what a good follower of God should do, to the point that people felt overwhelmed and stressed to the max. There was no sense of closeness or intimacy with God; just an overwhelming imposition of “must.” “You must do this, you must do that.” And God was not pleased.
Then Jesus came on the scene. And in today’s passage he gives three simple instructions to find rest for the stressed. If you ever find yourself weary, worn out, even with religious activity if not with all the other activities of life, then you need to do these three simple things. First,
1. Come to Jesus. This phrase has become a trite expression in our modern vocabulary. Urban Dictionary says a “come to Jesus moment” originally meant “an emotional experience that is life changing,” but it has evolved to mean a “serious argument, one that better result in a change of action or else.” I had a “come to Jesus” moment yesterday thinking about my crazy schedule.
Jesus uses the expression with its original meaning: “an emotional experience that is life changing.” Jesus says, “If you need rest, come to me.” He is our rest. Notice the invitation is to a person, not a program. He doesn’t say, “If you need rest, go to church more; or read your Bible more; or pray more; or give 20% more to the offering.” No, he doesn’t invite more religious activity. That was the problem of his day. The religious leaders were imposing more and more religious standards on the people; they simplified the Ten Commandments down to only 613 laws! In Matthew 23:4, Jesus described these leaders as he said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” And Jesus said, “Enough! Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Bill Crowder, in yesterday’s “Our Daily Bread” reading, notes, “The rest [Jesus] offers is not simply found in the cessation of activity or release from burdens. It is found in actively seeking his presence and his provision for our lives” (7/8/17 “Our Daily Bread”). Where is your life out of control? What kind of stress is running rampant with you? It could be religious stress, it could be family or other relational stress, it could be stress over your health or financial stress. First and most importantly, come to Jesus. Bring it to Jesus. Give it to Jesus.
Now, in today’s passage, Jesus illustrates the kind of relationship he wants to have with us through a farming analogy familiar to folks in that agrarian society. And you find it in his next invitation. He invites us to ...
2. Take his yoke. A yoke is a wooden frame that joins together two animals, usually oxen, who work in tandem to pull the plow through the fields. In Jesus’ time, people also used the word “yoke” metaphorically, to describe how one might be subject to another. For instance, rabbis talked about yoking themselves to God’s Law instead of to worldly cares. A famous scribe, Sirach, invited people to yoke themselves to the study of Torah to gain wisdom. The New Testament warns us to guard against the yoke of legalism (Acts 15:10, Galatians 5:1).
But Jesus invites us to be yoked with ... himself! Christian discipleship is being in relationship with Jesus. We come to him, and we allow ourselves to be bound to him. And in him we find our rest, because as Jesus himself points out, he is “gentle and humble in heart.” Jesus will lead us gently as we bind our lives to him.