By Kristine Brown, Crosswalk.com
The unmistakable stirring in my heart to say yes to Jesus came at an unexpected time in my life. Growing up in church, I thought I knew what it meant to be a Christian. I had memorized John 3:16, after all. So now as I sat in the associate pastor’s office at my friend’s church, new feelings surfaced.
As the pastor spoke, I knew I needed to make a change. He explained the love of Christ in a way unlike what I’d heard before. And when he asked if I wanted to be saved, I accepted. Then, while walking out the front double doors, my friend asked, “So, how do you feel?”
I remember the sensation well. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It felt like a physical weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I felt somehow lightened.
Before becoming a Christ-follower, I always thought the decision would bring with it a hefty set of rules. I thought more would be expected of me, and if I couldn’t carry the load well, I’d be tossed aside.
And while “picking up our cross” may seem like Jesus is asking us to carry a heavy load, the opposite is actually true. When we walk with Jesus we will face challenges. But with Him by our side, what appears to be a burden is supernaturally made easy.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus explains the depth of our relationship with Him. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’” (NLT)
Looking at the context and meaning of this verse, we can better understand the gift Jesus offers by sharing His yoke. We can learn how to experience the light burden and easy yoke of Jesus.
What Does “Take My Yoke Upon You” Mean?
The word “yoke” is the Greek word zugos, referring to a wooden yoke that joined two animals together, so they could combine strength to pull a load that would have been too much for one animal to pull alone. When Jesus preached, He used metaphors and illustrations ordinary people could relate to.
The idea of a yoke around my neck isn’t too appealing, but when we think about the yoke’s purpose, we can see the beauty of the message behind it.
The Matthew Henry Commentary affirms Jesus’ words that “to call those who are weary and heavy laden, to take a yoke upon them, looks like adding affliction to the afflicted; but the pertinency of it lies in the word my: ‘You are under a yoke which makes you weary: shake that off and try mine, which will make you easy.’
To take Christ’s yoke upon us ... is to obey the gospel of Christ, to yield ourselves to the Lord.’”
A lone ox pulling the plow carries a weight beyond its intended purpose. Carrying the heaviness alone, subject to constant redirection by the farmer holding the reigns. It’s enough to make me cringe. On top of that, with only one ox doing the work, when would it ever get a chance to rest? With much work to be done, the ox must plow ahead. Push past exhaustion. Press on.
In the same way, when we trudge through life without God’s guidance, we “are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) By accepting Jesus’ yoke instead, we allow Him to walk with us and share the load.
Taking His yoke doesn’t mean holding onto the things that weigh us down, like unforgiveness, bitterness, and shame. Instead, taking His yoke gives us freedom from these things as we humble ourselves before Him.
The Believer’s Bible Commentary puts it this way: “Take My yoke upon you. This means to enter into submission to His will, to turn over control of one’s life to Him (Rom. 12:1-2).”
How can we experience this light burden and easy yoke?
As independent beings with free will, humans have been known to deal with issues like pride, stubbornness, and self-reliance. (Feeling a tinge of conviction, even as I write these words.) We’re taught to be strong, pursue our goals, take care of ourselves. Taking someone else’s yoke seems counterproductive, but not with Jesus. Through sharing His yoke we can experience His light burden and easy yoke in the following ways.
1. By Moving in the Same Direction as Jesus
Jesus had just appointed the 12 disciples and given instructions before they set out to share the Good News with people in the region. Jesus had been preaching around Galilee, and some of the towns had not accepted Him.
At the beginning of chapter 11, a group of John the Baptist’s followers approached Jesus. John was imprisoned at the time, but the message his followers brought to Jesus no doubt surprised all who heard it.
“Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)
On the surface, we might initially feel discouraged by the question. How could he ask such a thing? But instead we can choose to be encouraged. If someone as faith-filled as John the Baptist had doubts, then we shouldn’t condemn ourselves when discouragement hits.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says, “He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected. Even John the Baptist had doubts.” Still, Jesus answered their concerns with boldness. He shared the testimony of all God had done. Healing, redemption, salvation.
When our human frailties take over, we tend to veer in our own direction. Questions and doubts may cause us to change paths or think there’s an easier way. But when we stay yoked to the Savior, we move in His same direction. Staying in step with Him.
We won’t have to question whether or not we’re in God’s will when we follow where Jesus leads.
2. By Not Struggling to Carry All the Weight Ourselves
“A yoke speaks some hardship, but if the beast must draw, the yoke helps him.” - Matthew Henry Commentary
We will all face incredible difficulties in this life. Some may suggest that becoming a Christian will relieve us of suffering, but that isn’t the truth. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus knew we would face trouble, so He welcomes our reliance on Him.
When I left the church the day I invited Jesus into my heart, I had been overwhelmed with decisions that needed to be made. Uncertainty and confusion weighed me down. As I invited Him in, Jesus in turn invited me to share my struggles. Give Him my baggage. “Cast my cares on Him…” (1 Peter 5:7)
I traded a heaviness for renewed ease that day, which is why I felt lighter. We can replace our overwhelmed lives with God’s peace when we give our burdens to Jesus.
3. By Being Refreshed in Jesus, When There Is Still More Work to Do
“The words ‘and you will find rest for your souls’ are directly quoted from Jeremiah 6:16. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls…’” - Expositor’s Bible Commentary
The more time I spend studying God’s Word and spending time in His presence, the more I long to serve others who need Jesus’ unfailing love. I look forward to discovering new opportunities to help my church and community. But I’ve also fallen into the trap of toiling in an effort to do good, which resulted in total exhaustion.
There is so much to be done to help others! When we need a break but know there is still more work to do, we can refresh ourselves in Jesus.
The word “easy” is the Greek word chrestos, meaning pleasurable, manageable, or fit for use. Jesus did not imply easy would mean simple. He knew spending times of refreshment with Him would renew our strength, and we’d discover delight in kingdom work.
The word “burden” may have negative connotations, but Jesus’ message in Matthew 28-30 turns that negativity upside down. Matthew Henry Commentary puts it like this, “This burden in itself is not joyous, but grievous; yet as it is Christ’s, it is light. Paul knew as much of it as any man, and he calls it a light affliction, 2 Cor. 4:17.”
Let’s detach ourselves from the world’s burdens today and embrace the yoke of Jesus. When we do, we will experience rest and ease as we walk in sync with Him. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV)
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash Dyu-Ha
Kristine Brown is a communicator at heart, sharing inspiration that highlights God’s powerful Word and redemptive grace. You’ll find encouragement to help you “become more than yourself through God’s Word” at her website, kristinebrown.net. Kristine is the author of the book, Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan, and the devotional version for teen girls, Over It. Trading Comparison for the True Me.