A pastor with whom I used to have correspondence signed his emails in quite a memorable and stirring way. Not just ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Best regards’ or ‘Every blessing’ … but ‘In Jesus’ easy yoke’, and then his name. And it struck me as quite memorable the first time I read it. And it still sticks in my memory these 8 or 10 years later. He was reminding me, based on that great invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11, that he was yoked to Christ, and that to be so was not at all a burden.
Would that we always felt that way!
Oh yes, both the brokenness of this world and the weight of our own sin often conspire to make us “weary and heavy-laden.” But when we come to Jesus, we “find rest for [our] souls.” When we come to Jesus, we do not find such heavy burdens added, but rather lifted! And, even in those cases when Christ does not take a burden wholly away, what we find is that He takes the heavy end of the furniture and leaves us with the light duty!
But what about the yoke that He Himself lays upon us? What about His expectations that we plough a straight furrow? What about the standards of conduct and duty toward God that we did not feel or know before, but which come to the front of our minds when we begin to follow Christ? The commandments of God are a yoke. But, as my pastor friend reminded me, even this yoke is an easy one. “My yoke is easy” says Jesus, “and My burden is light.”
Now, we may make the yoke feel difficult or heavy – just the way I suspect an ox could get mighty chafed by even the lightest of yokes if he were constantly trying to hurl it off his neck. So it is with the yoke of Jesus. If we do not voluntarily and cordially bend our necks to it, the yoke can feel very comfortable indeed. But if we’ll willingly “take [His] yoke upon [us] and learn from [Him],” what we’ll find is that the yoke is actually not nearly so heavy or awkward as we sometimes make it out to me. Indeed, we will probably find that the yoke has the effect of a modern day back-brace which, while limiting motion, actually enables us to move about more comfortably (not to mention safely!) than ever before. “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). And all the more so because they help keep us on the narrow path, and away from God’s hand of discipline.
And so I wonder – what commandments of God seem like a burden to you? What position on the yoke collar seems to chafe you the most? And is it because the yoke is really all that heavy … or misshapen? Or is it because you have chosen to wring your own neck against it? The commands concerning obedience to parents, and the purity of our thought lives, and covetousness, and the Sabbath, and God’s exclusive claim on our worship are all, to be sure, restricting. Such is the nature of a yoke! But this particular yoke is “easy,” if we’ll simply bend to it happily. These particular commandments are not burdensome, but safe, and happy, and even exciting.
So no, we do not bow our necks to Christ’s yoke in order to accomplish, or add anything to, our salvation. Christ Himself has achieved that all by Himself! But having been saved; having been redeemed from sin’s penalty and power, we are expected to live like it! And, if we have really been saved … well then, we’ll actually want to live like it! And so the fact that Jesus would put a yoke on us and guide our steps into a straight line is actually a welcome thing, is it not?
What surgery recoveree would turn down a brace that would actually enable her to walk again? And what rock climber would turn away a belay rope that would keep him from falling over the cliff? And what true Christian would turn down a yoke which would make him or her walk straight for the Lord?