Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:30 (Holman) “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
If we see a “therefore” in Scripture, see what’s it there for. Also see what a “for” is for. Jesus can give rest (v. 29) because His yoke and burden, duties He expects of us, are agreeable, they fit well. Serving Him is the sweetest part of life.
Jesus did not say life is easy. The fact following Him is described as a yoke and burden tells us effort and exertion are needed. Resistance has to be overcome.
God created humans to enjoy no yoke, no burden, in Eden. Of our own free will we chose a cruel yoke, a heavy burden. Our worst loss in Eden was not unblemished scenes of nature, an unlimited food supply, or perfect relationships with animals and each other. Our worst loss was God no longer walking among us in the cool of the day (GN 3:8). Eden and Heaven share this in common, what made and makes them wonderful is God’s uninterrupted presence. We cheat God if anything but Him is deemed our worst loss in Eden or our best gain in Heaven.
In Eden we cast off God, thinking we would have no yoke and no burden. Instead we strapped on the yoke and burden of a cruel, evil taskmaster, the devil.
Since our Fall in Eden, we no longer have no yoke and no burden as an option. We once and for all time settled that alternative, making the wrong choice.
People still think they can have unlimited freedom, no yoke, no burden, but this is not an option. We can but pick which yoke and burden, Satan’s or Christ’s.
We often err, thinking if we follow Jesus, life will not be hard. Not true! Jesus never said life would be easy. He said His yoke is easy, His burden is light.
These sound like irreconcilable paradoxes–yokes easy, burdens light–yet contain valuable, stark truth. Jesus was saying His way is our most satisfying choice, and was saying His yoke and burden are not what drag us down in life.
It’s not His yoke if we are bogged down with worry, anxiety, consequences of sins. These are not His loads. We excel at messing up our own lives and then blaming Jesus for the burden on our backs. Don’t go there. Don’t accuse Jesus.
Never forget, Satan is god of this world (2 C 4:4). His is the hard yoke and the heavy burden. Life is most difficult when we are unwilling to submit to Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden. As long as our self-will rears its ugly head, we blister and gall ourselves. All who refuse Christ’s yoke chafe and distress themselves.
Preaching from Matthew 11:28-30 has been one of the highlights of my ministry. Indulge me three last thoughts from this blessed passage. First, His yoke is easy and His burden is light because His way calms the civil war raging within us. Our old self ever opposes good, our new self always fights evil. Thus, our efforts to live in a Christian way always generate inner conflict.
As a result, spiritual rest is extremely hard to maintain. It is not automatic, especially for believers. We struggle with juggling two opposite natures within.
In believers, conscience is a battlefield, a war zone, old self versus new self. Unbelievers do not have this terrible fight raging within. Thus non-Christians can be as calm as, or calmer than, Christians. The lost are not a walking civil war.
Being a Christian does not put an end to conscience. If anything, following Jesus makes conscience more sensitive, capable of swinging to further extremes.
If the battle in us is not calmed, if conscience becomes a cannonball hurled back and forth to two extremes in the war, His yoke is difficult, His burden heavy.
Spiritual rest requires a balanced conscience, tender as opposed to harsh or dead. A harsh conscience torments. For believers, conscience can easily make cowards of us all, including the best of us, as well as the worst among us.
We have fought numerous battles with sin, lost too many. Christians hate it when what we loathe wins victory over us. Don’t let these defeats crush our spirit.
It is dangerous and alarming how dead sins rise up to haunt us, floating like grim ghosts seeking retribution. Be glad Jesus has more power to comfort than sins have to discomfort. He rests us from overly painful memories of sins. Don’t let conscience drown us. We have no hope for the future if we mope in the past.
A dead conscience destroys our peace. We can not enjoy God’s rest if we rest in sin (Spurgeon). An adulterer finds no rest in sex, a liar finds no rest in falsehoods, a drug addict finds no rest in a needle. Evil upsets. “The wicked are like the storm-tossed sea, for it cannot be still, and its waters churn up mire and muck. There is no peace for the wicked, says my God” (Isaiah 57:20-21 Holman).
Blind people can become unable to read braille because the ends of their fingers grow hard and calloused. Don’t let conscience grow dead and unfeeling.
When conscience is dead, Satan guides, driving with a whip. People think they will find fulfillment in serving Satan, but under his yoke people groan. There is pleasure in sin for a season (HB 11:25), but its temporary thrills yield no rest.
A tender conscience blesses. Let conscience work aright. Keep it balanced, a ballast steadying life’s ship. Don’t let it tip us over, don’t let it let us stay where we are. Let it bring us to repent and seek forgiveness. Then let it gnaw no more.
Second, His yoke is easy and His burden light because His way is lined with love. Any load, given and received in love, is lightened. Love makes us unmindful as to how heavy a load really is. I enjoy washing dishes and doing laundry for Ruth. People ask if I would come do dishes and laundry at their house. I say no. It wouldn’t be for Ruth. She’s the love that makes the labor light.
If done for love, nothing is too heavy or too demeaning. Dr. Bill Skasick, professor at Missouri Baptist College, cared for his seriously ill wife during her final days. Dad, offering sympathy, gently said, “I pray the Lord will help you bear this burden.” Dr. Skasick instantly replied, “She’s not a burden, she’s my wife.” I heard this a generation ago, and still feel love rushing through the words.
What will we not do for love? A reporter, interviewing a care-giver noted for lowly acts of service, said, “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.” She replied, “I wouldn’t either.” Deeds money can’t buy are done freely for love.
If we murmur at Christian duty, and think the cost too great, it is because we have not adequately valued Jesus. When the love is right, the burden will be light.
Third, His yoke is easy, His burden light, because His is the most wonderful way to live. It is hard work to live life pleasing God. It is infinitely harder to live any other way. Any burden, without sin, is always lighter than if sin is mixed in.
The Christian life fits, agrees with what we were made to be and do. It is a rational choice, for it is the most profitable, least difficult life we can undertake.
There is no tyranny in living for Jesus. It’s hard to serve a master who is harsh, angry, intolerant. Jesus seeks our best, is lenient to our faults, and forgives promptly when we ask. He most grieves when we hurt ourselves. Who wouldn’t want to serve a master this kind? Dad says, “Jesus is the best boss I ever served.”
He never asks us to go where He has not trod. He always goes before us, having us put our feet down in His footprints. Jesus, stronger than we are, bears in the other half of our yoke, the largest portion of the load. Someday the yoke will be removed and He whom we now serve with side by side shall be seen face to face. Till then we lean against Him, sensing His nearness, enjoying His presence.
Following Jesus is the most rewarding part of life. By serving Jesus we know we are pleasing God. We hear approval from within and from above.
Troubles come when we decide to plow down a furrow other than the one Jesus has chosen for us. As long as we want for ourselves what He wants for us, we shall find the yoke easy, the burden light. He wants us to love Him like He loves us, and He spends our lifetime working on closing the gap between the two.
If loving Him is our chief priority, even the most difficult troubles and trials, if borne aright, become a blessing. Spurgeon said the best piece of furniture he ever had in the house was a cross, the cross of affliction and trouble. He could say this and mean it only because above all else He wanted to love God more.
We don’t deem Jesus’ yoke easy or His burden light because we don’t relish the reasons He gives them to us. When we decide we want above all else to love God as intensely as He wants us to, then the anvil, fire, chisel, and hammer can fashion us into a life beautiful, agreeable to our best selves, and pleasing to God.
Legend says birds once had no wings. God offered them wings, but due to their weight, the birds rebelled and said no, but once they relented and donned the wings, they were lifted up, able to soar. Take His yoke and burden. They satisfy.