Have you ever noticed that there are always some people who can never be satisfied or happy with anything? Jesus did, and in Matthew 11:16-19,25-30 he compared the people of his day to children who can’t be satisfied by any game or activity, whether it is festive or sombre. Their actions reflected their lack of wisdom.

Jesus wasn’t the first person that the Pharisees didn’t accept. The people rejected John the Baptist because of his lifestyle, and they also rejected Jesus because he socialized with people who were sinners. The people of Jesus’ time knew that a Messiah was coming and that he would set them free. The problem was that the people were expecting a military-type of ruler who would drive out the Romans and return Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David. They were not expecting a simple, humble servant.

Like Jesus, John the Baptist was seen as someone other than who he really was. He was seen as a demon-possessed lunatic, and Jesus was seen as a glutton. John’s austerity in dress and food underlined the severity of his message. Jesus, on the other hand, went to where the people were and became a participant in their condition, if not their sin, where the joys and sorrows played out in families, towns and cities. 

The people of John’s and Jesus’ time rejected God by rejecting his messengers; neither approach pleased them, because neither man fit into their mold, so they lodged contradictory complaints. In both cases, the wisdom of the courses of action of both men was proved only by the results. In other words, the ends justified the means. We often want the Jesus we want, when we want him. The people in Jesus’ time were the same, and he was frustrated. The problem for those who reject Jesus is their awareness that taking John the Baptist and Jesus seriously requires people to change their lives.

The elite did not accept John the Baptist or Jesus-the poor did. The same situation exists today. There are those who think that they are so high in society that they don’t need God. Then there are those who are so downtrodden and suppressed by society that they eagerly accept Jesus’ teachings.

There is an interesting contrast in this passage. Jesus is contrasting Man’s Law with God’s Law. Man’s Law was formed as the result of the Ten Commandments. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people to guide them through the moral traps of life, but well-intentioned people added on to the law until it became its own trap. Religious professionals prided themselves on their observance of the law, but even they couldn’t avoid breaking the law. The common person did not stand a chance of perfectly observing the law. All of these rules and regulations were a huge burden on the people. The law was a dispensation of terror.

The Pharisees’ rules were a burden in their time, just like man’s rules can be a burden in our time, especially when dealing with the government. If you don’t have every single “I” dotted and every single “T” crossed, dealing with the government can be a heavy burden. Not walking in step with the establishment is hard work and can be dangerous, but it can be done, and has been done in the past by people such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.

The world’s way of lightening burdens has always involved transferring the burden to a scapegoat, usually the poor. God hears our cries and can understand the difference between cries of pain, hurt, anger, frustration, joy and deep need. He longs to hold us while we cry, not saying anything, but showing immeasurable love through his powerful embrace.  God will bring strength out of brokenness. He releases us from the bondage of having to prove our worth. We can live freely and lightly. He will never give us more than we can bear.

Jesus came along and said to the Pharisees, “Look, guys-you don’t need all of these man-made rules and regulations. You don’t need rules stating how far a person can walk on the Sabbath, or how clean they have to be in order to be part of society, or what type of work people can do on the Sabbath. That is not the intention of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are rules for how people are to live their lives and treat their fellow man. They are not meant to be a spiritual strait-jacket, but you, with your rules and regulations and determination to obey the letter of the Ten Commandments, have forgotten about the spirit of the Ten Commandments.” People might be learned in religious rules, customs and teachings, but our main source for understanding God’s ways doesn’t come from that knowledge. It comes from receiving Jesus and his message. In fact, strict observance of the law can make us blind to the Spirit’s freedom that Jesus is offering us.

Jesus went a step further and replaced all of these laws with the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. He told the Pharisees, “Look at how much easier and less demanding the Great Commandments are. They are a common-sense approach to living the life God wants us to lead. If people obey these two commandments, they will form the basis for how people live their lives. “

Jesus’ invitation to come to him speaks to everyone who is oppressed. Jesus reaches out to everyone who will listen to him. He doesn’t care about our reputation or social status. He cares about our hearts. Those who are “heavy laden” endure something that is laid on them from an outside source. Today, we would call it burnout. Jesus’ form of rest is not the absence of work, but rejuvenation and refreshment.

Most of you have seen oxen that are harnessed together by a yoke. They share the burden and work together so that one doesn’t have to do all of the work or shoulder the entire burden. Oxen are trained for a specific position in the yoke, so when they are put in the other position, they refuse to move, much like the Pharisees refused to change for Jesus or John the Baptist.

In Jesus’ day, the term “taking the yoke” meant coming under the leadership of another person and following in his or her footsteps. When Jesus tells us to take his yoke, he is inviting us to submit to his authority. If we submit to him, he will give us rest by sharing our burdens. We all need rest. That’s why God created the Sabbath. A Sabbath changes the pace of our lives. It helps us restore our strength and helps us be still. It helps us to let go of our grip on our lives. Jesus is asking us to let him be in control of our lives. He wants to guide and direct our lives. As the old saying goes, he wants us to “let go and let God”.

Some of the yokes we put on ourselves are because of unresolved guilt and unrealistic expectations. We want to prove that we matter, but God tells us that we do matter. He created us to be with him and fulfill his unique mission in our lives. His load is light and it is a radical alternative to the ways of the world. Christ will help us handle life’s demands.

Jesus’ easy yoke is not an invitation to an easy, carefree life, but it is deliverance from the man-made burdens of religion. These burdens are the guilt of sin and its side effects such as depression, anxiety, fear and doubt. If we accept the rest Jesus offers, all we have to do is accept his teachings as well as the obligations he will lay upon us. He invites us to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Taking Jesus’ yoke requires us to radically change our behaviour. That is not an easy thing for us to do. We get comfortable with the way things are. It’s like our favourite pair of shoes-it just feels so good, especially for society people. Sometimes it’s hard for society people to be humble.  Their attitude is summarized by the words of this old song: “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Christ blesses the humble. The humble have a power that is beyond their natural abilities.

Jesus promises to give us rest when we find our rest in him. He is our burden-bearer. He allows us to draw the line where we can say, “Enough is enough,” but we have to decide to accept his invitation.  When we turn the circumstances of our lives over to him, he lifts us up and infuses our hearts with fresh hope and wisdom. Some situations are just too difficult for us to handle, but nothing is too great for God. In the words of the famous old hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer

He promises to refresh our weary souls when we cry out to him.

A sermon preached on Matthew 11:28-30 actually changed lives in a small rural community where two leaders of the congregation were quarreling bitterly over a decision about which they disagreed. When the minister pronounced the benediction and left the sanctuary at the end of the service, he wondered why the congregation did not follow him to the door where he normally greeted them. He returned to the sanctuary and found the two leaders embracing each other in tears while the rest of the congregation stood around in amazement.

As we come together to worship every week, we admit our hunger for God. God sees our emptiness and feeds us the choicest food, the flesh and blood of the one who invites us today to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is meek and humble of heart. We can let go of the heavy yokes of this world and take up the blessed yoke that is no burden, the yoke of acceptance of our own beloved self in Christ, the yoke of acceptance of the beloved nature of other weary, heavy-laden ones still striving all around us.

Bibliography

  1. Craig Condon, “Rest for the Weary.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfrommyheart.blogspot.ca
  2. Jeremiah, David: The David Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  3. Exegesis for Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Under the Same Yoke.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmaikl.com
  5. Berni Dymet, “Dog Tired.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jon Walker, “Try Harder or Trust More?” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  7. Dr. Ray Pritchard, “A Friend of Tax Collectors?” Retrieved from www.keepbelieving.com

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