Rest under the Yoke of Christ

Reading: Matthew 11.20-30

Just over thirty years ago we went to Stanthorpe. We were there when the Uniting Church came into being. The climate is much colder than North Queensland, but it is a beautiful place, noted for its granite rock formations, its wildflowers and bird and animal life.

The farmers and their families grow apples, peaches, pears and other fruit for our tables, working very hard long hours. They face, not only the hardships of drought and uncertain prices – they don’t get anywhere near what you pay at the green-grocer’s – but the danger of a late frost destroying the crop or a hail storm making it unmarketable.

Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, used to remind us that “life wasn’t meant to be easy”. That’s a reality we don’t readily accept. Something in us believes it ought to be easy and we work hard trying to make it that way.

In Stanthorpe someone set up a home for severely intellectually handicapped children. They were children of doctors, lawyers… who could pay well. The owner didn’t want government subsidy. He ran it on his own principle that these children should receive no visits, no stimulation. “After all,” he said, “life is enough of a burden for us without imposing it on them.”

By contrast, at the same time a family with a severely spastic daughter put out a public appeal for volunteers to help with an exercise programme – they wanted the maximum possible for their daughter.

But we come back to the question – is life a burden for us? Certainly, we all have burdens of one sort or another. Some of us may have disabilities we have carried since childhood. We may have hurts from broken relationships or sorrow from the loss of loved ones. Then there is disappointment at the failure of ourselves – and others – to achieve what we expected. We may be carrying the guilt of an unconfessed sin – or a sense of guilt, even though we have been forgiven. Or it may be the uncertainty stirred by the news of the increase in terrorism yet the unresolved war against it, shock at the behaviour of some of our heroes, a real sense of “whatever is the world coming to?”

Come to Me

Jesus offered to the burdened and weary of his day – and he offers to us – the gift of “rest” and the discovery of “rest” in daily experience. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11.28-30).

Weary from hard toil, burdened by heavy loads – “Come to me…” he says, “and I will give you rest”.

From v. 20 we hear Jesus denouncing Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – all places in Galilee where much of his teaching and many of his miracles had been performed. They had heard and seen so much, had been given every opportunity, but had failed to repent. Jesus was a very different person from John the Baptist, but his ministry began with the same call, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt. 4.17).

The message is really quite a simple one. You don’t have to be wise or learned to understand it. Come to Jesus! He is inviting you! Whatever your burden, whatever your struggle, whatever your pain… come!  Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of direction. Turn from sin, from self-reliance, from self-pity and failure, from pride and self-confidence… and turn to Jesus – come to him. He is offering to lift the load – to forgive the sin, to heal the hurt…

The old gospel song put it this way –

Days are filled with sorrow and care,

hearts are lonely and drear…

Cast your care on Jesus today,

leave your worry and fear…

Troubled soul, the Saviour can see

every heartache and fear;

Burdens are lifted at Calvary,

Jesus is very near.

Take My Yoke

That is all about the finished unrepeatable work of Christ. We don’t deserve and can’t earn the “rest” he offers to us. We simply “come” and he gives it to us. And “burdens are lifted…”

But Jesus goes on to say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

We recall that in Acts 15 the early Christian leaders were discussing what expectations should be laid on Gentile believers. Peter said, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15.10-11).

Is Jesus laying another burden on his followers? Not at all! A yoke is a means of carrying a load. The engine under the bonnet of your car isn’t a burden – unless you are trying to push the car! We don’t look at the flying bird carrying a pair of wings – the wings are carrying the bird! When we come to Jesus and lay down our load at the foot of the cross, we aren’t opting out of life. Jesus calls us forward. We are, as Paul put it in Ephesians 2, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2.10).

Coming to Jesus and receiving “rest” as his free gift to us is the only beginning for each one of us, but there is a second stage and a “rest” that we can only discover when we take the yoke of Christ, submitting our lives to him.

Ray Stedman observed, “Many of us… are grateful to the Lord Jesus for having forgiven our sins and set us on the road, but we are hopeful that he will leave us alone from here on. We are quite content with the joy that we found then, and are ready to go on and live our life pretty much as we did before, only with the wonderful assurance that our destiny is settled” (Christians Unabridged, Dec. 6, 1964). Such an attitude makes us, in Ray Stedman’s words, an abridged Christian. He suggests that “There are pocket-editions of Christians in which the print is so fine nobody can read it!”

Jesus says, “Come to me… and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you… and you will find rest”. He says in the words penned by Deirdre Browne –

Come as you are –

that’s how I want you.

Come as you are,

feel quite at home,

close to my heart,

loved and forgiven.

Come as you are –

why stand alone?

When we have come, he has work for us to do – sharing in his continuing mission in the world. We are his Body. He wants to do his work through us. As Charles Wesley put it –

He justly claims us for his own,

who bought us with a price;

the Christian lives to Christ alone,

to Christ alone he dies.


And while our hearts are bowed to thee

thine easy yoke we prove,

and own it perfect liberty

to serve the God we love. (AHB 146)

His grace is fully available to us. Are we fully available to him?

© Peter J. Blackburn, Halifax & Ingham Uniting Churches, 3 July 2005
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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