28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
Have you ever seen a yoke? It is a big wooden device that attaches around the necks of two oxen so they will walk in tandem when pulling a cart or doing heavy work. They are bulky, uncomfortable and restraining. One ox has no choice but to go where the other ox goes. If one stops or trips, he may well be dragged along by the other.
If we look at the Greek words rendered “labor” (kopiaō) and “heavy laden” (phortizō), we get a mental picture of someone who is tired from the spiritual battles of life. Not just tired, worn down. Exhausted. On the ropes. Toiling. Struggling. Wondering when – or even if – the troubles of life will at least ease up. Worried. Anxious. Yoked to the burdens of this life.
Are you seeing the picture here? Look to your right. Who are you yoked with? Are you so tied to the problems and troubles and doubts and anxiety of life that, if you stumble, you feel as if you’ll be dragged along or run over? Then it’s time to change yokes. How?
It’s simple: you are going to be yoked to either the world or the Lord. The choice is yours. Our original created purpose is to be yoked to God (which is really no burden at all). However, through sin our inherited yoke is with the world and its trappings (and traps).
The wonderful news in all this is that, through Christ, we can be unshackled from the burdensome yoke of sin and shame and worry, and be united instead with the God of the Universe, with Jesus Who died for our sins. How can you shake off the heavy beam weighing down on your neck? David lays it out for us in Psalm 55:
1 “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! 2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, 3 because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me. 4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. 6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah 8 I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.” 9 Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues; for I see violence and strife in the city. 10 Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it; 11 ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace. 12 For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. 13 But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. 14 We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng. 15 Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart. 16 But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. 17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. 18 He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. 19 God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, Selah because they do not change and do not fear God. 20 My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. 21 His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. 22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. 23 But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.” Psalms 55:1-23 (ESV)
David was burdened, troubled by the evil around him. Yet he was yoked to the Lord! His fear is real. His cries for help are real. Look at verses 6 and 7, and selah – pause, ponder and meditate on it. Have you ever wished you could sprout wings and fly away from all your troubles – your worries, guilt, problems, heartaches, injustices…
Yes, David’s troubles are real. But so is his faith. Notice the boldness with which David cries out to His salvation. Moreover, look at verse 22. Here is how we rid ourselves of the old yoke that enslaves us to the world and all the junk that comes along with it. It is a verse that caught Peter’s attention as well: “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” Could the message of Jesus and David be synthesized any more perfectly?
Cast off your cares. Cast off your anxieties. Cast them very purposefully and boldly to God, in faith, knowing His will is perfect. In doing so – again in faith – we take on the light yoke of Jesus. Cast off the old ways, learn Christ’s ways and find freedom in Him – life everlasting and abundant! “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, ESV).