As a very young boy, I can still remember watching my grandpa work his fields behind his mule and listening to him command “Dolly” to do different things. Rarely was “Dolly” stubborn or attempt to resist the commands of my grandpa. She didn’t fight the reins and harness. She never seemed to indicate that they were a burden or something to throw off. Rather, she was obedient and yielded to her master and to the harness and reins he had slipped over her head.
The Lord Jesus was the Master Teacher. Jesus was given the popular title of Rabbi, or Teacher, and Mary Magdalene called Him “Rabboni,” which means “my Master” John 20-16. He was indeed Master and Teacher. He was Immanuel, God in the flesh. He could look at something as simple as a fig tree, a sower sowing seed in the field, water, fish or bread and draw truths so divine, so sublime and so simple, that those who heard His analogies were left shaking their heads in amazement and sometimes in confusion by their simplicity. The picture of the yoke was one of those lessons where the Lord Jesus reached into Israel’s everyday culture and elevated a scene so ordinary to a level so spiritual that its meaning was unmistakable to the hearers.
Perhaps we ought to remind ourselves at this time, that Jesus’ message fell upon ears that were open to every little thing that He said, while other ears were obtuse, or dull, not quick to understand. In the earlier part of the chapter, disciples sent from the imprisoned John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked on the Baptist’s behalf, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (3). The Lord patiently and prudently answered their question in verses 4-19 but rebuked the self-pious Jews that followed. Jesus then rebuked the three Galilean cities because of their disbelief and failure to repent in spite of all they had been privileged to witness.
The prayer of the Lord in verses 25-26 was offered up especially for John the Baptist’s disciples but spoken audibly for all to hear. Jesus then spoke one of the most practical and pertinent messages of His three-year ministry: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” What did Jesus’ thought “Take my yoke upon you” mean to them and what does it mean to us? The scene of a team of oxen coupled together working under the reins of their master was not unfamiliar to these Jewish listeners. It was one they could see daily.
Undoubtedly more than a few had left their cattle and oxen and fields for a few hours so they could come and hear the Rabbi this morning. To their surprise, He spoke on the subject of the yoke and their thoughts would have immediately gone to the subject of service. Cattle are yoked for service. Thus, the Master’s lesson was a call to service with Him. D. L. Moody, the great evangelist and pastor, noted on this passage that “The Eastern yoke is made for two necks. If Christ is with us, we are blessed. There is no room for a third neck (2 Co. 6:14)”.
Very soon after His baptism and forty-days temptation in the wilderness, Jesus walked along the shore of Galilee and saw one team of two brothers, Andrew and Simon called Peter, and said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19). Just a short distance from them was another team of two more brothers, James and John, “and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” (Mt. 4:21-22). The message to all believers would become “follow me.” We are to yoke ourselves to the Lord Jesus because it is our reasonable service (Ro. 12:1).
Jesus’ audience understood the simplicity of the thought that being yoked also implied a call to submission. The yoke was one of the most easily understood figures of speech of that time because it illustrated the yoke of submission to an occupation or obligation. The Pharisees and others who were educated enough in their Old Testament history would remember that Jeremiah the prophet wore an ox yoke as a symbol of the nation’s submission to the king of Babylonia. The meaning of submit is to ‘yield, to obey, to bring oneself under the authority of another.’ So, Jesus’ message was “Submit yourself to me,” or “Be obedient to me,” or “Accept the task that I give you.”
Submission isn’t a popular topic because it is a difficult act for most of us. We were born in a sinful, stubborn world where our fallen Adamic natures pushes back in resistance against others and authority. Human will doesn’t want to be under the reins of another. This has become especially vivid in our current time as we watch the anger and violent protests taking place across our nation in every section of our country against all levels of authority. One of the things that is happening (not the only one, just one) is that humanity is attempting to unleash itself from the yoke of governmental authority and racial inferiority.
And even the church has found that it is not immune from such rebellious spirits. However, the Lord Jesus has called on His people to “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” just as He submitted Himself to the Father. Paul captured this point saying, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Php. 2:6-8).
When we accept the yoke of service and submission, Jesus said, “I will give you rest”. It is a call to serenity. The call is to those who are weary from sin to “come unto me, and I will give you rest.” Isaiah said of them, “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked” (Is. 48:22). But David, on the other hand, said, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps. 37:7). Those who are weary from struggles are to come unto the Lord for rest. “Come unto me,” Jesus to those wearied from toil, “and I will give you rest.” Rest is what the body, soul, and spirit are in search of. When the believer willingly yokes themselves to the Lord Jesus, the outcome of their relationship will be an inner rest and serenity.
The words of the Apostle Paul are appropriate here as they relate to the rest that the Lord Jesus was offering to Israel and us. Paul said, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” The only way to find this serenity and rest is to yoke ourselves to the Lord Jesus in submission and service.