Category Archives: Bible Study

Take my yoke upon you

Dee Keith

Matthew 11:29

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.

Serving God

One of the characteristics of a fallen human nature is the rejection of what’s best.

This began all the way back in the garden of Eden, when Satan tempted Eve to rebel against God and exert her tight to determine her own course. Ever since, people have been pursuing their desires base on self-interest. It’s understandable that this is the world’s mindset, sadly, though it is also the attitude of many Christians, who attend church but consider serving an encroachment on their time.

            Such self-centered reasoning is grounded in three misconceptions.

  1. We don’t understand who God is. He’s the divine Creator of the universe and the sovereign Ruler over heaven and earth. He redeemed us from sin with the precious blood of His Son. He purchased us from slavery to sin. In that way we become His Slaves, who serve Him out of Love and Gratitude.
  2. We don’t understand why we are here. We were created to worship and serve God. This is our destiny and the way we glorify Him.
  3. We don’t understand the Lord’s great purpose in the world. He is building His Kingdom, and we have been commissioned to be involved in this process by ministering to one another and proclaiming the gospel near and far.

God intended Christian service to be a divine privilege, a fulfilling opportunity, and an avenue of blessing. To say we can’t fit it into our schedule is a rejection of what God has commanded and ordained as best. But the truth is, what we forfeit by not serving is far greater than anything we could gain by selfishly pursuing our own way.

The Church

For the church, the most difficult criticism has arisen from within, from false professors who once claimed to support it and its leaders. Paul came to know the disappointment and distress of being torn down when his detractors at Philippi assailed him even while he sat in prison. But he is a model of how one can rise above such pain and discouragement.

Paul’s main detractors were his fellow preachers who proclaimed the same gospel as he did. They were not at odds with him over doctrine but over personal matters. Paul’s detractors were envious of his ministry gifts and the way God had blessed his efforts with many converts and numerous churches.

Contending with the detractors at Philippi was not a completely new trial for Paul. He had previously learned patience in dealing with the letdowns caused by other supposed supporters. Now his opponents were testing his patience to the extreme as they sought to destroy his credibility with his supporters.

The detractors’ tactics might have unsettled the faith of some in the churches, but not Paul’s confidence. He stood up to all the unpleasantness with joy because, as our verse indicates, he knew the cause of Christ was still being advanced.

Paul’s exemplary behavior under fire provides an obvious lesson for us: no amount of false and unfair criticism should steal our joy in Christ and His gospel. And we can keep rejoicing if we, like Paul, stay devoted to our top priority, proclaiming and glorifying the name of Christ.

The Lord of the Sabbath

Brother Dee Keith

Matthew 12:15

It was the Sabbath day. The day began not unlike most other Sabbath days for Jesus and the disciples who were traveling somewhere through Galilee in the vicinity of Capernaum. But this day would turn eventful and ultimately lead to an event that would help change the course of history for both the Jewish people and the Gentiles. As they walked, the twelve passed through a cornfield and hunger overcame them. The disciples did what most hungry people would do, they plucked ears of corn, shucked them, and ate. This was allowable according to the Mosaic Law. The problem was, today was not just another day; it was the Sabbath. But, according to the strict interpretation of the Pharisees, Jesus and His men were in violation of the law. And because they were sticklers of the law, they quickly brought this error to the attention of the popular Rabbi.

This wasn’t the first run-in between Jesus and the Pharisees. It would be, however, one key event of many that would eventually have the Pharisees collaborate with the Sadducees and Herodians to have Jesus murdered. They feared Him. They feared His popularity among the people. They feared His implausible and inexplicable power to heal the sick, to free the demonized, and to raise the dead. They couldn’t refute His power. He had done it all and a number of the Pharisees had witnessed them. So amazing were these feats that some of their own rank had broken rank and become believers and followers of Him.
They feared Him. They hated Him. This wouldn’t be the last of the run-ins either. Other run-ins would be even stronger and more contentious. Jesus of Nazareth was one of those people that you either loved or hated. If you knew anything about Him, you either loved Him or hated Him, worshiped Him or loathed Him.

There was no neutrality, no middle ground of feelings, no straddling the fence. Sometimes it seemed as if Jesus picked a fight with the Pharisees; but He didn’t. He used occasions like this Sabbath day to expose the errors of Pharisaism, their traditions and rituals, to teach and explain the true spiritual intent of the law and the prophets and God’s given truth. In this instance, it was about the Sabbath day and on it.

In recounting this event, Matthew first showed the great misunderstanding that focused on Him. Some Pharisees were traveling alongside of the Lord and His disciples when they passed through the cornfield and the disciples became hungry and, being hungry, they plucked some ears of corn, pulled off the husks and began to eat. The Pharisees immediately took exception to their action and said to Jesus, “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day” (2). The misunderstanding wasn’t on the part of the disciples and Jesus, but by the Pharisees who believed they knew the law but did not. The Law of Moses said, “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbor, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbor’s standing corn” (Dt. 23:25).

H. A. Ironside wrote in his commentary, “There was absolutely no prohibition in the law of Moses in regard to this, but in the traditions of the elders there were many added laws and regulations that made it at times almost impossible for the ordinary man to know whether he was violating one of them or not. Among these rules was the prohibition to gather fruit or grain of any kind upon the Sabbath day, and even to rub it out in the hand as the disciples were doing seemed to these Pharisees a violation of that which they regarded as sacred.” To demonstrate the flawed teaching and tradition of the Pharisees regarding their interpretation of the Sabbath and the law, the Lord cited an incident from the life of David when he and his men entered the house of God and ate the “shewbread that was not lawful to eat” except for the priests (1 Sa. 21:5-6). David ate even though it was ‘unlawful’ for him to do so, yet the Old Testament did not condemn him for his act.

Therefore, the Pharisees should not condemn Jesus’ disciples for doing something Scripture did not condemn David’s men for doing. Jesus was arguing that His authority should override the Law more than their view of the Sabbath should. Furthermore, if they wanted to be strict interpreters of the law, technically, the priests broke the Sabbath law every week when changing the consecrated bread and offering the burnt offerings the Law specified for the week (5). Were they violating their law? They were not. The Law considered the priests guiltless (innocent) for doing this ‘work’ on the Sabbath. The point in these two illustrations is that “even a divine prohibition, if it relates to mere ceremonial matter, melts, like wax, before even bodily necessities” (Alexander MacLaren). Mark summed up this point with the words of the Lord Jesus, when He said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27-28).

Apparently on the same Sabbath day, maybe just a few hours after the first incident, Jesus and the disciples entered the synagogue where the next confrontation occurred. The Pharisees were waiting and a man with a withered hand was in attendance. It’s within the realm of possibility that this was a staged event by the Pharisees who planted the man and hoped to entrap the Master. Jesus had just declared to these infidels that he was the Lord of the Sabbath, now He would demonstrate it to them in the great mercy that flowed from Him. The Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him” (10). Answering them, Jesus said, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep?

Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (11-12). The malice of the Pharisees was countered with the mercy of the Physician, and Jesus said, “Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.” To these legalists, ritualism was more important than restoration. Ceremony was more important than compassion. Their cause (the law) was of greater importance than a cured man. Their darkened heart revealed their deep hatred of Christ as “the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him” (14). Spiros Zodhiates said on this, “They actually thought that preserving the law of the Sabbath and even killing someone for breaking it was more important than showing mercy to a suffering person. In contrast, Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17).” In seeking to destroy Jesus, however, they damned their own soul.

Knowing the thoughts and intents of the Pharisees, Jesus withdrew Himself and left. When He departed from there, so did many others. Matthew was impressed with the great multitude that followed Him for he said, “great multitudes followed him”. This isn’t just an incidental (secondary) note, nor is it insignificant. The unnumbered many were watched everything Jesus did and listened intently to the exchange that took place between the Pharisees and Him. The significance of this truth is formed in the verb followed. Where His works and words were rejected by Israel’s spiritual leaders, they were received by the ordinary man and woman. Some who followed Him were insincere and uncommitted at this point. Many, many others, however, were now inquisitive and sincere followers. One writer has commented that followed can be interpreted to mean that they had become believers and were now His disciples.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. The question really is, is He the Lord of you?

The Bible

I ran across this and thought I would share it. It made me think for a long time. Among other things, the Bible is a very honest book. It tells us when our heroes mess up.

The Bible tells us, for example, that after Noah filled an ark with a bunch of stinky animals, bobbed around in the ocean, and came to the new place God created for him, he went out and got drunk.

The Bible also tells us that Abraham, the father of faith, lied on multiple occasions.

David, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and then effectively committed murder to hide his adultery.

The mighty Samson, who could do supernatural feats of strength with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, made many bad decisions and reaped the consequences.

When we come to the New Testament, we read of Simon Peter’s sins and lapses.

Now, if it were up to me, I would have left all those unfavorable details out. But the Bible includes them because they happened.

On the other hand, we read of other men and women of the Bible and don’t find any accounts of them compromising or struggling with any sin. It is not that they didn’t, but the Bible doesn’t mention it.

We don’t know of any sin that Joseph committed, except maybe bragging to his family about his dreams and being a little too proud of his cool coat.

Also, we don’t read of any sin that Daniel or his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego committed.

So, we see that some believers struggled more than others. Here’s what it comes down to: we choose what kind of Christian life we want to live.

If you want to live in constant struggle with sin, you can live that way. Or, you can live in newness of life by the power of the Holy Spirit, which has been provided for you by Jesus Christ through the cross.