“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find vest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29, 30
This exhortation of the Lord Jesus is most closely attached to another that immediately precedes it.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Not a general offer of salvation to all men is this word of the Saviour, as it has so generally been explained. But it is a calling or exhortation directed to those and to those only who are burdened by the spiritual knowledge of their sin and guilt, and who desire from a regenerated heart to be relieved of that burden. To them the Lord presents the promise, “and I will give you rest.”
In our text these same addresses are given the added exhortation to assume Christ’s yoke. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, . . .”—so would they find rest unto their souls.
Significant and urgent calling!
There is great urgency here that the heavy laden assume Christ’s yoke.
For the called, you see, are under a yoke that is too grievous to be borne.
A yoke is a figure of speech taken from the agricultural scene where a pair of draught animals, such as oxen, had a wooden or leather frame fitted over their shoulders and attached to a load they are to pull. Or, perhaps the figure referred to a cross-bar or frame fitted to the shoulders of humans whereby they were enabled to carry heavy burdens, such as water or other objects. Metaphorically the Scriptures speak of the yoke when they refer to a certain servile condition. Jeremiah speaks of breaking the yoke in connection with those who refuse to bow under the judgment of God. (5:5). Peter would impose no yoke on the disciples too heavy to bear, such as the Pharisees insisted upon in the keeping of the ceremonial law. (Acts 15:10). Paul speaks of servants being under the yoke who are to count their masters worthy of all honor. (I Tim. 6:1).
Such is also the implication in the text. The addressees are burdened under the yoke of sin and guilt. They labor and are heavy laden. They labor, toil hard for righteousness and seek for rest. Yet under the law, which aggravates their burden, making their burden all the heavier, they find no relief. For through the law is the knowledge of sin. So they are weary and heavy ladened with the knowledge of guilt, while all their fruitless striving for peace and rest is vain. Certainly their yoke was heavy whom the Lord addresses here.
And the Lord now exhorts them to exchange their yoke for the yoke Christ will give.
In the deep sense of the word the yoke they are to assume is Christ Himself. The Lord is not referring to the commands of the gospel in distinction from the demands of the law; nor does He refer to the suffering and persecution which the becoming Christ’s disciples would entail; though to be sure there are certain requirements of the gospel to be heeded, and reproaches to be borne, when we are associated with Christ. Rather, we stand in an entirely new relation when we assume the yoke of Christ. In the old relation we bear the burden. In the new, Christ bears the burden for us and in our stead. Luther, writing on this subject, correctly observes, “Christ’s burden does not oppress, but makes light, and itself bears, rather than is borne.” Or, as another pertly put it, “What can be lighter than a burden which unburdens us, and a yoke which bears its bearer?”
It is particularly this truth that makes the exchange of yokes to be most appealing. O, indeed, if Christ meant that it is a matter of merely exchanging burdens, be it that the one was lighter than the other, there might be little or no appeal. But the case is quite different. In the one you are yoked to a burden that becomes increasingly heavier and at last impossible to bear. But in the other, when you are yoked to Christ, He takes the burden from you, and you are united with Him Who is the burden-bearer.
Now the urgency of assuming Christ’s yoke rests, first of all, in the hearts and minds of those whom Christ addresses here. They have labored and toiled with the knowledge of their sin and guilt. They have been brought to see the immensity of their burden. They know that by their own endeavors they can never unburden themselves, but only increase their guilt and misery. And they have a spiritual longing to get rid of it. They have sensed with Augustine, who also wrestled with his sense of guilt, “Thou God, hast created us unto Thyself, hence our heart is restless, until it rests in Thee.” They sense ever more deeply the need of being made right with God. And that means that they desire the removal of their burden of sin and guilt, and desire the perfect righteousness of Christ to be their eternal possession.
But, in the second place, this urging rests and is implied in the calling to come to Christ, the Burden-Bearer and Rest-Giver. Also here, as in the previous verse, the calling is efficacious. So efficacious is Christ’s calling that they who are called come to Him. Here is not an impotent invitation on the part of Christ which may be accepted or rejected at will. Christ does not stand on the outside of the sinners heart pleading with him to let Him in. But the call is with power, just as when He stood at the grave of Lazarus and called the dead out of the grave back to life. So also here the called must respond. Christ does not say: I offer to give you My yoke if only you will take it. But He says emphatically and powerfully: Take it! And that word, that calling, moves you, draws you, to come to Him and assume His yoke.
Implicit in our coming to Christ and assuming His yoke is an act of faith. This explains, in the first place, the manner in which we assume Christ’s yoke. This is not something additional to our coming to Him. The idea is not that we come to Him and then believe on Him. Nor is the relation such that our believing is an act before we come to Christ. But our believing, our act of faith, is implicit in both our coming to Him and in our assuming His yoke.
Here we must not forget what we suggested earlier that conscious faith is awakened, aroused by the call of Christ. That call is efficacious! Faith, of course, as a seed is implanted in our hearts at the moment of our regeneration. The calling arouses and brings to conscious activity that faith, whether that calling comes directly, as here, by the word of Christ, or whether it comes to us by the preaching of the gospel. The powerful calling works on the faith within, making it to respond. So we consciously and spiritually come to Christ, the Rest-Giver. And so we consciously and spiritually appropriate the yoke of Christ—Christ Himself.
But, in the second place, the manner in which we assume Christ’s yoke is through His spiritual pedagogy. Christ says: You must learn of Me!
If Christ is the yoke we are to assume, it stands to reason that we must know Him. And we come to know Him only when He teaches us, and by that teaching shows us Who He is. This makes us disciples who are taught and have learned. Literally a disciple is one who has been taught, and who follows, responds to that instruction. And that means that we are to listen to what He has to say.
And what does Christ have to say of Himself?
Certainly not that He is another Moses, who with the dispensation of the law imposes burdens upon you that make you cry out in your bondage for peace and rest. Nor is He as the teachers of the law, as the Scribes and Pharisees, who added to the law burdens which they themselves were unwilling to bear.
But this is what we must learn of Him, namely, that He is meek and lowly in respect to the heart.
And again, the idea is not that we are to learn meekness and lowliness from Him, or, that we are to learn to take up His cross which we are to bear with meekness and lowliness of heart.
Rather, we are to learn from Him that He is meek and lowly in heart. He is not a proud, haughty, vindictive task-master who can only aggravate your burden with fear. But because He is meek and lowly in heart, you may freely be encouraged to come to Him, Who condescends to bear your burden, and give Himself to you as the Remover of your guilt.
O, indeed, He is Lord and Master, and as such He would also be acknowledged! (John 13:13). As a reward of merit He has been highly exalted, after He had first deeply humbled Himself. (Phil. 2:8-10) Surely, therefore, every knee must bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord! And the seer of Patmos, in prophetic vision beheld Him seated on the throne and every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth exclaiming, “Blessing and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13)
Yet that same Lord in our text stands before us exhorting us by faith to assume His yoke, and learn of Him that He is meek and lowly in heart. That means that in respect to His heart, that is, in the deepest part of His Being, He is gentle, benevolent, humble. He has humbled Himself to stand with you on your level, and become the sinner in your stead. Your Saviour, beloved reader, though He is Lord of heaven and earth, God of God, and the very second Person of the Holy Trinity, came down to visit you in your bondage, and to assume your nature and your guilt so as to remove it from you forever. He it is Who addresses you and calls you to Himself, standing as it were next to you in your misery, and saying to you, See, I am come to deliver you from your misery. I am not an austere Judge who is going to condemn you, but a lowly Saviour Who came to redeem you. I am not a cruel, despotic Master Who is going to exact my pound, but I am coming to you as the meek and lowly Jesus. So you need not flee from His august presence, but you may freely come to Him, and by faith appropriate Him as your sin-bearer.
And what will you discover when you so come to Him?
First of all, that His yoke is easy, and His burden light! His yoke is therefore pleasant and desirable. John Bunyon in his “Pilgrim’s Progress” sensed the wonder of this when he described Christian with his pack of sin and guilt taken from him and rolled away at the cross. And perhaps this bit of verse will clearly express what you will find when you come to Jesus.
Jesus, Saviour, Lord Divine,
Burden-bearer, from above,
Thou hast removed all guilt, ’twas mine,
This Thou didst in sovereign love.
Meek and lowly in Thy heart,
Thou didst call me unto Thee;
All my guilt to Thee impart,
From my burden I am free.
Blessed Jesus, Freedom Giver,
Blest Remover of my shame,
From my burden Thou didst deliver,
Blessed be Thy Holy Name.
Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because you have no burden any longer. He has taken it completely from you.
Moreover, ye shall also find rest for your souls!
And eternal rest is that glorious experience that beholds all the work of the God of your salvation, and forever to rejoice in it.
This is the eternal Sabbath!