Yoke And Burden

“Come to Me, all those toiling and being 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I want to point out something about this passage that God brought to my attention the other day. Quite often, I find myself whining to God about various things. The other day, during one of my marathon whining sessions, I told God, “You said Your yoke would be easy and the burden would be light.” I knew better than to say such a thing, which is why I was quickly reminded of the original context of His statement, which was intended as a reproach upon the system of works that the Pharisees laid upon the backs of those who sought God. That is what Jesus is speaking about when He says later on in Matthew, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4).

Jesus’ life and ministry was at the crossroads of the Old and New Covenant. Two thousand years of Old Covenant Israel was about to collide head-on with two thousand years of New Covenant Christendom. Therefore, when He said that His yoke would be easy and burden light, there were dual implications to what He was saying. He spoke not only to those under the Old Covenant of Mosaic Law, but also to those who would be under the New Covenant of His Lordship and grace.

The thing that God brought to my attention, was that although Jesus promised “I will give you rest”, He never said that He would remove our yoke and take away our burdens. Jesus was bringing about a new paradigm for men to relate to God, He was abolishing the Old Covenant and replacing it with a New. Therefore He could have easily said “Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest. I will remove your yoke and your burdens and you will find rest for your souls.” But He didn’t say that, He said that we were to stay under a yoke and continue to carry a burden. However, He replaced the old yoke with a new one.

When Jesus said, “I will give you rest”, He was speaking one thing to Israel and another thing to the Gentile nations who would be part of the New Covenant. For Israel, He was giving them rest from Mosaic Law. But the Gentile nations were not under Mosaic Law, so what would He be giving them rest from? He would be giving them rest from their sin (Jeremiah 31:34; Rom 6:2,6,7,14). For those under the Old Covenant, their yoke was the Law. For those under the New Covenant, their yoke would be faith (Gal 5:6; John 6:28,29; Rom 4:5; 1 John 3:23). For those under both Covenants, the burden was, is, and has always been, obedience.

We are “yoked” to Christ in faith and the “burden” (or responsibility) of that faith, is obedience (Matt 10:38; John 10:27; John 12:26; John 14:15,21,23; John 15:10; Heb 5:8,9; 1 John 2:3-6; 1 John 5:2,3; Rev 12:17; Rev 14:12, 13). Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt 16:24)

“…come after me” = yoke of faith

“…deny himself and take up his cross” = burden of obedience

What many in the church today fail to realize, is that our faith means nothing if it is not paired with obedience. By Jesus’ own instructions, our faith in Him must be validated by our obedience. James tells us, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough.  Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…O foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is worthless? Was not our father Abraham justified by what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith was working with his actions, and his faith was perfected by what he did.” (James 2:17-22). A faith that is not evidenced by obedience, is not faith. It is simply a belief based on affirmation, rather than a belief of trustful surrender.  Obedience to Christ in a person’s life, is evidence of their faithful surrender to Him as Lord. Our faith in Christ must be a faith in Who He is, and Christ can only and ever be Lord. To believe in Jesus and be saved (John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47), we must believe that He is Lord (Rom 10:8,9), and in so doing, the only proper reaction to such a belief is surrender.

We are not saved by good deeds, we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8).   However, genuine faith and genuine salvation are evidenced by our actions of obedience.  Jesus tells us, “If anyone would come after Me…”  How do we come after, or pursue Christ?  By faith.  But then what does Christ tell us to do with that faith?  “…deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”  That’s an action of obedience.

The reason Jesus didn’t remove our yoke and take away our burdens, is because it is the yoke of faith that saves us. And as long as we are on this side of heaven, our faith will at many times seem like a burden. Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble, I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33). Paul and Barnabas told those in the early church, We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22), as they strengthened the souls of those early believers by encouraging them to continue in the faith (Acts 14:21). Our salvation in Christ truly gives us “rest for your souls“, but that doesn’t mean that we will be completely without burden. Today, should you feel the weight and burden of your yoke of faith, spend some time sitting at the feet of Christ, Who gently reminds us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

 

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

“And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who through faith are protected by God’s power for the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-7)

Looking For Lovely

I taught a girls’ Bible study this summer called, “Looking For Lovely”. The gist of the Bible study was to look for and focus on the lovely things among our circumstances. The study focused on Romans 5:3-5 which says, Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” As I watched my Pastor–my friend, mentor and father figure– battle pancreatic cancer over this last year, I desperately searched for the lovely. I insistently banged on the door of heaven, asking God to explain Himself. I mulled over all the scriptural reasons for suffering, I pondered God’s motives, I examined His intent, as if God needed me to judge His work. In all this, I found nothing lovely. In all this, at every turn, there seemed to be only ugly.

I looked for purpose, but I found only suffering and pain. I sought understanding, but I only experienced doubt and frustration. My beloved Pastor went home to be with the Lord last Monday and it is now a week later that God has finally spoken. The whole time my Pastor battled cancer, I asked God what was the purpose of building his character through suffering if it was only going to lead to death? What was the purpose of refining his character if he wasn’t going to stay alive to share what he learned? God answered: It wasn’t Pastor’s character that was being built, it was the character of all those who loved him. God was building the character of all those who would continue their lives after our Pastor was gone.

Just like our Pastor poured out his life into ours while he was living– teaching us, mentoring us, praying for us– so would he be poured out in death, a final sacrifice unto God bearing the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved… a fragrance that brings life.” (2 Cor 2:15,16) and “a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Phil 4:18). All those who loved our Pastor persevered in prayer and persevered in faith. Our prayers may not have been answered the way we expected or wanted them to, but our faith that God is still on the throne and is still perfect in holiness, love and justice, has persevered. Through faith, we are more than conquerors over every temptation we faced to succumb to doubt, anger, or frustration. We experienced all those things, yet they never prevailed over our faith.

It was hard for me to see any perseverance because I was too focused on the ugliness of the circumstances. It is so easy to fall into the temptation to judge God’s love for us based on our circumstances. But scripture tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, neither “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword..” (Rom 8:35). Jesus never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer, but He did promise that we would never be separated from His love.

We are told that the fruit of hope is the result of all the suffering, all the perseverance and all the building of character, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Rom 5:5). After all the suffering and persevering and building of character, we are left with hope and God’s love. We are left with the peace and assurance of our salvation and that one day very soon we will be with Pastor again. We are left with fulfilling the purposes of God by the power of His Holy Spirit Whom He has given us. We are left with only lovely.

Brook Cherith

In 1 Kings Chapter 17, we are told of the prophet Elijah and how God instructed him to go to a brook named Cherith on the other side of the Jordan River. God told him that he would have water to drink from the brook and that ravens would bring him food to eat every morning and every evening. The two things God told Elijah were:
1.   What he needed to d0
2.   That God would supply his needs

The two things Elijah was not told were:
1.  Why
2.  For how long

When I think about this story, it reminds me how much farther I have to go in my spiritual growth. I imagine what it must have been like for Elijah, to go to the brook in obedience and just sit there and wait, and to do so in the faith that those ravens would show up every day. I imagine myself sitting there every morning and evening, scouring the sky for any signs of the ravens and, more importantly, my breakfast and dinner. I imagine myself sitting there throughout each day, twiddling my thumbs during the time between breakfast and dinner. I imagine me wondering if I heard God correctly? I imagine me getting frustrated with God at His silence. Surely He could mercifully give me a few words of communication as the hours painfully tick by, after all, I showed up didn’t I? I obeyed You Lord, You could at least acknowledge that I’m here. A thumbs up. Something. All the while, forgetting that God already told me everything I needed to know, which is what I’m supposed to be doing and that He would supply all my needs.

For all intents and purposes, it would appear to us that Elijah’s time at the brook accomplished no real purpose. After all, the only thing he did during his time at the brook was sit there and wait. No crossword puzzles, no Sudoku, no newspaper. To make matters worse, we are told that the brook eventually dried up. I imagine my horror at watching that stupid brook grow smaller and smaller each day, growing more and more frantic with God’s silence each day. Being tempted to get irritated with God, asking Him why He would lead me to this place and allow such torment? After all, I obeyed didn’t I? And watching my only source of water slowly dry up was my reward? Thanks a whole bunch, Lord.

We are told that Elijah didn’t hear from God again until the brook had dried up. The silence of God wasn’t broken until Elijah’s resources ran out. Yet still, Elijah waited. He didn’t search for another source of water. He didn’t try to look for his own solution to his problem. God had told Elijah to go to brook Cherith and he made up his mind that he would stay there until he died if he had to, rather than disobey or doubt God.

After Elijah’s seemingly unfruitful waste of time at brook Cherith, God next instructed him to go to a widow’s house in Zarapheth, “I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” (1 Kings 17:9). Elijah obediently went to the widow’s house, only to find out that she had one handful of flour and a few tablespoons of oil left for her and her son to share. When I think of myself in this situation, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Well, so much for plan ‘B’. Where next Lord? The mouth of an active volcano?” But it is here that I realize the purpose for Elijah’s time at the brook.

For God to use you as a source of strength and guidance for others, you must die to your own strength and reasoning. Only then can the Holy Spirit– the true source of all strength and all wisdom– flow freely through you and pour out into the lives of others. During the time Elijah spent at the brook, he learned not only how to wait on God, but he also learned how to rely on God and God alone, and how to hold on to His promises regardless of his circumstances, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

Unless it is God working through us, any attempt at trying to be a source of strength for others becomes an unbearable burden. And because Elijah had endured the time at brook Cherith, he was spiritually mature enough for God to use him as a source of strength and guidance for the widow at Zarapheth. When she tells Elijah that she and her son are going to eat what little they have left and then wait for death, he tells her, “Do not fear.” (1 Kings 17:13).

He said, “Do not fear..”, and he meant it. He was able to say “Do not fear…”, and stand firmly upon it.

I want that kind of faith. I want to be a source of strength and guidance for others. And to have that kind of faith, and for God to operate through us as a source of strength and guidance for others, we have to endure our own brook Cherith. We have to learn how to be obedient to what God tells us to do and not question why or for how long. We have to make up our mind that we are committed to Him even until death, if that’s what it takes. The death of our own reasoning and the death of our own strength.