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)

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How Big Is Your God?

Throughout life, you will likely find yourself in situations in which you are asked to compromise. Compromise, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, in ministry, we cannot be so stubborn as to not be willing to work with others and find solutions that are conciliatory to keeping peace in a congregation of believers. In ministry, an unwillingness to compromise can never be based on pride (Prov 11:12), hardness of heart (Zech 7:11,12), arrogance (Prov 18:12), or haughtiness (Prov 16:18). In many cases, compromise can be a very good thing. At Ephesians Chapter 4, Paul instructs us to walk worthy of the calling we have received, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and with diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:2,3). Therefore, according to the intent and purpose of preserving unity through the bond of peace, God calls us to be willing to make certain necessary compromises.

What God will never call us to do however, is to be willing to compromise His word. God will never call us to neuter the convicting, soul-stirring effect of the truth of His word. Should you ever find yourself in a situation in which you are asked to compromise your wording because the term for what you are preaching is controversial, you would do well to remember that is exactly what Jesus experienced. In many ways, over the course of the last 2000 years, the religious establishment hasn’t changed much. Jesus’ teaching was doctrinally sound, but what He was preaching was very controversial to the accepted religious establishment of His day. In fact, Jesus was so controversial, that they crucified Him for it. If what you are preaching is doctrinally sound, then there is no reason to compromise your wording. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.”

We tend towards manufacturing our churches to seem as inviting as possible, whether that means a never-ending building fund or the expense of compromising our message for the sake of appeal. We want to make sure that we make no offensive posturing, that we exude no potential controversy, lest we ward off any potential visitor, and we want a service that is as streamlined and predictable as possible. We want to be seeker-sensitive, and the more sensitive we are to their sensitivities, the greater the chance we’ll have at drawing them in.

We tend to be drawn more towards catering to the crowd, rather than catering to God, Who is the only One Who draws men. But we have this whole notion that it is us– our ideas, our abilities, our foresight, our manufactured appeal, our streamlined application of the church program– who draws people to Christ. We’ve built a whole generation of churches based on the notion of “entrepreneurship”– good public relations insight, risk vs. reward, productive business models, congregational development strategies, rousing worship, emotionally engaging messages– all of which, being the driving force behind our notion of a “successful” ministry. In so doing, we have robbed the Holy Spirit of His work.  Sure, we are willing to acknowledge when God has “blessed our ministry”, we thank God for blessing “our efforts”, but who is really receiving the glory here?  What would happen if God stripped a church of everything, back down to the foundations of Spirit and Grace, where all the work that was done by that church, in that church and through that church could only be attributed to God and God alone?  Most churches today have lost such a sense of total abandonment towards God, which is why most churches today have been abandoned by the miracle-working presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

We follow a castrated version of Christianity.  No longer should we practice an empty religion in a church whose congregation has been built on the backs of their own effort.  It is far better to be in a congregation of a few fellow believers who have a whole-heart commitment to God, who are utterly dependent upon God at every turn, who have counted the cost to follow Christ and are willing to forsake this world and everything in it, and who have been supernaturally led together as a congregation by the Holy Spirit to truly walk-out what it means to be the Body of Christ– for better or for worse. We have to break free from the notion that it is we who determine what church we go to, and come to the realization that a church that is truly full of the Holy Spirit, is one which God has arranged by divine providence. The problem with the church today, is that we have lost faith in a God that big.

A.W. Tozer sums up this problem as such:
“Right now, we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead, are programs, methods, organizations, and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention, but can never satisfy the longings of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods, all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.”

Scripture is very clear as to Who draws people to God: “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.” (John 6:44,45). It is God Who prepares the soil of a person’s heart and mind to receive the truth of His message. God speaks, and we hear, learn and follow. God draws, we surrender. And we surrender because God gives us the ability to do so. This is God’s business model. Which means, if it is God Who is drawing someone to salvation and/or church fellowship, then there is nothing that will keep them from it. Not even a controversy worth being crucified for.

“My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Among the mature, however, we speak a message of wisdom–but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” (1 Cor 2:4-6).