Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and 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.”
Have you ever worked on a project on which you made absolutely no progress? A number of years ago I went camping with my dad. As we sat around the camp fire, he blew up his air mattress by mouth. He would puff and puff, and then talk a little, and puff and puff some more. After an hour he was exhausted from blowing, and the mattress was no further along than when he started. We discovered it was full of leaks. That’s what it is like for the person trying to save himself. He works and works, but all he gets is tired. Jesus says to such a person, “I will do all the work of saving you. You come and get some rest.”
Sometimes even we who know that Jesus has paid for all our sins have trouble shaking the guilt when we have committed a real “doosie.” We feel so disappointed in ourselves. Maybe that’s because we haven’t wanted to accept the depths of our own personal corruption. We haven’t understood the full significance of what Paul was saying when he said, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no difference. We knew that we needed a Savior just like everyone else, but deep down inside we still believed there was a difference. I was just a little bit better than your common sinner.
Somewhere Luther warns about not being a painted sinner, because then we will find only a painted Savior. Instead, understand that we are real sinners, who in turn have a real Savior. Sin is nothing we should ever pursue or embrace. But there is great relief that comes when we admit that ours is just as real and terrible as anyone else’s. Denying our guilt, hiding our guilt, or minimizing our guilt are just ways by which we force ourselves to carry that guilt. Jesus invites us, “Come to me with the whole thing, as real and as bad as it is, and I will take it to the cross for you, and forgive you, and you will find rest for your souls.” When you know Jesus, then you know your soul’s rest.
But doesn’t Jesus’ method for giving us rest sound strange? “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.” Doesn’t a yoke sound like more work, like trading one source of weariness for another?
Understand the picture. The rabbi’s used the word “yoke” as a picture of belonging to one of their schools. To be under Jesus’ yoke, then, is to have him as our Master and Teacher and learn from him.
And what kind of Master do we find? “I am gentle and humble in heart…” Jesus is no drill sergeant screaming at us to shape up, driving us to hurry up to do better. “You’re not there yet! You’re not there yet! You’re not there yet!” No, he is gentle, and mild. He recognizes that even when we try to look tough, we are fragile. He handles us in a way that convinces us he cares and expresses his love.
He is humble in heart. He doesn’t issue decrees from his ivory tower, but he stoops down to help us. He is not too great to put on flesh and blood and become part of the human family, experience our misery first hand, suffer our temptations, or even be accused of our sins and die for them. Everything about the way he treats us in inviting. We know that we can approach him safely and confidently.
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Under our Master and Teacher, what do we learn? What does he “lay on us?” A promise of God’s grace, access to the Father, forgiveness of sins, life after death, comfort for our sorrows, strength under our crosses. As Luther once said, this a yoke that bears its bearer. It doesn’t weigh us down. It picks us up and carries us. So Jesus invites us to take the yoke and carry the burden that gives our souls rest.