“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.” Matt.11:28-30.
Countless souls have derived great blessing and comfort from these words from our Lord’s mouth. They have been the means of leading men to Christ, and also the means of sustaining those who already know Him. And because of this, it is a goodly theme, and worthy of further comment. Let us first of all clear away a misconception that is sometimes found in expository writings. Some have said that these words cannot strictly be used as a Gospel invitation, because of the context of the chapter, and because they do not relate to sin and salvation, but merely toil and rest. And to the “purist” I would say, “Yes, you are wholly correct, but you have forgotten one thing – God’s word is a LIVING word, and it will accomplish whatever the LIVING GOD desires.” The Lord Jesus rebuked the Devil in the wilderness, using these words – “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” The words of our Master in Matthew 11 are Living Words, and are capable of leading sinful men to Himself, and history adequately bears testimony to this fact. “The hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save”. (Isa.59:1) And of the Lord Jesus the prophet Isaiah had this to report, “I will give You to be a Light to the Nations, that You may be my Salvation unto the end of the earth.” Praise God for such certainty. The Lord is indeed able to save to the uttermost those who come to Him, and so He declares, “Look to Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (Isa.45:22)
Let us then take a closer look at these comforting words in Matthew 11. The invitation was given to those who labour and are heavy laden. The Greek words speak of TOILS AND BURDENS. Toil is active, burdens are passive and have to be borne. And in the service of the Master, He knows that His children will be full of toil, and bearing many burdens. What soul who has tasted to see that the Lord is good can sit back in an armchair and let the world go by? He will have received such bounty from on high, that he will want to spend and be spent declaring to others the joy he has found drinking from the Fount of Living Waters. And so the Lord addresses all such. But He also knows that His children will find the going is rough and steep, and his message will not always bring thankfulness from those who hear. Indeed, more often than not it will be bring rebuke, alienation, misunderstanding, accusation, and mistrust. These, to the child of God, are burdens. In trying to give away precious gifts, he is accused of all manner of evil. Even his sanity may be questioned. This type of burden is especially difficult to bear. And the Lord knows, and understands. He has Himself been along this road and tasted the bitter pill of rejection. And so He addresses all such as are burdened. “Come unto me” He says, and this is, in grammar, the IMPERATIVE. It is a command! It may sound like an invitation, but basically it is a command, and we do well to obey.
My wife and I have, on many occasions, had to face severe opposition, controversy, and trouble because of our stand for the Lord. We do not say that we have always been right, neither do we proclaim that we have always performed in a loving manner, but nevertheless, like every other fallible Christian soul, we have felt the keenness of the opposition. Now the point I am trying to make is this. On looking back we can see that on quite the majority of these occasions we have NOT obeyed the Master’s command. We have instead tried to struggle on in our own strength. We have toiled the more earnestly, when it would have been better to stop. We have groaned under the load of abuse when it would have been better to let it go. This is such a hard lesson to learn, and as I write I am keenly aware that I am writing for my own good and instruction, hoping that in the coming days I may put into practice that which the Master commands.
Why does this happen to us? Why do we struggle and toil, long past the usefulness of further application? When someone opposes us, why do we try desperately to “make our point” and convince him/her of the “truth”. What is our motive? Is it not to do with ourselves, rather than the other person? Are we perhaps afraid of being misunderstood? Are we perhaps more interested in being accepted and understood by others, than whether the “good seed” we have sown will bring forth fruit in its own time? How subtle our motives can be. Take a look at our Lord’s ministry. Did He stop and argue the point with people? Did He enter into lengthy discussion to ensure that His listeners knew what He was saying? Emphatically NO! Even a cursory reading will manifestly declare that He spoke the word, and moved on. His word was, “Follow Me.” He was looking for those who recognised His call and His authority, and knew that they were encountering LIFE. All such were ready and willing to make snap decisions, because their spirit had witnessed with the Divine Spirit, and knew that their life’s direction had to change dramatically.
But let’s look at the other side of this coin. We have spoken of TOIL. Now let’s have a look at the BURDEN. What is happening here? Is it not that inwardly we are groaning about the misery and injustice that has been meted out to us? And so we pray by the sweat of our brow, asking the Lord fervently for a change to come about. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are praying for the “other person”, but a little analysis will show that we are still more than interested in ourselves. We want Jim Jones or Fred Smith to be saved, and so we pray to that end. But we hinder our own prayers sometimes, because the MOTIVE for wanting their salvation is mixed up with a desire for self-vindication. And so we carry a load, and this type of load is unsanctified and unacceptable to the Lord. “I will give you rest.” This is the result of obeying the Master’s call. He knows our frailties. He recognises our weaknesses. He understands our desires. And so He calls us to Himself.
There is much toil in the Christian life that needs to be relinquished. There are many burdens in the Christian walk that need to be shed. If we would be more like Him, then we shall learn to speak the word, and know that it will accomplish God’s will in due time. Leave it there. Don’t keep pushing it, pressing it, talking till you are blue in the face, as though by sheer force of argument you can lever souls into the heavenly realms. Stop bombarding the Throne of Grace with voluminous rhetoric, thereby wearying the Lord. Utter a brief prayer, and leave it at that. Furthermore, having uttered it, let the matter rest in the Lord’s hands. In doing so, you will also enter His rest, for He says just that. “I will give you rest.”
The Lord then went on to give a simple analogy that would have been well understood by His hearers, but will be quite foreign to many today. Many who live in urban areas have never even had the chance to see what happens on farms, except via the television. And furthermore, the principle of the “yoking” of animals has now departed altogether, having been replaced by the use of tractors for the last 50 years. During the majority of this world’s history, ploughing has been done by the energy of horses or oxen. My wife and I visited a farm recently where old-fashioned farming methods were still employed, and we saw two shire horses yoked together, pulling a plough. The horses were of the same breed and the same size. They were “equally yoked.” There would have been no point in using one shire horse and one racehorse. They could not work together. The shire horse would be able to work better by himself without the racehorse by his side.
Now here is a most intriguing thing. The Lord asks us to be yoked to Him. But surely the Lord is a great Shire Horse, and at the best we are very ordinary horses. Would He not find it better to work alone, than have us by His side, making life more difficult for Him? We are yoked to Him, and we struggle to make some effort, and never achieve the intended purpose. Is that so? If it were, then the Lord would never have invited us to share His yoke. Herein is the sweetest lesson to be learned. The Lord gives the reason for this yoking. He says, “BECAUSE I am meek and lowly in heart.” Wonderful truth! Oh the grace of our God! He even now comes down by our side, and sheds His “Shire Horse” strength, and promises to work alongside us, so that there will never be an unequal yoking, but a “sharing” of the workload and the burdens. Is this not a true presentation of our Lord’s character? He is “Meek and lowly,” and expects us to be the same. When we struggle with overmuch toil, and when we groan under great burdens, we are not being meek and lowly, but full of ourselves, our own ambitions, our own way of doing things, our own importance, and justification. If we allow ourselves to be yoked to the Lord, then no longer are we “working FOR the Lord”, but instead we are “working WITH the Lord.” The first way is towards self destruction, but the second way is to witness the Spirit of God accomplish His own purposes. Left to ourselves we should plough a very uneven furrow, but yoked to the Master, we keep in line, and perform the work of the Lord.
But there is yet more! “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Oh happy thought! Being yoked to the Master makes life easy, and removes the burdens. Don’t get me wrong here. The essence of this little lesson is that to God all work is easy (though not effortless), and all burdens are light (though not cast off.) With God, difficulties are easy, and impossibilities are His speciality. The Bible tells us that in Creation, “He spoke and it was done”. This is an example of the superb divine ability in the creative realm. Likewise in the spiritual realm there is an ease and a lightness which we can experience ONLY IF we are willing to be yoked to Him. “Take my yoke upon you and LEARN of me.”
No, there is not going to be an immediate improvement. Any form of schooling always requires time and patience. This lesson will only be learned by CONTINUED APPLICATION. We may try it out once, and find some measure of relaxation, and tell everyone about it with joy and jubilation, as though we have discovered some long-lost truth! But next time we forget, and struggle on in our own strength, whilst the Angel who holds the plough wonders just where we are heading for! Isn’t this like us all? We need constant reminders, and frequent applications before the simple truth becomes a more-or-less permanent reality. Earlier in the 11th chapter of Matthew, the Lord speaks to His Father, saying, “I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them to babes.” And how true this is. Only those who have learned to be meek and lowly, like their Master, by being yoked to Him, can enjoy that state of “rest” of which He speaks. They are in His sight as “babes” or perhaps the Greek word means “infants.” They are simple, ingenuous, ready to act with child-like joy when the Master calls. They know when to turn the direction of the plough, because they sense the nudging of their Master, rather than working it out for themselves.
Who then are the “Wise and Prudent” from whom the simple way is hidden? The Greek words reveal something of the force these words would have had upon those who heard the Lord speak that day. The “wise” were those who who prided themselves on their speculative or philosophical attainments, and the “prudent” were those who prided themselves on their worldly shrewdness, they were the clever guys, the sharp-witted men of affairs. In other words either class wanted to be known and understood by virtue of their OWN achievements, rather than the directive word of God in any situation. For us to inject our own wisdom into the affairs of the Lord is presumptuous and impertinent, but if we become like little children, possessing that quality of unassuming docility, of accepting that we know nothing, and are needing to be shown the way, then the Lord is able to use us, by being “yoked” to Him. If we prefer our own wisdom, and use our own prudence, then yoking is impossible. It would be an “unequal yoking”, and would accomplish nothing useful for the Lord, indeed, it would impede His progress.
This is why the Lord addresses “all those who labour and are heavy laden.” He commands them to lay aside their OWN ways, and become yoked to Him. They can only do this by being “meek and lowly of heart” rather than “up-front” in the eyes of the Christian world. When the day of judgment comes, I think we shall all be in for a surprise when we see those who are accepted more highly by the Lord. Instead of the “great men” of the Church, there will be the unknown ones, the least expected ones, the ones whom most would pass by as inconsequential, but the Lord knows the hearts. (I speak here, not of salvation which is the gift of God to all, but the rewards of faith which determine one’s place in God’s Kingdom.) Hymn-writers have not been silent on the theme of this paper. Just to quote a few words from a couple of “golden oldies” –
I do not know what lies ahead, the way I cannot see,
Yet One stands near to be my Guide, He’ll show the way to me.
I know who holds the future, and He’ll guide me with His hand,
With God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned,
So as I face tomorrow with its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to Him my all.
Leave it there, there it there,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there,
If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.