Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) “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.”
At the time that Jesus came, the Jewish faith had degraded from a relationship with God in which people learned who He was in relationship with Him, to a complex system of rules, requirements, and sacrifices, all designed on one hand to not offend God, and on the other, to placate Him.
But what God was after was not slavish obedience to rules, but a people who would seek the same kind of relationship with Him that Moses had enjoyed, a man with whom God spoke face-to-face. He wanted a people who reflected His character, not just by counting out dill and cumin seeds, but whose hearts were so full of love for Him that that love drove out all sinful behavior. He wanted a people who woke every morning seeking His face, who lived and worked each day conscious of His presence, and who went to bed each night secure in the knowledge that He was watching over them.
But what He had at the time of Jesus was a people completely fixated on rules. He had a people who were burdened so severely by the layers of regulations that had grown up around His requirements that there was no joy in serving God, and no rest on His Sabbath. There was only weariness in trying to keep track of the rules, fear of stepping outside the lines, and, for those who did it most regularly, a robotic obedience to rules that they had long forgotten the purpose for.
Some, like the Pharisees, were smug in their ability to stay in the lines. But the great majority of people had long since given up. They did the best that they could, hoped that it would be good enough, and lived in fear that it wouldn’t be.
Jesus was trying to restore things to the way that they were supposed to be, so that people could experience genuine fellowship with God, and genuine joy in serving Him. He saw the people burdened by rules God had not written and commands that He had not made, and He worked to set them free. It’s not that there were no requirements to be met in being God’s people. But the requirements were to be met, the rules followed, in a relationship with God that was designed to fill the people’s heart with joy in serving Him.
In addition, Jesus invited people to take His yoke on themselves instead of the heavy yoke of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Not only was Jesus’ yoke lighter than the onerous burden these teachers had constructed, reverting to God’s real requirements, but the yoke-partner would be Jesus Himself. He would be pulling with each person, and doing most of the heavy lifting Himself, showing the people what a real relationship with God was like, a relationship that He Himself lived out and demonstrated each day.
The invitation that Jesus continually offered, the invitation into God’s kingdom, was and is an invitation to fellowship, not rules. It was and is an invitation to relationship, not requirements. It is the light and well-fitted yoke of partnering with Jesus in the work of God’s kingdom.
Father, this is so easy to see when we look at the clear words of Jesus, yet we still cloud things up with our own layers of rules, requirements, and expectations that suck the joy out of the whole thing, and takes the focus entirely away from the restored relationship with You that Jesus made possible through His death and resurrection. Help me to leave behind that heavy, chafing yoke today, and to take up instead the light and well-fitted yoke of Jesus, the yoke of relationship with You, of fellowship with all others on the same path, and of partnership with Jesus in the work of Your kingdom. Amen.