Jesus’ famous words ring in my head, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29, ESV). How can a yoke bring rest? A yoke implies woak…hard work. And yet, these words from Jesus declare something that we all long for…rest for our souls.
The question I have been wrestling with is: how does this happen? How does Jesus provide rest for our souls, while asking us to take on an instrument of work, which is anything but rest? There could be many answers to this question, but let me just offer two:
- All of us suffer from the heavy weigh of condemnation and guilt. We all know that there is a God in heaven to whom we must one day give an account. The regret of our past or concern for our future, weighs on us. To deal with this heavy weight, we think that we will find rest for our souls through more work. So, we think, “if I do enough good things, those will outweigh the bad things”. It’s the same plight that our first parents, Adam and Eve, found themselves in after they disobeyed God. Instead of looking for an answer from their Creator, they looked the answer through hard work: covering up their sin, putting on fig leaves and hiding from God. Adam and Eve tried to find guilt’s answer in their own work. We all do this. The religious people in Jesus’ time did it. Guilt would be atoned for and eradicated by their obedience or by following strict traditions. And we’re no different: “Work harder and one day we will finally have rest”. But Jesus offers a different answer: His work, on our behalf. Jesus lived and died in such a way that He satisfied God’s demands against us and satisfied God’s wrath toward us. When we trust in Christ’s work on our behalf, God justifies us before Him. This means that God now longer sees us or acknowledges us in our guilt and He no longer condemns us. We are free of accusation from the Judge of the Universe and this brings rest to our souls. It brings peace with God and we are no longer under the weight of condemnation. That’s called amazing grace.
- But that not the only way that Jesus brings rest to our souls. Rest is found in taking Jesus’ yoke upon us. Farmers are familiar with these terms and understand the hard work required by an ox when they’re working through a yoke. There two types of yokes that we must have in mind. One is a single yoke or a beam placed over our sholders with two buckets at each end. This yoke is placed on us, the buckets are filled with heavy loads, and we carry it alone. This the yoke of the law. It demands and it pushes but it offers no strength to carry the load. The other yoke is a double yoke, which is intended to be carried by two oxen. In this yoke, there is a lead ox, who offers maximum strength and direction. This is Christ’s yoke that we are to take upon ourselves. He is the strength and direction, that allows us to be in the yoke with Him, yet, not carry the load on our own or with our own strength. Rather, as Peter writes, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11, ESV). This makes His yoke “easy and His burden light” (Matthew 11:30, ESV). To some degree this is the work of sanctification. We are working, but God is at work in us, with the strength that He supplies. And this brings rest to our souls because our work in sanctification is not work for salvation, it is work from salvation.
Now, these two answers are critical because many times the heavy weight of condemnation causes us to think that we have to work our way out of it. This is the beauty of Jesus Christ. He works for us, on our behalf and declares us justified before God. This is His work, alone. We believe and He acts. This brings rest to our souls in the sense that we are at peace with God and no longer guilty before HI’m. But through the same person, Jesus, God empowers us to live in a brand new way. We “no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15, ESV). In this, we find rest, while we work.