Yoking with Yahshua
Jackson Snyder, July 7, 1996 upd. July 26, 2002
based on a message by Marc Kolden
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A Familiar Passage
Our gospel reading contains one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. Most of us probably know it from the words of one of the older translations, but most of us do know it. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28, KJV). For centuries this passage has been used for comforting the grieving, encouraging the struggling and giving hope when all else seems to have failed. We read it; we underline it; we memorize it. We trust these words when nothing else seems trustworthy.
"Come unto me." This is a wonderful invitation from our Master himself.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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 (11:28-30).
It's not only an invitation; it's also a promise: "You'll find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy." The words themselves can ease our anxiety and enliven our hopes.
It's strange, then, that though we know these words so well, we have little sense of their original setting. Clearly, Yahshua couldn't have meant that in this life all our weariness and burdens of work, poor health, poverty and the like, will disappear like magic. The life of the Believer is not a sedentary life of constant leisure, excellent health and prodigal prosperity. The life of the Believer is not just soaking in the soft, sudsy bath water of blessings! Indeed, it’s true that the day will come when all our burdens will be lifted, but this passage isn’t speaking of eternity. Rather, it’s words are to those participating in his urgent mission to humanity -- those who are on the cutting edge of evangelism – often on the bitter edge of persecution for the Savior's sake.
What rest can he possibly offer his restless harvesters? And what is this yoke that even we here today are to take upon us, a yoke that is supposed to be easy to bear? To make meaning of his yoke and his rest, come and see.
The Context of the Passage
Yahshua is discouraged, maybe even angry -- as we see from the earlier parts of chapter 11. Even John the Baptist, his closest ally, seems not to understand Yahshua’s mission and method. So he discharges his righteous indignation against some of the cities round about -- cities that were refusing his blessings and his message. If such miracles had been done in pagan cities (even in Sodom!) the people would have repented, he says. Nobody is paying attention! Nobody is heeding the message!
In his disappointment, what does Yahshua do? He prays. Okay, that's not so hard to understand. But though he's mad, his is a prayer of thanks, of all things.
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants (11:25).
Yahshua may be disappointed and angry but he is not discouraged by an unresponsive world because he trusts in the Father's providence and power over creation. "Thank you, Father. You've hidden the Gospel from the wise and well-educated and revealed it only to the little ones," Yahshua prays (11:26).
Just What Things are Hidden?
What's he talking about? What are these things hidden from the wise? He is talking specifically about the divine word and work of Yahweh focused in the person and ministry of one man. That’s what’s hidden. That's what the smart and privileged and headstrong and godless of every age have such difficulty seeing -- that the sum total of all of their g-d’s works, authority, ability, love and sovereignty -- are wrapped up in that offensive little fellow with the long hair who was executed by the government 2000 years ago. Imagine... all Elohim revealed in a single man – a man who, besides those things hidden within him, had little to commend himself to us!
May we exclude ourselves from his rebuke? No. Aren't we also offended or at least puzzled by what Yahshua says next?
My Father handed everything over to me; No one knows Me except the Father, and no one knows Him except Me and those to whom I chose to reveal him (11:27).
The point is not just that the Father's ways are not our ways or that the Father is mostly unknown to folks like us. There’s some truth to that but it's not the truth Yahshua is speaking about here. He is saying that the Father has given everything over to Him -- even his deity, his divinity, his EL-ness, if you will. We can't see it on our own; only the Father knows the incredible extent of the Son's résumé. But even more important, despite all the people of all ages who have claimed to have known G-d, despite all the religions which profess that they have the "real" truth, despite all the well-intentioned folks who write books about returning from death after meeting "G-d" face-to-face, no one really knows the Father except Jesus, the Son, and those chosen few to whom the Son reveals Him. The many may know of the Father and Son, but only the few, the elect, actually know him.
Finding God Through Yahshua Savior Only
It's at this critical point, with the whole reality and power and being and authority of Elohim concentrated in Yahshua, that the little man speaks these over-familiar words, "Come to me and I will give you rest." He is not talking about a vacation; he is not referring to some eternal rest far in the future. He is speaking of our being connected, plugged in, united with, fueled by, and engrafted onto the Creator of the universe, Yahweh Elohim, the Father of humankind. That’s what it means to know him. Somebody said to me this very week, “I don’t know who this Yahweh is.” To that statement, Saint Augustine would reply, “Yes, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him.” We find our rest, our assurance, our hope, our strength, our power, our witness, our proof, our truth, our reason to be, in Yahweh, but only when we come to Him through Yahshua, his Son. We find everything there is to know of Yahweh in Yahshua, and there is absolutely no other way to know Him.
Not in Islam, not in Judaism, not in the Mormon Tabernacle, not in the Jehovah Witnesses' Kingdom Hall. Not in Christian Science. Not in the Masonic Lodge or Shiner’s Temple. Not in Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Holiness, Pentecostalism or even Methodism. In fact, you can't know Yahweh in any form of Christianity. Not in any synagogue, temple, fellowship, sanctuary, assembly, cathedral, tabernacle, or little ol' church in the wildwood. No, you can't know Yahweh from the Bible, nor from doctrines or teachings or beliefs or the Ten Commandments. Millions of believers know OF him, but it’s only by the expressed permission and introduction of the world’s Messiah that one can know and be known by Yahweh. Yahshua only. ONE WAY! "Come to me," he implores.
Of course, we learn of G-d and J-s-s through our faith or the church or the Bible. But insofar as all of these things -- religion, Christianity, church, denomination, Bible, doctrines, commandments -- have been created and articulated with the help of humans and communities, they themselves are not a revelation of the personhood of Yahweh. Even the 613 commandments of the Bible were not given to define Yahweh's nature, but the nature of sin.
Many things, some of which I’ve spoken, may be instruments that the Spirit can use to reach us. But these same ‘things’ may just as well be obstacles -- we may actually put ‘good’ things between Him and us. It's no wonder some folks say they can't believe in G-d because of the Church. Horrible things have been done by Christians and in the name of Christianity that certainly aren't conducive to gaining knowledge of the Father. Hideous and diabolical abominations are still being done today by those who claim to be born again, or claim to be Methodists, or claim to be believers in Yahshua -- even in our country's highest political and ecclesiastical offices. As long as presidents and bishops are elected, they will be corrupt.
Likewise, the same is true of religion: many have found the church and its teachings, structures, practices and traditions to be anything but godly; people spend years getting over the psychological damage they have suffered from some church or some “Christian.” Likewise, the Bible, misguided use of the Bible, and the resulting false impressions of the nature of Yahweh can be used like clubs to beat us down and make us feel worthless. Or godly things can be interpreted in such irrational ways that thinking persons simply throw up their hands in despair and disbelief. That’s the way I feel when I hear television preachers distort truth to make place for their fictions. I just want to throw up my hands.
Church as an obstacle to true faith is nothing new. [Complicated religion and legislated morality have always verged on the oppressive, most likely because they come with so much attached "baggage." And we help the deception along by believing that these peripheral things have something to do with the nature of our g-d (quote of the day).] It was no different in Yahshua’s time. When he spoke of being weary from carrying heavy burdens, he was referring specifically to
(1) The idolatry of religion with its man-made demands, pagan traditions and godless trappings;
(2) The superstition of religion that something bad always happens if certain conditions aren’t met;
(3) The hobby of religion that is but a form of godliness that becomes a mindless, spiritless habit.
Those who practice such have a slim chance of ever actually knowing Yahshua and Yahweh. What they will come to know as G-d is a impostor manufactured to intentionally mislead and keep those chosen them from full election as saints.
Really? Sounds too radical for me? Well, I hope you question every word! The clue to this interpretation is in Yahshua’s use of the word "yoke." A "yoke" is a wooden frame that holds two oxen side-by-side so they can work together to pull a plow. A yoke is a heavy burden under which the yoked oxen grow weary from work. The shape of a yoke was also an ancient symbol of defeat and slavery; conquered people were made to wear a yoke. So a yoke is both an actual burden and a symbol of oppression and is often used in that symbolic way in the Bible.
In fact, the Bible speaks of its own teaching as a "yoke" (Acts 15:10). But Yahshua contrasts our coming to him and "putting on Messiah" (Romans 13:14) with the heavy yoke of all kinds of meaningless religious practices expressed in religious dogmas or in religious institutions. "Learn from me," he says, “not from the crowd.” "Take my yoke upon you and learn true yoke-fellowship from me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Yahshua doesn't mean that following him is as easy. He still uses the word "yoke." We might think of it as a new way of carrying on with life, a new way of bearing responsibilities, a new way of seeing life and our world. As we learn of him and from him, as we take his words seriously and act upon them (which is what taking his yoke upon us means), as we emulate and imitate his life, we find a new kind of peace and balance and assurance and lifestyle that will not be a burden, but more liberating and more refreshing the more yoked we become. Before long, we know him. That is our final objective.
Mark Guy Pearse once preached a sermon on this text. He writes: “I had finished my sermon when a man came to me and said, ‘I wish I had known what you were going to preach about. I could have told you something. You see, when I was a boy at home, I used to drive the oxen, and the yoke was never made to balance as you said. Father's yokes were always made heavier on one side than the other. Then, you see, we would put a weak ox alongside a strong ox; the light end would come on the weak, the heavier on the stronger. That's why His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because the Savior's yoke is made after the same pattern, and the heavy end is upon His shoulders.’"
His yoke is easy in the sense that it becomes not only our duty to take it (yes, we must do something), but our delight in taking it, knowing we have the lighter end. The greater responsibility for carrying the yoke and pulling the plow is his, not ours. O, but we want to take the heavy end, with all its worry, doubt, and dissatisfaction. That’s the reason for so many of our problems. When we take away Yahshua’s heavy burden, yoking ourselves with his responsibilities, then the yoke's on us! The Gospel of Thomas has Jesus saying, “Give me what is mine!” So, if you can’t carry it, give it up!
Yoking is also Learning
Yet to take the Savior's yoke also means to learn from his example - to do our upright best to imitate him in his labor, insofar as we are strong enough in faith to do so. His yoke is not a religious system, not a church, but an abiding union and communion with a living person who overcame death. We take his yoke upon us by conscientiously accepting yoke-fellowship with him in prayer, then partaking often of his word, in fellowship with his saints, in the eating of his body and drinking of his blood. Then we labor under his easy yoke to do the works that he did for the sake of the Father and our fellow human beings. And through him, we see and know the Father, and Father Yahweh comes to know us up close rather than from a distance. It’s the ones you work with or live with every day that you come to know the best.
As if to underscore the personal aspect of his yoke-fellowship, Yahshua adds, "For I am gentle and humble in heart" (11:29): Yahshua is "God with a human face," as someone said. In the Savior, the Creator bends low to us in compassion and becomes available and approachable. The yoked person, the lover of the Father and his Son, then lives each and every moment of every day by faith and trust, and receives in return the blessed assurance that divine providence is securing and influencing the future for good. Here faith and trust can only be describing a personal relationship, a relationship to a living person, a living Savior. And that's what Yahshua invites us to do -- to walk with him in service, to talk with him in prayer, to dine with him at his table, to fellowship with him in our gatherings, to labor alongside him in his harvest, and to discover our rest in his security. That's a most promising invitation ... from the Master of heaven and earth himself ... to you and me. Amen.