At the end of Matthew 11 we see Jesus saying, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.”
But what does he really mean that his yoke is easy and his burden is light? First let us look at what a yoke is.
What is a yoke?
Let’s be clear a yoke is not a yolk. 😉 A yolk is the yellow part of an egg, Jesus is discussing a yoke. So, what is it? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a bar or frame that is attached to the heads or necks of two work animals (such as oxen) so that they can pull a plow or heavy load
In Bible times this was a wooden frame added to single or multiple oxen, horses or mules to get them to pull a cart or plow. It was a very heavy piece of equipment that was burdensome. It was designed to limit the animal’s movements to moving in the same direction, and dispersing the load between them if there were multiples. The yoke upon an animal meant, work was coming. It meant there was a load to be moved, whether it was a cart of people or goods, or pulling a plow through the dirt. It was heavy and burdensome on the animal.
Jesus utilized this analogy because he lived in an agricultural society. When he was speaking this it immediately pulled up images in the minds of His followers. He continually utilized analogies of familiar things to speak to the people, because it was easier for them to understand and relate to what he was saying.
What was the heavy yoke He was referring to?
In the Mosaic law there were over 600 laws that Jews were “required” to follow. On top of these laws that were so numerous hardly anyone could keep them straight, the Pharisees and Sadducees added extra little tid-bits that made it even harder to follow.
The ironic thing was that not even the Pharisees and Sadducees could keep up with all of them. They were the religious professionals of the day. They couldn’t fulfill all of the duties and “extra-curricular” duties that were lined out, yet required the average Jew to be held to a standard way above their own. When a person could not meet the criteria for something, the Pharisees came down on them.
One example is the Passover, families would travel many miles and even days to come to the temple for Passover. Depending on the distance of travel some would bring their sacrifice with them, while others would look for a sacrificial animal once they arrived in Jerusalem.
This is where we come to Jesus telling the Pharisees that they were making His Father’s house a den of thieves. You see, after carrying their animal with them through their travels, they would be told it was “unacceptable,” and they had to purchase one of their animals at an expensive rate. Or if a person was getting one from there once they arrived, they had to pay the high prices. This ticked Jesus off obviously, since he proceeded to flip over tables, and drive them out with whips. But, this is another story for another time.
The easy and light yoke…
Now Jesus proceeds to defy the Pharisees yet again, by saying that His yoke is easy and His burden is light? Why? Because he took the entirety of the 600 plus Mosaic laws, and all of the extras that the “religious professionals” had added in, and summed it up into 2 commandments.
What were they?
1. Love God
2. Love people
He tells us in Matthew 22:40
On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
The burden was no longer to maintain 600 plus laws and all the extras, but to love God with all your heart, your souls and your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Do these and you will fulfill all the others.
Righteousness is no longer established by rules and regulations. It is now established through relationship. Relationship first and foremost with God, then relationship with ourselves, and finally our relationship with others. We are commanded to love others as we love ourself. If we do not love ourself as God loves us, how then will well effectively love others. This trifecta of love is the established order of the new kingdom.
Following Jesus is so simple, and that’s what makes it difficult for some people. The “yoke” of coming to God is easy. His requirement is easy. — The difficult part is the spiritual formation process. Sharing in His sufferings, as Paul encourages us, is part of that spiritual maturation/formation process. (Added from comments below).
Don’t over complicate your walk with the Lord. Master loving God, and loving people. Live by Christ’s spirit that lives inside of you everyday. Follow the master, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light.