Sermon of the week
A yoke unlike any other
Because opportunities to attend services may be limited for several weeks, the newspaper has invited local clergy to submit sermons for publication here.
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Durham
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.
— Matthew 11
When I first saw him, he was riding a bicycle — well, sort of. In reality he was sitting on a bicycle frame with no chain or pedals. He was coasting along by pushing himself forward using his feet.
Sort of reminded me of the cartoon car on “The Flintstones.” I asked someone who knew him and discovered that the rider belonged to a strict religious sect. The last leader of the sect felt it was OK to pedal a bicycle. But when that leader retired, his replacement felt that using pedals was “too worldly.” If you wanted to use a bicycle, you had to take the chain and pedals off.
Perhaps the next leader down the line would allow pedals again or maybe would ban bicycles altogether. You could never know. Whichever leader you chose to live under had sovereign control of what was sinful, what was godly.
If you were an Old Testament Jew, this system would sound somewhat familiar. If you were wanting to be a rabbi, a distinctly godly man, you would choose to learn under a rabbi you believed came the closest to God’s purest intentions.
His daily-life applications of the Torah were called the rabbi’s “yoke.” As his student you would take on his yoke and live according to his interpretations of the Mosaic law.
Unfortunately, the rabbis had a habit of adding to what God originally said, demanding legalistic requirements that God never intended.
Worse yet, in an effort to be the most holy, rabbis would try to bolster their yokes with an ever-growing list of rules to surpass other rabbis. So the burden of their yokes became unbearable, impossible to keep.
Constant failure to live up to the standards of their man-made yokes left people feeling guilty before God and spiritually defeated — never good enough, never able to escape their failures, living with a sense they were a constant disappointment to God. How could God possibly love a failure like me?
So, when Jesus said “take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” declaring that His yoke is light, he got people’s attention.
It’s not that His yoke is absent of moral responsibility. Righteousness is part of who He is.
But His yoke also includes mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love. It includes a godliness that comes from the atoning work He would pay for on the cross. It includes being made into new creations by the power of His resurrection.
No salvation by works. No legalistic human rules. No sinful past that cannot be forgiven.
His yoke does what those of the rabbis couldn’t do.
His yoke brings rest to our souls.