Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 4)

“The Heart Condition of the Older Son”

Luke 15:11-32

FBC of New Castle, Indiana
 
In Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father in his heart nor is either fulfilling his responsibilities as a member of the Father’s Household. How could they?

 

They are distracted—too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they could get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or with one another. If each son represented a church, we would say they are both off mission!

 

The Older Son is so busy being good, that he is distancing himself from God with his self-righteous moralism. Jesus used the older son to describe the Pharisees who were more in love with their ideas and traditions about God than with God Himself! This is a very dangerous place to be as it is easy to get off God’s mission when your ideas and traditions about God start defining your focus more than God Himself prioritizes your focus.

 

The Younger Son is so busy being free to do what he wants to do that he is distancing himself from the Father with his free-for-all “no one can tell me what to do” lifestyle. Jesus used the younger son to describe the Tax Collectors and sinners who wanted nothing to do with the Household of God and all of the older brothers who thought they were better than everyone else. This is also a very dangerous license that many people take, even doing so in the name of Christ. Christ did not die on the Cross so that you can be free to do anything you want, but so that you can be free from sin to live for righteousness in His easy yoke of discipleship.

 

Both groups—the tax collectors and Pharisees—are being selfish because neither is focused on being with the Father or desiring His will for their lives. Both were off mission on what it meant to be a member of the Household. Both heart conditions kept them far from God, but by the end of the story, one is in right relationship with the Father and the other is hardened against God and His grace given to the other. By the end of this story, we know what it means to be on mission as the Family of God and we know what it takes to get on mission.

 

Why is it that people who claim to be followers of Christ so often end up unsympathetic to people who are in need of finding Christ?

 

Until you have had an experience of the Father’s grace that has saved you from being lost (and that only happens when you realize your true brokenness) you will remain distracted by your need to make your life work out for you the way you want your life to work out for you. It is especially sad when your religion and traditions become a way of finding self-satisfaction and self-justification for what is opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s examine the heart condition of the Older Son and see how this applies to us today?

 

There is another parable Jesus teaches before His crucifixion that I see is an important way to enter this conversation. It is called the Parable of the Two Sons from Matthew 21:28-32,

 

But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”[1]

 

Again, two sons. One seems to start off well saying the right things, but he doesn’t end well. The other, doesn’t start off well saying the wrong thing, but he does end well. Which is on mission?

Obviously, the one who did what His Father asked! The one who at first rebelled, but repented.

 

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son is forever marked by his last words in this parable. Jesus’ character of the older son and his final words are targeted at the grumbling Pharisees and scribes of Luke 15:1-2. In 15:29-30, Jesus says that the older brother responded to the Father’s grace for the younger son with anger (28), saying very disrespectfully, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”[2] Do you hear it? Here is the heart condition of the Older Son:

 

Moralistic! It is obvious that the younger son was selfish in his actions, but what has not been so obvious is that the older son was selfish too—self-righteous and superiority! In a powerful article called, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is”, President of Southern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler clarifies the false gospel of moralism,

 

Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient. Just as parents rightly teach their children to obey moral instruction, the church also bears responsibility to teach its own the moral commands of God and to bear witness to the larger society of what God has declared to be right and good for His human creatures. But these impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.[3] (emphasis mine)

 

The scandals of both sons are the same – both are sin!  One son is a public failure and the other son feels superior and judgmental. What you really have to worry about is the bitter root that is being created in the older son that causes him to think, feel, and act less and less like the Father. As Pastor Tim Keller said, “Elder brother self-righteousness not only creates racism and classism, but at the personal level creates an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. This elder brother cannot pardon his younger brother… Because he does not see himself as being part of a common community of sinners, he is trapped by his own bitterness. It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.[4] (emphasis mine)

 

Jesus says to those in the older son condition in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[5]

 

Moralism is not just a false-gospel, it is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of God’s grace! The Pharisees were more than off mission, they were actually acting in ways opposed to the mission of God, and Jesus was showing them this in His parable.[6]

 

The Condition of the Older Son was not only Moralistic, but also Entitled! What we see come out of the older son at the end of the parable is as sinful, as disrespectful, and as rebellious as the younger son. The venomous spirit of entitlement. Pastor Tripp wrote,

 

Entitlement always seems to follow pride. If you think you’ve earned _________, then you will think you deserve __________. Then, carrying around not only pride but also entitlement, you will tend to turn blessings into demands and gifts of grace into what is to be expected. We must never forget that we have earned neither our standing with the Lord nor our place in ministry. Each moment that he accepts us and each situation in which he uses us are the result of one thing and one thing alone: grace. We have no right before God or others to self-assuredly stand with our hands out. We are independently entitled to nothing but his anger; it is only grace that entitles us to his accepting love. The smug expectation of blessing will cause you to question not only the appreciation of the people around you but also the goodness of God.[7]

 

The Older Son wanted what he had coming to him and he wanted to share it with only the people he deemed worthy to be his “friends”, which would most likely not include his brother or his father. His self-righteousness and entitlement fueled exclusivity based on who measured up. It created heart barriers to be on mission—to seek and to save the lost!

 

The older son does not understand grace because he thinks that he is better than other people. He doesn’t remember a day when he wasn’t a good person obeying his father—“I have never neglected a command of yours”. Whereas the younger son is so rebellious that he wished his father dead, asked for his inheritance, ran away from home with it and lived a wild life until it all came crashing down. When he hit bottom, he realized what he had at home and he repented. Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:10-14 to contrast these heart conditions:

 

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ [emphasis on the ‘I’ mine] But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.[8]

 

It wasn’t the older son’s efforts to please the Father that caused Him to be distant from the Father, it was his attitude that he somehow had already earned and was now entitled to what His Father has to give. Remember, God’s grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning! As soon as you feel entitled to receive something from God and you don’t get it, you have 1 of 2 choices: 1) in your brokenness you get angry at God and harden your heart at Him and towards others, or 2) you experience your brokenness and then you fall into the arms of God’s grace and become a herald of grace for others.

 

If you don’t experience brokenness, like the Younger Son, then you are only left with this option: a Hardened Heart! The younger son ended the story with a broken heart that led to a right relationship with the Father, whereas the older son ends up hardened and far away from God, judging the Father’s grace to receive back the younger son as evil because it violated his worldview of moralism and entitlement. A hardened person, no matter their church affiliation or religious zeal, is not on mission with Jesus Christ to seek and to save that which was lost. And if you are not about this, then you are not yet truly about Jesus or the work of His Father.[9]

 

The older son was supposed to be the hero of the story! He was supposed to go after his younger brother, but he was stuck in his own heart condition. That is the point of these three back-to-back parables in Luke 15: Jesus intends for you to start expecting someone to go searching for what was lost and when no one does, you are left wondering why.

 

To miss the point of this parable is to be distracted from the mission of Jesus Christ because our hearts are hardened against the very mission Jesus came for and created His Church to do—to seek and to save the lost sons and daughters who are designed to belong to God, but are caught up in either the older son or younger son heart conditions.[10] It’s God’s desire to have all of his children at home with Him, truly with Him at the heart level, so much so that all of his family represents His heart to all who are not yet home belonging as His Household!

 

Who is going to demonstrate the heart of the Father to the next generation?

 

At least the younger son had the decency to be honest about his rebellion—shockingly to our sensibilities and former understandings of this parable, the younger son was the more honorable of the two because he was honest with himself, God, and others. The older son hid behind the appearance of being a good person, an obedient and dutiful son, but the whole time wanting his own way, his rights, and what he felt was coming to him.[11] Religion and morality can become a control mechanism for making life work for you, just like rebellious living. Both are an abuse of God’s grace and both are willful-activities against the heart of the Father. Both are ways to be in control, but neither saves! Only through God’s grace can you be saved!

 

The person who will demonstrate the heart of the Father is the person who has been broken and truly knows it, who is daily and actively experiencing the forgiveness of God through a relationship with Jesus, and upon receiving God’s grace lives by grace and gives grace to others.

Whether you grew up in the church or not, we all have tendencies toward the heart condition of the older brother. We each must war against this tendency by remembering that at some point, we each had to have made a personal faith decision for Christ. You may not have as dramatic of an experience of hitting rock bottom like the younger son, but in order to be saved, you must come to place where you understand how desperately we each needed saving—whether you hit that point because you ran away from home or because you dutifully stayed home!

 

Salvation can neither be earned nor lost, it can only be received! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always God’s good news of His work for salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

The person who is gladly receiving this good news as today’s (every day’s) top head line will be the one who is on mission! This is the person who belongs to the Family of God and invites others to belong and works hard to help all people know they can belong, too.

 

Pastor Tripp wrote, “God has chosen to build his church through the instrumentality of bent and broken tools. It is your delusions of strength that will get you in trouble and cause you to form a ministry that is less than Christ-centered and gospel-driven.”[12]

 

In order for FBC to be on mission to seek and to save the lost we must be broken first. We cannot be older sons, we must repent of any self-righteousness, superiority, moralism, or sense of entitlement. We must pray and ask God right now to soften any hard places in our hearts and break us of any pride caused by our church affiliation, backgrounds, or traditions. Any delusion of strength will only get us in trouble. Our church and community does not need modern day Pharisees or Tax Collectors, but people who demonstrate the Father’s heart for all of us family. We can only be this because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

What is your heart condition?

 

Let us be a Christ-centered and gospel-driven church where the broken are healed and the lost are found. You belong here and so do they. We are God’s Household!

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 21:28–32.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:29–30.

[3] Albert Mohler, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is” (September 3, 2009). https://albertmohler.com/2009/09/03/why-moralism-is-not-the-gospel-and-why-so-many-christians-think-it-is/ (accessed March 19, 2019).

 

[4] Tim Keller, The Prodigal Son: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 63.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:27–28.

 

[6] Tripp comments, “You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law givers, they had no problem laying unbearable law burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology but also in ugly human pride. They saw law keeping as possible, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought that others should get up and keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, uncompassionate, and judgmental. They were not part of what God was doing at the moment; no, they were in the way of it” (Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012], 153).

 

[7] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 161–162.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 18:10–14.

[9] It is amazing how you can appear to be close to God and still be far from Him in your inner attitudes, thoughts, and actions. If you want to do a quick self-diagnostic, here are four gauges you can check.  If you are feeling insecurity, performance anxiety, shame, or are just weary and heavy-burdened, you may be off mission. Here are the four gauges: 1) Insecurity! Every time something goes wrong in your life or a prayer goes unanswered you wonder if it’s because you aren’t living right in a certain area. You have not yet experienced the assurance of your salvation that is 100% grace and 0% works. 2) Performance Anxiety! Criticism from others doesn’t just hurt your feelings, it crushes you. This is because your sense of God’s love is performance-based and you need the approval of others to help you see that you are doing right. You have a hard time experiencing the unconditional love of God for yourself. 3) Shame! You experience irresolvable guilt when you do something wrong. You have a struggle or inability to forgive yourself that comes with a vague sense of shame, if not a strong feeling of condemnation. You do not yet know the justification of Jesus. 4) Weary and Heavy-Burdened! You have a dry prayer life. Not that you don’t pray, you do so dutifully, but it is just that, a duty and not a joy to be in the presence of the Lord and in awe of Him. The yoke with Jesus is ill-fitted and His commandments feel burdensome. You’re not living in the power of the Holy Spirit in and through you. Ideas original to Tim Keller’s, The Prodigal God (72-73).

[10] One reader noted a potential discussion on this topic, posing a different perspective, “An interesting dynamic to explore might be the idea that we harden our hearts as a defense mechanism. Sometimes the vastness of the mission of Christ, the sheer number of people who are lost or unreached is so overwhelming that it feels hopeless. When we hear statistics about abortion, genocide, victims of trafficking, etc., the astronomical figures make us feel hopeless. So the only way to keep us from curling up in a ball on the floor, devastated at the evil, corruption, and despair in the world around us, is to harden our hearts as a defense mechanism.”

[11] In speaking of the Pharisees, “That although they met with so much care, they were worse than harlots and publicans, and by so much” (John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series [New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888], 415).

[12] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 152.


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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 2)

“The Heart Condition of the Younger Son”

Message #2 of 8

 

At the closing of last week’s message I taught that in Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father in his heart nor is either fulfilling his responsibilities as a member of the Father’s Household. How could they? They are too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they could get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or with one another.

 

The three parables in Luke 15 have an immediate audience to whom Jesus is telling these stories. You here who His original audience is in Luke 15:1-2, “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”[1] (emphasis mine)

 

John Barry in Faithlife Study Bible states, “In response to the religious leaders’ complaint, Jesus tells parables to explain His purpose in welcoming sinners and sharing table fellowship with them. He teaches that each repentant sinner prompts a heavenly celebration (vv. 7, 10, 32).”[2] That is the big picture of all three of these parables: The Lost Sheep (15:4-7), The Lost Coin (15:8-10), and the Lost Son (15:11-32). Listen to Kevin Zuber in The Moody Bible Commentary emphasize the three major points of these parables in their original context:

 

The primary point of the parables, usually neglected in popular lessons on them, is that the religious leaders should not have been criticizing Jesus for seeking tax collectors and sinners (15:1; note how this verse introduces all three parables). God rejoices when such are “found,” and the sour attitude of the Pharisees and the scribes is condemned (as seen in the interaction between the father and the older brother in 15:25–32, which makes up nearly half of the parable, another point frequently neglected). A secondary, though admittedly important, theme of all three parables is that God rejoices when repentant sinners turn to Him and are “found.” “The way to God is through repentance. God’s arms are open to the person who will seek Him on His terms. God’s arms close around the child ready to run to Him and receive what He offers” (Bock, Luke, 1295). Another theme is the joy that comes when that which is lost is found.[3] (emphasis original)

 

Over the next month we are going to look at all three of these main players in Jesus’ parable: The Father who represents the God whose arms are open and ready to receive back that which was lost, the Older Son who represents the “Pharisees and the scribes,” and the Younger Son who represents the “tax collectors and the sinners.” This morning, we are going to focus on the heart condition of the Younger Son.

 

As we learned last week, Jesus was sent by the Father to restore the Household of God back to the Father. The Church is nothing more and nothing less than the Family of Believers, saved by God’s sovereign grace—members of the Household of God. In Greek, the word we know as “church” is ekklesia which technically means “the called-out ones” but in its normative usage simply means the “assembly” or “gathering.” Biblically, the church is the people called out of the world by God to gather as His family for His purposes and His glory. With Jesus as the Head, we are His body and we are united to continue the work of Jesus in building the Household of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to carry on the work of why Jesus Christ came: “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And the body is not only 100% dependent on Jesus, the Head, but mutually dependent on one another. The illustration I used last week was the human body, none of the 12 organ systems in the body are fully self-reliant. The cardiovascular system does not work without the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is useless without the nervous system. And none of it is worth a thing if the lymphatic system doesn’t keep up our immunities. This is the same in the body of Christ—we need one another, of all generations, men and women, working together with all of our spiritual gifts, talents, resources, perspectives, and backgrounds. We aren’t functional if we are not healthy!

 

This week, we learn that there is a great danger to the healthy functioning of the body to fulfill God’s purposes for this world. It is the heart condition of the younger son! We are all blinded by our own sin tendencies that causes us to act like the baby of the family when we don’t get our own way: taking the ball and going to play somewhere else. Pastor Paul Tripp states in his book Dangerous Calling, “Because sin blinds, God has set up the body of Christ to function as an instrument of seeing in our lives, so that we can know ourselves with a depth and accuracy that would be impossible if left on our own.”[4] In other words, the church is designed to be a place where sin is dealt with directly because it is sin that destroys relationships and sin that isolates members of the body from one another. The heart condition of the younger son causes us to not be a healthy, functioning body because it keeps the members from working together in unity. But if I try to help you remove sin from your life, you have a choice how you are doing to respond and that will determine whether or now we are healthy body or a dysfunctional body.

 

Listen again to Tripp as he makes an important observation about the church:

 

I’m convinced that the big crisis for the church of Jesus Christ is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied. We have a regular and perverse ability to make things work that are not and should not be working. We learn to adjust to things that we should alter. We learn to be okay with things we should be confronting. We learn how to avoid things we should be facing. We would rather be comfortable than to hold people accountable. We swindle ourselves into thinking that things are better than they are, and in so doing we compromise the calling and standards of the God we say we love and serve. Like sick people who are afraid of the doctor, we collect evidence that points to our health when really, in our heart of hearts, we know we are sick. So we settle for a human second best, when God, in grace, offers us so much more.[5]

 

What is the something more? It is living in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ, submitted to the Father’s will, working together as members of the body of Christ for the glory of God by making disciples to grow the Household of God to further the reach of His body on earth. In short, to seek and to save that which was lost! We must be able to gaze into the truth that is the condition of our own hearts through the body of Christ and the work of the Word, both empowered by the Holy Spirit. Let’s focus our time together today by specifically looking at three aspects of the heart condition of the Younger Son.

 

The first condition is selfishness. In Luke 15:12, the Younger Son said to his Father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”[6] As the younger son, who is most likely in his early 20s (possibly younger) and presumed unmarried, by the Jewish law he has a legal right to 1/3 of his father’s estate upon his father’s death. For him to ask for it at such a young age and before his father’s death would be considered a vulgar act of selfishness. It is essentially wishing his father to be dead because He wanted the benefits of his father’s household without honoring his father or submitting to his authority. There is no rest found in living your life in a selfish way. It’s not all about you and what you want! It’s about God and His purposes for your life as a member of His Household. As members of the body, selfishness destroys our unity and our functionality. There are no biblical grounds for selfish motives anywhere in the church.

 

The only antidote for this is to be found in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ who promises rest for our soul by taking on His teaching, submitting to His will, and living according to His grace. Listen to Paul speak to this in Philippians 2:3-11:

 

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[7]

 

Where do you see selfish tendencies within your own thoughts and actions? How have you seen selfish decisions hurt you and others? What are some practical steps of generosity you can take today and this week?

 

The second condition is rebellion. Jesus says of the Younger Son in Luke 15:13, “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.”[8] From the ends of this verse and 15:30 (“who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes”), we learn that the Younger Son indulges his passions in a decadent and rebellious lifestyle. Outside of his father’s household he knew no restraint and burned out his life, his resources, and his opportunities.

 

First, he dreamed of a life that was better than one in his father’s household, doing his father’s work. Second, he wished his father dead so that he could live how he wanted. Then he used his inheritance (his birthright from his father) to gain independence from the father. He no longer felt that he needed the father because he “sold his birthright” for the illusion of personal freedom and self-fulfillment outside of his father’s household.[9] Outside of his father’s household, he sought to live in such a way that was not restrained from what he perceived to be oppressive cultural norms, antiquated religious ideals, and limiting family values. The Younger Son’s desire for uncontested personal liberty through “a deliberate renunciation of a set of values”[10] led to the loss of all that was promised to him and a destruction of his very personhood until he was ashamed of himself and the depths of his loss. The pursuit of absolute freedom from all authority is a rebellion that leads to a slavery with a fickle and unforgiving master called “the flesh” (i.e. “me, myself, and I”).

 

We learn by Jesus’ example that the only answer to mastering the flesh’s desire to be in control and to rule every area of your life is to crucify it (submit it to the Father’s will). As Paul said in Galatians 5:13-17, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”[11]

 

Do you see the damage done when people are mastered by their own body’s needs and desires?  

Which dominates your thoughts and actions—your flesh or God’s Spirit in your life? What does it look in your life to take on the easy yoke of Jesus and learn from Him how to submit to the Father’s will? What would be the benefits to the whole church if we each did that?

 

The third condition is brokenness. All of us must face the heart condition of the Younger Son that is in each of us in order to be saved and welcomed home by the Father. There is no salvation apart from our ability to empathize with the Younger Son, to say that I too am a sinner in need of God’s grace, just like the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was addressing this to in the first place. To not be able to say that would put us into the Older Son’s heart condition (the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was also addressing) and that is another sermon for another day.

 

Here is the main issue of brokenness! Without seeing it in yourself, you can’t be saved. You just won’t see the need! The Bible says that all of us are selfish, rebellious, broken people. You can’t heal yourself from being broken or manage your life in such a way that you don’t experience your brokenness (other than self-delusion, but that is where the church helps you get honest with yourself, God, and others). The only way to be saved is to look at your heart condition without distortion, without white washing, without covering over. We need one another to be healthy members of the body of Christ. Or we can hide in shallow relationships, platitudes, and the illusion of peace (Jeremiah 6:13-16) and be a dysfunctional church that does not do the work of God, but rather spends most of its time simply trying to convince itself of its need to survive.

 

If we cannot admit our own selfishness and our rebellion and desire to rule our lives, then we will never get to the necessary state of heart to be saved: a broken heart that is willing to go back home to be with the Father, in the church family we call that repentance! Psalm 51:17 says about the Father, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”[12] A broken and contrite (repentant) heart is a heart willing to go home to the Father! A heart that has hit bottom of trying to swindle God and scheme for the pride of position in this life. For the Younger Son, the promises of the far country (that allured and beckoned him in the beginning) turned out to be “a land of faded dreams and spiritual hunger.”[13] His nights turned into loneliness and his days into bankruptcy. The Younger Son hit bottom and saw that his only way to have life was to have it as a member of his Father’s Household, even if it meant forsaking his rights as a son. When the Younger Son came to the logical conclusion of his own heart condition, he did the only thing that could save him—He went home honestly (15:14-19)!

 

Notice in 15:20 that the Father was eagerly waiting and looking for the Younger Son to return, but He doesn’t go and bless him in the far country. God is patient and His grace is available today as much as it was yesterday. He looks for you to hit bottom of your own brokenness and come home to Him. He desires for you to come Home! Our mistake is in lying to ourselves that we are either not in the far country or that the Father is ok with our disobedience and that we can live an abundant life our way. God’s arms are ready to embrace any person who is willing to come to Him in repentance. A person who admits that all his selfishness and rebellion has only caused destruction to his own life and the life of those he loves. Are you ready to come home to be a son or daughter in the Household of God? The church should be a safe place for all the younger sons and daughters to be able to come home and feel like they BELONG! Are you?
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:1–2.

 

[2] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Lk 15:2.

 

[3] Kevin D. Zuber, “Luke,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1581–1582.

[4] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 34–35.

 

[5] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 59.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:12. Richard Blight attempts to answer the question of how the father would have fulfilled this request, “The son wanted the equivalent value of the property in the form of money [Gdt]. This division required that a considerable part of the holdings of the estate be sold and converted to cash [NTC]. When the father gave the younger son his share in money, he also made over the rest of the inheritance to the elder son [Hlt, NICNT, NIGTC, TH; HCSB], while retaining the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of the property during his lifetime [Hlt, NIGTC]. Or, the elder son would not take possession of his share of the inheritance until his father’s death [NTC]. In dividing the estate, it does not mean that the father gave all of the property over to both sons, since the dividing would be accomplished by giving a third to his younger son and this was probably the case since throughout the parable it appears that the father still possessed the property [AB]. Or, both sons received their shares and the elder son kept his share at home where he was still under the control of his father [Alf, BECNT, TNTC]. Perhaps it means that the elder son was assigned capital goods but not a claim to their produce while the father remained alive [WBC]. It is not relevant to speculate whether the father was wise or foolish in submitting to the younger son’s request [NAC]” (Richard C. Blight, An Exegetical Summary of Luke 12–24, 2nd ed. [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008], 144).

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 2:3–11.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:13.

 

[9] In using the phrase “sold his birthright” I am alluding to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:33f that is referenced in Hebrews 12:15-17. As this text states, we fall short of God’s grace and harm others when we act like an “immoral or godless person like Esau who sold his own birthright for a single meal.”

 

[10] Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 (2001): 13.

 

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 5:13–17.

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ps 51:17.

 

[13] Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 (2001): 14. He continues, “The only employment the younger son could find was looking after pigs, unclean animals in Jewish dietary and social law. That he fulfilled this work on minimal wages is evidenced by his hunger for the food that the pigs were eating. In the context of the parable the hunger of the younger son’s body is symbolical of his inner hunger of spirit for something to sustain his human being and to rescue his life from its downward spiral into oblivion and destruction.”


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Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 1)

“The Big Story of Belonging!”

 Message #1 of 8

 

Play “Belong Series” video with reading of Luke 15:11-32.

This is the story for our new series “Belong: We are God’s Family!” It is classically called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but I personally title it, “The Parable of the Father’s Love for His Family.” It is the third of three parables given to us by Jesus with a searching theme—the Lost Sheep in 15:1-7, the Lost Coin in 15:8-10, and the Lost Son in 15:11-32.[1] When Emily Hurst and I were talking about this, she said, “I wonder if, for Jesus, it was like those moments a teacher has where they explain a concept one way, look out to a sea of blank faces, and dig deep to find another way to explain it until they begin to see the ‘lightbulb’ effect.” That is a great way to think about why a Master Teacher would use three parables in a row. That would make this one, the third of the three, very striking and important. Jesus sets up a pattern on purpose!

 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to redeem humanity back into right relationship with God the Father. Luke 15 tells the story of God’s extravagant love and to what extent God is willing to go so that we know we belong to His family. A good parent desires to have the children at home, safe and secure. God the Father desires His children to go looking for one another and not to be focused on their own inheritance, but to be secure in His love. Now ask yourself: what is missing from this story? What’s missing is that no one went searching for the lost son! Where was the older son when his younger brother went off the grid in rebellion against his family?

 

That is why Jesus came: Jesus came to fulfill the role of the elder son! Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[2] Listen to Galatians 4:4-8, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.”[3]

 

We are God’s family! Look how far Jesus, our elder brother, came to search and to find us, the little brothers and younger sisters to bring us home and into the safety of the Father’s home and the security of the Father’s inheritance! As His household, we are the Father’s sons and daughters, and we are invited to be a part of God’s redemption plan “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10; cf. 14:21-24). Paul teaches us of our responsibilities as members of the household of God in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”[4] [emphasis added]

 

Here is a start to how we are to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ:

  1. We are to be patient and kind with one another, even when we have something hard to say.
  2. We listen to both sides of the story and aren’t quick to make judgments without knowing.
  3. We speak truth in love gently, remembering we can be right and wrong at the same time.
  4. When we mess up the first three we go to the person to get right and seek forgiveness.
  5. We help when a person can’t do it themselves. We encourage them to do it for themselves when they can, even if they would rather someone else do it for them.
  6. We talk about Jesus with people and build a healthy relationship to not only “save souls” but also “make disciples.”
  7. We pray for people and allow God to move our hearts toward them.
  8. We model a healthy life of work and rest, sacrificial giving, and biblical lifestyle choices.
  9. We keep short accounts: we forgive others just as readily as we ask God to forgive us.
  10. We strive to not be cliquish in the Family of God, either in who is here or in who we invite. Ambassadors represent Jesus to everyone for He wants all of His children safe and secure.

 

From the beginning, God designed us to belong! We were created to have a relationship with God—to belong as members of God’s family, to be His Image Bearers (Genesis 1:26-27), but our sin separated us from Him (Genesis 3:22-24; Rom 3:23). That is what it means to be dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13), it means we are cut off from the Family of God and from our inheritance of eternal life. When we are still in our sin we don’t belong because sin cuts off our relationship to God and damages all relationships (1 Corinthians 15:17). As Isaiah 59:2 states, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”[5]

 

But God did not want this for His creation so He did something about it—God sent the Elder Son to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10)! Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can belong to God and to one another forever. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection all point to this big truth: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). More specifically and more to the point of our series, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

 

We are God’s Family in this life and in the Life to come![6] One day, we’ll be with God in the perfect relationship He intended from the beginning (Revelation 21—22). What a glorious day that will be; when we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6; John 14:1-6). This is the promise we anticipate for eternity, but this is also the hope we live in today. And as members of God’s household, we share this faith and hold tightly to this hope.

 

On some days here in this very broken world, our faith and hope in Jesus is all we have because we lose our faith and hope in people, including our families and our churches. But we hold on to our faith in Jesus which means we cling to His promises for His Family, His people who gather regularly to remember and to proclaim![7] We cannot lose hope! Without hope, we are done!

 

God’s Family is not our preference, it is God’s priority for our lives (John 13:34-35). We are God’s Family, held together by our hope and faith in Jesus Christ. Tim Keller diagnosed, “We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.”[8]

 

We remain faithful to our family because we are held together by faith and hope in Jesus, not in one another. When I was discussing this with one of my fellow church members, that person said to me, “This is the big problem with unity in the church. We rely on other broken people, and we take it personally when they let us down.” Wow! Listen to Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”[9] We gather to refocus ourselves and others on Jesus—to belong!

 

What holds us together? Listen to some excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

 

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave [Jesus] as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Therefore I, [Paul], implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.[10] [emphasis added]

 

Jesus is the head of His Body and we must remain yoked with Him and have connective tissue that holds us together, working under the direction of the One who is Head, Christ Jesus. But God established it where we would not only absolutely depend on Jesus, the Head of the Body (there is no life apart from Him), but our fellow members of the Body as well. We each need to be connected and working together because that is the way a body works. This is why we have called everyone to the 7:1 Initiative at FBC: 7 friends and 1 place of service to invest yourself into to the glory of God and the building up of His body! We each need 7 friends in this church who know and love us and who have permission to hold us accountable for our Christian walk. We each need 1 place of service to be the functional part of the Body God designed us to be.

 

Until Jesus’ return, God has designed His plans to be accomplished in the world through His Family, the church.[11] I am discerning that currently we don’t have the connective tissue as His body to do God’s will in us or through us. We have enough members at FBC, we just don’t have enough connection to one another as His body. We are not belonging to one another as God has saved us to be, commanded us to do, and designed us to walk—as one body, His body, not as individual body parts! This is why we are calling everyone to the “7:1 Initiative” at FBC!

 

To illustrate this need: in the human body, none of the 12 organ systems in the body are fully self-reliant. The cardiovascular system does not work without the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is useless without the nervous system. And none of it is worth a thing if the lymphatic system doesn’t keep up our immunities.[12] This is the same in the body of Christ—we need one another, of all generations, men and women, working together with our spiritual gifts, talents, resources, perspectives, and backgrounds fully at play. None of us should resort to childish tactics, “I’m taking my ball and going somewhere else to play” just because of an issue in the Family or because of “I want it my way” or “I know best” thinking. That includes the pastor doing this (many people remember those moments from decades ago), but it also includes each of us doing this (and what a problem this is on a month to month basis, every year)!

 

The church is not ours! It is God’s Family and God is like a Father with 2 sons. In Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father at their hearts and fulfilling their responsibilities as members of His Household. How could they? They are too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they can get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or one another.

 

How does Jesus’ parable apply to the churches of our day and age?

 

Please watch this video to find out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_bkNkrWdz8

 

Ask not: How can I make the church more about me? That is the trend in our culture and at FBC! Rather ask this: How can God use me to be a blessing to His Family and to help others belong?

 

We believe that you BELONG in God’s Family at FBC!
 
 
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] I was first tuned into this perspective by Timothy Keller in his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008).

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 5:8.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 4:4–8.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 2 Co 5:17–20.

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Is 59:2.

 

[6] “Paul’s writings make much of the filial status and relationship that believers in God, through Christ, attain to the moment they believe (Rom. 8:14–17, Gal. 4:4–6). Not only are we pardoned at law, through the representative obedience and suffering of Christ, but through our union with him by faith, we are received as extra children at the Father’s hearth and home, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, whom he loves like his only Son (Rom. 8:28–30). He lavishes his love and care on us, because we are precious to him as those he has predestined for adoption” (Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 [2001]: 20).

[7] Jesus invites us to belong to Him and to one another! Those who worship Jesus Christ together in truth and spirit (John 4:23-26) are promised to be together for eternity where we will worship in the very presence of our resurrected Lord (Revelation 7:9-17). When we worship in truth and spirit, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds because we are being conformed into His image, from the inside out (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2).

 

[8] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 100. This connect beautifully to the rest motif found in Matthew 11:28-30.

 

[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Heb 10:23–25.

 

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 1:22-23; 4:1-6, 15–16.

[11] Kevin DeYoung stated about the church in his book Crazy Busy, “The only work that absolutely must be done in the world is Christ’s work. And Christ’s work is accomplished through Christ’s body. The church—gathered in worship on Sunday and scattered through its members throughout the week—is able to do exponentially more than any of us alone. I can respond to Christ’s call in one or two ways, but I am a part of an organism and organization that can respond and serve in a million ways” (Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013]).

[12] Thank you to Emily Hurst for this wonderful illustration and insight.


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus (Week 8)

“Living in the Easy Yoke of Jesus!”

Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

In my Tuesday morning devotional reading this week, Charles Spurgeon stated: “The Christian has permanent peace with God (Romans 5:1). The ruling peace of Christ in the heart is not supposed to be an optional extra (Colossians 3:15).”[1]

 

I wholeheartedly agree, but our version of Christianity falls short of God’s grace when we settle for one without the other, either direction![2] When we only teach, preach, and heal a person to have permanent and eternal peace with God (“saving souls”), without teaching, preaching, and healing people to have a ruling peace over their hearts and minds in everyday life (“making disciples”), then we are falling short of the grace of God as Jesus’ new people. We should not teach people that they have an assurance of eternal rest, if we do not also teach them to experience that God’s promised rest within that same “nephesh”![3]

 

Today we conclude our 8-message series on Jesus’ comforting words from Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”[4] We will focus on that last statement that reinforces everything we have taught up to this point: Jesus described His teaching that we are to learn from Him in v. 30 as, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

This last line is very important for it provides the reasoning behind all that was offered. As Graham Stanton stated, “The first four lines are well-balanced and are undergirded by the ‘reasoning’ of the fifth and final line.”[5] Stanton continues, “The ‘yoke of Jesus’ is the yoke of discipleship. And for Matthew discipleship involves teaching, preaching, and healing which is modelled precisely on the actions and words of Jesus himself. In the final verse of the gospel the disciples are told by the Risen Jesus to teach men to observe all the commandments Jesus had given them. They are to retain the words of Jesus and to proclaim their continuing importance. For Matthew call and demand are inextricably interwoven.[6] (emphasis added)

 

I am struck by what appears to be a paradox in Jesus’ words regarding His yoke. If what Stanton says is true and “call and demand are inextricably interwoven,” then how is this an easy yoke and a light burden for all who answer Jesus’ invitation to “come to Him” and become His disciples?[7]

 

The call of discipleship comes with the work of Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20 and many other commands found in the NT, so how is answering the call of Christian discipleship an easy yoke and light burden? For 16 years of pastoral ministry and 22 years of Christian discipleship, it sure hasn’t been an easy or burden-free life, so what is Jesus’ saying?

 

A clue comes from Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:39, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”[8] If Jesus is Himself the rest that He is offering to His disciples, then rest is found in submitting your life to the yoke of Jesus—to Jesus Himself! As Stanton concludes of this critical passage, “The disciple who has taken the cup of salvation ‘for the forgiveness of sin’ is called to take the yoke of Jesus in costly and demanding discipleship; he is promised ‘rest’ and the presence of the Risen Christ and told to go and make disciples of all nations.”[9] Stanton inextricably interweaves Matthew 11:28-30 with 28:18-20.

 

The way that we have peace of mind and heart, rest for our soul, the fulness of joy from our salvation is by following Jesus Christ and not just on your way to Heaven, but as we are going about our day-to-day lives learning from His very real presence with us. We are called to be with and become like Jesus and in doing so we will make disciples! It’s an inside-out process that bears the fruit of obedience to Jesus because He loves us and in response we love Him.[10]

 

Let me explain by going back to the yoke imagery. The yoke Jesus is describing is steeped in both the Jewish religious culture and agricultural imagery. It is the yoke that unites two oxen to work alongside one another, pulling together. What one ox can pull alone (2 to 5 thousand pounds depending on the maturity and training of the ox) is much less than what two can do together (10 thousand pounds when a mature ox is training a young one and up to 15 thousand pounds when both are mature and trained). Taking this at straight value, Jesus is saying we can do a lot more when we are yoked with Him. We know though that Jesus very clearly taught in a different conceptual metaphor of the vine and branch imagery in John 15:5 that if we are not connected to Him we can do nothing. The imagery is not incongruent, but saying the same thing!

 

What is Jesus exactly saying to us about the yoke?

 

Jesus is calling us to have “a relation of absolute dependence” on Him for Heaven and for our daily life![11] The original metaphor was used by the Rabbis to talk about being yoked to Torah (the commandments of God), more broadly yoked to Heaven, and more specifically yoked to the Rabbi’s teachings on how to fulfill Torah. The Moody Bible Commentary helps us understand this imagery: “Rabbinic literature speaks of taking on the yoke of the Torah or the yoke of the commandments, meaning ‘adopting Torah,’ including the performance of Rabbinic instruction as a lifestyle. Jesus is contrasting following Him, which is light, with following Rabbinic Torah, which is burdensome (Mt 23:4).”[12] John Barry, in the Faithlife Study Bible, helpfully explains that the yoke “refers to the traditions of the elders, not the law itself. This contrasts with the light, easy burden of Jesus (11:30). Jesus’ teachings are not easy, but obeying them leads to life, not bondage.”[13] (emphasis is author’s)

 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus not only sets up the contrast between the Pharisees’ teachings and His own teachings as heavy vs. light, He says it’s impossible to have rest with God on the basis of the example of the works of those same Pharisees.[14] Jesus emphasizes this:

 

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.[15]

 

We are commanded to learn from Jesus’ example of His works! After embodying the Law, perfectly living according to it, and declaring Himself Lord over it, Jesus invites people to find their righteousness by coming into relationship with Him. In fulfilling the Law, Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, and now invites us into a relationship with Him that includes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is God’s promise of putting the Law inside the people’s hearts, as seen in Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:33-34; and Hebrews 8:8-13.[16]

 

Listen to the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 2:19-21, “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”[17]

 

Rest is found because of God’s presence in us! Our righteousness is not of our own effort, but of Jesus’ completed works on the Cross and promised presence in our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We find our rest in Him, just like we have our righteousness in Him, just like apart from Him we can do nothing!

 

In other words, it is only by God’s grace that we can be righteous! Spurgeon helpfully explained, “God be merciful to me, for to keep this law is utterly beyond power; even to know the fulness of its meaning is not within finite capacity. Therefore great God cleanse us from our secret faults—save us by thy grace, for by the law we never can be saved.”[18]

 

The reason that the yoke is easy and the burden is light is because Jesus’ way is by grace! Heaven is grace, not earned! Peace in this life is grace, not earned. Rest for your soul is grace, not earned. Grace comes to the humble who believe. Listen to Jesus explain the importance of being found in Him through faith: “Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace [emphasis added]. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”[19]

 

We already know that the rest Jesus offers is not a peaceful life with no burdens and no suffering and no stress. That is just not real. But how do you deal with it, think about it, emotionally handle your circumstances, navigate difficult relationships, and remain focused on Christ through the ups and downs. You can have a restful soul in a chaotic world! How?

 

Listen to Kevin DeYoung as he graciously considers the topic of Sabbath:

 

I hope every Christian can agree that God has made us from the dust to need regular times of rest. He built it into the creation order and commanded it of his people. God gives us Sabbath as a gift; it’s an island of get-to in a sea of have-to. He also offers us Sabbath as a test; it’s an opportunity to trust God’s work more than our own. When I go weeks without taking adequate time off, I may or may not be disobeying the fourth commandment, but I’m certainly too convinced of my own importance and more than a little foolish. If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.[20]

 

Rest is the witness of whether or not you are in Christ. With that understanding, listen to the Apostle John, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. [emphasis added] For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?[21]

Faith in Jesus Christ is getting in His yoke and in His yoke you will obey His commands because that is what the Spirit does when you, the branch, are connected to Jesus, the vine. If you are born of God you overcome the world! If you are connected to the vine you produce fruit!

 

I love how Paul directly addresses the Galatians in how they had this backwards, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul overtly states, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”[22]

 

Listen to Jesus’ most stringent rebuke against the religious leaders of His day in Matthew 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.”[23] Connect this to the agricultural imagery: “Often the burden the ox had to bear was so heavy that it would cause them to stumble and fall under it, but Jesus promised that the burden of His followers would never be that heavy.”[24] Because Jesus is faithful to be with His disciples and He provides for that which He commands!

 

Jesus promises an easy yoke and a light burden because of our faith in Him and through that faith, His Holy Spirit in our lives! Listen to Craig Keener explain, “They will find Jesus’ yoke light because he is a Master who will care for them (Mt 11:29). Jesus’ yoke is not lighter because he demands less (5:20), but because he bears more of the load with us (23:4). In contrast to unconcerned religious teachers who prided themselves on their own position, like some religious leaders today (23:4–7, 29), Jesus was going to lay down his life for the sheep (20:25–28).”[25] This is Jesus’ teaching in John 10 when He states, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”[26]

 

Rest is a gift of right relationship with God and right relationship with God is not only through coming to Jesus by God’s grace, but through obeying all that Jesus commanded through the presence and power of God’s grace in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.[27] There is a rest to be found in knowing that you are never alone. In His yoke, Jesus is with us every step of the way![28] As Paul taught us in Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”[29]

 

To illustrate the point, listen to how Spurgeon would encourage a believer to find peace:

 

Do as the child did, when he ran and told his mother as soon as his little trouble happened to him; run and tell your Father the first moment you are in affliction. Do this in everything, in every little thing—“in everything by prayer and supplication make known your wants unto God.” Take your husband’s head-ache, take your children’s sicknesses, take all things, little family troubles as well as great commercial trials—take them all to God; pour them all out at once. And so by an obedient practice of this command in everything making known your wants unto God, you shall preserve that peace “which shall keep your heart and mind through Jesus Christ.”[30]

 

Jesus is with us and He knows better than we do our need for His healing presence inside of us. We get caught up in our circumstances, but Jesus is after our hearts. You will never have rest for your soul until your heart is in His hands. In relationship with Jesus we become aware of our daily need for a Savior and not just for Heaven. Kevin DeYoung explains this theological reality of our profound need to be yoked with Jesus in order to experience the rest He gives:

 

And because we know ourselves to be fallen creatures, we will accept the limits of our human condition. We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people. We cannot really know what is going on in the world. We cannot be truly here and there at the same time. The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance—and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.[31]

 

Knowing this truth about ourselves is essential in teaching us how to find rest for our souls in the easy yoke of Jesus. Which is by the way, the yoke of being His disciple who is called to the Great Commission. We are called to make disciples through a relationship with Jesus that bears good fruit in relationships with others. The Kingdom of God is a relational kingdom and it is built one relationship at a time! Listen to Jesus in Matthew 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.[32]

 

When we are yoked with Jesus Christ, we trust God to do what Jesus promised to do by the work of the Spirit in His people. Listen to C.H. Spurgeon preach about how God works in the world,

 

Where is the Holy Spirit all the while? Is he lying idle? Oh, no; he is floating over the earth, and when he sees a weary soul, he says, “Come to Jesus, he will give you rest.” When he beholds an eye filled with tears, he wipes away the tears, and bids the mourner look for comfort on the cross. When he sees the tempest-tossed believer, he takes the helm of his soul and speaks the word of consolation; he helps the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds; and ever on his mission of mercy, he flies around the world, being everywhere present. Behold how the three persons work together.[33]

 

Jesus builds His Church. As disciples of Jesus, we cultivate soil through relationship! Only God brings the increase. If you forget this, you put yourself and others in a burdensome, exhausting, and painful yoke that quickly mutates the church through “Christian Pharisaism”.[34]

 

We are to work alongside of Jesus to cultivate the soil, working the fields of God’s harvest. In doing so we are following Jesus’ example and answering His prayer found in Matthew 9:35-38. One blogger wrote of this issue: “Why would taking on a yoke be ‘easy’, and the ‘burden light’? It is the shared load that makes the work easier. Although single yokes can be used, the efficiency is far greater when two pull together under the same yoke. Jesus is clearly saying, ‘come walk alongside me, share my yoke and I’ll pull you through whatever you need to go through.’ Together, it will be easier, the load less heavy, the relief profound.”[35]

 

A yoke is easy and the burden is light when the oxen are pulling together. The younger oxen must remain (abide) in the posture of the heart (gentle and humble) to be trained to learn from the master. If you are not willing to come under the daily lifestyle of apprenticeship to Jesus, regardless of whether or not you believe He is the Son of God or said a prayer to Him for the forgiveness of your sin, you will not find rest in this life because you are not living your life with the mind of Christ or by the Spirit of God. Your dragging your feet or pulling away from Him![36]

 

Listen to Jan Johnson help driven people find rest in their lives:

His insight—”drivenness must give way to peacefulness”—reassures us that those of us who are driven are not excluded from the contemplative way. It helps us seek God instead of our own goals. Perhaps this idea of contemplation as burnout prevention explains why Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Mercy, who work among the poor and dying in Calcutta, India, don’t get overwhelmed. Even though they get so much important work done, “only five hours a day of their time is spent among poor. The rest is spent in prayer and meditation and things that focus them on God. Their effectiveness and ability to keep going is multiplied incredibly because of their time with God.”[37]

 

The yoke of Jesus is an invitation to a side-by-side conversational relationship with Jesus (which is my best understanding of the word “contemplative” and how Johnson is intending it in her book). When we work from a place of a rest, we are not pulling at the yoke by going faster or slower than Jesus or by pulling away from Jesus. We are not allowing fear or anxiety to drive us, but we are allowing the Good Shepherd to lead us. We are living by faith! We must prioritize above all else the work of staying inside the yoke and learning from the Lord of Sabbath in the rhythms of work and rest that God has established for our lives from creation.[38]

 

Listen to this powerful insight from Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy:

 

Setting priorities can be difficult. Sticking to them can seem impossible. But Jesus understands the challenge. He lived with unrelenting demands and unbelievable pressure. He also knew that if he were to accomplish the purposes God had for him, he would have to pass up ten thousand good purposes other people had for his life. The Son of God could not meet all the needs around him. He had to get away to pray. He had to eat. He had to sleep. He had to say no. If Jesus had to live with human limitations, we’d be foolish to think we don’t. The people on this planet who end up doing nothing are those who never realized they couldn’t do everything.[39] (emphasis added)

 

Did you hear that last line? It’s my favorite because it cuts to the heart of my pride! Listen to DeYoung diagnose each of us to the root of the issue that Jesus’ gracious invitation confronts:

 

As Christians, especially, we ought to know better because we understand deep down that the problem is not just with our schedules or with the world’s complexity—something is not right with us. The chaos is at least partly self-created. The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart. Things are not the way they ought to be because we are not the way we are supposed to be. Which means our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of our other sins: pride.[40]

 

As James stated, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”[41] And Peter said:

 

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[42]

 

Issues of pride are spiritual issues and cannot be relieved with worldly solutions. These are matters of spiritual warfare as you see from both these verses and this is not something to mess around with! Bringing the operating principles of the world into your life or into the church community life will only reap unequal yokes, which will rub you raw (for that yoke is not well-fitted for a disciple) and crush you (for that yoke is a burden in and of itself).[43] And you will not get the results you would want long-term. In fact, it will only make it worse and this is why we are seeing so many messes in good people’s lives and in good people’s churches. I would argue, it’s also why we are seeing so many high-profile American pastors falling short of God’s grace—they are being crushed under the weight of ministry for Jesus because they were not taught to do ministry in the yoke of Jesus.[44]

 

There is a different way, but it is ministry from the inside-out. Jesus took the 663 commands of the Rabbis and gave us 1 command as the Master Teacher: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”[45] We are to follow His example and be like Him! That is God’s will for your life, not to make Christianity into a new form of Pharisaism, which is what has happened and is still happening through the course of 2,000 years of church history.[46]

 

Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. That is what we are to learn by yoking with Him and that is what we are to teach as we make disciples. We find rest by loving people like Jesus loved, by serving people like Jesus served, by forgiving people like Jesus forgave. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, not the produce of our own efforts.

 

I conclude with these thoughts from Kevin DeYoung, “We all have a cross to carry. But it’s a cross that kills our sins, smashes our idols, and teaches us the folly of self-reliance. It’s a cross that says I’ll do anything to follow Jesus, not a cross that says I have to do everything for Jesus.”[47] (emphasis original to author) DeYoung concludes, “But if Jesus is any example, God does expect us to say no to a whole lot of good things so that we can be freed up to say yes to the most important things he has for us.”[48]

 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon and Terence Peter Crosby, 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 1998), 57. Col 3:15 states, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Paul says similarly in Phil 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Cf. Mark 4:35-41.

 

[2] I am alluding to both Hb 4:1-16 and Hb 12:12-17 when I use the phrase, “falls short of God’s grace.”

 

[3] See Sermon #7 where I explain about the Hebrew word nephesh translated “soul” in Jer 6:16 which Jesus quotes in Mt 11:29, “you will find rest for your souls.”

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:28–30.

[5] Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992), 340.

[6] Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992), 375.

[7] See previous sermon touching on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and how Jesus intensified the teachings of Moses to such a place that it is impossible to keep the Law by a matter of the will; it is foolish to even try.

 

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 10:39. Stanton explains, “The closing verses of the gospel are particularly important. At 28.18 it is not ‘Come to me’, but ‘Go, make disciples of all nations’. In both cases it is the authoritative teaching of Jesus which is central: ‘learn from me’ (11.29) and ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (28.20). In chapter 11 the demand of discipleship is tempered with the promise of rest; in chapter 28 the promise to those engaged in the task of making disciples of all nations is the presence of the Risen Christ” (Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew [Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992], 376).

[9] Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992), 377.

[10] To understand this teaching and the role of the Holy Spirit in its fulfillment, read Jn 14:12-31.

[11] Stanton gives us the Jewish context for “yoke”, but also a strong conclusion for what Jesus is meaning when He uses this word in Mt 11:30: “‘Yoke’ is also used in Jewish writings in a much wider sense in phrases such as ‘the yoke of heaven’ ‘the yoke of God’; the term expresses a relation of absolute dependence” (Graham Stanton, A Gospel For a New People: Studies in Matthew [Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark Ltd, 1992], 375). This is also reflected clearly in the Sermon on the Mount, especially Jesus’ teaching on prayer, specifically Matthew 6:11.

 

[12] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Matthew,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1473. Van Alstine and Opperwall confirm this view, “With their legalism the Pharisees of NT times made the law of God a very heavy yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1). By contrast, Jesus stated that the yoke of His discipline was refreshing and easy to bear (Mt. 11:29f.)” (G. A. Van Alstine and N. J. Opperwall, “Yoke; Yoke-Bar,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 1165).

[13] John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 23:4.

 

[14] I am not saying there will be no works in your life as works are a necessary “fruit” in your life in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ. As Eph 2:10 says, there will be plenty of good works to walk in for the disciple of Jesus, but those works will flow from the life of Christ, not for a life with Christ. I am reminded again of Dallas Willard saying, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.” Listen to Michael Heiser explain the theology, “In the New Testament, works were essential to salvation (Jas 2:14–26), but they were never the meritorious cause of salvation; God owed salvation to no one on the basis of works. This is not contrary to Paul’s assertion that no one was justified by works. James and Paul could thus be fused this way: ‘For by grace are you saved through faith, which without works is dead’ (Eph 2:8; Jas 2:17). No element can be eliminated. Jesus said that a tree (and hence a believer) was known by its fruit (Matt 12:33). If an individual does not have works (‘fruit’), there is no evidence of salvation. The presence of works is essential for calling someone a believer. But works do not put God in the position of owing salvation. Salvation comes by faith in Christ (its object), which produces works. Both must be present” (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017], 78). (Emphasis original to author)

[15] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:17–20. “Matthew 5:17 records Jesus saying, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.’ Many of Jesus’ teachings find halakic parallels in the Mishnah” (John C. Johnson, “Mishnah,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016]).

[16] Michael Heiser explains, “In all this, Israelites could not do the works of the law and then presume God owed them salvation. God was in relationship with Israel because he chose to be in that relationship—he chose this before obedience was any issue. God extended grace by calling Abraham; Abraham believed, and then Abraham showed that belief by obedience (Rom 4). The concept “circumcision of the heart” is telling in regard to the balance of faith and works. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant. Since performing it required human activity, it could be thought of as a good work. God desired obedience—the submission of one’s will—on this matter. ‘Circumcision of the heart’ speaks of a heart that believes, not a work. It is a heart submitted to God, not merely the will. A circumcised heart was a believing heart, and it was essential for right relationship to God (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 31:33; 32:39, 40; Ezek 11:19; 36:26, 27)” (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017], 79–80).

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 2:19–21.

 

[18] C. H. Spurgeon, “Sin Immeasurable,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 6 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1860), 105. Heiser insightfully explains that the Old Covenant was not devoid of grace in and of itself, “In the Old Testament law and the sacrificial system, failure was inevitable; fellowship with God would inevitably be broken. Moreover, humans were impure by nature and unable to approach the perfect divine presence. The book of Leviticus indicates that people could purge (“atone for”) the impurity caused by sin and transgression through sacrifice, which resulted in forgiveness (Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7; Num 15:25–28). But they did not earn forgiveness; God provided the entire means of forgiveness—the sacrificial system—through his grace. God was not forced to provide a means of atonement or reveal what he would accept for atonement. The means of restoring fellowship with God was an extension of God’s grace” (Michael S. Heiser, The Bible Unfiltered: Approaching Scripture on Its Own Terms [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017], 80).

 

[19] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 16:31–33.

 

[20] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), ch. 8. While DeYoung also affirms the following beliefs about the Sabbath for NT believers. He quotes G.K. Beale’s three conclusions, “First, the seventh-day commemoration in Gen. 2:3 and Israel’s Sabbath ordinance is transferred to the first day of the week because of Christ’s resurrection. Second, Israel’s way of observing the Sabbath, with all its detailed requirements, falls away, and there is a return to the creational mandate. The observance of this mandate is a day of commemoration of God’s creative rest, a celebration that Christ has entered that rest, that believers have begun to enter such rest, and a pointing forward to believers completely entering that rest. In addition, Christ’s coming fulfills Israel’s unique Sabbath commandment, since he is Israel’s Messiah, accomplishing Israel’s end-time exodus and representing true Israel and the end-time temple.”

 

[21] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 5:2–5.

[22] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 3:1-3; 5:1.

[23] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:4.

 

[24] James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 434.

[25] Craig S. Keener, Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Mt 11:28.

 

[26] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 10:14–16.

[27] Spurgeon preached, “‘Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ This is the second instruction. It brings with it a further rest that we ‘find.’ The first rest he gives through his death. The second we find in copying his life. This is no correction of the former statement but an addition. First, we rest by faith in Jesus, and next we rest through obedience to him. Rest from fear is followed by rest from the turbulence of inward passion and the drudgery of self. We shall not only rest from the guilt of sin—this he gives us—but we shall rest in the peace of holiness which we find through obedience to him. ‘Come to me’ is thus a divine prescription, curing our ills by the pardon of sin through our Lord’s sacrifice and causing us the greatest peace by sanctifying us to his service” (Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible: Notes [Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017], 1298). (emphasis original)

[28] Jan Johnson explains, “What we can expect to hear from God in the quiet of contemplative prayer are the words ‘I am with you,’ ‘I delight in you,’ ‘I see your faults and invite you to come to Me.’ ‘Prayer,’ says Thomas Merton, ‘especially meditation and contemplative prayer, is not so much a way to find God as a way of resting in him who we have found, who loves us, who is near to us, who comes to us to draw us to himself’” (Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, ed. Dallas Willard and David Hazard [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999], 181).

 

[29] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 4:9.

[30] C. H. Spurgeon, “How to Keep the Heart,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 4 (London; Glasgow: Passmore & Alabaster; James Paul; George John Stevenson; George Gallie, 1858), 126.

 

[31] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

[32] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 16:18.

 

[33] C. H. Spurgeon and Terence Peter Crosby, 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 1998), 28. I defend that the Holy Spirit is doing this work through God’s people.

 

[34] I was introduced to this concept by Pheme Perkins who describes Matthew’s efforts to avoid the NT churches making Jesus’ invitation a new and updated version of “Christian Pharisaism.” Perkins writes, “Others are overly influenced by the teachings and practices of the Pharisees and may even be seeking to establish a form of ‘Christian Pharisee’ within the Church. Matthew counters that threat by intensifying the traditional tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees into bitter accusations against the Jewish teachers for being hypocrites, who only seek to place heavy burdens on the backs of the people and to advance their own honor and glory (6:1–6, 16–18; 23:1–36). Matthew carefully avoids the dangers of Christian Pharisaism by insisting that Jesus’ ‘yoke’ (an expression used of obedience to the Torah) is a light burden (11:28–30). It focuses on what really counts in the Torah: justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23). The Christian who follows Jesus’ righteousness recognizes that it comes from the ‘suffering servant’ who bears the spirit of God in order to make God’s justice victorious among the nations (12:15–21)” (Pheme Perkins, “Ethics: New Testament,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 659).

 

[35] “Lenten Meditation: Resting in the Yoke” https://briarcroft.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/lenten-meditation-resting-in-the-yoke/ (Last accessed January 25, 2019).

[36] I have heard it said that some people have just enough of religion to make them miserable. This is the primary issue for why a Christian person can be saved, but be miserable. They are not finding rest in His yoke!

 

[37] Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, ed. Dallas Willard and David Hazard (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 138–139.

[38] “It was God’s will at creation that the sabbath have the purpose of serving mankind for rest and bring blessing. The Son of Man as Lord determines the true meaning of the sabbath. The sabbath activities of Jesus are neither hurtful provocations nor mere protests against rabbinic legal restrictions, but are part of Jesus’ essential proclamation of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in which man is taught the original meaning of the sabbath as the recurring weekly proleptic ‘day of the Lord’ in which God manifests his healing and saving rulership over man” (Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 855).

 

[39] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013) ch. 5.

[40] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

 

[41] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jas 4:6–8. NASB formatting of an OT quote is all caps.

[42] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Pe 5:5–8. Both are quoting Prov 3:34.

[43] Jesus calls us friends because He not only desires relationship, but also partnership with us. Listen to Van Alstine and Opperwall, “Believers are never to forget the radical difference between the dynamic of their life in Christ and the operating principles governing the world. Forming alliances that unite these two alien motivations is like plowing a field with an ox (a “clean” animal) and an ass (an “unclean” animal) yoked together (see Dt. 22:10; cf. 14:3–8)” (G. A. Van Alstine and N. J. Opperwall, “Yoke; Yoke-Bar,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988], 1165).

 

[44] As the Apostle Paul stated in Ga 6:7-9, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

[45] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 13:34–35. We should not add to that which has been made lighter for us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Bernard of Clairvaux is quoted as saying, “What can be lighter than a burden which takes our burdens away, and a yoke which bears up the bearer himself?” (“Called to Advent—yoking” https://briarcroft.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/called-to-advent-yoking/ [Last accessed on June 25, 2019]).

[46] Ulrich Luz explains, “The Christian cliché of the Torah as a collection of many confusing and senseless individual commandments has made it difficult to understand the text (as well as Judaism). Such an interpretation was significantly reinforced by the Enlightenment. Here the fullness “of Pharisaic regulations and ceremonies” was every bit as cumbersome as the Christian yoke ‘of dogmas and secret doctrines.’ Kant thus understood the easy yoke of Christ as the moral law of the mature person. It consists of the duties that everyone ‘can regard as imposed on him by himself and through his own reason; and that yoke he therefore … takes upon himself freely.’ Therefore ‘only the moral laws …’ are ‘divine commands.’ Basically Kant’s answer is not so far removed from the classical Christian answer. Thomas Aquinas, for example, tried to achieve a balance between Matt 5:19 and the antitheses on the one hand and Matt 11:28 on the other by claiming that the ceremonial law was invalidated and at the same time by stating that Christ added little to the natural law. Thus the heavy burden is the Jewish law, the easy yoke is the lex evangelica. On a deeper level Maldonat sees four reasons why the Jewish law is a hard yoke: (1) the infinite … number of precepts that exceed the natural law; (2) the penalties for transgressing the law that are based on a spirit of fear and servitude; (3) the coercion in the law and the free expression of love in the gospel; and (4) the gift of the Holy Spirit that is lacking in the old covenant. The most perceptive response, however, is probably that of Augustine: ‘Whatever is hard in what is demanded of us, love makes easy’” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001], 172–173).

[47] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

 

[48] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), ch. 5.


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus (Week 7)

“Finding Rest for Your Soul!”

Part 7 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

 Are you overwhelmed? Are there more “should” and “wants” in your life than there is time in the day? Do you remain constantly connected because of the fear of missed opportunities?

 

We must replace FOMO “Fear of Missed Opportunities” with JOMO “Joy of Missing Opportunities,” but to do this we must be in a restful place—in our souls! Writing on this subject, one MD wrote, “According to a recent survey on LinkedIn, 70 percent of employees admit that when they take a vacation, they don’t disconnect from work. Our digital habits, which include constantly checking messages, emails, and social media timelines, have become so entrenched, it is nearly impossible to simply enjoy the moment, along with the people with whom we are sharing these moments.”[1] Listen to this poem about JOMO by Michael Leunig,

 

Oh the joy of missing out.

When the world begins to shout

And rush towards that shining thing;

The latest bit of mental bling–

Trying to have it, see it, do it,

You simply know you won’t go through it;

The anxious clamoring and need

This restless hungry thing to feed.

Instead, you feel the loveliness;

The pleasure of your emptiness.

You spurn the treasure on the shelf

In favor of your peaceful self;

Without regret, without a doubt.

Oh the joy of missing out[2]

 

Pastor Kevin DeYoung, wrote a book in 2013 that I needed then, but didn’t find until now. I didn’t find it because I wasn’t searching for rest. It is called, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem, and it diagnoses a real FOMO for many Christians:

 

The Bible is a big book, and there’s a lot in there. So the Bible says a lot about the poor, about marriage, about prayer, about evangelism, about missions, about justice; it says a lot about a lot. Almost any Christian can make a case that their thing should be the main thing or at least one of the most important things. It’s easy for preachers and leaders, or just plain old Christian friends, to pound away at “more”—we should pray more, give more, show hospitality more, share our faith more, read our Bibles more, volunteer more. Doing something about the global AIDS crisis, tackling homelessness, getting water to an impoverished village—these overwhelm me… Along with some of the advice I’ve gotten about pastoral ministry: make sure you do a few hours of counseling a week; make sure you are working to develop leaders every week; make sure you are doing one-on-one discipleship every week; make sure you do a few hours of evangelism every week; make sure you reserve half a day for reading every week; make sure you are spending time in Greek and Hebrew every week. Who is sufficient for these things? But getting to the place where my conscience can rest has been a process. I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived (1 Cor. 4:4), and it’s not how God wants us to live, either (Rom. 12:1–2). Either we are guilty of sin—like greed, selfishness, idolatry—and we need to repent, be forgiven, and change. Or something else is going on. It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, “do more or disobey” is not the best thing we can say.[3] (my emphasis added)

 

This astute pastor was ahead of his time. Before the concept of JOMO was popular (hang on because this one is going to stick around for a while), Pastor DeYoung was diagnosing diligent Christians with a religious FOMO that was robbing us of the JOMO that can only be found by living in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ.

 

I invite you into the crossroads opportunity that this “Rest” series has been to each of us. Jesus is inviting you to make 2019 a year of experiencing JOMO—the healthy and balanced life of saying “no” to keeping up with others because you daily say yes to staying in the yoke with Jesus Christ. Or 2019 will be more of the same FOMO that fuels the daily fatigue of missing out and frustration of comparison. Who doesn’t want more from their life? I don’t know about you, but I can’t add one more item to my schedule or put another should or could in my mind or heart!

 

What is the antidote to our over-committed, over-connected, and hyper-productive lifestyles?

 

 

Finding Rest for Your Soul

 

JOMO is found in the yoke of Jesus Christ! We are going to learn exactly what Jesus’ promise is and why it’s important to living the abundant life. Listen to Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”[4] (caps original to NASB, bold added for emphasis)

 

The key to this is simply found in a truth you all know: You will never find rest when you are searching for more! How do we find the promised rest for our souls?

 

First, I want to focus on the word “find” in Jesus’ promise: “and you will find…” (v. 29). In v. 28 Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

 

Jesus’ promise of “I will give you rest” is an indicative verb in the 1st person, future tense, and active voice, meaning Jesus will do this (it’s a factual reality that will happen) for those who come to Him. Jesus is our Sabbath rest.[5]

 

Jesus’ invitation of “Come to Me” is in the adverbial form meaning it modifies the promise of Jesus as applying to those who come to Him. Additionally, the original Greek word for “come” is the same word used for “follow” in Jesus’ classic invitation to discipleship. In Mark 1:17, Jesus invites, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”[6] Jesus trains His first disciples by inviting them to walk with Him. As they spend time with Jesus (in His yoke, carrying their cross, abiding in the vine, walking in His footsteps, listening to His voice, drinking His blood and eating His flesh), they become like Jesus and do that which Jesus does.[7]

 

We have the same dynamic in Matthew 11:28-30. In verse 29 Jesus commands, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart.” The yoke is Jesus’ teachings: His commands and His actions are reinforced and solidified by us experiencing His personal example of being “gentle and humble in heart.” Jesus is not inviting us to have a fairy-tale salvation where we once-upon-a-time said a prayer and now everything is going to be happily-ever-after. Jesus never says that, hints at that, or promises that! Yes, it starts there, with a prayer of a humble heart that repents by casting down all other yokes to take on the yoke of Jesus, which is putting your personal trust in Jesus as master over and teacher of your life.[8]

 

Think about this in terms of becoming an apprentice to a master or a student to a personal tutor.[9]

 

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus’ promise is for the abundant life as promised in John 10:10.[10] It is critical that you see this connection because Matthew 11:28-30 is a call to Christian discipleship. The promise of “I will give you rest” demands a response: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden.” The “Come to Me” response is then overtly unpacked in two imperatives—taking on Jesus’ yoke and learning from Jesus, the One who submitted to His Father’s will in all things.

 

This is how you will find rest for your souls, by doing the same as Jesus! Jesus was not only completely submitted to His Father’s will, but also to His Father’s grace to accomplish His will. Jesus is not inviting you to try to do Christianity on your own power, to save yourself, but to trust Jesus at His promise by practically coming under His teaching and learning from Him. The Holy Spirit in and through you will flow out of your response to His promise in word and deed. Never the other way around.[11]

 

Which brings us back to the key: You will never find rest when you are searching for more!

 

Matthew 11:29 finishes, “and you will find rest for your souls.” The words “you will find” are the one original Greek verb εὑρίσκω (indicative verb, 2nd person, active voice, future tense) which according to BDAG means “to attain a state or condition, find (for oneself), obtain.”[12]

 

What is Jesus offering us when He uses the word “soul” in His promise? We are examining the Hebrew word נֶ֫פֶשׁ (nephesh or nepeš) because Jesus is quoting the OT passage of Jeremiah 6:16. Let’s watch this video from The Bible Project on the Hebrew word nephesh: https://thebibleproject.com/videos/nephesh-soul/.

 

Listen to how Jesus overlaps the words “find” and “soul” in two other verses in the Gospel of Matthew: Verse 10:39, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” And verse 16:25, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.[13] (emphasis added)

 

You find rest for your soul by being in the yoke of Jesus and learning from Him, by having the smartest person who ever lived right there with you through ever situation in the school of life. The Master Teacher’s learning objective for this life is your sanctification.[14] Sanctification simply stated is becoming the best version of you to the glory of God and the good of others, which Jesus taught is through His perfect example of submission to His Father.

 

The antidote to always wanting more from the world is focusing the essence of our living being on wanting to be more like Jesus Christ. When our ambition is for our holiness and not our happiness, then we will experience JOMO (the antidote to FOMO). You will never find happiness when you make happiness your ambition. You were designed to worship and you will worship. The problem is that if you worship anyone or anything other than Jesus, you will destroy both yourself and the object of your worship. That is why many are being twice-over destroyed by their lifestyles because they are worshipping their own happiness and comfort.

 

We cannot put ourselves under our own stewardship and take on the yoke of our own lordship.[15]

 

We learn to live a restful life by being with the One who teaches us how to rest in submission to another. Jesus does not remove the Law, He fulfills and becomes Lord over it—the Mediator between God and humanity. We walk in the law by walking with Jesus, not by trying to keep it by our own will power and good intentions. J. Knox Chamblin unpacks this concept for us in a helpful way, “One experiences the sabbath rest precisely by keeping the sabbath command; and it is rest not just for the ‘soul’ (so most translations of 11:29c), but for the body as well. Yet, this only happens for persons intimately related to ‘the Lord of the Sabbath’ (12:8). In Jesus’ hands, the law is an instrument of grace, a guide for loving God and neighbor. Wielded by alien powers (demonic or human), the law becomes enslaving and destructive.”[16]

 

When we are not living as Jesus’ apprentice (being in His yoke moment by moment), the “thief” (who Jesus contrasts to Himself and His abundance with in John 10:10) jumps in to “steal, kill, and destroy.” To illustrate this in an everyday reality of being a capable human being: It is a daily occurrence to think that you’ve got this (whatever the this is, you know how to do it or you’ll figure it out) and you might, but so does the devil and he just loves watching you jump all over it without yoking with Jesus first. He loves that you think you can handle this one on your own (apply a little common sense, then put a dash of human spirit into it, if that doesn’t work exert the fulness of your personality to get it done and presto: You are B.U.S.Y. “BEING UNDER SATAN’S YOKE!” Jesus never ever wants you to be in that yoke, but remember Jesus is “Gentle” and He will not force you into His yoke, but He sure does give you a lot of incentive to get it on and learn from Him! Jesus has offered you His rest under those conditions.

 

Will you accept them? If not, expect FOMO to take over or to keep feeding your current lifestyle choices.

 

The bottom line of this sermon is that Jesus is inviting us to be His apprentice, to become like Him. We will find rest when we submit to the one whom we call master, just liked Jesus submitted to His Father to the point of death, even death on a cross! JOMO feels like death to those who feel are addicted, caught up in their current lifestyle. But when you yoke with Jesus, you will have so much more time, energy, and healthy emotional bandwidth for what He would have you do with your life, your true priorities. Here are some six helpful action items[17]:

 

  1. Be intentional with your time:Schedule things that are important to you whether it is working out, meeting a friend for coffee, writing that book or completing a work project. Make your time your priority instead of wasting time worrying about what other individuals are doing or thinking.

 

  1. Give yourself permission to live in the present:If you are having a bad day, be easy on yourself and treat yourself to a relaxing evening. If you just received good news, then take a moment to embrace it and celebrate. If you feel that you are in constant competition with someone on social media, then re-assess why you are feeling this way.
  2. Embrace tech-free time:Unsubscribe from social media accounts and un-follow individuals who trigger your FOMO or cause you any type of negativity. Set daily limits to how long you can spend on social media or delete certain social media apps from your phone so you can only status scroll when you are at home on your computer.
  3. Practice saying “No”:You do not always have to go to that event or take that phone call. Sometimes saying, “no” is the best kind of self-love. Even if you want to help someone but feel it will have a negative impact on yourself, say “no,” in order to protect yourself. Self-care and self-love start by saying, “no.”
  4. Experience real life (not social media life):JOMO allows you to have more free time by eliminating wasted time spent scrolling social media feeds. Instead of spending your free moments by the drama of social media, email and text messages; what if you chose to disconnect and do the things that you enjoy such as cooking, spending time outdoors, and spending time with your family.
  5. Slow down:Take time to think before you speak, embrace the quiet, use time driving in traffic or waiting in lines to sit with your thoughts or listen to a book. Slowing down can increase our creativity, which we can harvest into other productive avenues and projects in our life.

 

The Context of Jeremiah 6:16

 

Jesus quoting Jeremiah 6:16 calls us to a true and lasting peace with God, not a white-washed tomb, like the Pharisees. Jesus promises to give us peace as His apprentices (the indicative) and as we walk with Him as His apprentices (the imperatives) we will find rest. God created us as living people who find rest in Him when we choose to walk in obedience to His ways—it’s in our design and it is how we find our freedom from slavery and fulfillment in this life![18]

 

Jesus’ yoke is His teaching. It is His lordship. It is His salvation.[19] This is Jesus inviting us into God’s covenant shalom by walking according to His way, the way of the Messiah.[20] As John testified, “By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”[21] We know we are in Christ when our lives are a daily testimony of the shema of Israel: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”[22] Because then it is a comprehensive, whole-person rest that brings peace within both the person and throughout the community. We become carriers of God’s peace by having God’s rest.

 

The promises to Israel in Deuteronomy 6 are included in the promises to those who answer the invitation to take on Jesus’ yoke and learn from Him: rest for our nephesh (“soul”): “Nephesh teaches us that all of who we are matters, that both our bodies and souls matter in the great story of the Bible. Our bodies and souls matter at the Creation, in the Fall, and in Redemption.”[23] This is why Jesus invites you to choose life and not death, blessings and not curses, just like the prophets called Israel over and over again throughout the OT, crying out “return to Me!”[24] Jesus is intentionally quoting Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.”[25] Jesus is fulfilling the promise![26]

 

Jesus doesn’t pull a verse out of context, Jesus pulls the whole context into His invitation. Jesus is calling the people of Israel back to the way of healthy community as God’s chosen people, which is the way of rest in His easy yoke, the way of a sincere relationship with God.[27] Listen to the three verses before Jeremiah 6:16 to help you really understand the context:

 

For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be cast down,” says the Lord.[28]

 

This is serious! God’s people are in grave danger at this time in history (6th Century BC) because they are not trusting in God or walking in the ways of God taught to them through God’s Law given through Moses. So God sent prophet after prophet to them to remind them, but they still won’t listen![29] So God sent His Son to make the final invitation to God’s people.

 

Jesus is intentionally creating a clear connection between not only the Old Covenant prophet Jeremiah and His promise of rest, but also the state of apostasy God’s people are in when God sends them a messenger of grace to respond to His invitation to find rest. In Deuteronomy 28:65, God proclaims the danger of not choosing His ancient paths, “Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.”[30] Jesus is saying all that He says in Matthew 11:28-30 directly after He denounces cities for their apostasy in Matthew 11:20-27. As J. Knox Chamblin very succinctly declares, “Jesus’ overture of grace (Matt. 11:28–30) is sounded in the presence of persons already threatened with condemnation (cf. 11:6, 16–24). If they refuse this invitation, what hope can remain for them?”[31] (emphasis original)

 

Jesus is crying out compassionately to God’s chosen people to no longer follow the ways of the hypocritical religious leaders who put burdens of the Law on people but aren’t even willing to lift a finger. Rest is the gift to the one who trusts in the Promise Giver enough to put their life in the yoke! This is the new way of living, the life of the Spirit. As Paul defined, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”[32]

 

The invitation to find rest has gone out![33] The Hebrew phrase, “and you will find rest for your souls” is God’s gracious invitation to experience Gods’ shalom to the comprehensive essence of the whole human life, your “totality.”[34] Remember, nephesh, by an Old Testament understanding, cannot and should not be separated from the life of the whole person—body and spirit. The soul, according to the Bible, is not part of a person, it is the person created by and responsive to God.[35] That is why it is important to see Jeremiah’s invitation in Jeremiah 6:16 in its proper light and why Jesus quotes it: “The prophet calls the community to a wholesome life in which the needs and rights of all under God are recognized and met.”[36]

 

 

Israel’s Decision is our Invitation to Respond

 

Israel’s decision to God’s crossroads invitation is so painful to hear when you know what is going to happen if they reject God’s gracious invitation to find rest for their souls. When Jeremiah first made this appeal to God’s people, it was with Babylon threating to take them out of the Promised Land—the “land of rest.”[37] It pains me to read this last line of Jeremiah 6:16 after such a gracious invitation, “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.[38] God hands them over to their choice: Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed by the Babylonian army in 586 BC and God’s chosen people are exiled for 70 years in Babylon. Yahweh had put before Israel the choice of following His “ancient paths” or worshipping pagan gods. They chose the latter to their own destruction, what will you choose?

 

What will be our response to Jesus’ invitation to find rest for our souls? Our response to this invitation will directly impact every aspect of not only our personal lives, but our church’s health and our communities’ well-being as well. Jesus is giving us the key to fulfill His mandates in the world as His disciples. We are to work from a place of soul-rest![39]

 

Jesus is inviting us to know the rest of God through a growing daily relationship of how we live our lives. Jesus’ rest is for Heaven one day, but it is also for His presence in your life today, the here and now! Are you resting in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ? If you are, then you will know it because you will experience the rest of your whole living being.[40] You will live in JOMO!

 

If you are not, then you will know it because God loves you enough to allow you to experience what it feels like to live outside of His Promised Land—in FOMO!

 

We only are willing to take on the easy yoke of Jesus when we realize the crushing weight of all other yokes![41]

 

Are you experiencing rest for your soul? Are you experiencing JOMO?

 

You will never find rest when you are searching for more!

 

The rest Jesus offers you is for your whole being—all of you, every day, in every season of life, in any job you are or are not doing, and in your current relational status you are experiencing.

 

Rest is for you right now, embrace Jesus…
 
For more information:
 
Click HERE for a link to an unpublished paper by Jerry concerning the meaning of the soul entitled, An Old Testament Understanding of the Human Soul.”
 
 
Footnotes:
 

[1] Kristen Fuller, MD. “JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out” (Psychology Today, July 26, 2018). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201807/jomo-the-joy-missing-out [last accessed February 15, 2019]. Click on this article for some very sensible and culturally savvy application to this sermon. I integrate ideas into my applications. This article represents something very exciting to me: science is catching up to what Jesus taught humanity thousands of years ago. Jesus is truly the smartest person who ever lived.

 

[2] Quoted by Kristen Fuller, MD. “JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out” (Psychology Today, July 26, 2018). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201807/jomo-the-joy-missing-out [last accessed February 15, 2019].

[3] Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:28–30.

            [5] Hebrews 4:1-11 is a succinct teaching on the rest of God in the NT. Gerhard Hasel makes the connection between the Old Covenant teaching of Sabbath and the New Covenant teaching of Jesus: “Hebrews 4:9 states, ‘There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.’ The words ‘sabbath rest’ translate the Gk noun sabbatismos, a unique word in the NT. This term appears also in Plutarch (Superst. 3 [Moralia 166a]) for sabbath observance, and in four post-canonical Christian writings which are not dependent on Heb 4:9 (Justin Dial. 23:3; Epiph. Panar. haer. 30, 2.2; Martyrdom of Peter and Paul, chap. 1; Const. Apost. 2.36.2) for seventh-day ‘sabbath celebration’ (Hofius 1970:103–5). The author of Hebrews affirms in Heb 4:3–11, through the joining of quotations from Gen 2:2 and Ps 95:7, that the promised “sabbath rest” still anticipates a complete realization ‘for the people of God’ in the eschatological end-time which had been inaugurated with the appearance of Jesus (1:1–3). ‘Sabbath rest’ within this context is not equated with a future, post-eschaton sabbath celebration in the heavenly sanctuary; it is likewise not experienced in the rest that comes in death. The experience of ‘sabbath rest’ points to a present ‘rest’ (katapausis) reality in which those ‘who have believed are entering’ (4:3) and it points to a future ‘rest’ reality (4:11). Physical sabbath-keeping on the part of the new covenant believer as affirmed by ‘sabbath rest’ epitomizes cessation from ‘works’ (4:10) in commemoration of God’s rest at creation (4:4 = Gen 2:2) and manifests faith in the salvation provided by Christ. Heb 4:3–11 affirms that physical ‘sabbath rest’ (sabbatismos) is the weekly outward manifestation of the inner experience of spiritual rest (katapausis) in which the final eschatological rest is proleptically experienced already ‘today’ (4:7). Thus ‘sabbath rest’ combines in itself creation-commemoration, salvation-experience, and eschaton-anticipation as the community of faith moves toward the final consummation of total restoration and rest” (Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 855–856).

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mk 1:17. Jesus is promising the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of those who follow Him. I will make you into the best version of you to do the Father’s will through your life. The Holy Spirit will work in and through you to fulfill the Father’s will through the Father’s grace. Follow Me!

 

[7] In this sentence I allude to some of the declarative statements of Jesus that clearly teach that we have no life and can do nothing of God apart from Him. Here are just a few: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 10:38–39). “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” (Jn 6:53). “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus unapologetically establishes Himself as our fulfillment.

[8] C.H. Spurgeon preached about Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28, “Here is the gracious invitation of the gospel in which the Savior’s tears and smiles were blended, as in a covenant rainbow of promise. ‘Come.’ He drives none away. He calls them to himself. His favorite word is ‘come.’ Not ‘go’ to Moses but, ‘Come to me.’ To Jesus we must come by a personal trust. Not to doctrine, ordinance, or ministry are we first to come but to the personal Savior. All laboring and weary ones may come. He does not limit the call to the spiritually laboring, but every working and wearied one is called. Jesus calls me. Jesus promises ‘rest’ as his gift. His immediate, personal, effectual rest he freely gives to all who come to him by faith. To come to him is the first step, and he invites us to take it. In himself, as the great sacrifice for sin, the conscience, the heart, the understanding obtain complete rest. When we have obtained the rest he gives, we will be ready to hear of a further rest that we find” (Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible: Notes [Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017], 1298). (emphasis original)

[9] “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master” (Mt 10:24-25).

[10] In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Now contrast this with Mt 11:28-30: In Jn 10:10, Jesus contrasts the life with Him (“have [life] abundantly”) versus the life with Satan (“the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy”), whereas in Mt 11:28-30, Jesus, by quoting Je 6:16 is contrasting the life in the yoke of God (“rest”) with the life yoked to anything but God (“weary and heavy-laden”). Life in the easy yoke of Jesus is the abundant life! In any other yoke, you are giving yourself over to the thief, rather than the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

 

[11] Imperatives always follow Indicatives! Just like in Romans, all the imperatives of the Christian life (Rom 12—16) flow out of the teaching of the gospel (Romans 1—11). If you look for what “to do” before you see what “Jesus has already done” then you will end up “weary and heavy-laden.” The Christian life is always one of personal response in Jesus’ Name, never one of personal initiative for Jesus’ Name! What damage has been done in the name of Jesus because someone wanted to christen their ambition. Cf. Phil 2:5-11. Remember, good fruit points to a good root and vice versa, when we see bad fruit in our lives go back to the root.

 

[12] The entire entry from BDAG states, “to attain a state or condition, find (for oneself), obtain. The mid. is used in this sense in Attic wr. (B-D-F §310, 1; Rob. 814; Phryn. p. 140 Lob.); in our lit. it occurs in this sense only Hb 9:12. As a rule our lit. uses the act. in such cases (poets; Lucian, Lexiph. 18; LXX; Jos., Ant. 5, 41) τὴν ψυχήν Mt 10:39; 16:25. ἀνάπαυσιν (Sir 11:19; 22:13; 28:16; 33:26; ἄνεσιν ApcEsdr 5:10) ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν rest for your souls 11:29. μετανοίας τόπον have an opportunity to repent or for changing the (father’s) mind Hb 12:17. σκήνωμα τῷ θεῷ Ἰακώβ maintain a dwelling for the God of Jacob Ac 7:46b (Ps 131:5). χάριν obtain grace (SSol 8:10 v.l.) Hb 4:16. χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ obtain favor with God Lk 1:30; also ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ Ac 7:46a; GJs 11:2 (LXX as a rule ἐναντίον w. gen.; JosAs 15:14 ἐνώπιόν σου). ἔλεος παρὰ κυρίου obtain mercy from the Lord 2 Ti 1:18 (cp. Gen 19:19; Da 3:38).—The restoration [πίστιν εὑρ]ίσκομεν Ox 1081, 26 is not valid; on basis of the Coptic SJCh 90, 2 read w. Till p. 220 app.: [ταῦτα γιγν]ῴσκομεν.—B. 765; RAC VI, 985–1052. DELG. M-M. EDNT. TW” (William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 412). (emphasis original)

 

[13] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 10:39; 16:25. In v. 16:25 notice the linear connection between finding one’s self and being saved (σῴζω).

 

[14] The Apostle Paul captures this concept in Ro 6:12-23; 12:1-2; and 1 Thess 4:1-8.

 

[15] C.H. Spurgeon preached, “Oh be not rashly self-confident, Christian man. Be as confident as you can in your God, but be distrustful of yourself. Ye may yet become all that is vile and vicious, unless sovereign grace prevent and keep you to the end. But remember if you have been preserved, the crown of your keeping belongs to the Shepherd of Israel, and ye know who that is. For he hath said ‘I the Lord do keep it. I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.’ ‘Ye know who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before his presence with exceeding great joy.’ Then give all glory to the King immortal, invisible, the only wise God your Saviour, who has kept you thus” (C. H. Spurgeon, “Distinguishing Grace,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 5 [London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1859], 302). Cf. 1 Cor 10:12-13; Ecc 4:10.

 

[16] J. Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2010), 637.

 

[17] All six action items are quoted directly from Kristen Fuller, MD. “JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out” (Psychology Today, July 26, 2018). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201807/jomo-the-joy-missing-out [last accessed February 15, 2019]. (Emphasis added)

[18] Lawrence Richards comments on the crossroads of Jeremiah 6:16: “Each day brings us to new crossroads. Each day we must choose the good way, and walk in it. There is no peace like the inner peace that comes from knowing we have done what is right” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion, electronic ed. [Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991], 452).

 

[19] And rightly so because Jesus is the Messiah of Israel: “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn 14:6). Vanlaningham further explains, “The promise of rest was tied especially to the promises about the Son of David, the Messiah, providing security for the house of Israel (see Jr 23:5; 33:15–16; Ezk 34:15, 23–25; Am 9:11–15). That rest is found only in Jesus, and has eternal implications (Heb 4:1–11)” (Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Matthew,” in The Moody Bible Commentary [Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014], 1472). (emphasis original)

 

[20] John Mackay explains this in connection to our nephesh, “The reflection of this phrase in Matt. 11:29 is therefore not an improper application of what is in mind here, that true šālôm is found by following the path that leads to harmony with God. The focus is not primarily on some inner spiritual repose. Having ceased to trust in their own wisdom and having committed themselves to the path of trust in God, they would enjoy all the blessings that flow from covenant obedience. Their desires would be met and in the totality of their beings they would be vulnerable no more” (John L. Mackay, Jeremiah: An Introduction and Commentary: Chapters 1–20, vol. 1, Mentor Commentaries [Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2004], 280).

[21] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update,1 Jn 2:5–6. The context makes it clear that this is not a new concept. John MacKay explains, “But it is not enough merely to know which way leads to the correct destination. They must also walk in it. Having examined the options and ascertained which path they ought to take, they must then actually move along it. The lip-service of the Temple with all its acclamation of the Lord and the deeds of wonder he had done had to be accompanied by lives reoriented in word and act to his revelation of himself. In that way you will find rest for your souls. ‘Will find rest’ renders an imperative which may be used after the preceding imperatives to express a consequence intended or desired by the speaker (GKC §110f; Joüon §116f). ‘Rest’ (margôaʿ <√rāgaʿ II hiphil ‘to cease activity, be at rest’) occurs only here but margêaʿ is found in Isa. 28:12 describing the promised land as the resting place the Lord gave his people. The reflection of this phrase in Matt. 11:29 is therefore not an improper application of what is in mind here, that true šālôm is found by following the path that leads to harmony with God. It is, however, doubtful if the New Testament application warrants the translation here of lenapšəkem as ‘for your souls’ (so also NKJV and NRSV; for nepeš see on 2:34) rather than ‘for yourselves’ (REB). The focus is not primarily on some inner spiritual repose. Having ceased to trust in their own wisdom and having committed themselves to the path of trust in God, they would enjoy all the blessings that flow from covenant obedience. Their desires would be met and in the totality of their beings they would be vulnerable no more” (John L. Mackay, Jeremiah: An Introduction and Commentary: Chapters 1–20, vol. 1, Mentor Commentaries [Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2004], 279–280).

 

[22] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Dt 6:4–5. I invite you to read all of Dt 6 and see how deeply embedded in the Shema is the promise of rest for the people of God.

 

[23] Jerry D. Ingalls “An Old Testament Understanding of the Soul” (unpublished paper, 2018). If you would like a copy of this paper, please contact me or the FBC office.

 

[24] Read Dt 30:1-20; Neh 1:9; Isa 44:22; Jer 24:7; Joel 2:12; Amos 4:6-11; Zech 1:3; and Mal 3:7.

[25] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Je 6:16.

 

[26] Jesus is declaring that the New Covenant is found in Him and the rest of God (eschatological and temporal) is His to give to those who enter the New Covenant through a relationship with Him. The New Covenant was not new to Israel, but was promised by the ancient prophets to Israel: Is 42:6; 49:8; 54:10; 55:1-5; 59:21; 61:1-9; Jer 31:31-34; Ez 11:19; 36:26. Rest is not in our own efforts to fulfill the Law for that has proven impossible by the most diligent seekers (i.e. Jesus’ strong words against the Pharisees). Listen to Keith Mathison, “One of the most fundamental teachings found within the pre-exilic prophets is that Israel has failed to keep God’s covenant and that due to this failure to obey, judgment is coming. The history of Israel from the time of Moses onward is a history of almost continual disobedience and apostasy. Both Moses and Joshua had indicated that Israel was incapable of obeying God’s law, and Israel had proven them correct (cf. Deut. 31:16–18, 20–21; Josh. 24:19). Now exile is imminent, but God is promising restoration” (Keith Mathison, “The New Covenant – The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology” (Ligonier Ministries, April 9, 2012, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/new-covenant-unfolding-biblical-eschatology/  [last accessed February 15, 2019]).

 

[27] William Holladay explains, “What are the “paths of old” (נְתִבוֹת עוֹלָם)? J. Philip Hyatt suggests they are the ways of Moses. If the chronology of the present study is valid, they could well be the ways of Moses made known through the Deuteronomic law. The phrase דֶּרֶךְ הַטּוֹב does not mean ‘the good way’ (RSV, JB, which would require either two articles or no article), but rather ‘the way to good’ (so, with variations in phrasing, NEB, NAB, NJV). Yahweh begs the people to find the road back to healthy community: if the people walk on that road, they will find ‘repose’ (מַרְגּוֹעַ). This word is a hapax legomenon in the OT, but the related מַרְגֵּעַ in Isa 28:12 carries the same meaning: these nouns and the related verb רגע refer to surcease from international pressure; it is close to the current phrase ‘national security,’ the ability to live without constant tension and uneasiness before the threat of disaster from abroad. (The reflection of this phrase in Matt 11:29 has moved the center of meaning beyond purely national security!) The people refuse, however” (William Lee Holladay, Jeremiah 1: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Chapters 1–25, ed. Paul D. Hanson, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 221).

 

[28] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Je 6:13–15.

 

[29] “Judah had strayed from the ancient paths of God’s righteousness (cf. 31:21; Is 30:18–21). The Lord urged her to follow the good way and walk in it (Jr 7:23) to find rest for their souls. This important idea is by quoted by Jesus in Mt 11:29 (see comments there)” (Charles H. Dyer and Eva Rydelnik, “Jeremiah,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1120). (emphasis original)

[30] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Dt 28:65. As I have written previously, “Just as all of humanity has its origin in God alone, so will we only find wholeness and peace (shalom) when we experience the essence of our being in response to God’s covenant faithfulness (hesed) extended to us. God’s graceful initiation of covenant to which we are invited to respond is evidenced in every covenant God has established between Himself and humanity. For example, God’s initiation is witnessed to in the Mosaic Covenant (e.g. Ex 20:1-3) and in the New Covenant (e.g. 1 John 4:19). The choice is before each of us, but let us never forget that we are recipients of rest through acceptance of the terms of God’s graceful invitation.”

 

[31] (J. Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries [Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2010], 638).

 

[32] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ro 7:6. This teaching will be unpacked in Sermon #8. This “new way” is thoroughly unpacked by Dr. Larry Crabb’s The Pressure’s Off (WaterBrook, 2012).

 

[33] “What Yahweh promised in the Jeremiah passage, Jesus now promises to those who come to him and follow him in discipleship: he will give them rest for their souls, i.e., a realization of a deep existential peace, a shalom, or sense of ultimate well-being with regard to one’s relationship to God and his commandments (cf. the “rest,” κατάπαυσις, of Heb 4:3–10). In light of the rejection of Jesus, it is worth noting that following the invitation in Jeremiah are the words: “But they said: ‘We will not walk in it.’ ” This promise of rest relates directly to what is elsewhere in the NT called ‘salvation.’ As Betz puts it, ‘the logion of 11:28–30 is therefore theologically identical with the macarisms of the Sermon on the Mount’ (24)” (Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary [Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998], 324). (emphasis original)

 

[34] “Only one passage in the New Testament suggests a differentiation between body, soul, and spirit: 1 Thess 5:23. Since the Old Testament clearly sees two parts to humans (body and soul/spirit; material and immaterial), it is best to interpret this single verse the same way for theological consistency. Many scholars do not consider soul and spirit in this verse as discrete, separate items. This verse is similar to the shema (Deut 6:4; cf. Matt 22:37; Mark 12:29–30), which tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, and might. The point is totality, not that heart, soul, might (and mind in the gospel references) are separable. The Old Testament uses both nephesh and ruach to describe the source of these inner parts. Totality is also the point of Heb 4:12 (which actually uses four items, not three)” (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, First Edition. [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015], 41).

 

[35] “ נֶפֶשׁ does not mean the soul as one part of man but the whole man living his life in responsibility” (Eduard Schweizer, Georg Bertram, Albert Dihle, et al., “Ψυχή, Ψυχικός, Ἀνάψυξις, Ἀναψύχω, Δίψυχος, Ὀλιγόψυχος,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–], 636).

 

[36] J. R. Soza, “Jeremiah,” ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 226.

 

[37] John Barry comments from Hb 4:1, “‘Rest’ for the wilderness generation referred to the promised land, Canaan. In Canaan, the Israelites would be secure from enemies (Deut 12:9–10) and would no longer have to wander. In Gen 12:1–3, God promises Abraham land, a nation, and a great name. He also promises that Abraham will be a blessing to others. Abraham obtains these promises by persevering (Heb 6:15) and offering up his son, Isaac (11:17). Likewise, his wife, Sarah, conceived because she trusted in God (11:11). In contrast, the wilderness generation did not receive the promise of inheriting the land because they did not act faithfully and trust God. As the author of Hebrews reflects on his own generation, he urges them to strive toward the inheritance of the new covenant—God’s “rest”—enacted by trusting Him with their very lives (chs. 8–9)” (John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016], Heb 4:1).[37]

 

[38] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Je 6:16. The Greek word used for “walk” is translated from the Hebrew word הלך (hālakh) which has profound implications on this entire study. It is a rich OT word. It also directly informs Jesus’ phrase “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” and why Jesus used the “yoke” imagery with all of the layered meanings behind it for His Jewish audience. This study is just an introduction to our understanding of how to find rest for our souls because you can’t learn how to find rest by talking about it, you have to get in the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him! You can have a doctorate-level mastery of Mt 11:28-30 and still not be experiencing rest for your soul because the rest Jesus offers can only be learned if you “walk” in it.

 

                [39] From the conclusion of my previously referenced unpublished paper on the nephesh, “The church should never again say that it is focused on ‘saving souls’ if it is not also equally committed to ‘making disciples.’ In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus did not just invite part of a person to find rest in Him, but Jesus invited the whole person to walk in discipleship with Him. Christian discipleship is a lifestyle defined and determined by a response to an invitation. Just as the nephesh was spoken into existence by God, so the nephesh will find rest according to how it responds to the invitation of God. In Mark 1:17 Jesus’ invitation comes with a promise, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ Just as we must communicate to people about God’s invitation for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for their eternal destiny, so we must encourage them to go deeper into their relationship with Jesus to find fulfillment and abundance in the Christian life. The local church must care about not only people’s eternal destinies, but about their physical, emotional, relational, economic, and environmental well-being. Just as the nephesh (‘soul’) points to the whole life of a person, so the local church must care about and minister to a person’s whole life.”

 

[40] As the Apostle Paul taught over and over again with such statements as this, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Ro 6:11). Cf. Ro 6:2, 13; 7:4, 6; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Gal 2:19; Eph 2:1-6; Col 3:3; 1 Pet 2:24.

 

                [41] This is the yoke you are being invited to put on and this is the cross you are being invited to carry. Both seem heavy and burdensome when misunderstood. Neither of these images produces thoughts of rest, but both the yoke and the cross are Jesus the Master Teacher’s concrete analogies or conceptual metaphors to understand where true rest is found. It is found in Him and His teachings. To take Him on and learn from Him or to deny Him and do it your own way, is to choose the path you are going to take in the crossroad that we each find ourselves when confronted with Jesus Christ and His gospel. Taking the yoke of Jesus Christ is to take for yourself the ancient paths of following God (Je 6:16), which are fully revealed to you in Jesus the Christ and His teachings. Chamblin helpful unpacks this seeming paradox, “Once you obey those commands—‘take’ (arate) and ‘learn’ (mathete)—‘you will find rest for yourselves [tais psychais hymōn]’ (11:29c). Disciples find rest (the noun anapausis) because Jesus gives rest (the verb anapauō; 11:28); and paradoxically, they find rest by ‘taking up Jesus’ yoke’—by obeying his commands” (J. Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2010), 637).

 


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus (Week 6)

“Jesus, the Perfect Example!”

Part 5 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30
 

 

We have all heard it often enough when we invite people to church: “I don’t go to church because it is filled with hypocrites.” Often, the way I handle this is by validating this very real concern that we imperfect Christians do not consistently enough live up to the perfect example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then, with a big smile on my face so that they know I am kidding, I say, “There is always room for one more.” While this disarms the tension between us and acknowledges the truth behind their critique of most of our churches, it doesn’t adequately deal with the painful reality of the damage churches and church-goers are doing to the reputation and mission of Jesus.

 

Today, I want us to learn how we can be a congregation that does not add more evidence to the criticism that churches are filled with hypocrites. Today, I want you to stop trying to act like a church-goer and to start being a disciple/apprentice of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want you to try to act like Him if you are not first walking along the way with Him and learning from Him in the daily school of life. Jesus invites you to be with Him, to become His apprentice, to come close and learn from Him. Jesus is not only the Master Teacher, but He is also the Master Example of what He wants us to learn.[1] Jesus promises that we will find the rest that He alone promises to give. That is a guarantee that you don’t want to miss out on! But to find something, you must first be in a posture of the heart that says I am still seeking what God has promised.[2]

 

In today’s sermon we are going to learn exactly what the posture of our heart is supposed to be. Listen to the way Jesus describes the posture of His heart in v. 29 of Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”[3]

 

 

What does it mean that Jesus described Himself as “gentle[4] and humble[5] in heart[6]”?

 

First, I want to reiterate that Jesus is making one comprehensive statement about Himself.[7] The center of Jesus Christ (His heart) was His love for and submission to His Father’s will and His Father’s grace to accomplish that will through Him (I am gentle and humble)! Before Jesus invited His followers to take His yoke upon themselves and learn from Him, He first lived His life and did 100% of His ministry in His Father’s yoke.[8] Jesus was focused on this one thing and did not allow anything to distract Him from His Father’s will for His life, nor did He seek any other power source to accomplish God’s will than God’s grace.[9] Jesus is the perfect example of how to live your life for God without hypocrisy.[10] Listen to Jesus’ personal testimonies of how He lives His life and conducted His earthly ministry:

 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”[11]

 

Jesus did everything while in His Father’s yoke! Jesus is the embodiment of the Father and the perfect example of God’s truth and grace, holiness and love, judgment and mercy. Jesus intimately knew God and invites us into this depth of relationship that God offers us—for you to be in Him and for Him to be in you. Let us learn from Jesus’ perfect example and in doing so we will learn how to live in the easy yoke of God’s grace, the yoke Jesus offers us! It will not mean an easier life, but it the abundant life Jesus promises (John 10:10).

 

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus was talking to people who were “weary and heavy-laden” because God’s Law had been put on them like a heavy load by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Please remember this critical historical context of what Jesus was inviting His Jewish audience to do: put down the heavy yoke of legalism (that is crushing you) and put on the light yoke of grace (that is liberating you). Jesus is calling the people away from the heavy burdens of the religious leaders and their interpretation of “663 commands” in Torah, to the light burden of following Jesus and His new command, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”[12] This is the call to yoke with Jesus![13]

 

Listen to Jesus in Matthew 23:23-28 as He talks to His apprentices about these religious leaders:

 

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.”[14] Jesus continues, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[15]

 

Jesus is inviting people to Himself because everyone who attempts works-based religion fails![16] Almost paradoxically, in the most famous of Jesus’ sermons, the Sermon on the Mount, He tells anyone who would follow Him, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[17] This seems contradictory on the surface! What is Jesus commanding here? Has Jesus set an impossible standard for us with His gospel, like He seems to do throughout the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?

 

Remember how Jesus describes Himself in v. 29, “I am gentle and humble in heart” and then in v. 30, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” In fact, earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a significant hint to His intent when He uses the same word for His followers that He will in Matthew 11:29 for Himself, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.”[18] (emphasis added) Language experts state, “In the language of the day [πραΰς] described outward conduct between people, but in the NT it portrayed an inward quality relating primarily to God.”[19]

 

Jesus is the epitome of “gentle” and those that will take His yoke and learn from Him, will learn how to be gentle and they shall “inherit the earth.”[20] What a promise![21] More than a promise, Jesus is offering us the promise! Listen to D.A. Carson make the connection:

 

And the meek—not the strong, aggressive, harsh, tyrannical—will inherit the earth. The verb “inherit” often relates to entrance into the Promised Land (e.g. Deut 4:1; 16:20; cf. Isa 57:13; 60:21). But the specific OT allusion here is Psalm 37:9, 11, 29, a psalm recognized as messianic in Jesus’ day (4QpPs 37). There is no need to interpret the land metaphorically, as having no reference to geography or space; nor is there need to restrict the meaning to “land of Israel” (cf. Notes). Entrance into the Promised Land ultimately became a pointer toward entrance into the new heaven and the new earth (“earth” is the same word as “land”; cf. Isa 66:22; Rev 21:1), the consummation of the messianic kingdom. While in Pauline terms believers may now possess all things in principle (2 Cor 6:10) since they belong to Christ, Matthew directs our attention yet further to the “renewal of all things” (Mt 19:28).[22]

 

We are not to strive to be gentle; we are to yoke with God, who is all powerful. It is the easy yoke of walking alongside Jesus, the Master Teacher, in the school of life, who alone demonstrated on the Cross of Calvary His worthiness to be trusted with our own hearts![23]

Yoking with Jesus is the invitation to remain connected to Him, allowing His Spirit to flow through our very personhood, our soul.[24]

 

Jesus is never inviting His followers to try to do more religious activity than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day because no one can exceed their efforts to earn God’s approval. Please know that the full weight of church history has over and over again proven this point for nearly 2,000 years, including many groups still today who are fully or partially caught up in pharisaical works-based religion. Jesus is actually giving an invitation to receive and to not earn! Grace is absolutely opposed to earning. Amazingly, Grace is an invitation to receive that which you cannot earn. The righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees is by faith and not by works, it is imputed onto us by the Gentle One, Jesus Christ. When the Gentle One rules over our lives, we become what He is from the inside-out, one with the Father, and our attitudes and actions will follow.[25]

 

Jesus’ compassionate invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 and Jesus’ revolutionary words in the Sermon on the Mount are graceful words of God’s truth that diagnoses us as falling short of God’s standards for Heaven and our total need for a Savior. The prognosis is death if we do not completely surrender all by getting in the yoke of Jesus (faith).

 

Does this apply to me and you, too? I haven’t murdered anyone! But, have I thought someone a fool? I am a murderer! I haven’t committed adultery? But, have I looked at someone in a way I should only look at my spouse? I am an adulterer![26] By Jesus’ standards: prison sentences and scarlet letters all around, starting with me, the chief of sinners! After 47 verses of such teaching, Jesus conclusively trumps all of our self-deceptions of being able to successfully live for God by our own power: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[27]

 

I respond, “Well, there it is, I’m done in! Is any of us able to will-power a perfect 24/7/365 track record in word, deed, or though? HA! I might as well quit now because I am only going to add to the verdict that we are a bunch of hypocrites!” No! Don’t Quit! SURRENDER!!!!

 

Surrender is the whole point! Humility! Jesus isn’t crushing us under an impossible ethical standard, He is showing us the sheer audacity and insanity of our pride to think we can do it by our own efforts. When it seems like the commands of Jesus are burdensome remember this truth from 1 John 5:3-4, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”[28] This is the yoke of Jesus!

 

Jesus told us why He spoke to us the way He did, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace [rest]. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”[29] Anyone who tries to follow Jesus Christ using their will-power will ultimately be a hypocrite because when we try to do anything apart from Jesus, we are bound to fail. The invitation to the yoke of Jesus Christ is the invitation to remain connected to Him.[30]

 

The invitation of Jesus is to get to our hearts, the root of our own attitudes and actions.[31] Jesus is after your heart, just like He was after the hearts of the Pharisees. Jesus has always been teaching us to track the fruit of our lives back to the root of our hearts![32] Listen to Jesus teach this in Matthew 15:13-20,

 

But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”[33]

 

Whether through sin management techniques, self-help books, a perfect church attendance and giving record, or even the best of spiritual disciplines, anything that is done apart from Christ is devoid of God’s grace and it will not be rewarded in Heaven. God’s fruit only happens in our lives when it flows through the root system of a tree planted by streams of living waters.[34] The nature of the fruit is determined by the nature of the root. We can only produce in like-kind to what we are, you must be born again.[35]

 

Where should we put our effort? Grace is not opposed to effort, just earning. Yoke with Jesus and together, work the soil of your relationship with God! Work hard at remaining connected to the vine and the Holy Spirit will flow through the branch and into your vine and you will produce good fruit! God, the vinedresser, will tend to you and care for you.

 

Friends, you will never get to Louisville by planning on how not to get to New England or how to get to Los Angeles, but that is what we do all the time as Christians. Neither sin management (focusing on not going to Hell) nor doing good works (focusing on being a good person) gets you to Heaven or allows you to live the abundant life of Jesus Christ! Both are crushing yokes of life management, using religion and the Bible as a way of making your life work better for you and yours. As long as you are the focus, you are going to miss the point every time! Only Jesus saves! Only a relationship with Jesus gets you to Heaven! Only through a relationship with Jesus will you find yourself and do the good works God prepared for you to do!

 

Jesus Christ, the only One who ever lived His life perfectly to the Law of God, calls us to find rest for our souls by getting in His yoke. To do so, we must take off the yoke of a life of perpetual religious hypocrisy that does not bring about personal or human well-being.[36]

 

The famous Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, in his 1859 sermon entitled “Hypocrisy,” honestly diagnosed his congregation, “Some people I know of are like inns, which have an angel hanging outside for a sign, but they have a devil within for a landlord. There are many men of that kind; they take good care to have an excellent sign hanging out; they must be known by all men to be strictly religious; but within, which is the all-important matter, they are full of wickedness.”[37]

 

What is the way out of hypocrisy? The only way to be done with this version of hypocrisy is to be done with it all together. No matter how hard you try, the try-harder mentality will always fall short and end up with frustration and discouragement. As long as your Christianity is a sign on the outside and Jesus is not the master on the inside, you will struggle with hypocrisy. Jesus Christ came to die on the Cross and to defeat death, to forgive you of your sin and guarantee you eternal life, and to grant you His power and presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did this for you to have rest in Him, not for you to live in a perpetual cycle of self-condemnation and sin-management techniques. The only way out of hypocrisy is to get out of the yoke of religion and into the grace-yoke of a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by learning from the One who is “gentle and humble in heart.”[38]

 

Join me in making 2019 our best year ever as a congregation by being yokefellows with Jesus. If we do this, then a year from now we will look more like the early church described in Acts.[39]

 

Through God’s grace, God’s will is for us to be His congregation of sincere apprentices of Jesus who are putting on the customized and personally-fitted yoke of love and learning along the way through the school of life from the smartest person who ever lived, Jesus Christ. Then, God’s peace will guard your heart and mind, and fullness of joy will characterize your personality, and faith, hope, and love will epitomize your relationships and decision-making process. This is the abundant life and Jesus invites you to into it by uniting yourself to Him as His apprentice, to  learn personally and first-hand about how to be the best version of you to the glory of God.

 

[1] Ulrich Luz comments on the overall context of this passage, “Matthew is thinking here of the example of Jesus who himself embodies the will of the Father in his life and thus fulfills the law. Jesus himself is ‘kind’ toward human beings as the two following stories in Matt 12:1–14 make clear. He is humble and free of violence as the passion narrative best shows. Matthew probably is also thinking here no differently than does a Jew who connects humility with learning the Torah and regards it as a decisive quality of a teacher” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001], 174). Craig Keener continues this thought, “Other teachers in Jesus’ day and afterward spoke of accepting the ‘yoke of God’s kingdom,’ or God’s rule, by submitting to the yoke of the law rather than merely human rule. Like a good sage, Jesus invites disciples to learn from him. Yet Jesus did not interpret the law, including the law of rest (Mt 12:1–14), the same way his contemporaries did; his yoke was lighter. In contrast to his opponents (23:4), Jesus interprets the laws according to their original purpose, to which he is privy (5:17–48; 11:27; 12:8)—for example, interpreting sabbath laws in terms of devotion to God rather than universal rules (12:7) and divorce law in terms of devotion to one’s faithful wife rather than a loophole to reject her (19:4–8)” (Craig S. Keener, Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Mt 11:28). Emphasis original.

 

[2] Sermon #7 will emphasize the importance of this when we learn what Jesus intended for His listeners when He quoted Je 6:16 in Mt 11:29, “you will find rest for your souls.”

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:28–30.

[4] The Koine Greek word in Matthew 11:29 translated “gentle” is “πραΰς, πραεῖα, πραΰ: pertaining to being gentle and mild—‘mild, gentle, meek.’ καὶ μάθετε ἀπ̓ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι ‘and learn from me because I am gentle’ Mt 11:29” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains [New York: United Bible Societies, 1996], 748). It is used four times in the NT and 15 times in the Greek translation of the OT, called the Septuagint (LXX). “Πραΰς in Matthew also means an attitude as it is expressed in the entry of the king who rides on a donkey to Jerusalem (Matt 21:5) and as it is praised as happy in 5:5: ‘humble,’ ‘kind’” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001], 174). Furthermore, Leon Morris explains of Luz’s description of πραΰς, “That Jesus rode into the city in the way he did was a significant affirmation of his character and his purpose. The pilgrims might shout their acclaims and think of a king who would fight against the Romans and throw them out of the country, but Jesus viewed himself as the King of peace. He had accepted the salutation “Son of David,” and there is no doubt that he agreed that he was the messianic King. But he did not interpret messianic kingship as most of his contemporaries did. He did not view it in terms of armies and battles and conquests. He saw it in terms of peace and love and compassion” (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992], 521).

[5] The Koine Greek word translated “humble” is ταπεινός. It is used eight times in the NT and 43 times in LXX. Ulrich Luz explains an important historical point, “In Greek ταπεινός has a generally negative connotation. In the Old Testament the word moves into the circle of meaning of עָנָו/עָנִי and thus can receive a positive meaning: God chooses the lowly. The dative τῇ καρδίᾳ internalizes the lowliness. One may think both of a condition (emotionally “down”) and an attitude (“humble”). The other texts in which the stem occurs in Matthew (18:4; 23:11–12; cf. 18:10; 20:26–28; 23:8–10) demonstrate that the issue is the humble attitude. What is meant is that human attitude that in love retreats into the background for the sake of the other” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001], 173–174).

[6] The BDAG defines καρδία as “heart as seat of physical, spiritual and mental life… As center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition… of disposition” (William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 508-509). A.T. Robertson further explains, “Not just the centre [sic] of the blood circulation though it means that. Not just the emotional part of man’s nature, but here the inner man including the intellect, the affections, the will” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933], Mt 5:28). Mt 6:21 teaches us about the importance of the heart, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Ulrich Luz states, “The admonition [to gather heavenly treasures as opposed to perishable ones] is sharpened in v. 21. Although there are no direct Jewish parallels to this sentence, its thinking is Jewish. ‘Heart’ (καρδία) is the person’s center. The ‘treasure’ shows where people live in their center and what is most important to them” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1–7: A Commentary on Matthew 1–7, ed. Helmut Koester, Rev. ed., Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007], 332).

 

[7] “The one who is ταπεινός τῇ καρδία is unassuming and demonstrates humility. The link with πραΰς is obvious” (John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005], 477). Nolland’s footnote explains why he says it is obvious, “πραΰς and ταπεινός are linked together in Zp. 3:12 to describe God’s humbling human pride so that people who are humble and lowly may seek refuge in him. But this is somewhat different from what we have in Mt. 11:29.” Additionally, the Hermeneia commentary states of these words linkage, “Πραΰς and ταπεινός (“humble”) are already linked in the Old Testament (Isa 26:6; Zeph 3:12; cf. Prov 16:19)” (Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001], 173).

 

[8] Good leaders model in their attitude and actions what they ask of their followers. Every good teacher learns first what she teaches to hear students. Study Notes from the NLT Study Bible emphasize the importance of seeing this in the context of Mt 11:27, “Jesus was revealing his intimate relationship to the Father. Everything he said and did was rooted in this Father-Son unity (see John 10:14–15; 14:6–7; 15:23–24; 16:15; 17:25–26)” (New Living Translation Study Bible [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008], Mt 11:27). From an ancient witness, “But consider how Christ accredited his words by His deeds. Thus He saith, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.’ (Mt. 11:29.) He taught men to be poor, and exhibited this by His actions: ‘For the Son of Man,’ He says, ‘hath not where to lay His head.’ (Ib. 8:20.) Again, He charged men to love their enemies; and He taught the same lesson on the Cross, when He prayed for those who were crucifying Him. He said, ‘If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also’ (Ib. 5:40): now He not only gave His garments, but even His blood. In this way He bade others teach. Wherefore Paul also said, ‘So as ye have us for an ensample.’ (Philip. 3:17.) For nothing is more frigid than a teacher who shows his philosophy only in words: this is to act the part not of a teacher, but of a hypocrite” (John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Acts of the Apostles,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. Walker et al., vol. 11, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series [New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889], 4).

 

[9] C.H. Spurgeon taught, “The wonderful determination of Christ and his insistence on carrying out his Father’s will despite all the attempts to distract him (Matthew 16:21–23; 26:51–54; Luke 13:31–33)” (C. H. Spurgeon and Terence Peter Crosby, 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) [Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 1998], 37).

 

[10] Philippians 2:5-11is the classic scripture that demonstrates how Jesus humbled Himself to the will of the Father, perfectly demonstrating His “gentle and humble in heart” attitude and lifestyle. Commenting on this scripture, Cyril of Alexandria states of Jesus Christ, “He humbled himself, according to the Scriptures, taking on himself the form of a slave. He became like us that we might become like him. The work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by grace into a perfect copy of his humbling.” (Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007], 98).

 

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 5:19; 8:28–29; 12:49–50; 17:4, 7–8, 20–21. Furthermore, quoting Anglican Archbishop Richard Trench (c. 1807-1886) Marvin Richardson states, “In his human nature he must be the pattern of all humility, of all creaturely dependence; and it is only as a man that Christ thus claims to be lowly; his human life was a constant living on the fulness of his Father’s love” (Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1 [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887], 69). Emphasis original to author.

 

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 13:34.

 

[13] “A yoke, which forms a harness between two animals, is a metaphor for the demands of discipleship. In contrast to the “yoke” of the religious leaders, Jesus’ yoke is easy and light, not because it is less demanding (see 7:13–14), but because the power of the Messiah (by the Holy Spirit) makes it possible (see Acts 15:10; 1 Jn 5:3). Jesus was most likely contrasting his yoke to the religious demands of Israel’s spiritual leaders (23:4; Acts 15:10), which included 613 OT commands and their expansion through tradition. Jesus urged those who were suffering from the burdens of the Pharisees’ stipulations to come to him (11:28) in order to find the salvation their hearts desired. It is a call to salvation involving a life of obedience to Jesus’ new teachings. People are invited to enter a relationship with a humble and gentle teacher” (New Living Translation Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), Mt 11:29–30). Emphasis original to author. It has been conclusively argued that there were actually “663 commands”, as opposed to the 613 stated above (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, First Edition. [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015], 163).

 

[14] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:1–4.

[15] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:23–28.

 

[16] Many verses indicate that it is impossible for man to approach God apart from God’s grace. Here are a few well-known ones: Romans 3:23 states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Eph 2:8-9 explains, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” James 2:10 states, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” A word of warning to pastors and elders, anyone who attempts to leverage people’s conscience toward earning God’s approval through works is on equal grounds with the Pharisees, especially if they themselves are trying to earn God’s rewards by building a bigger and better church. I understand the pressure pastors and elders are under (many of times by the very people themselves) and at the end of the day what person doesn’t naturally want greater rewards, but let’s not tread on the heart of God to try to get more from the hand of God. Before anyone else can understand this teaching in a church, it must be modeled by the leaders. That is why Paul said, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Co 10:1).

 

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:20. I believe that in the context of our studies on Matthew 11:28-30, we must understand this verse so that we do not misapply Jesus’ teaching against legalism with more legalism of our own. It’s not just about being accurate with how we handle the text, we must be right in how we handle people. We can only learn this by being with Jesus.

 

[18] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:5. “The description of Jesus as gentle (or “meek”; Greek: praus) recalls the beatitude (Matt. 5:5), but more importantly may allude to the tradition of Moses as a man who “was very meek” (LXX Num. 12:3). Matthew has presented Jesus as a new Moses, who has given his Law, as did Moses, in five major teaching blocks (i.e., Matt. 5–7, 10, 13, 18, and 24–25). See also 2 Cor. 10:1 “I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (Craig A. Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew–Luke, ed. Craig A. Evans and Craig A. Bubeck, First Edition. [Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2003], 237). Emphasis original to author.

[19] Thomas Tehan and David Abernathy, An Exegetical Summary of the Sermon on the Mount, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008), 18. Nolland unpacks, “The common quality is, rather, the state of powerlessness: inability to forward one’s own cause; and in every case God either is, does, will, may be expected to, or should come to the rescue. The one thing that might give us pause in applying this background to Matthew’s meaning is the use of the singular πραΰς of Jesus in Mt. 11:29; 21:5. In his case it certainly doesn’t mean ‘powerless’!” (John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005], 201–202).

[20] As already seen Jesus modeled true gentleness by submitting Himself perfectly to the yoke of His Father. Alfred Plummer takes us into the Israelite mindset as would have been understood by Jesus: “The word is used of Israel, as the ideally holy nation, suffering in the wilderness or from oppression. On the other hand, the ‘meek’ man (ānāw) is one who is humble-minded and bows at once to the will of God. So that, while ‘poor’ means first ‘humbled’ by man’s oppression and then ‘humble’ in the religious sense, ‘meek’ has a religious signification from the first, and therefore might be rendered ‘humble.’ For ‘meekness’ commonly means a disposition towards men; but what is meant here and in Ps. 37:11, from which this Beatitude is taken, is a disposition towards God, humility; comp. Ps. 10:17, 22:26, 25:9, 34:2” (Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to S. Matthew [New York; London: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Elliot Stock, 1910], 64).

 

[21] Once again, we see Jesus quoting the OT in His promises. Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the OT promised and points toward. Mt 5:5 is quoting Ps 37:9, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.” Inheriting or the taking of the land in the OT is synonymous with God’s rest for His chosen people. Our inheritance as sons of Abraham is rest for our souls. The promise is that all the families of the earth will be blessed through us, which is reemphasized as our mandate in the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). Which is not a burden to bear heavily, but a yoke to wear lightly. Jesus is the only one who builds His Church (Mt 16:18). This should immediately adjust the weight load from off of pastor’s shoulders and squarely onto Jesus’ shoulders which is the point of Jesus’ invitation in Mt 11:28-30. I have personally experienced the unintended consequence of bad Christology which puts the full weight of church growth and the return of Jesus on the church’s efforts to work harder, instead of on the sovereignty of God’s grace and the Spirit’s work through people.

 

[22] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 133–134.

 

[23] Donald Wagner teaches us in the WBC, “Being ‘meek,’ Jesus is also similar to Moses (Num 12:3). (Jesus describes his disciples as ‘the meek’ in 5:5.) The word ‘humble’ (ταπεινός) is also applied to Jesus in the NT only here. The word ‘meek’ and the phrase ‘humble in heart’ appear to be essentially synonymous. The contrast here, as in the preceding and following verses, appears to be between Jesus and his primary rivals, the Pharisees. Many of the latter exhibited an extraordinary pride, loving places of honor, special titles, and in general the authority they exercised over others (see 23:5–12). This demeanor had the effect of disqualifying them as true interpreters of Torah. In contrast, despite the overwhelming significance of his person and his mission, Jesus comes meekly and humbly as a servant (cf. the Servant of the Lord in Isa 42:2–3; 53:1–12) and thus shows himself to be more worthy of trust than are the Pharisees” (Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary [Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998], 324).

[24] More on how the “soul” is our personhood in sermon #7. The Holy Spirit flows into us, giving rest to our soul that renews our mind with the mind of Christ, which then transforms our biological realities: brain and body (reactions and actions). You cannot change your own brain or body and its habitual pathways and patterns, but through a renewed mind, you can live a transformed life. The process begins with submission (Romans 12:1-2). It is fascinating to me that this short passage captures both the work of the Trinity and the tripartite nature of humanity.

 

[25] Craig Keener further elaborates, “Jesus’ yoke is not lighter because he demands less (5:20), but because he bears more of the load with the burdened (23:4; cf. 1 Jn 5:3). In contrast to unconcerned religious teachers who prided themselves on their own position (23:4–7; 24:49), Jesus was going to lay down his life for the sheep (20:25–28). The Gospel tradition repeatedly emphasizes that the Lord of the universe (28:18–20) is humble and prefers to dwell with the humble, the ‘little ones’ (12:19–20). If Jesus is meek, the people in whose lives he rules cannot be proud or self-centered either, for the kingdom belongs only to the meek (5:3, 5)” (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI;  Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009], 349). D.A. Carson complements the implications of the yoke in our attitudes and actions towards ourselves and others, “Meekness therefore requires such a true view about ourselves as will express itself even in our attitude toward others” (D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984], 133).

 

[26] Both of these examples are from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:21-28) and are intentional hyperboles to knock the chip off of religious people’s shoulders. Our own self-satisfactions with our busy religious lives prevent us from seeing that Jesus is our rest and Jesus is our holiness. It’s not what we can do (or don’t do) for Christ.

 

[27] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:48.

[28] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Jn 5:3–4. Jesus gave us His new commandment at the very end of His life, in the Upper Room: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Even just this is impossible to live by without God’s grace.

 

[29] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 16:33.

 

[30] As Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4–5).

 

[31] Here is the most relevant of the long entry in BDAG on καρδία, “heart as seat of physical, spiritual and mental life (as freq. in Gk. lit.), fig. extension of ‘heart’ as an organ of the body (Il. 13, 282 al.), a mng. not found in our lit. As center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition (νοῦν κ. φρένας κ. διάνοιαν κ. λογισμὸν εἶπέ τις ποιητὴς [Hes., Fgm. 247 Rz.] ἐν καρδίᾳ περιέχεσθαι=some poet said that the heart embraces perception, wit, intellect, and reflection), of humans whether in their pre-Christian or Christian experience. Of disposition (TestJob 48:1 ἀνέλαβεν ἄλλην κ.) διάνοια καρδίας Lk 1:51; ἁπλότης (τ.) καρδίας (TestReub 4:1, Sim 4:5 al.) Eph 6:5; Col 3:22; ἀφελότης καρδίας Ac 2:46. κ. καὶ ψυχὴ μία Ac 4:32 (cp. Iren. 1, 10, 2 [Harv. I 92, 5]; combination of ψυχή and καρδία as PGM 7, 472; IDefixWünsch 3, 15; Dt 11:18; 1 Km 2:35; 4 Km 23:3 and oft. LXX—on such combinations s. Reader, Polemo p. 260 and cp. Demosth. 18, 220 ῥώμη καὶ τόλμη). πραῢς καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ κ. Mt 11:29 (cp. TestReub 6:10). ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ Χριστοῦ βραβευέτω ἐν ταῖς κ. ὑμῶν let the peace of Christ control you Col 3:15; cp. Phil 4:7” (William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 508-509). Emphasis original.

[32] I want to thank Edward Kurath for introducing me to this thought and expounding on it in helpful and practical ways in I Will Give You Rest: How you Can Experience the Peace Jesus Promised (2003).

[33] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 15:13-20.

 

[34] Ps 1:2-3; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zec 14:8; John 4:10-14; 7:37-38; Re 7:17

 

[35] For Jesus’ teaching on good fruit see Matthew 7:15-23 and on being born again see John 3:1-21. “The Christian meekness is based on humility, which is not a natural quality but an outgrowth of a renewed nature. As toward God, therefore, meekness accepts his dealings without murmur or resistance as absolutely good and wise” (Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1 [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887], 37-38). Emphasis original to author.

 

[36] “Paradoxically, Jesus asserts that his yoke (normally carved from wood, often linking up two oxen for purposes of plowing or hauling) is easy (or “comfortable,” i.e., “easy to wear”) and that his load (or “burden”) is in fact light. In what sense can Jesus’ yoke be easy? It is easy in comparison to the alternatives: suffering under the yokes of humans for do not care for one’s well being [sic]. The one who places himself under the yoke of Jesus will in fact find rest and will be enabled by the Spirit. Jesus’ load is in fact quite light compared to the heavy burdens the scribes and Pharisees place upon themselves and others: “They tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matt. 23:4)” (Craig A. Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew–Luke, ed. Craig A. Evans and Craig A. Bubeck, First Edition. [Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2003], 237). Emphasis original to author.

[37] C. H. Spurgeon, “Hypocrisy,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 5 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1859), 100.

 

[38] “In commanding listeners to wear his yoke, Jesus appears to be increasing rather than lightening their load; for God’s laws as expounded by the New Moses (e.g., 5:17–48) are the weightiest of all. For this very reason, Jesus directs attention on the character of the teacher himself: ‘and learn from me [mathete ap’ emou], because I am meek and humble in heart [hoti praus eimi kai tapeinos tē kardia]’ (11:29b). This is the sort of language Jesus used in the beatitudes: the plural of praus occurs in 5:5, and tapeinos tē kardia is very close to ptōchoi tō pneumati, 5:3 (and the Son who knows the Father, 11:27, is utterly katharos tē kardia, 5:8). That is, Jesus identifies himself as a person who needs, trusts and obeys God (see pp. 313–20). Unlike the teachers of Matthew 23:3, he submits to God’s rule and keeps his commands. He chiefly instructs his students by embodying the truth he expounds (see p. 322–24); he himself is his most potent lesson. He, the lowly Servant, deals gently and mercifully with the weary and the erring (12:17–21; 9:13; cf. the Servant’s words in Isaiah 50:4). Himself ‘meek and humble in heart,’ he is not too proud to bear the burdens of the frail and the fallen (Matt. 8:17; 20:25–28; contrast 23:4b). Moreover, in his meekness (prautēs) he conquers the powers of darkness. And since the Son discloses his Father (11:27b), those who study Jesus learn that the Father too is ‘meek and humble in heart’” (J. Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries [Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2010], 636–637).

 

[39] Read the standards of the early church: Ac 2:37-47 & 4:32-37. Specifically, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Ac 4:32). Regarding Jesus as Messiah and Head of His Church (God’s House): “But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always” (1 Sa 2:35). Emphasis added to demonstrate how Jesus fulfillment of prophecy as Messiah with words such as heart and soul, both of which are used in Mt 11:28-30. These quotes are using the Greek word καρδία (Cf. Eph 6:5; Col 3:22; Acts 2:46 (all three of these references point to the disposition of our life); Dt 11:18; 2 Ki 23:3; Col 3:15; and Php 4:7).

 

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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus (Week 5)

“Jesus, the Master Teacher!”

Part 5 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

How would you answer this question: Who is the smartest person who ever lived?

 

I wonder why so many Christians don’t naturally think first and foremost the answer is Jesus Christ. What is it about our own understanding of who Jesus is that causes us to think of others, like Albert Einstein? What does this say about our view of Christian discipleship and what we believe about the body of knowledge passed on to us in the Bible? I hear so many people talk about how they don’t want to compartmentalize their faith or have an artificial sacred-secular divide in their mind or heart. Before we make the mistake of separating our spiritual life from our academic or work life, we start by keeping Jesus and the Bible separated from what it means to be an intelligent, educated, and knowledgeable person. It is my goal today, to invite you to get rid of this false dichotomy by getting to the root of our own modern biases to be able to say simply, conclusively, and without hesitation: Jesus Christ is the smartest person who ever lived and the Bible is a reliable source of knowledge and wisdom for my everyday life!

 

Now imagine this: Imagine if you could take the smartest person who ever lived into every circumstance, exam, job interview, relationship struggle, life circumstance as your personal tutor.

 

From the New American Standard Bible, listen for the dual command found in Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”[1]

 

For any person who calls Christ their Lord and King, Jesus is their Master Teacher, but more than a teacher, Jesus is their personal tutor (like the master to the apprentice), as witnessed by the image of first taking on the yoke of Christ and then learning from Him. This is the 1-2 command of Matthew 11:28-30, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Do you want rest? Then come into an apprenticeship relationship (master-apprentice) or tutoring relationship (tutor-student) with Jesus Christ. A.T Robertson emphasizes that Jesus was speaking to His original audience the way any rabbi of His time would have: “The rabbis used yoke for school as many pupils find it now a yoke.”[2] Do the school of life with Jesus and you will find rest for your soul.

Christian discipleship leads to a life of rest because it draw us deeper into the life of Jesus who is our rest. Rest is found in joining with Jesus in the God-ordained process of becoming who God has designed you to be and in becoming this person from the inside-out, “for good works which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”[3] Rest is found as you learn to trust God and His Holy Spirit to “make you become” the best version of you to the glory of God and to the good of our community.[4] This happens by submitting yourself to the yoke of Jesus and learning from Him. Paul described it as being “transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”[5]

The Apostle Paul, in a great teaching about the wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 2, says of spiritually-discerning Christians, “we have the mind of Christ.”[6] This is Jesus’ teaching, who stated in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”[7] Again, Jesus said in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”[8]

The telos of the Christian life is to, “attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”[9] In short, we are to become like Jesus! Jesus knows this is the ultimate purpose of God for each of our lives so He invites us to yoke with Him and learn from Him.

 

How are we to do this—take Jesus’ yoke and learn from Him?

 

Jan Johnson starts our discussion on this question:

People often say they have questions to ask God when they get to heaven: “What causes cancer?” “How can the moon so far away create tides in the ocean right here?” “Why did you make my brother (or sister) so good-looking, and me so plain?” Making such a list is not a silly idea, I think, because it shows we view God as someone who knows things and wants to communicate with us. Here on earth, we can cultivate such a relationship with God by continually asking God questions.[10]

 

Listen again to Jesus’ dual command in Matthew 11:29, “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me”. The early church knew the answer to this question because there was not a false dichotomy in the church between being smart and being wise or between the sciences and faith because the God who made all things is the author of both science and faith. Near the end of the 2nd century one of the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Alexandria, wrote,

 

As the general directs the phalanx, consulting the safety of his soldiers, and the pilot steers the vessel, desiring to save the passengers; so also the Instructor [i.e., Jesus] guides the children to a saving course of conduct through his concern for us. Wafted on by the favoring breeze of the Spirit of truth, he stoutly holds on to the child’s helm—his ears, I mean—until he brings him safely to anchor in the haven of heaven.[11] (emphasis added)

 

We will not reach maturity in Christ and experience the fullness of joy Jesus promised us in this life until we allow Jesus Christ to be our tutor, our instructor, our teacher, in everyday life. We start doing this by giving Jesus access to all of our questions now and not just when our “soul” gets to Heaven. Rest for our “soul” is for this life, not just the next.[12] We are to pose all of our questions along the way throughout this life to Jesus and not just store them up for Heaven.
 

To get at the heart of this, we will go one level deeper and look at the Greek word translated “learn,” which is μανθάνω.[13] BDAG describes its meaning as, “to gain knowledge or skill by instruction, learn” with another lexicon defining it as, “to acquire information as the result of instruction, whether in an informal or formal context—‘to learn, to be instructed, to be taught.”[14]

Here is a brief survey of the 25 usages:[15]

  • In John 6:45b, Jesus states of His disciples, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.”[16] (emphasis added)
  • In Ephesians 4:20, Paul admonishes believers, “But you did not learn Christ in this way.”[17] (emphasis added)
  • In Philippians 4:11, Paul testifies from the school of life, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”[18] (emphasis added)
  • Paul to Timothy uses the word twice in 2 Timothy 3:14, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”[19] (emphasis added)
  • Concerning Jesus, Hebrews 5:8 describes, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”[20] (emphasis added)

 

The bottom line of Jesus’ dual commands is that He is inviting all who are worn out from living in a fallen world and are exhausted from being under the heavy yoke of religious performance expectations to earn God’s approval and acceptance, that they should take off the yoke of the Law and take on the yoke of grace.[21] In fact, Jesus’ invitation to “take My yoke and learn from Me” is united to Jesus’ other major commands to be a disciple and to make disciples: 1) “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny Himself, and take up His Cross and follow Me”[22] and 2) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”[23]

 

We once again hear Jesus’ invitation to walk with Him (do life together). This motif is found in both verses, overtly with the “come after Me” of Matthew 16:24 and the “Go” or more accurately “As you are going” of Matthew 28:19. Jesus is inviting us to welcome Him as our tutor in everyday life—to invite the God-man, the smartest person who ever lived to be our own personal guide in living right and living with a purpose that makes sense of our existence. The yoke we are to take on ourselves is connected to the Cross we are to take up to follow Jesus by the Greek command of αἴρω (which we studied last week) and related to the Greek word used to “make disciples” (μαθητεύω) creating a direct lexical connection to Jesus’ command to His disciples in Matthew 11:28-30. To take His yoke is to take up our cross! To come to Him is to come after Him! It is to live a life as a learner of Jesus and as such, follow His example by inviting others to hear Jesus’ invitation for themselves.

 

Donald Hagner in the Word Biblical Commentary makes this valuable conclusion:

The invitation to come to Jesus is an invitation to discipleship, that is, to follow him and his teaching. “Yoke” (ζυγόν) is a common metaphor for the law, both in Judaism (m ʾAbot 3:5; M Ber. 2:2; cf. 1QH 6:19) and in the NT (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1). When Jesus invites people with the words ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς, “take my yoke upon you,” he invites them to follow his own teaching as the definitive interpretation of the law (see on 5:17–20.). The same point is stressed in the next clause, μάθετε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, “learn from me.” As Wisdom calls to obedience of Torah (cf. Sir 24:23; 6:37), so Jesus similarly calls to a discipleship of obedience to Torah but, as always in Matthew, the Torah as mediated through his teaching—hence, “my yoke” (cf. 23:8, 10). The cognate verb μαθητεύειν occurs in 28:19 together with the emphasis on keeping true to the teaching of Jesus. A dimension of personal commitment to Jesus is clearly implied (Maher, 103).[24]

 

This is where our understanding of Jesus is very important to understand why taking His yoke upon ourselves and learning from Him does bring rest for our soul. Jesus is the smartest person who ever lived because Jesus is God. As Christians, we only worship one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who exists in one substance as three unique persons mutually submitted in perfect unity. If you have a question about any aspect of creation (visible or invisible, natural or supernatural) who better to be able to answer it then Immanuel, the God who took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. Jesus is the wisdom of God incarnate, Torah (God’s Law) in flesh! [25] Listen to Hebrews 11:1-3, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”[26]

 

Essentially what Jesus was doing in His earthly ministry was teaching us that, “Jesus was Wisdom (Torah), the means of salvation. In fact, Jesus asserts that He is the fulfillment of Torah (Matt 5:17–20).”[27] Craig Keener emphasizes, “By speaking of God’s law as Jesus’ own, Jesus implicitly claims authority from the Father greater than that of Moses himself (11:27).[28] This is in fact the very context of Jesus’ great invitation. Before Jesus invites, “Come to Me…”, He says in Matthew 11:25-27, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”[29]

 

God has established that to find Him you must first hear the invitation to come to Him. Do you hear Jesus saying to you, “Come to Me…”? This is God’s grace to you and to me and to all on whom God’s peace will rest. Apart from grace there is no rest, in this life or in the life to come.

 

Let’s close with application and relevance for our everyday lives. I hear so many people saying, “So what?” and “How does any of this apply to my everyday life?”

 

Jan Johnson insightfully diagnosis our human predicament with Jesus as our Master Teacher:

Jesus said we could do nothing apart from Him (see John 15:5), but that does not stop us from trying. The whole point of asking, seeking, and knocking in order to inquire of God (see Matthew 7:7) is to interrupt our constant pull toward independence from Him. Without the discipline of inquiring after God, we often follow the normal human method of doing things, which is to size things up from our own perspective and make decisions on our own, with little thought of asking God’s direction. Asking invites God into our situations, great and small.[30]

 

Jesus is inviting us into a very practical apprenticeship relationship. Ulrich Luz bridges the gap between our understanding of Jesus’ invitation to the practical applications of Jesus’ commands: “As in Judaism, μανθάνω means something practical, the learning of a behavior.”[31] To illustrate this, last week, Bill Imel was describing to me about what it meant to be an apprentice. When he was a young tool maker, he was assigned at different times to different master tool makers and as long as you worked under a certain master you did it his way and only his way. Bill was assigned to numerous masters and he learned valuable lessons from each of them, but he always did it the way of the one to whom he was apprenticed. The apprentice was told that to learn how to do his job he simply had to imitate the behavior of the master. Bill testified to the process of apprenticeship.

 

Jesus is inviting us to this kind of relationship with Himself—He is the Master and we are invited to take His yoke and learn from Him as His apprentice. Bill further emphasized that when a dog sled team is being brought together, a younger dog is placed in the yoke next to a more experienced dog. Why? So that the older dog can very practically train the younger dog. As the Apostle Paul said to the early church in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”[32] Again, Paul said in Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”[33]

 

There is a practical purpose of the yoke; it is designed that one can teach and another can learn. When we yoke with Jesus, we are yoking with the very wisdom of God. We are invited to have him right there beside us through our everyday life ups and downs, home life and workplace, school and sports experiences, and learn from Him!

 

There are a lot of ways to get things done in this world, but I have one question for you: Who is your master? If you say Jesus is my master, then is He your master in every area of your life or just matters of faith or just on Sunday mornings?

 

Do you believe that Jesus is the smartest person who ever lived? Then, why not listen to Him in every matter of your life? Will we do what the Master tells us to do? Will we ask for His advice throughout the day?

 

Remaining in the yoke is about the posture of our hearts to learn from Jesus, to trust and obey His words to us in the Word and in prayer, and then we will find rest for our souls.

 

Not feeling rested? Now you know why…
 
 
If you are interested in further study click on the following link:  ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
 
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 11:28–30. All caps in this reference is part of NASB formatting to indicate that Jesus is quoting the Old Testament. In this case, it is Jeremiah 6:16 which is relevant to today’s teaching, but will be further discussed in message #7.

[2] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Mt 11:29.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 2:10.

[4] In Mark 1:17 Jesus invited His first disciples with this invitation to discipleship that came with the promise of making us into something: “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (emphasis added)

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ro 12:1-2.

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Co 2:16.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 15:15.

 

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 14:26.

 

[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 4:13. Cf. Phil 3:15; Heb 5:14; 6:1.

 

[10] Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, ed. Dallas Willard and David Hazard (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 99.

 

[11] Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 128–129. This is from Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogus, which is translated “The Instructor” or “The Tutor” (Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, “Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology” [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2008]).

 

[12] I am alluding to a larger concept and major misunderstanding about the soul in this sentence. In message #7 I will teach on the Hebrew word nephesh commonly translated soul. This is where we will see the importance of Jesus quoting from Jeremiah 6:16, as well as ensuring we understand words from a biblical perspective.

[13] “μάθετε aor2 impv μανθάνω learn” (Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament [Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974], 35). “aorist act. impera. of μανθάνω (LN 27.12) (BAGD 1. p. 490): ‘to learn’ [BAGD, LN; all translations except NLT], ‘to be instructed, to be taught’ [LN]. The phrase μάθετε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ ‘learn from me’ is translated ‘let me teach you’ [NLT]. This verb means to acquire information as the result of instruction, whether in an informal or formal context [LN]” (David Abernathy, An Exegetical Summary of Matthew 1–16, Exegetical Summaries [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2013], 413).

[14] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 615. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 326.

[15] Occurrences of μανθάνω in the NT: Matthew 24:32; Mark 13:28; John 6:45; 7:15; 1 Cor. 4:6; 14:31, 35; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 4:20; Philippians 4:9, 11; Colossians 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:11; 5:4, 13; 2 Timothy 3:7, 14; Titus 3:14; and Hebrews 5:8. Michael Jones in the Lexham Theological Workbook describes the use of this word, “Although manthanō is sometimes used in the sense of coming to know something (e.g., Acts 23:27; Gal 3:2), it is often used in the sense of being taught something, such as knowledge (e.g., 1 Cor 14:35; Col 1:7; 2 Tim 3:7) or ethical or practical wisdom (e.g., Matt 9:13; 1 Cor 4:6; Eph 4:20). The word manthanō can also mean ‘to come to understand (something) by experience’ or ‘to realize (something)’ (e.g., Phil 4:11; Titus 3:14; Heb 5:8)” (Michael R. Jones, “Teaching,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014]).

[16] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 6:45.

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 4:20.

 

[18] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 4:11.

[19] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 2 Ti 3:14.

 

[20] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Heb 5:8.

 

[21] “Jewish rabbis described the obligation to fulfill the law in terms of a yoke that must be taken upon oneself” (David Abernathy, An Exegetical Summary of Matthew 1–16, Exegetical Summaries [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2013], 414).

 

[22] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 16:24. Cf. Lk 9:23–25. “It is also likely that the statements concerning taking up one’s cross are to be associated with the Jewish practice of reciting the Shema each day as the sign and symbol of God’s sovereignty. Indeed, the use of the term “daily” in association with this Christian concept would make this suggestion even more likely. When one realizes that the term for the cross beam which Jesus is pictured as having carried to the place of execution is the same term frequently used for the cross beam known as the yoke, and when one realizes that at least some of the early Christian interpreters of Jesus’ words saw a specific relationship between cross and yoke, the likelihood of there having been a daily assumption of the “Yoke of the Kingship of God” (the term used by the Jews with respect to the Shema/assumption of the Yoke of the Kingship of God) by Christians via some type of recitation becomes more likely. It would seem reasonable to associate such a ritual as including the recitation of the model prayer or some other liturgical formula. Perhaps, also, as the assumption of the yoke was symbolized in tefillin in Judaism, some religious object(s) or symbol(s) were used as a part of this personal worship among the Christians” (Charles L. Tyer, “Yoke,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 1027.)

 

[23] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt. 28:29.

 

[24] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 324.

[25] “He is, therefore, playing not only the part of Wisdom (see p. 264) but also the part of Torah; or, rather, he is Wisdom, he is Torah. How very significant this is should not be missed. For Judaism ‘Torah’ is ‘all that God has made known of his nature, character and purpose, and of what he would have man be and do’ (Moore 1, p. 263); it is the full revelation of God and of his will for man. So the identification of Jesus with Torah makes Jesus the full revelation of God and of his will for man. But this is precisely what 11:27 has already done, for there the Son declares that he knows the Father and has been given a complete revelation. Hence Jesus, in both 11:27 and 29, and in contrast to Moses, is the perfect embodiment of God’s purpose and demand and the functional equivalent of Torah. Law-giver and law are one” (W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 2, International Critical Commentary [London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004], 289–290).

 

[26] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Heb 1:1–3.

 

[27] Cf. John 14:6. Michael S. Heiser, I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, ed. John D. Barry and Rebecca Van Noord (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Bible Study Magazine, 2014), 188.

 

[28] The quote continues quite extensively in Keener’s standard thoroughness, “other Jewish texts would have spoken only of God’s yoke here (Smith 1951: 153), or of the yoke of Torah (Davies and Allison 1991: 289). Jesus unquestionably models his words directly after the invitation of the sage Joshua ben Sira (Sir 51:23–27): Draw near to me, you who are uneducated … Why do you delay in these matters, when your souls thirst so much?… Place your neck under the yoke, and let your soul accept training—she is near if you wish to find her. Witness with your own eyes that I have labored little, yet have found much rest for myself. Yet the yoke in Matthew is not Ben Sira’s, but that of divine Wisdom, and Wisdom elsewhere invites the hearer, “Come to me, you who earnestly desire me,” and eat and drink of wisdom (Sir 24:19–21). John is not the only Gospel writer with a “wisdom christology” (Jn 1:1–18; 6:35; 7:37; cf. Hamerton-Kelly 1973: 68; Meier 1980: 127). Obeying God would bring his people “rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16 MT)” (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI;  Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009], 348–349).

 

[29] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:25–27.

 

[30] Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer, ed. Dallas Willard and David Hazard (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), 100.

 

[31] Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 172.

[32] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 1 Co 11:1.

 

[33] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 4:9.


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus! (Week 4)

“Take the Yoke of Jesus!”

Part 4 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

Jesus is inviting each of us to come to Him, all of us who are tired simply from the strain of living everyday life in a fallen world and burned out on carrying what other people have placed on our shoulders, and He will give us rest. But how are we to find rest for our souls as Jesus promised? Jesus teaches us very specifically, but there are three things I want us to learn from the specific way Jesus is commanding.

 

From the New American Standard Bible, listen for the commands found in Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”[1]

 

Take My Yoke

 

There are 2 commands (called ‘imperatives’) in our passage (Matthew 11:28-30) and they are both found in verse 29. Today we will emphasize the first, “Take My yoke upon you…” and next week we will focus on the second, “…and learn from Me…” (Mt 11:29a, b, emphasis added). Both are essential to understanding Jesus’ invitation and promise. If you want to experience the rest of God, then we have to understand what we are being invited to do.

 

Interesting enough the invitation to “Come to Me” (Mt. 11:28a) is being used in the adverbial form, which means that the invitation to come is modifying the indicative verb of “I will give you rest.” Simply, the giving of Jesus’ rest is found in coming to Him. As we saw last week, Jesus is that rest. That is the triumphant teaching of Jesus’ words in this next passage, Matthew 12:8, when Jesus declares, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”[2] and in the commentary of Jesus’ teaching on sabbath in Hebrews 4:1-16, “For we who have believed enter that rest.”[3] Not to get ahead of myself, but entering into the rest of God is through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

To start the conversation, allow me to share this illustration with you:

A teacher read to her class the text, “My yoke is easy.”

“Who can tell me what a yoke is?” she asked.

A boy said, “A yoke is something they put on the necks of animals.”

Then the teacher asked, “What is the yoke God puts on us?”

A little girl said, “It is God putting His arms around our necks.”[4]

 

With this image in mind, let’s now begin to learn the ‘how’ of Jesus’ rest: Jesus is commanding us to take His yoke upon ourselves. Jesus uses the Greek verb αἴρω in this sentence as a plural 2nd person imperative in the active tense and aorist voice.[5] In this context, BDAG states that the word means, “to lift up and move from one place to another; to take/carry (along).”[6]

 

Jesus is literally telling us that in order to have rest from the weariness of living life in a broken and fallen world and in order to be delivered from the heavy load that others have put on our shoulders, that we must actively take on ourselves His yoke. This action, combined with the imperative of “learn from Me” is the way to rest. While eternal rest is available through the grace of faith, experiencing rest (abundance in this life) is through the grace of faithfulness; hence, the yoke as a living image of a grace-based relationship with God through Jesus Christ.[7]

 

What is the yoke of Jesus and will understanding this will we better understand what Jesus is inviting us to in this command? I believe so, it did for me. A lot! The Greek word for yoke is ζυγός (zygos) and it is only found six times in the NT. Five times it is translated “yoke” (Mt 11:29, 30; Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1; and 1 Tim 6:1) and once as “scales” (Rev 6:5) in the NASB. As we will discover, the NT usage of this word is grounded in its OT usage. In the OT, the word “yoke” is translated from five different Hebrew words and in the NASB is found 54 times.[8]

 

There is three-fold understanding of the “yoke” of Jesus as He commands us to take on ourselves in Matthew 11:28-30: 1) cultural-historical, specifically an agricultural metaphor; 2) cultural,-religious, specifically a Jewish metaphor; and 3) with an understanding of the implications of both 1 & 2, as a “conceptual metaphor” calling people into Christian discipleship.[9]

 

 

Yoke as Agricultural Imagery

 

Jesus was talking to a Jewish audience whose livelihoods depended on their abilities to work the ground. Jesus often spoke in well-known and easily understood cultural references because His audience intuitively understood them. As we all know, a picture speaks a thousand words. Check this picture out.

 

Figure 1 below is a drawing capturing the historical context of how an ancient Israelite would have seen the yoke as a 6-day-a-week reality of their lives in community.[10] Jesus is capturing this picture with his invitation to come to Him and his command to take His yoke upon ourselves.

Figure 1: Plowing: “A Yoke of Oxen”

 

Listen to Ralph Gower share the historical reality of Jesus’ day with some insightful comments,

 

The plough itself was made of two wooden beams, jointed T-fashion. The horizontal stroke of the T formed the handle for guidance, and the spiked end was to break the surface of the ground. The vertical section of the T was attached to the yoke that went over the necks of the animals. The yoke itself was simply a rough beam tied across the necks of a pair of animals and held in place by two vertical sticks that came down each side of the neck and tied beneath (see Jeremiah 28:13). The law forbade a mixture of animals such as ox and donkey (see Deuteronomy 22:10), presumably because there would be an unequal pull that might cause suffering for the weaker animal.[11]

 

Tony Stoltzfus in his book on conversational prayer makes an insightful comment,

 

According to tradition, Jesus in his role as a tekton (Greek for carpenter or builder) made yokes and ploughs. Each yoke had to be custom-fitted to each animal. As one yoke-build notes: ‘Yokes for oxen are like shoes for children. One size does not fit all. A young team may need as many as five or six yokes before it reaches maturity. A well-fitted yoke will allow an ox team to pull to its full potential. A poor fitted yoke will cause discomfort, could injure the oxen, and will not allow the team to pull to its full potential.’[12]
 
 

Figure 2: A picture of a yoke as discussed by Stoltzfus.[13]

 

But, what is the full potential of an oxen team? In John 15, Jesus said in another conceptual metaphor based on a different agricultural image, that with Him we can do more than we can imagine, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.”[14]

 

Just like in the vine and branch imagery, the yoke imagery puts Jesus in the dominant position to do great things in us and through our lives.[15] Janet Pope describes the power of the yoke, “Typically a young, untrained ox is yoked with an older, trained ox. The younger learns from the older. If a trained ox can pull 5,000 pounds and an untrained ox can pull 2,000 pounds, together they can pull 10,000 pounds—much more than the sum of the two. Over time, the untrained ox becomes trained and the two begin to walk in-step with each other. Then they can pull 15,000 pounds.”[16]

 

Apart from Jesus, you may be able to do a little bit in this life, but nothing of eternal value. But in the yoke of Jesus you can pull over seven times more.[17]

 

 

Yoke as a Vivid Old Testament Symbol

 

“Because the yoke was such a common agricultural implement, it became a vivid symbol with many nuances” in the Jewish mindset.[18] Jesus was unapologetically trying to reach a Jewish audience so He engaged existing metaphors.[19] Let’s not be confused then by how His language and imagery speaks directly to his target audience.

 

What would an every-day good religious Jewish person familiar with the Old Testament (the Jewish scriptures, Torah), living in first-century Palestine, have heard when Jesus invited them to take His yoke on them? The agricultural imagery would have already been grafted into this second image: the OT usage of the yoke as covenant faithfulness to the Torah (the commandment of God to His chosen people) as contrasted with apostasy through worship of pagan gods and foreign idols.[20]

 

Charles Tyer explains the depth of the yoke imagery to the Jewish religious mind,

 

The yoke concept within the Hebrew literary traditions is strongly related to the idea of the Sovereignty Covenant. God laid his yoke on his people. His people either bore the yoke (an obedient, proper relationship) or broke off the yoke (a relationship of rebellion). God’s people might choose to attempt to wear the yokes of other gods, which was the same as throwing off the yoke of Israel’s god. Obviously, one could not wear two yokes at the same time. The wearing of the yoke as viewed in Hebrew scripture was the outward sign of an inward relationship. Thus one might bring the offerings and do all of the things of religion and still not be bearing the yoke in terms of attitudes and relationships. Hebrew scriptures can thus view the bearing of the yoke of God’s sovereignty as joy, honor, and privilege rather than tragedy, hardship, and sorrow.[21]

 

God is passionate about upholding His covenant with His people as we read in Jeremiah 2:20, “For long ago I broke your yoke and tore off your bonds; But you said, ‘I will not serve!’ For on every high hill and under every green tree you have lain down as a harlot.” He continues in Jeremiah 5:5-6, “‘I will go to the great and will speak to them, for they know the way of the Lord and ordinance of their God.’ But they too, with one accord, have broken the yoke and burst the bonds. Therefore a lion from the forest will slay them, a wolf of the deserts will destroy them, a leopard is watching their cities. Everyone who goes out of them will be torn in pieces, because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are numerous.”[22]

 

Dramatically, God commands Jeremiah to prophetically take on Himself the yoke of Israel’s apostasy to Babylon. Listen to a few verses of Jeremiah 27:1-22, “Thus says the Lord to me—’Make for yourself bonds and yokes and put them on your neck.’” Soon after God declares of His promised deliverance and rescue of His chosen people for the glory of His name, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.”[23]

 

The people of Israel knew the imagery of the yoke. Listen to Jewish rabbis from these Jewish documents. In the Babylonian Talmud and the Mishnah, Berakhot 2:2 states, “So that one should first accept upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterwards accept the yoke of the commandments.”[24]

 

Also from the Mishnah, Pirke Abott 3:5, “R. Neḥunia b. ha-Kanah said: Every one who receives upon him the yoke of Torah, they remove from him the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly occupation. And every one who breaks off from him the yoke of Torah, they lay upon him the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of worldly occupation.”[25]

 

We should not forget that the context of Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 11:25-30 is Jesus renouncing the Jewish cities that He has preached to for their apostasy in Matthew 11:20-24. This connection to the concept of the yoke as God’s sovereign rule over His chosen people should not be lost nor ignored. This is essential to our understanding of Matthew 11:28-30 and its application to our lives and the ministry of the gospel through the local church. Jesus usage not only aligns with the OT usage, but also the Jewish understanding of the yoke.

 

 

Yoke as Invitation to Christian Discipleship

 

As already introduced, Jesus is using ‘yoke’ as a conceptual metaphor, a teaching device, to invite you into the fullness of what it means to be Christian disciple. This is a call to Christian discipleship as we saw overtly in verse 28 and as we will continue to see as Jesus commands us learn from Him.[26] In using the word “yoke” Jesus is recognizing His audience’s preexisting understanding that goes beyond the literal usage of the word alone. A yoke imagines the following: 1) a working tool for greater productivity in farming by being united with one stronger and more experienced than you and 2) to submission to God’s authority and way of life.

 

The invitation to take Jesus’ yoke was a direct invitation by a Jewish rabbi to a Jewish audience to take off the yoke of the legalistic observation of Torah, which was the heavy burden that the religious rulers of Second Temple Judaism had placed firmly on the shoulders of these Jewish people. That is why Jesus invited those are “weary and heavy-laden” in Matthew 11:28. This is what this text means to its original audience and in intended usage. As Neil Anderson said in Victory over the Darkness, “the context is the yoke of legalism.”[27]

 

Jesus is explicitly commanding His Jewish audience to put down the Torah (Law) and put Him on (grace). Jesus is inviting the Jewish people into a new covenant of relationship with the Father, which is why He describes Himself  as “gentle and humble in heart.” He is contrasting His grace-yoke with the Father as compared to the heavy-yoke of works-based religious observance. Jesus is inviting His hearers to a grace-filled relationship with God through Himself, enabled through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

This was not missed by the Apostle Paul who continues this conversation very overtly in Galatians 5:1-4, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”[28]

 

Nor was this lost on the Apostle Peter who said during the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:7-11,

 

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”[29]

 

Nor was this missed by the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest of Christian leaders who had contact with the apostles. These Apostolic Fathers left some evidence of how they viewed the yoke of Jesus Christ. Below are the two earliest non-canonical sources of the early church. In the Didache 6:2 states, “If you can bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect, but if you cannot, do what you can.”[30] While 1 Clement 16:17 asks, “Ye see, dearly beloved, what is the pattern that hath been given unto us; for, if the Lord was thus lowly of mind, what should we do, who through Him have been brought under the yoke of His grace?”[31] It would be a future study to discuss all the commentary on theses sayings of the earliest church leaders, outside of the Bible. But it is enough for us to know 19 centuries later, that this saying of Jesus has inspired Christians to a faithful life of Christian discipleship, not just a faith decision for Christ.[32]

 

Application of the Yoke Imagery

 

For most of us independent American types, the yoke imagery does not work for us in partnership with the concept of rest. Jesus’ teaching is counterintuitive, which is a fancy way of saying, “This is not common sense!” Is Jesus saying that you have to do some work to have rest?  But salvation is a no-work agreement as Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[33] And that is 100% true! So, what is Jesus saying?

 

Listen to Jeremy Treat, from a 2014 Gospel Coalition article about God’s grace,

 

If it’s “all about grace” then clearly it’s not about effort. Or so it seems. But, as Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Christians therefore, should work hard, strive, and toil—but we do so not for grace but from grace. Because of the gospel we are motivated not by guilt but by gratitude. And the gospel is the greatest motivating power in the world, propelling followers of Christ to love their neighbor, do justice, and share the gospel. Philippians 2:12-13 describes this type of grace-driven effort: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[34] (italics his)

 

To help us close the gap on this seeming paradox of Jesus’ simultaneous invitation to find rest and command to take His yoke upon you, listen to Christian psychologist Dr. Bill Gaultiere’s insight on the actual usage of the yoke as would best help us understand Jesus’ intent,

 

The yoke that Jesus is referring to is a heavy wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of two oxen. It’s used to attach them, neck to neck, and hitch up them up to a plow that they are to pull across a field to prepare it for planting a crop. First, the ox needs to be “broken in.” To train a young ox wise farmers are careful not to pair it with another young ox or an ox that’s been poorly trained. Young oxen might be strong and energetic, but they don’t know how to wear the yoke and they don’t know how to pull the plow. They jerk and strain to try to get out of the yoke. They charge forward to rush to the end of the job, chaffing their necks and choking themselves. Or they try to wander off to graze in a meadow. But if you take a young ox and pair it with a mixture ox who has been well-trained then it learns. The lead ox shows the younger how to wear the yoke loosely and lightly. It pulls the brunt of the weight of the plow and leads the younger one to pull the plow and steady, step-by-step, straight ahead – without getting bruised or worn out. Jesus is the mature ox we need.[35] (italics his)

 

Utilizing the historical context and with the promise of Jesus’ promise in John 10:10 to give us abundant life and fullness of joy in mind, Stoltzfus speculates into the command of Jesus,

 

When Jesus the master craftsman said ‘my yoke is easy,’ memories flooded back to him of his time in the woodshop: carving the curved opening in the yoke to fit around each animal’s neck, sanding it down carefully so that it would not rub any spot raw or hurt the animal. When he asks you to, ‘take my yoke upon you,’ he means the one he custom-made just for you and him. It’s designed to preserve you from unnecessary pain and let you reach your full potential. Just as yokes were made to join the pulling power of two animals, his yoke is meant to join your strength to his and let the two of you to pull together.[36]

 

Allow me to conclude with Janet Pope’s concluding thoughts about the yoke of Jesus,

Burnout doesn’t come from working too hard for God. It comes from working ALONE for God. Working side-by-side with Jesus gives us rest IN our work, not rest FROM our work. We want to be yoked with Jesus because the load IS too heavy to carry alone. We don’t need to trivialize the burdens of this world. They are real and ever-present. If the load isn’t heavy, a yoke isn’t needed. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light precisely because that yoke connects us to the One who has overcome the world.[37]

You are invited if you do not know Jesus to come to Him and find rest. You are commanded to put on His yoke and learn from Him to find rest for your soul. There is a once and for all-time decision that must be made, but there is also a lifestyle of faithfulness that must be decided every morning you wake up and throughout your day. Put down all the other yokes you are carrying, and take up your Cross and follow Jesus![38]

 

Are you working hard, but doing it alone?

 

Are you weary and under a heavy load?

 

Then put on your shoulders the yoke of grace. There is only room for one…
 

Footnotes:

——————————————————————————————————————–
 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 11:28–30. All caps in this reference is part of NASB formatting to indicate that Jesus is quoting the Old Testament. In this case, it is Jeremiah 6:16 which is relevant to today’s teaching, but will be further discussed in the future.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 12:8.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Heb 4:3.

 

[4] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 1507.

[5] All word searches are from Logos 8 Bible Software. “The aorist verb tense is used by the writer to present the action of a verb as a “snapshot” event. The verb’s action is portrayed simply and in summary fashion without respect to any process. In the indicative mood, the aorist usually denotes past time, while an aorist participle usually refers to antecedent time with respect to the main verb. Outside the indicative and the participle, the aorist does not indicate time” (Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology [Lexham Press, 2013; 2013].”

 

[6] “lit. w. obj. acc. σταυρόν Mt 16:24; 27:32; Mk 8:34; 15:21; Lk 9:23. ζυγόν (La 3:27) Mt 11:29. τινὰ ἐπὶ χειρῶν 4:6; Lk 4:11 (both Ps 90:12). Pass. Mk 2:3. αἴ. τι εἰς ὁδόν take someth. along for the journey 6:8; Lk 9:3, cp. 22:36. Of a gambler’s winnings Mk 15:24.—Fig. δόξαν ἐφʼ ἑαυτὸν αἴ. claim honor for oneself B 19:3” (William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 28).

 

[7] Cf. Matthew 7:24-27. Both of these teachings of Jesus indicate that simply being with Him is not enough to experience His promised abundant life (John 10:10). It is not enough to be yoked with Jesus, but you must learn from Him. It is not enough to hear the teachings of Jesus, you must do them. While putting your faith in Jesus is an act of grace toward you, it cannot be seen from a reductionist-gospel point of view as only that. Grace is not only a salvific action of God to secure a person in His inheritance, but an empowered lifestyle of apprenticeship with Jesus, where grace is the active power of enabling the life of faith. A life that bears the fruit to God’s grace testifies to the new nature of the tree by grace (Matthew 7:15-23 is the context for Jesus’ illustrative Matthew 7:24-27 parable). I will develop this teaching on God’s grace throughout this sermon and in next week’s sermon.

[8] “Literally, the wooden bar that allowed two (or more) draft animals to be coupled so that they might effectively work together (Nm 19:2; 1 Kgs 19:19; Jb 1:3). In addition to this literal usage, the Bible frequently uses the term metaphorically to refer to work or bondage (Gn 27:40). The yoke of bondage was applied not only by foreign oppressors, but often by Israel’s own kings as well (2 Kgs 12:4–14; 2 Chr 10:4–14). In prophetic writings, the yoke of bondage was generally associated with divine judgment (Lam 1:14), so that deliverance was represented as God breaking the yoke that had enslaved Israel (Is 9:4; 10:27; 14:25; 58:6; Jer 2:20; 5:5). The yoke of bondage figured prominently in Jeremiah’s contest with Hananiah concerning Judah’s imminent release from Babylonian captivity (Jer 27:8–11; 28:1–17)” (Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Yoke,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988], 2173).

[9]Conceptual metaphor refers to the way we use a concrete term or idea to communicate abstract ideas. If we marry ourselves to the concrete (“literal”) meaning of words, we’re going to miss the point the writer was angling for in many cases. If I use the word “Vegas” and all you think of is latitude and longitude, you’re not following my meaning. Biblical words can carry a lot of freight that transcends their concrete sense. Inspiration didn’t immunize language from doing what it does” (Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, First Edition. [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015], 387).

 

[10] 1000 Bible Images. Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2009. Further insights about the yoke will be developed when exegeting Mt 11:30, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Scriptures that speak to this historical reality of Jewish culture are Deut 22:10; 1 Sam 14:14; 1 Kings 19:19; Job 1:3; and Luke 14:19.

 

[11] Ralph Gower, The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times Student Edition (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2000), 74-75. Beyond the scope of this study, but illustrative to the power of a conceptual metaphor, Gower continues, “The regulation prohibiting partnership between believers and unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers”) was not simply exclusivist; it was made out of the knowledge of the suffering that could be caused” (75).

 

[12] Tony Stoltzfus with Kathy Stoltzfus and Sarah Herring, Questions for Jesus: Conversational Prayer Around Your Deepest Desires (Redding, CA: Coach22 Bookstore LLC, 2013), 68. The quote within the quote was footnoted, “Tiller’s Tech Guide – Building An Ox Yoke”. All italics are original to the author.

 

[13] Picture from https://briarcroft.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/lenten-meditation-resting-in-the-yoke/ (accessed January 25, 2019).

 

[14] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 15:5, 16a.

 

[15] Discussion about the role of the Holy Spirit to do this will come in the sermon on Mt 11:30.

 

[16] Janet Pope, “A Yoke? What’s that all about?” (November 20, 2013) http://www.janetpope.org/a-yoke-whats-that-all-about/ (accessed January 26, 2019).

 

[17] Not to be weird about numbers, but seven is the number of completion and the number of rest. Regardless, it is the goal of our lives to be able to say as Jesus said in John 17:4, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”

 

[18] The quotes continues, “Sometimes it was used to describe oppression and servitude, politically (Gen. 27:40; Lev. 26:13; 1 Kgs. 12:4–14 = 2 Chr. 10:4–14; Isa. 58:6, 9; Jer. 28:1–14) and religiously (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1; 1 Tim. 6:1). Lam. 1:14 employs the figure to describe the negative results of sin. The figure of humans yoked usually represents an unhealthy relationship (2 Cor. 6:14; cf. Ps. 106:28)” (W. E. Nunnally, “Yoke,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000], 1404).

 

[19] As Jesus said in Matthew 15:24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” See whole story for context, Mt. 15:21-28.

 

[20] The Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible expresses this larger understanding of the yoke imagery, “Even more striking is Jeremiah’s use of the term as a metaphor for God’s authority, probably as expressed in the covenant and the word of God (Jer. 2:20; 5:5). Jesus’ shorthand use of the term in Matt. 11:28–30 refers to the rabbinic concepts of ‘the yoke of the kingdom of heaven/Torah/commandments’ (cf. m. Ber. 2:2, 5; b. Sanh. 94b; Sir. 6:24–30; Pss. Sol. 7:9)” (W. E. Nunnally, “Yoke,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000], 1404).

 

[21] Charles L. Tyer, “Yoke,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1026.

 

[22] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Je 2:20; 5:5–6.

 

[23] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Je 27:2; 28:2.

 

[24] Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 82. Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah : A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 5.

[25] Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 699. Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah : A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 679.

 

[26] The roots of biblical discipleship go deep into the fertile soil of God’s calling. That calling is expressed in the pattern of divine initiative and human response that constitutes the heart of the biblical concept of covenant, manifested in the recurrent promise, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” That call from Yahweh is reiterated in the call of Jesus, when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). God has called his people to represent him on the earth, to be with him in every circumstance of life, to be transformed in personal character to be like him. That calling is at the heart of biblical discipleship, both in the Old and New Testaments” (Michael J. Wilkins, “Disciple, Discipleship,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996], 175).

 

[27] Neil T. Anderson, Victory over the Darkness, 10th Anniversary Edition Updated and Expanded (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2000), audiobook reference at 1:11.40.

 

[28] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 5:1–4.

 

[29] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ac 15:7–11.

[30] Kurt Niederwimmer and Harold W. Attridge, The Didache: A Commentary, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 120.

[31] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 64.

 

[32] “Although discipleship was a voluntary initiative with other types of master-disciple relationships in the first century, with Jesus the initiative lay with his call (Matt. 4:19; 9:9; Mark 1:17; 2:14; cf. Luke 5:10–11, 27–28) and his choice (John 15:16) of those who would be his disciples. The response to the call involves recognition and belief in Jesus’ identity (John 2:11; 6:68–69), obedience to his summons (Mark 1:18, 20), and counting the cost of full allegiance to him (Matt. 19:23–30; Luke 14:25–28). His call is the beginning of something new; it means losing one’s old life (Matt. 10:34–37; Luke 9:23–25) and finding new life in the family of God through obeying the will of the Father (Matt. 12:46–50)” (Michael J. Wilkins, “Disciple, Discipleship,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996], 176).

[33] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 2:8–9.

 

[34] Jeremy Treat, “Grace is Not a Thing” (May 29, 2014).  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/grace-is-not-a-thing/, last accessed January 24, 2019. A parallel thought from Paul is found in his words in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” God’s rhythm of rest is not just a 6:1 ration of work to rest, it is resting in your work. In this fallen world, it takes work to truly rest in the Lord. To build the boundaries in your life and to not live your life in 24/7 connectivity and productivity.

[35] Bill Gaultier, Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered (Irvine, CA: Soul Shepherding, Inc., 2016), 7. Gaultier was a long-time apprentice to Dallas Willard and this book, along with the work of John Ortberg, is the best work I have found building upon the ground-breaking work of Dallas Willard. Before his death and after reading the first draft of this book, it is reported that Dallas Willard said to Gaultier, “This is groundbreaking! Pastors and others will come under this teaching and develop aspects of it in their own ministry” (1). I am finding that statement very true. Combined with the essential works of Dallas Willard, this book has shaped my thinking on the applications of Mt 11:28-30 more than any other resources.

[36] Tony Stoltzfus with Kathy Stoltzfus and Sarah Herring, Questions for Jesus: Conversational Prayer Around Your Deepest Desires (Redding, CA: Coach22 Bookstore LLC, 2013), 68. For additional support of this thought process, Richard Myers explained, “Yokes had to be shaped and fitted carefully. Many parts were made of wood, so the carpenter Jesus had to know well how to design, make, and use them (Mark 6:3)” (Richard Myers. Images from The Temple Dictionary of the Bible [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012]).

[37] Janet Pope, “A Yoke? What’s that all about?” (November 20, 2013) http://www.janetpope.org/a-yoke-whats-that-all-about/ (accessed January 26, 2019).

[38] I will further establish the connection between the yoke and the cross in a future sermon. The implications on the call to Christian discipleship are essential to our application to both discipleship and ministry.


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus! (Week 3)

“The Rest of God!”

Part 3 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

Jesus is inviting you to come to Him, but what did Jesus promise to give to those who are tired from day-to-day life and weary from carrying the burdens that have been placed on them?

 

From the New American Standard Bible, listen for the promise found in Matthew 11:28-30, “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.”[1]

 

Here is a brief survey of numerous Bible teachers’ thoughts on Jesus’ promise of rest in v. 28:

 

It includes peace of mind and heart, and relief from uncertainty and anxiety [NTC]. It is a deep refreshment that enables a person to go back to his or her tasks with renewed strength and energy [PNTC]. It is relief from sin and guilt, and from striving after salvation [Lns]. It is an eschatological rest, and reflects the language of Jeremiah 6:16 [EBC, NICNT, NIGTC, WBC], but it is also a present reality [EBC, WBC]. This ‘rest’ is a proper fellowship with God [TH]. It is not idleness or inaction [BNTC, ICC], but the contentment and full life that come from knowing and living by the truth which God’s Son reveals [ICC]. It is eternal, eschatological salvation by faith [CC]. It speaks of a refreshing and fulfillment that looks forward to the eschatological Sabbath [WBC].[2]

 

What a beautiful and robust promise for those who will come to Jesus. All this from a one-word promise.[3] The original Greek word used in Matthew 11:28c is ἀναπαύω which is used 12 times in the New Testament, with the following range of meaning: “to cause someone to gain relief from toil, to cause to rest, refresh, revive; to bring something to a conclusion, end, conclude, finish; to settle on an object, rest upon in imagery.”[4]

Here are three examples of the rest Jesus is referring to in Matthew 11:28. With applications.

 

First, from Mark 6:31-32, after the disciples come back from successful ministry trips, “And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.”[5] (emphasis of bold and underline added)

 

APPLICATIONS: Rest can happen in times alone with God or with a small group of people.

 

Do you have 7 friends (a small group of people) that you can be yourself with?

 

You won’t find rest as long as you are carrying the yoke of performance to gain acceptance from people. The fear of man and fear of rejection disallow us from finding rest in the easy yoke of Jesus. This level of relationship is cultivated through time together, with an intentional desire to be known and to know. It’s risky, but what worth having does not come with risk to ourselves. Love is the riskiest business!

 

We will talk about this more in the coming weeks, but it is critical to understand that Jesus’ invitation to find rest is not just a once-upon-a-time faith decision, but daily moment-by-moment decisions to faithfully live by faith to Jesus’ ways and words. This is never tested more than in our relationships, in how we love one another, in how we relate to others ranging from our neighbor to our enemy.

 

When is the last time you went on a retreat (mini, day, or overnight), either alone or with others?

 

The ultimate antidote to the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. It is in Christian discipleship, in answering the invitation to come to Jesus, that you learn how to take off the yokes of other people’s expectations. You don’t need to fear them! This includes taking off the yoke of our own expectations of living up to oppressive standards (often driven by our own past hurts, or by pride of performance or insecurity of what others may think, fear of the future including the very relevant fear of missed opportunities that drives so many young families today). It is impossible to rest in the easy yoke of Jesus when you are being driven by puny gods (idols).

 

Are you making space in little ways for God in your life to experience the rest of God?

 

Start small and start today. One idea is to get to bed on time and on purpose in order to get a good night sleep. Then you can wake up rested to spend your first part of the day with Jesus. Whether for 2 or 20 minutes or 2 hours, turn your early morning into a mini retreat with Jesus. Your day doesn’t start with how you wake up, how you start your day is determined by how you get to bed! Pray the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 to relax and relax to rest.

 

The next two examples of rest are from Paul. In 1 Corinthians 16:18, he spoke of the rest that comes from the ministry that Christians can give to one another, “For they have refreshed my spirit and yours.”[6] Again in 2 Corinthians 7:13, “we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.”[7] (emphasis of bold and underline added)

APPLICATION: Rest happens through the service we provide to one another. Both to the one who is ministering as you serve one another in the yoke of Jesus and to the one who is being blessed by the ministry of the other. When was the last time you obeyed the Spirit to serve another person? How did it make you feel? How did it affect the other person? Do you have 1 place of service where you feel led by God to serve others in the easy yoke of Jesus?

 

A warning for the sake of your health: Any place of service that is not in submission to God through the yoke of Jesus will either burden, disappoint, or eventually frustrate you or pridefully cause you to feel better than others. In either case, the lack of the Spirit and the increasing of the flesh in that kind of service can only lead to a wary and burdened soul. All service in the easy yoke of Jesus brings about humility in the person and praise to God who is the only one able to bear spiritual fruit in our lives. As Jesus said in John 15, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.”[8]

 

Combined, these applications, are what we are calling FBC’s 2019 “7:1 Initiative” that I believe the Lord Jesus is inviting each of us to as members of His body at FBC. This is not a program that we are calling you to, it is a lifestyle. Are you investing in 7 relationships and 1 place of service that will lead to rest for you and rest for others?

 

You are invited to practically apply Matthew 11:28. Rest is not a complete absence of work, but from a complete surrender to Jesus Christ which includes every single day in every single way, not just a 6:1 ratio of work to rest. Jesus is the purpose and meaning of our work and He is the rest for our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.

 

Immediately after this amazing invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus declares this in Matthew 12:8, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”[9] Jesus calls us to a day of ceasing from our work because He knows we need to rest from our labors, our striving and scheming, and we need above all to remember and to know that He is God and we are not.

 

The rest of God is not only to be found in our outward rhythms of work and rest, but in the inward movements of our heart and mind to trust God and move closer and closer to Him every day. Jesus is desiring to be with you, from the inside out. Jesus is desiring to set you free and in your freedom, to give you rest, in this life and in the life to come.

 

Are you moving closer and closer to Jesus?

 

Supplemental Material

 
—————————————————————————————————

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 11:28–30. All caps in this reference is part of NASB formatting to indicate that Jesus is quoting the Old Testament. In this case, it is Jeremiah 6:16 which is relevant to today’s teaching, but will be further discussed in the future.

 

[2] David Abernathy, An Exegetical Summary of Matthew 1–16, Exegetical Summaries (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2013), 412–413.

 

[3] When I was first studying this passage, I was going to demonstrate how God “gives” and cross reference this promise with the famous promise of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But while there is a conceptual connection to this truth that God is the giver of all good gifts (cf. James 1:17), there is not a lexical connection. This is a one-word promise and it is not the same Greek verb used in either of these verses or the like (e.g. Rom 8:32).

 

[4] Word studies and analysis of the text done in Logos 8 Bible Software. Word study with Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Additionally from UBS, “to cause someone to become physically refreshed as the result of resting from work—‘to cause to rest, to give rest.’ δεῦτε πρός με … κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς ‘come to me … and I will give you rest’ Mt 11:28. In some languages it may be difficult to speak of ‘causing someone to become refreshed by resting.’ Normally this would be accomplished simply by causing a person not to have to work. Accordingly, Mt 11:28 may be expressed in some languages as ‘I will make it possible for you no longer to have to work’ or ‘… to toil hard.’ This, however, must not be understood merely in the sense of ‘to give a person a vacation’ or ‘to make it possible for someone to live without working’” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains [New York: United Bible Societies, 1996], 260).

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mk 6:31–32.

 

[6] Ibid., 1 Co 16:18.

[7] Ibid., 2 Co 7:13.

 

[8] Ibid., Jn 15:5, 16a.

 

[9] Ibid., Mt 12:8. “What better example than the fourth commandment, which dominates 12:1–14? One experiences the sabbath rest precisely by keeping the sabbath command; and it is rest not just for the ‘soul’ (so most translations of 11:29c), but for the body as well. Yet, this only happens for persons intimately related to ‘the Lord of the Sabbath’ (12:8). In Jesus’ hands, the law is an instrument of grace, a guide for loving God and neighbor. Wielded by alien powers (demonic or human), the law becomes enslaving and destructive” (J. Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries [Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2010], 637).

 


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Rest: Life in the Easy Yoke of Jesus! (Week 2)

“Are you tired and worn out?”

Part 2 of an 8-part Teaching on Matthew 11:28-30

 

Today, we are going to start a conversation on the major issues of stress. We live in an overconnected 24×7 world where technology is blurring the lines between work and home life. In 2015, Forbes magazine broke with this news, “According to the World Health Organization, stress is ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century,’ and the driver of many chronic diseases.”[1] This is a fascinating and insightful article that is more relevant today than it was when it was released in October 2015, over three years ago. With the millennial generation on track to be the majority of the work force within the next 6 years, with technology (phones, pads, computers, AI, etc.) continuing to be integrated more deeply than ever into work force expectations and everyday life productivity, and with tightening budgets causing employees to do more with less, allow me to quote some of the statistical research regarding how stress is affecting us:

 

When asked if they have ever missed work due to stress, nearly one-third (31%) of respondents indicated they had taken a day or more out of work in the past year solely because of stress they were feeling on the job. But what are employees saying when they are skipping out to decompress? The most common excuse is calling out sick (81%), followed by taking a mental health day (32%), saying there is a family emergency (20%), claiming a household problem or car troubles (18%) and saying you have a doctor’s appointment (14%). The alternative to having your employees out of the office – having them work while stressed – isn’t necessarily the next best option. Stressed employees don’t perform to their potential: When asked how they operate at work under stress, 56% said they’ll work overtime, 28% said they log regular hours and avoid extra work and 16% said they’ll take long breaks throughout the day. They might be in the office, but they are not engaged with their work. Perhaps the most interesting piece of data: the number of respondents who admitted they have left a job because of the stress it caused them. Just over 40% of respondents said they quit because of stress, which should make employers and HR departments think a little more about how they can empower their employees to thrive in the stressful situations rather than bear the high costs of turnover, replacement and training.[2]

 

Last week we talked about the first three words of Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me”. Today we are looking at the next clause, “all who are weary and heavy-laden.”[3] Sounds like Jesus is inviting, “all who are stressed out.” Jesus invites people who are stressed out, strung out, screwed up, set up, set aside, snowed in and sent out to pasture. Jesus is inviting you and me!

 

That is good news, because it means that Jesus has not given up on us yet. Jesus is still inviting!

Please open your Bible with me to Matthew 11 and allow me to briefly help you gain important context on who Jesus is inviting. Jesus is making this invitation after John the Baptist’s disciples relay his question as he sat in jail awaiting his execution, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”[4] I think John the Baptist was feeling some anxiety and he was second guessing who Jesus was.[5] So Jesus gave evidence that He is the Messiah and then as if in direct response to John the Baptist’s anxiety, Jesus said, “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me [literally, “does not stumble over me”].”[6] Jesus’ ways are not our ways!

 

Immediately afterwards, in a strong moment of what I call “righteous rebuke” Jesus describes the generation to which He was sent.[7] Then in unapologetic words of judgment which Jesus usually focused on the religious elite of his day who were putting the burdens on their people, Jesus judged whole cities for their lack of faith and unwillingness to come to Him. He contrasts them to Sodom and Gomorrah actually (ouch!).[8] And this is when the great compassion of Jesus Christ breaks through one of Jesus’ hardest denunciations recorded in the Bible.[9]

 

From the New American Standard Bible, listen to Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 starting in verse 25, “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 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.”[10]

 

These are words of great compassion in the face of great unbelief. Technically, it is apostasy since Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience. In a moment that Jesus determined great judgment was due, He compassionately relents (showing His character as gentle and humble in heart) and makes one of the most gracious invitations of His ministry.

Let’s go a little deeper so we can get to application for our lives today. There are two original Greek words of special interest to us this morning. The first is κοπιάω (= weary in Matthew 11:28). There are 23 usages in the NT ranging from to “become weary/tired” and “to exert oneself physically, mentally, or spiritually, word hard, toil, strive, struggle.”[11] An equivalent usage to Matthew 11:28 is found in John 4:6 about Jesus, “Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.”[12]

 

Growing weary, growing tired is a real condition for all of us. It is part of being human. Even Jesus got tired. You can be tired physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally. We are finite creatures. Even when we are in Christ we are dwelling in finite bodies. Never ever forget, that you are human and you need rest! God made us with finite boundaries physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. And I will go as far as telling you, that these boundaries are gifts from God, to remind you of your absolute need for God in this life. God is inviting us out of our pride and self-sufficiency. Don’t deny your everyday need for Him. Are you weary? Are you tired?

 

Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap.

 

When is the last time you took a nap? If you are simply tired, weary from the journey of the last 6 days, then today is the day to find rest for our whole being because our soul is the center of our personality and all that we are.[13] It is God’s gift of rest to His people and it’s called the Sabbath. It’s not a burden, it’s a gift! It is a day of rest after 6 days of work. It is a day of intentional non-productivity after 6 days of productivity. It is a day of celebrating the infinite God whose life you are dependent on and to remember that you are finite and in need of God’s power and provision in your life. It is a day of humility to be reminded that the world doesn’t need your hard work as much as you think. It’s a day of freedom from self-imposed slavery.

 

We will talk more about the Sabbath the Bible’s rest motif when we dive into Jesus’ promise for rest. For now, just know that rest is a part of God’s design for you. He modeled it in Creation, commanded it through Moses, and revolutionized it through Jesus. Jesus is our rest.[14]

 

Now, combine this with the second word: φορτίζω (= heavy-laden in Matthew 11:28). Very interestingly, in the original language, Jesus used this passive participle in the perfect tense which means that Jesus is implying that someone else has already put the burden on you and you are now experiencing the ongoing state of that burden.[15] This is why there are 2 words in this expression: the first is an active participle in the present tense. You are actively tiring yourself out! This second word is the key to Jesus’ invitation: Because someone else has put a heavy-burden on you once upon a time, but you are still feeling the effects of it.

 

Listen to the only other usage of φορτίζω, but this time in the active voice meaning to load someone down, to burden them.[16] The only two usages of the word were used by Jesus and it provides a significant connection to the meaning of our scripture. Listen to Luke 11:46, “But He said, ‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’”[17]

 

This is further applied by Jesus in Matthew 23:1-4, “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.’”[18]

 

Listen one more time to Jesus’ invitation, but this time in The Message. It demonstrates the context in which Jesus is inviting all who are weary and heavy-laden: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”[19]

 

Jesus is inviting people into the life He has learned to live. A life that is not one of performance with a try-harder mentality, but the life in the grace-yoke of submission to God the Father, whom Jesus taught us to call Father, too. Jesus lived this before us, showing us the rest and the peace and the fullness of joy that comes with a relationship with God that is not based on man’s performance goals to meet the religious standards that have been squarely placed upon our shoulders with no hope of rescue. The rescue is here and Jesus is doing it and inviting us into it.[20]

Jesus is inviting you to enter into His rest and to stop trying harder to find security. In Jesus, you are already found, stop trying to earn your acceptance because you are already accepted.

 

What God has known we as a people are starting to learn to re-train ourselves to live by—it’s the new way of the Spirit.[21] We are disintegrating as a church because we live more like culture than like God’s people. All of these are worldly and not biblical teachings, but they all are right here working against the very way Jesus calls us to live and do community:

 

  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again.”
  • “It’s up to me to make it happen.”
  • “I have to take control of the situation.”
  • “I need to get a grip on my emotions.”
  • “Life is hard. I have to be harder.”
  • “I am a self-made person and I can do it.”

 

We are a try-harder culture, but Jesus is not a try-harder God. Stop trying harder to be someone and to make something of your life. Rest and live your life! Be who you are in Christ and allow Him to do what He’s always intended for you to do in His easy yoke.

 

The easy yoke does not mean life is going to be easy. Life is not easy, but in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ your best life is ahead of you, not behind you. Never behind you! Because the easy yoke of Jesus Christ is your rescue from the yoke of the devil (not only for eternity, but for this world here and now). The devil is the deceiver of your soul who is striving to distort your personality and intoxicate your desires. And in doing so, the devil is the thief of your joy, the robber of your peace, and the destroyer of your rest. For the followers of Jesus Christ, the devil is the only true enemy we will ever have because it is the devil who animates the structures and the systems of this world against the followers of Jesus who are called to live with and for God as proclaimers of the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.[22]

 

As Jesus Christ promised as our good shepherd, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”[23] As the good shepherd, Jesus never drives us to do His Father’s will, He always walks amidst us, with us, to do His Father’s will. He modeled the life of being in the grace yoke of His Father by living the restful life, which included how He walked, talked, even how He died. Every aspect of His life was according to the Father’s will and for us to be able to enter His rest.[24]

 

As the Apostle Paul said to the disciples of Jesus Christ in Galatia, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”[25]

 

Jesus is inviting you to His easy yoke. Accept Jesus’ invitation and allow Jesus to personally release you from the bondage of religion that is a heavy yoke that has been placed around your neck. In place of that yoke, Jesus will personally custom fit you with a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. Made by the Nazarene carpenter Himself.[26]

 

Anxiety is caused when we view the problems of this life as greater than the promises of God. Rest is when we trust the promises of God as being greater than the problems of this life.

 

Jesus is inviting you to take Him at His promise for your life.

 

Are you tired and worn out? Has Christianity as you’ve known it and experienced it not even touched your depression or your anxiety or your fears of death or worries in life or your neurotic tendencies or self-centered thinking or consumeristic living?

 

Jesus is inviting you to get out of that heavy yoke of religion and take on the easy yoke of relationship. Jesus is inviting you to find your rest in Him.
 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] Jan Bruce, “Are You Too Stressed to Work: You’re Not Alone” Forbes Magazine posted October 20, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/janbruce/2015/10/20/are-you-too-stressed-to-work/#3fcde2a5a9e3. Accessed January 12, 2019.

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] “πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι” (Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012], Mt 11:28).

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 11:3.

 

[5] The amazing news is that Jesus did not hold this against John because Jesus’ acceptance is not based on performance or right answers. Reference Mt 11:7-11.

 

[6] Ibid., Mt 11:6.

 

[7] When Jesus says things like this (Matthew 11:16-24), He is being true and just (righteous), but when a pastor says things like this today, he is generally thought of as letting his stress, anxiety, frustration, or anger come through toward individuals or the congregation. Is there a place for righteous rebuke in the 21st century pulpit?

 

[8] This is not the only connection to Sodom and Gomorrah. You may remember from our study of the phrase “come to Me” in the NASB it is used in Genesis 18:21 when God describes how the prayers of His people come to Him: “And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’”

 

[9] Cf. Mt 23:13-39. We see the same pattern. The righteous rebuke of Jesus Christ (13-36) is again followed by His compassionate plea (37-39). Even as Jesus’ denounces, He can’t help Himself in compassionately inviting.

 

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 11:25–30. All caps in this reference is part of NASB formatting to indicate that Jesus is quoting the Old Testament.

[11] Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

 

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 4:6.

 

[13] There is currently a lot of research on the effects of sleep deprivation on personality and productivity. Surprise, but science is finding that having sufficient sleep is critical to living an abundant life. Are you getting enough sleep to be at your very best? Are you disciplined about getting to bed on time? Are you relaxing before bed in order to actually get good sleep? Research is also proving that anxious people don’t rest well (in sleep or during the day in how they handle their circumstances and everyday demands and expectations).

 

[14] We will learn more in future studies. For now, additional research available by reading, “How is Jesus our Sabbath Rest?” at https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Sabbath.html (accessed January 12, 2019).

[15] Perfect is “The verb tense used by the writer to describe a completed verbal action that occurred in the past but which produced a state of being or a result that exists in the present (in relation to the writer). The emphasis of the perfect is not the past action so much as it is as such but the present ‘state of affairs’ resulting from the past action” (Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology [Lexham Press, 2013; 2013]).

[16] Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. In Lk 11:46, it is also in the indicative mood which is the mood of assertion. Jesus is saying that these men really did it.

[17] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 11:46.

 

[18] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 23:1–4. This Greek word φορτίον is translated “burden” in Mt 23:4 and is used again as “burden” in Mt 11:30, “my burden is light.”

 

[19] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Mt 11:28–30.

 

[20] Jesus took on the yoke of His Father before He invited us to take His yoke. Jesus modeled a submitted life (“I am gentle and humble in heart” v. 29) before He calls us to a submitted life. “As a disciple of the Father Jesus learned the easy yoke life and teaches it to us. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Jesus’ life on earth is that as the Sovereign Lord he himself lived by the discipline of submission!” (Bill Gaultiere, Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered. [Irvine, CA: Soul Shepherding, Inc., 2016], 30, 34). The try-harder conversation was stimulated by this book and some information was shared from pages 19-21.

[21] Rom 7:6. For further study, check out Larry Crabb’s resources.

 

              [22] We must soberly and humbly acknowledge, that this includes the dynamics of our own cultural values. In the challenges of our current conversations, the devil is keeping us in bondage to the try-harder mentality fueled by narcissistic fear and unempathetic greed! Don’t believe me? My hope is that the call of Jesus will reform the church. The only way we will truly have “liberty and justice for all” in this nation is if the church of Jesus Christ wakes up from its long slumber to become true followers of Jesus, uncompromised by the ambition for more stuff and the lust for power over “the other” that has intoxicated us. Wake up people of God and unyoke from the heavy yoke, the performance yoke of this world, and take on the easy yoke, the grace yoke of Jesus Christ. This will be the hardest work the American church has done in a long time because it will break us from our own desire to join in the building of mini-empires. The only people who say that there is no hard work found in taking on the easy yoke of Jesus Christ are the ones who have never truly submitted to His lordship. Submission is the hardest work because it is the crucified life of Galatians 2:20. The hard work of Jesus is revolutionary to all things that come natural to the world because His kingdom, to which He is inviting us, is not of this world (Jn 18:36). More on this later.

 

[23] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 10:10–11.

[24] Allusion to Hebrews 4:11. More on this passage next week when we unpack the rest motif and to demonstrate how Jesus modeled the restful life, even in the hardest of circumstances.

[25] Ibid., Ga 5:1. Compare with Ga 2:4; Acts 15:10; and 1 Tim 6:1.

[26] We will discuss this more when we talk about the yoke of Jesus. But it is an amazing thought that Jesus, as Joseph’s apprentice and as a carpenter Himself, would have custom made countless numbers of yokes for the oxen in His community. Jesus knows what it takes to make a yoke that fits properly. The yoke He is calling you to has been custom made for you to do the good works the Father has prepared for you (Eph 2:10).


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