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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