Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I recently finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird with some of the middle school students. One of the most challenging parts of the book was in regard to the way the children responded to injustice. Shortly after the court sentenced an innocent man to death, Scout, the young narrator of the story, began to cry. Seeing her tears, Her father, Atticus, gave this commentary on injustice. “They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it - seems that only children weep.”
Why is it that only the children weep at injustice? This is a complicated question, but part of the answer is because children possess the humility to admit that they don’t have all the answers. They know they need help. They also possess a childlike faith in fairness and justice. When justice fails, children have not yet developed ways of rationalizing away sinfulness. Their only recourse is to weep at its occurrence. Humility and childlike faith are at the heart of Jesus’ words about accepting the “burden” of discipleship in Matthew 11. Just prior to saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus said of the Father, “You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”
This comment points out that there is a wisdom and understanding that is dangerous and can prevent a person from coming to the Lord to find rest. If we use our wisdom and understanding to justify sinful behavior and to affirm self-sufficiency, then we will miss the opportunity to come to Jesus and find rest. The path of discipleship begins with humbly admitting our need and with childlike faith accepting the yoke of the Christ.
This yoke is different than the burdens that other false leaders place on us. In the Bible, the yoke of the Lord can be compared with the burden of the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:4 it is said of the Pharisees, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their fingers.” In this regard the yoke of the Lord is different than the yoke of the Pharisees. The goal of the Pharisees was to place heavy burdens on others so that they might earn a good standing with God. According to Jesus, this is the wrong starting point. Rather than relying on our own wisdom and understanding, we must come to Christ with humility and childlike faith. Recognizing that we can never earn favor with God on our own effort, but must trust completely in the work of Christ. This is the yoke of Christ. This is why his yoke is easy and his burden is light. When we take on the yoke of Christ and begin to furrow the fields of discipleship, we can trust that the work has been fully completed in Christ. We can find rest because, the Holy Spirit changes hearts and trains us to delight in the work of the Lord.
To say that the yoke of Christ is easy and light, is not to deny that there is sometimes pain and difficulty in following Christ. In other portions of Scripture, Jesus commands his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. When we walk the path of discipleship, we must hold both of these truths together. Discipleship gives us a cross to bear and burden that is easy and light. The 19th century Anglican minister, J. C. Ryle made some helpful comments about this dual truth. He said, “No doubt there is a cross to be carried, if we follow Christ. No doubt there are trials to be endured, and battles to be fought. But the comforts of the Gospel far outweigh the cross.” If we come to Christ with childlike faith and humility, we will surely find the comforts of the gospel to far outweigh the burdens of the cross.
This week help the students to understand the necessity of coming to Christ with a childlike faith. Help them to see that they are unable of earning God’s favor on their own effort. Instead, they must trust completely on faith when they come to Christ. They must be willing to admit their own failures with humility and trust completely in Christ–even when they are uncertain of the outcome. It is only through faith that we find the yoke of Christ light and easy.
Other verses to consider
Luke 9:23 – Discipleship requires carrying a burden
Matt 23:4 – The burdens of the ungodly are foolish
James 1:2-4 – Burdens (or trails) shape us in godliness
Rom 8:2-6 – The Spirit gives life and help to accomplish the burdens of discipleship