[This is a sermon I preach on September 20, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon by clicking here. You can watch the entire worship service by clicking here.]
A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, making small talk to put his subjects at ease.
“What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl.
“Tired,” she said.
How prophetic those words are for the time we live in today. People of all ages live in a constant stupor of exhaustion that comes from stress, busy schedules, and the hustle we run to make ends meet. Added to that are kids or caring for a loved one. Add that on top of financial concerns, psychological issues and the drive to have it all together. We are tired and rundown. It affects our family relationships, our work, and it affects our relationship with God.
We are in the second week of our series, SLOW FAITH, where we are looking at how to develop a deep and abiding faith that is securely anchored to Jesus. We want the kind of faith that gives us life and enables us to share that life with those around us. Last week, we looked at the problem of hurry and the need to, as Dallas Willard writes, to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives” if we are to be the persons God has designed us to be.
Hurry is the enemy of becoming like Jesus because it cuts us off from God. Hurry says that our lives are centered on ourselves and our ability to get things done rather than trusting on God’s timing. Think about the Jesus way in the Gospels where we see the disciples learning from Jesus by walking, sitting, eating and taking their time around the countryside. When we abide and remain with Jesus, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in us and enables us to grow spiritually mature.
Jesus recognizes the pull of the world. He recognizes the temptation for us to chase after success and happiness and the tiredness that it can cause. In Matthew 11, Jesus calls out to those who are bone-weary and exhausted saying:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
There are two things that Jesus offers his listeners:
First, Jesus offers rest. In the two trips to China that Andrea and I have taken, the first day there is spent sightseeing even though you have barely slept in 24+ hours. We would fight to stay awake in order to help us flip our time zones quickly. Our mantra that first day was, “just make it through,” which sounds a lot like our daily living. When we fell into bed, the sleep felt so restful.
In the passage, Jesus offers and invites anyone and everyone who is weary, tired, and just trying to make it through to find rest in him. This is important biblically because true rest was found in God. Deep divine rest that Jesus is talking about would only be found in Yahweh. Jesus is identifying himself as God here in the passage by offering rest and invites anyone and everyone who is tired to find rest in him.
Secondly, Jesus offers equipment. The equipment that Jesus offers is a yoke. A yoke is an instrument of work which is not exactly what you might think a weary person needs. One image we have of a yoke is a wooden bar that connects two animals so that they can plow a field. Sometimes, slaves would be yoked together to pull a cart or a wagon. Our image of a yoke is not exactly an image of rest.
In Judaism, a yoke can also be a set of teachings. Israel was to take on the ‘yoke of the Torah’ – which includes the Pentateuch through Chronicles. A Rabbi or teacher, also had a yoke. A disciple would yoke themselves to a rabbi and their teachings. The disciple of a rabbi would seek to practice (obey) their rabbi’s teaching. An unconcerned rabbi could offer hard teachings that place heavy burdens on their disciples and others who listened. Jesus warns Pharisees in Matthew 23 about placing heavy burdens on the people.
Jesus’ yoke is also his teachings- most notably the Sermon on the Mount. His teachings, are not heavy like the Pharisees. They are light. They are not light because he demands less, but because Jesus bears much of the burden with us. Rabbis and Pharisees emphasized strictness to the law. Jesus, on the other hand, is patient with all of his disciples. Jesus doesn’t run with the standouts, he walks with the slow ones who wrestle with what it means to live the Jesus way. Jesus spends time with the tired, the weary, the sinners, prostitutes, and the tax collectors.
Taking on a yoke signifies submission to another’s rule and authority. We see this in the farm when an Ox is broken to a yoke or a horse is broken to pull a wagon. They submit to the yoke they are attached to. Likewise, if the yoke that Jesus talks about here is his teachings, then “taking Jesus’ yoke” means that we submit to the rule and authority in our lives. This submission means we are under its authority as we seek to obey Jesus’ teaching. Submission requires change. We are no longer in charge of our own lives. We have given Jesus authority. We seek to center our lives around Jesus when we are yoked to Jesus.
By offering us his yoke, Jesus is offering us balance and a new way of living that we give us rest. Where my priority can get out of balance, the Jesus Way invites apprentices to live life in the mold of Jesus. The most restful thing that Jesus can give us is a new way of living.
How do we live into this new life? Notice that a yoke is not a sitting instrument- it is used for walking. Jesus yoke, his new way of living, is learned as we go with Jesus along the way. Jesus says “Learn from Me.” Jesus doesn’t invite us to learn cold creeds, memorize verses, or to learn about him. Jesus invites us to learn from him. Jesus invites us into a dynamic relationship that grows richer the longer we are immersed in it.
Too often, the church can be guilty of inviting people to learn about Jesus rather than learning from Jesus. We can sit in the pews, attend Bible studies, and have a great grasp of the theological underpinnings of who Jesus is- but if we’ve never learned from Jesus, if we’ve never submitted to his yoke- we’ll never experience the rest and the life that God promises. We mature and grow in our faith by learning from Jesus along the journeys we make in our lives.
You may remember the beginning of the movie, The Princess Bride. Princess Buttercup liked to torment the farm boy, Wesley, by ordering him around. Wesley always answered, “As You Wish.” It was the only thing he ever said to her. After time, Buttercup realized that every time that Wesley said, “As you wish,” what he was really saying was “I love you.”
In a similar fashion the more that we love Jesus, the more that we know Jesus, the more time we spend with Jesus along the way the more we will want to do what Jesus teaches us. Our hearts and our spirits will be made more like Jesus. Our love for Jesus will move us to live like Jesus. The Yoke of Jesus’ teachings will be easy because of our love for Jesus.
Andrea and I are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary this December. When we met, into dating and marriage, our relationship (and any relationship) only grows through spending time together. Love grows through time. After 20 years of marriage the yoke of marriage is light, not because we are not committed to one another, but because we love each other and will do what we need to do for one another. I’m guessing for many of you who are married- it is the same way. We often submit to one another, we lay down our preferences in order to live in love each day. Our love for one another grows along the way. It is not a microwave relationship, but a slow cooker that gets better the longer we are married.
This is one image of our relationship with Jesus. Love grows by spending time together along the way. The more we love and trust Jesus, the more we are willing to submit to Jesus’ yoke- his teachings. The more the submit to his teachings, the more we will find rest and fulfilment through Jesus presence.
The idea of submitted or surrendering to someone else’s authority goes against the grain of our American DNA. Yet this is what the Bible teaches discipleship looks like. When our love for Jesus grows, so grows our willingness to surrender our authority for a life that looks like Jesus. This is when we begin to experience peace in the midst of storms, help in the midst of trouble, healing in the midst of brokenness, and grace that transforms our lives. This is where we find rest. This is where we live a life that is truly life. Life to the fullest!
Rest, true rest for our bone-weary souls, comes from yoking ourselves to Jesus. It comes as we walk along Jesus and realized that we are yoked together and that Jesus is pulling the greater weight. It comes from realigning our life around the life that God desires to give us. A life that is truly life.
John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry