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“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.” (Mt. 11:28-30)
The picture of two oxen above is the image that would have popped into the minds of the people Jesus was talking to when He put out this invitation. These people lived in an agricultural society and everyone was familiar with the picture of two oxen dragging a heavy plow through a field while their owner followed behind them and used their wooden yokes to guide them about.
When we hear these words, we sometimes think that Jesus is describing Himself as already wearing a yoke and that He’s offering for us to join Him under it. In this scenario, Jesus would be one ox, and we’d be the other. We’d go hauling through life as a team, with strong Jesus helping to bear most of the burden for us.
But this is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is God, and He doesn’t wear yokes personally—He only passes them out to us. When Jesus says, “Come to Me,” He isn’t inviting people to approach Him as their Buddy, but as their Master. Jesus is speaking to the crowd as if they’re all a bunch of bovines while He is the human master. This speech is a bit of an ego bruiser.
Now once an ox allows his master to slip that heavy wooden yoke around his neck, the ox can’t get the thing off again on his own. The master is then in control, and the master now has a tool by which he can make the ox very miserable if the ox doesn’t do what he wants. To submit to being yoked is a bit nerve-wracking. Ego aside, we need reassurances that Jesus isn’t going to abuse us before we let Him dominate us in this manner. Jesus gives us those assurances.
“…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.”
Here Jesus likens Himself to a human owner who is humble and kind, as opposed to one who is violent and demanding. Is Jesus really humble? No, because being humble is about recognizing that you are beneath God and wanting Him to be exalted instead of yourself. As God, Jesus has no use for humility. He’s magnificent and He knows it and He has an insatiable appetite for worship and praise. Is He always gentle? No, He can be quite rough when He wants to. It’s Jesus we find in Revelation commanding the armies of Heaven, and threatening to vomit Christians out of His mouth. We need to be careful not to read too much into this passage. Jesus isn’t trying to sum up His whole personality for us here. He is using a farm metaphor to assuring us that submitting to Him will be a positive experience overall. He is not the kind of Master who is going to crush us bovines beneath impossible burdens and then beat us with whips for not moving fast enough. The yoke He’s planning to put on us is going to be one that we can easily bear—not some painful, pulling thing that hurts our anatomy. The burden He’s planning to have us haul for Him is light. In short, being owned by Jesus is going to be a pleasant, positive experience—one that actually makes our souls feel more rested than they do when we are running around yoke free.
Once we submit to Jesus and He gets that yoke around our necks, He’s never going to take it off again. Getting collared by God is a permanent change. And though there will be times when we worry that we’ve made the wrong choice or feel scared by the road we’re being driven down, the longer we walk with Jesus and the more learn from Him, the more we realize what a generous, kind, and loving Master He really is.