Sunday 6 November – Further Analysis of Matthew 11

Oxen ploughing the ground
…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

Matthew 11 v28-30 from The Open Bible

28. Come to Me all you who labour hard and who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

29. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and I have a humble heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

30. For the yoke I give you is easy and the burden I give you is light.”

(Spoken by Jesus)

This is a beautiful passage where Jesus talks about what it means to follow after Him, as His disciple. In short, following Jesus gives us peace, or rest for our souls.

28. “Come to Me all you who labour hard, and who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest….” Jesus is here promising that He will give His disciples rest from their heavy burdens, and their hard labours. Yet in the Matthew 10 passage we examined 2 weeks ago we saw this same Jesus command all His followers to take up their cross, and follow Him. Matthew 10 is the chapter immediately preceding this chapter, Matthew 11. From reading straight through from Matthew 10 to Matthew 11, it seems as if the sermon Jesus preached in this chapter could only have been given at most a few days after the one He preached in Matthew 10.

So in one breath, seemingly, Jesus is telling His disciples that they will need to pick up their crosses and carry them around after Him, and in the next, He is saying that He will relieve us of our heavy burdens. Now, whatever else they might have been, I think that we can safely assume that crosses, as meant for crucifixion, were heavy. They had to support the weight of a human body for a number of hours. I think we can assume that the wood used would have had to be of at least a medium density to be able to do the job reliably. And they were also big and unwieldy, awkward. I can imagine that carrying one around, even of the lightest density wood, would quickly get tiring and irritating, just because of their size – at least as tall as an average human male body, or the height of the intended crucifixion victim. So, it is almost as if Jesus is one minute saying: “If you want to follow Me, you will have to pick up that heavy cross and carry it around after Me.” Then the next minute He is saying “By the way, I came to relieve you of your heavy burdens – did you know that?!”

So what can this possibly mean then? Following Jesus, is both a wonderful relief, and a constant burden, at the same time, but in different ways. As we are looking here today at the “relief” passage, let us talk about how it is a relief first.

29. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and I have a humble heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus says that if we take His yoke upon us, and follow after Him, in His service, learning from Him how to be like Him, we will find rest for our souls. This is the relief that Jesus gives us. As we learn to be like Him, as our characters are shaped to be like His, we gain peace within our hearts; the peace that we are doing the right thing; the peace that we do not have to lie to ourselves or others, or pretend to be better than we are. We learn to trust that the Almighty God loves us, and that He, and no-one else is in absolute control of the future, and of our destinies, and that no matter what we might face, it is all eventually going to be worth it, if not down here on earth, then certainly in Heaven. All of this gives amazing joy. This is the easy yoke, and the light burden that Jesus gives us. (V30)

So then, when Jesus is talking about people who labour hard, and who carry heavy burdens, He is talking about the opposite of all this. He is talking about labouring hard to maintain pretences, about carrying heavy burdens of guilt, or feelings of worthlessness, or depression, or shame. I think that as Christians we all sometimes still experience these things, but they should not define our general outlook on life, as these are exactly the things that Jesus came to relieve us of.

The heavy cross
Now for the other part of our faith, that which is heavy, and a burden, constantly: the Christian life is one of self-sacrifice. We have to learn to put others first, even where we would naturally be allowed to consider our own selves. That is, where it would not be considered selfish to think of ourselves. Before even putting others first, God has to be Number One. That has always been the case, even before Christ came to earth. However, since Jesus came and revealed more clearly to us Who God is, and what it means to follow Him, our “putting God first” means that we have to practise unconditional submission to the words of God as revealed by Christ.

As Christians we are to expect persecution. We in the West are generally quite blessed in this regard, in that we are on the whole free to discuss our faith; I am free to write this blog. Could that be changing, slowly but surely? Perhaps time will tell. Antagonism against our faith or against us as Christians is part of carrying our cross. In a way, if we wish to be accepted, it would be a lot easier to throw away our Christian badges and pretend to be the same as everyone else. This would be like putting down our crosses.

As Christians, we are to constantly tell others of the Good News of Jesus. This is part of living for God and for other people, rather than living for ourselves. This is part of our sacrificial lifestyle. Our lives down here are no longer our own, lived only for our own desires or dreams. As Christians, the reason we exist down here on earth is to share the Good News of Christ with other people. This has to be all-consuming for us, as it is for God. The Bible teaches that “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him should not be destroyed, but should have eternal life” – John 3.16 In Jesus, God gave His most precious treasure for the salvation of the world. This is how important it is to Him that people should be saved. We as Christians have to wholeheartedly embrace this same attitude, and make this our very first priority in life, above all else (Tosin speaks to herself sternly). This is part of carrying our cross.

Many times, in talking about my faith, in talking about my God, in writing this blog, it is not because I *want* desperately to be doing that at that time, and it is not because I cannot think of other things to be doing – it is because I HAVE to. As a Christian, this is my first priority down here on earth. I am carrying my cross. In choosing to refrain from retaliation, even where justified, again, I am carrying my cross (but this eventually leads to the peace that we gain from adopting Christlike character – so it initially seems like a burden, but then it becomes clear that it is actually a relief)

So this part of the paradox of following Christ – it is easy, it is difficult, it is exciting, it is frustrating all at the same time. Ultimately though, for me it has been worth it so far, and I hope that by God’s grace I will always be able to say that, until I get admitted into the unqualified joy of Heaven. God bless, 😉

Photo of oxen ploughing by Sarangib on Pixabay
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