Help for the Weary Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
I bring you greetings from the Baptist World Alliance, which met last week in Melbourne, Australia. It’s summer “down under,” 90 degrees and beautiful, but someone’s got to go “suffer for Jesus.” I learned to say “g’day, mates,” saw some kangaroos and koala bears, and heard some great messages. The Baptist World Alliance is just like all other Baptists—exciting, energetic, and disorganized. Someone said, “I don’t believe in organized religion—that’s why I’m a Baptist.” But it was a great meeting.
Janet and I were grateful to go, and glad to return.
Today I am to bring you my annual “state of the church” message. But while I’m interested in talking about our church and how we’re doing, I’m even more interested in talking about our souls and how they’re doing.
First walk with me through the word of God. Then you’ll see why I selected this text for us today, and its relevance for our church and our souls this morning.
What yoke are we wearing?
Jesus’ word to his disciples then and now answers four questions: what does he want us to do? Who should do it? How? And why?
First, what are we to do? Jesus invites us, “Come to me” (v. 28). The word “come” is better translated “hurry” or “come hither.” It means to hasten to him.
And to him alone. Not to the church, or religion, or other people, or ourselves. Go to Jesus, now. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or the end of the service. Come to him now.
Who needs to come to him? All the ones who are “weary and burdened.”
“Weary” translates the Greek word for “laboring.” This is in the active sense—those who are working hard of their own initiative. Work you’re doing to advance your career, to make more money, to help your family, to serve God and his church. Things you choose to do.
“Burdened,” on the other hand, is in the passive sense—those who have burdens placed on them by other people. The original context was the Jewish law, which Peter called “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). The Pharisees gave the people 613 laws to keep, so as to keep the ten God gave. For instance, a woman was forbidden to look in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it, which of course would be “work.”
For us, the context applies to any work we didn’t choose. Grief over loss, crises at work or home or school or relationships, health problems. Anything someone else put on us.
If you’re tired today, weary of what you’re doing or others want you to do, you qualify for this invitation. This is all you need to come to Jesus. But you need to come to Jesus.
How? “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (v. 29).
The “yoke” refers to the typical means of guiding an animal in Jesus’ day. The farmer used to yoke to tell the ox where to do, how fast, how far, and how long. To take Jesus’ “yoke” is to submit to his will, his leadership, completely.
Take “my” yoke, he says. Not just any yoke, but Jesus’ alone. There are many to choose from—the yoke of my own pride and ambitions, the yoke of your expectations, the yoke of our culture and its definition of success. Of all the options, we are to choose Jesus’ yoke alone. We can wear only one yoke at a time—we are to wear his.
Then he says it another way: “learn from me. Enroll in my school,” this could be paraphrased. Today students go to school for a certain number of hours, pay more or less attention, and get good or bad grades as a result. In Jesus’ day a student gave his life to his teacher. The rabbis and philosophers all had their “schools,” and they followed their master twenty-four hours a day. They belonged fully to them.
So to wear Jesus’ yoke, to enroll in his school, is to give our lives absolutely and fully to him alone. Every time we go out to “plow” we put on his yoke. We seek his help and guidance all through the day, every day. We seek to please him and him alone. He is our boss.
Is he your boss this morning? Are you wearing his yoke right now?
Why should we wear it? “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” (vs. 29-30).
Earlier Jesus said, “I will give you rest.” The Greek original says, “I will rest you,” or as a doctor might say, “I will cure you.” I will impart to you rest. Now he repeats the promise. And any promise made twice in holy Scripture is doubly good. How do we know?
He is “gentle”—the Greek word is praus. Aristotle defined this as the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. The man who always does the right thing. Jesus is the best boss for your life because he will always do the right thing with your life. When I first heard the gospel I rejected it because I didn’t trust what God would do with my life. Now I know that I cannot trust what I will do with my life, but I can always trust what Jesus will do with me.
He is “humble in heart,” wanting always your best. The worst boss uses you to advance his career and ambitions; the best boss puts you first. Jesus always does.
His yoke is “easy”—the word means that his yoke fits well. An ancient tradition says that Jesus the carpenter made the best yokes in all of Galilee, and that over his carpenter’s shop there was the sign, “My yokes fit well.” If the yoke is well fitted to the animal, it is “easy” to bear. He alone knows what purpose best fits our lives, our future. His yoke alone fits well.