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.
Matthew 11:29 | NIV | Other Versions | Context
This is part of the famous Matthew 11:28-30 verses on finding rest, and this set of verses have long been a source of comfort and encouragement to brothers and sisters in Christ. In this study, we will split this verse up into three parts and look into each part bit by bit, referencing heavily to the other two verses in the context.
Take my yoke upon you – I don’t know about you, but never in my daily speech would I ever have to use the word ‘yoke’. The only time you’ll ever find me saying it is when I’m reading the Bible or talking about the Bible, since it’s quite a commonly used term/analogy/symbol in the Bible. A yoke, literally, is the beam held between two oxens or bulls or some other animals that enable them to pull a load. Yet these days we use the term metaphorically to refer to burden, load or things like that. It’s not that rare a word, I know, but I seriously don’t ever use it. So if we interpret yoke word for word (since I am not very familiar or used to the word) and replace it with ‘load’ – we get ‘take my load upon you’. Now, isn’t that strange? Isn’t this last passage from Matthew 11 supposed to be taking about tired people finding rest in the Lord? Why is Jesus telling us to take his load?
This is one of the reasons why we must look at the context of the verse. Imagine if we just read this verse alone. It’s a great verse, used often to encourage people meeting crossroads in their lives or about to give up on something. Yet we so often use it without thinking twice about this phrase – take my yoke upon you. Wait, what load? The burdens I’m carrying are heavy enough, Lord! Matthew 11:28-30 are often quoted together for good reason – For my yoke is easy and my burden is light [Mt 11:30]. The yoke we’re asked to take is easy and light. It’s something we can manage. It’s bearable. It’s not going to add to our load, but instead, by taking the yoke of our Lord upon ourselves, we lighten our own loads – we give up our own loads to him in exchange of his light and easy load.
Yet if that is completely true, why didn’t Jesus just say, I’ll take your burdens from you? Why ask us to take his load? We have to bear his yoke of … well, I don’t know what they call it. Some say yoke of the kingdom of heaven. Sounds odd to me, but you know, we have to bear the cross just like it says in Luke 9:23 – Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me [Article]. We must confess that God is our Lord, and we ought to live in his precepts. By following the word of the Lord, by turning our eyes back to God, we will naturally find peace, happiness and rest that we couldn’t find elsewhere.
and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart – NIV makes this phrase sound very nice, but in good old KJV this phrase is rendered for I am meek and lowly in heart. The connotations do not differ much, but gentle and humble in heart certainly sounds a lot more pleasing to the ears than meek and lowly in heart. But that is the truth. Our Lord is meek and lowly in heart, and these characteristics do not come in conflict with his majesty, power, authority, sovereignty and all his other characteristics which we’re told about through the Bible. In Zechariah 9:9 we see two sets of seemingly opposite qualities placed side-by-side to exalt our Lord – Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. On one hand our Lord is righteous and victorious. On the other, he is lowly, he is humble. Our Lord is humble, we cannot doubt this! If you doubt this, go back and read the Bible and see how Jesus took on human nature and became flesh for us, lowering himself down to us, bearing the shame for us on the cross, was born in a manger, humiliated, beaten, spat at. Our Lord is humble – this is fact, but what about it? What is its relevance to finding rest in God?
When we learn to be humble like Christ was, when we learn to lower ourselves below our stations, like Jesus did; when we walk in his footsteps and follow his example, we will perhaps find ourselves dealing a lot better with a lot of problems we face in life. Problems at work? Be humble, take the humiliation in stride, laugh off the comments of your rude subordinate, face your nasty clients with a smile. Problems at home? Be humble, swallow your pride, work things out, apologise. It’s not easy to know where to draw the line, but we first need to begin to be more humble, like Christ was.
and you will find rest for your souls – The undercurrent message in the world tells us that the only way to find rest for our souls is in death. When we die, we won’t feel pain anymore. We won’t feel the stress anymore. We won’t feel the exhaustion and the monotony of our meaningless and routine life anymore. We won’t be scorned anymore, we won’t be put in a spot anymore, we won’t be forced to do things that we don’t want to do anymore. We won’t have to try so hard just to fit in and be accepted. Our long-suffering souls will finally find some rest. When thoughts like these start appearing in our heads, it is a straight path to suicide. What else? In their attempt to find rest, people escape and turn to various decadent vices. Yet do they truly find rest there? No – what they find will often be a momentary time of numbing, when they won’t feel the pain, or when the hole in their hearts are momentarily filled and distracted with something exciting. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest [Mt 11:28|Article]. True rest can only be found with the Lord. The issue is, who believes? How do we expect others to, when we ourselves often do not behave as though we believe this, and seek rest everywhere except in God?
Was Jesus ever tired? When he was a human, during his ministry as recorded by the four gospels, he certainly was. Many times he seemed to go into the forest or to the river or up the mountain to rest and stay away from the crowds for a while, but most of the time he got discovered by the people who crowded around him again. It is not a sin to be tired. It is human nature to get exhausted – physically, obviously, emotionally, certainly, and spiritually, whether we like it or not. It is human weakness, yes, but Jesus knows our pains. He has been through it too – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin [Heb 4:15]. When you are tired, I may not know. Your friends may not know. Even your family may not know, since you’re so good at hiding it. But God knows. You don’t have to pretend to be strong in front of him, because no matter how much you pretend, God is still stronger and he won’t need to rely on you. You don’t have to hide your exhaustion, because unlike your family, God won’t be helplessly worried that he cannot help you in your plight. God can. God will. But above all, when we choose to follow the example of Christ, when we choose to stay close to God all the time, perhaps the things that weigh us down will naturally lessen one by one.