Although Jesus is not here physically right now to teach us, we are not left to wonder what He said while on this planet. We have His words recorded in Scripture. One of His commands is found in Matthew 11:29:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””
Matthew 11:29-30 ESV
We in the modernized world are not necessarily familiar with a yoke or being yoked together. The yoke was the symbol of hard work. Yokes were used to control working animals, and sometimes they were put on the necks of slaves or prisoners. A yoke could be made for one animal pulling a plow or threshing board alone, but it was often made to link two animals together as they worked.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a yoke as a crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen, mules, or other draft animals working in a team.
You will recall that, prior to His ministry, Jesus was raised with, and presumably worked alongside, His step-father Joseph who, being a good Jewish parent, would have been responsible for teaching his son a trade. While Scripture does not say that Joseph was a carpenter, we can presume that this was what Joseph did since Scripture says that Jesus did this type work. See Mark 6:3 [ESV] where we read:
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
Furthermore, it does not stretch the imagination to think that Joseph, and likewise Jesus, made yokes to be used on the animals in the area. They would most certainly have been familiar with the needs of the farmers and would have taken care to make the yoke strong while at the same time making it smooth so that it would not hurt or injure the animal that was going to be lashed to it.
When the farmer wanted to train a young ox to pull a plow, he did not put the young animal in a single yoke attached to the plow. The animal would not know where to go and it would not understand the direction of the farmer. Nor would he put two untrained animals in the same yoke – they likely would be unmanageable and the field might be ruined.
Rather, the farmer would yoke the young ox together with an old, experienced ox. The older ox would have had long experience serving the farmer and he would know the voice of his master, obeying the directives being given. The young ox could feel the authority of the older animal through the yoke that bound them together, and the young ox could, thereby, also learn to obey the commands of the master.
Because He knows His children, He has made the yoke to be the exact size and strength that will be needed for each of us; no man’s yoke is too hurtful or punishing. And, Jesus is further saying that He is yoked together with us. He is able to teach us through the yoke. We cannot go anywhere without Him. He guides us because we are together with Him. He prevents us from going astray by nudging us back into the right way. And, He is ready to keep us from falling because He is yoked to us and His strength will carry us when we cannot do so on our own.
The believer is working in tandem with Christ in service to our Father, and this is something that only happens in a life of faith. Being yoked with Christ means being a disciple of Christ and having the mind of obedience that He had.
The obedient life does not equate to lying on a bed of roses. No “prosperity gospel” here! Rather, the life to which you are called as a disciple yoked to Jesus may mean missions in a far country; it may mean reaching out to the neighbor beside you. It may require you to take steps of mercy toward someone who has hurt you in the past, or it may mean an illness, loneliness or some other hard situation to endure.
When your yoke is difficult, remember Jesus endured humiliation, torture and death on the cross. He experienced unimaginable horrors not because He deserved them but because we deserved them. He felt the pain of sin and rejection by God because that is what we would have experienced if it were not for His sacrifice. But that is not the end of the story, praise the Lord!
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. … But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 ESV
Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and lives, today, in Heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Because He lives, we too shall live. He is the Victor over death and hell. He has endured so that He could save His people. This is the One who is yoked with you. He is able to do all that we need to bring us to God as His children
We often try to serve God in our own strength by doing things our way. On our own we don’t know how to do God’s work. Rather, we need to learn God’s ways somehow and we can do so by being yoked together with His Son, Jesus Christ. He will teach us what it means to obey our Master through the direction that the yoke can give to us.
When we obey Him, the yoke will be easy and the load light. Then, our soul will be able to rest even while we work for God.
Father, when I try to run off on my own to do what I think is “your work”, please let me feel the pull of the yoke of Jesus Christ to bring me back to Your will. Enable me to serve You in the power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and in accordance with Your direction and Your will.