This sermon builds upon the theme of an invitation using the passage in Matthew 11 where Jesus invites His followers to come and take His yoke and learn from Him.
The context of this particular passage deals with the burdens of false teaching that the Pharisees had enforced upon the people. It opens with a discussion about the difference between the teaching of John the Baptist and the teaching of the Pharisees going through several woes. Jesus concludes this discourse with this incredible invitation using three significant words to call us to Himself. He invites us to come, take, and learn. These terms of transformation provide a framework for understanding this call of God is upon our life. The false teachings of the Pharisees had called the people to embrace rules and regulations. They were no longer rejoicing in their faith. They were striving instead of seeking after God. Following God had become more of an obligation instead of adoration lacking a genuine hunger and thirst for God. They attended temple or synagogue because it was just a habit. Worship was not something that they longed to do; it was something they had to do in order to acquire God's blessing.
I ask you this morning, "Have you ever gotten that way in your own faith?" Maybe you are here this morning because you are a Christian? Maybe you are here just because you are a member of Calvary Baptist Church. Is there a longing in your soul to be a part of what God is doing, a conviction in your soul that Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords? Are you drawn and compelled to be a part of His kingdom by the power of His love and grace? When we arrive at this point in Matthew's gospel, Jesus addresses a group of people who had lost their longing for God. They knew that they needed God, but somehow God seemed far removed and the path too difficult to climb. To a host of weary souls Jesus offers this invitation to them, "Come to Me. Take My yoke and learn of Me."
I. Two pictures
There are two major word pictures that are presented in the text. The first one is that of a ship loaded down with supplies or cargo The King James Version probably does a better job of translating this passage with the words, "Come to me all who are heavy weary and heavy laden." The term laden is a shipping term describing the supplies or cargo in transit. Jesus was talking to a group of people that had heavy burdens. Their ship was full, and they were overwhelmed. Life was more than they could carry. The circumstances of life, whether it was failed relationships, sickness, personal failure, financial pressure, religious legalism, or some other experience, had become too burdensome. The ship was about to sink. It was heavy laden.
Jesus uses a word picture to describe how a lot of people are in the 21st century. This life has become so burdensome, so heavy that they feel as though their lifeboat is going to sink under the pressure. Unfortunately, many times the church or those that profess faith in Christ haven't offered anything which would be a relief of that burden. Instead of bringing relief, we often suggest more stuff for them to add to their already heavy load in order to experience the peace of God.
The second picture is that of a yoke. We don't see a lot of yokes today. It was normally used to describe an ox yoke used to pull a plow or a cart. The two word pictures are a ship with a cargo that was heavy laden and an animal with a yoke placed upon its' neck. A yoke was also used to describe a rabbi's teaching where his students would embrace or "place upon their backs" the teaching of their leader. The image is clear that the false teaching of the Pharisees along with the struggles of life had become heavy burdens for those who desperately needed the blessing of God.
II. Come: receive the invitation
With these two word pictures set in the minds of His listeners, Jesus proclaims three terms that describe how God wants to transform your life. Listen, God doesn't not just to make you life better; God wants to transform your life. He says the first thing you have to do is come unto Him. You must receive the invitation that Jesus offers. Jesus described it this way in John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become a child of God." He commands us to come, yet at the same time He respects our willingness to choose. He doesn't automatically make us a follower of Christ. He doesn't manifest His Power and His Glory in such a way that forces us to be born again; rather He extends an invitation. The Bible says it this way, "Is anybody thirsty, then let them come unto me. Is anybody hungry, let him come and eat of the Bread of Life." Isaiah said, "Come now let us reason together though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool." The Bible says, "The Spirit and the Bride say come." You find it in the beginning of Jesus' ministry in John 1 saying as many have received Him. Then you find it at the end of His ministry in Revelation with the Sprit and the Bride inviting all to come to Christ. It is an invitation to stop trying to acquire or attain salvation by your good works and your good efforts. It is an invitation to quit trying to be so good that God will somehow love and bless you. Because we are all sinners, we are all disqualified to earn God's love. Therefore, no amount of labor, no amount of work, is ever going to make somebody with a sinful heart good enough to enter into Heaven. It requires a work of God.
We need to quit trying to keep all the rules and regulations and receive Christ's invitation. He is talking to those that have tried to find some type of purpose, meaning, and pleasure with the things of the world. The invitation is not only for you to stop keeping all the rules and regulations, but to also stop sinning. Stop rejecting His offer of eternal life and receive the invitation. The invitation is for children. The invitation is for senior adults. The invitation is for the luminaries of society. The invitation is for the average garden variety folks that we meet on a daily basis. The invitation is for those with 401k's and those with $4.01 in their checking account. It is for everybody.
The invitation is the same. Jesus does not extend one invitation to the rich and a different one to the poor, or to the men or to the women. He doesn't make it different according to your status in life. The only way you get to the heavenly Father, the only way to find rest for your weary soul, the only way you get to Heaven is by accepting the invitation of Christ. For He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father expect through Me."
III. Take: embrace the position
The second major term occurs in the phrase, "Take My yoke." Part of accepting this invitation is embracing our position. We're called to take the yoke of Christ. Many of you have heard this verse before, so you immediately move to the promise of divine rest. But imagine what it may have been like if you were hearing Jesus give this message for the first time. He has already addressed this whole concept of people who are burdened. They are stressed out. Life is more than they can bear. They feel like ocean waves are crashing down upon them. They are carrying weight on their back. Somehow they need relief from the pressure and demands of life. Jesus says, "I can tell you how to get release and relief from all this. What you have to do is take . . . "
You are moving to the edge of your seat, and you are wondering what He is going to say. Maybe you turn to the person next to you and say, "Hey, I heard Jesus turned water into wine. I wonder if He is going to tell us we need to drink wine. What we can do is get wasted. I mean its five o'clock somewhere. What we will do is drink all our problems away." Can you imagine anybody ever thinking like that? Can you really imagine that life would be so bad and so heavy that someone thought turning to alcohol would help? It happens every day.
You are sitting on the edge of your seat. Your life is so heavy laden. You hear Jesus say, "Take . . . " You wonder what He is going to say next. You think I know He fed a bunch of people bread and fish one time. I know what he is going to do. Instead of bread, He is going to give us a whole bunch of chocolate! Can you imagine anyone thinking that eating chocolate or any food would help relieve the burdens of life? As baptist we think any struggle should be treated with a casserole!
There you are sitting on the edge of your seat and you hear the words "Take . . . " You say to your friend, "Jesus went to the wilderness to pray. He is going to tell us to take a vacation." Can you imagine anyone thinking that the way to handle life's burdens is to just get away for few days? Maybe Jesus is going to recommend a hunting trip or a trip to the beach. Do you think people believe that a temporary escape will mend the ache in their soul or change their circumstances?
Maybe some thought, When Adam and Eve messed up, God gave them new clothes, so I bet Jesus is going to Take . . . us shopping! Do you think there are people who would go shopping to make themselves feel better? Can you imagine that anyone would desire a new dress, a new car, a new boat, new cell phone, new computer, or a new whatever to help them cope with the pressure of life?
Now please understand I'm not saying you don't need food. I'm not saying if you drink wine you are going to hell. I'm not saying you don't need to take a vacation or go shopping. The Bible reveals that Jesus took the disciples on a retreat or vacation from the demands of public ministry to spend some quality time with them. I mention the above possibilities not just to be humorous but to bring this incredible word of transformation into a contemporary setting. We don't really need to make the story contemporary because the needs of the soul transcend generations; we just use different names to describe the same longing. But, we do need to pause and ponder the Scripture instead of moving too fast because of familiarity with the story and miss seeing our life described in the sacred writings.
If you were hearing this teaching for the first time and Jesus just talked about how the burdens of life are weighing you down, you would have been stunned by the words, "Take MY yoke." They would have said, "What?" Probably some gasps went across the crowd. Yoke – take His yoke! I'm already burdened. I'm already overwhelmed. Life is crashing in upon me. I don't even feel like I can stand up underneath it, and He is telling me I have to add something else to my life by taking His yoke.
Now, why is that so paradoxical? It is because a yoke is an instrument of service. There are two things that the yoke symbolizes. It is an instrument of service, and it is also an instrument of submission. First, you put a yoke on an animal so it can do the work that needs to be done as the animal submits to the leadership of the master. Jesus says, "Listen, if you are overwhelmed because you are working too hard and your schedule is too busy, then I've got more work for you to do." How can doing more work for God relieve your burdens? Col. 1:29 provides some insight where the apostle Paul describes the calling of God on his life. "For this reason, I labor and I strive according to His power working in me." Jesus desires for us is what Paul discovered, which is Christ's power working in us. Taking Christ's yoke is allowing His Power to work in and through you. Perhaps you have discovered the world will crush you, but you can move mountains with the yoke of Christ in your life. By His grace, by His faith, by His power, you can do more than you ever thought possible. Jesus says, "I want you to do My work in My ministry with My power for My glory.
Some of you are so busy right now. You look at your schedule and you say, "I have heard you talking about going on the mission trip to Mexico. I can't do that right now, because of my schedule. I have too much to do." You might be surprised; it might be the very thing you need to do. Working where people are living in cardboard houses with dirt floors yet smiling because you are there, may provide the lesson you need more that anything else. You will learn, Your worst day, is not as bad as their daily life!
Another yoke some of you might consider is working in the nursery. We need workers in the nursery, but some of you need the nursery more than we need workers! You know why? Research shows that the average preschooler will smile, giggle, and laugh four hundred times a day! The average adult smiles, giggles, laughs less than 10 times a day. Some of you need laughter. Some of you need smiles. Some of you need giggles. Most of you only fellowship with adults who have forgotten how to laugh, smile, and giggle, so you just walk around miserable complaining about the loud music and hot weather. Invest your life where there is laughter and joy. Jesus said, "Take my yoke. I know where there is laughter. I know where there is joy. I know where there is Living Water for your soul, but you must take My yoke."
The yoke is an instrument of service. It is not rest resulting from the absence of work; it is the willingness to embrace what God has called you to do. The second concept related to the yoke is recognizing it as an instrument of submission. There must come a point where you stop saying, "God, here is my schedule. You see how busy I am, so if you are going to bless me, then please do it at 2pm on Tuesday." Taking the yoke of Christ is saying, "God, you are the Master. You created me. You know what needs to be done. You know my gifts and my talents. Use me for your Glory. No conditions, just use me."
Understanding that the yoke, by this time in the first century, was also used to define a rabbi's particular teaching or philosophy provides additional insight. A yoke would be like us describing a football coach's philosophy. We might say the coach preaches "running the football." We could describe another team's offensive system as "West Coast or a spread offense." A defensive coach may be committed to the 3-4 blitzing defense instead of 4-3 traditional defense. Taking the yoke of Christ is to acknowledge that Jesus is the Master and you are the servant. He is the Lord. He's the Boss. We are the employee. He's the coach, and we are the player. When we take His yoke upon our lives, we embrace His position and submit to almighty God who knows what is best for our life.
In an article entitled The Angels are Laughing Charles Lowery describes his Achilles tendon injury. The injury required surgery and affected his attitude by creating a deeper of appreciation of his position.
Jesus said, "Take my yoke." When we place ourselves in this position of humility, we move into a position of receiving God's blessing. Just as, "You will never see the sunrise looking west," You will never experience the blessings and the rest for your soul until you are willing to do it God's way.
IV. Learn: continue education
Jesus concludes this message about transformation by saying you must learn from Him. To illustrate this I want you to understand this is the fourth time I have preached this text in the past two years, but I have not preached the same message four different times. That is how deep and rich and powerful this text is. The last time I preached this text in our Road Trip series using the city of New Orleans, the Big Easy, as an illustration of an easy yoke. The word translated easy means "tailor made" or "fitting perfectly," But today I want us to focus on the word "learn". You may have come to church all your life or attended theological school, but you have not even scratched the surface of what desires to teach you.
The Apostle Paul wrote one half of the New Testament. At the end of his life being ready to be poured out like a drink offering, he said, "Not that I have already obtained it or have become perfect, but I press on to take hold that which Christ has taken hold of me." The apostle Peter described growing in Christ in 2 Peter 1:5-8 as adding to faith, adding to knowledge, adding to goodness, adding to self-control and godliness. Ask yourself, does this describe your life? Are you growing in Christ? Are you adding to your faith? He sums it up by challenging the saints to possess these qualities with "increasing measure." One of God's favorite expressions to describe faith is the word "new". You get new life. It is a new covenant. It is a new peace. New mercy is available each day. And one day we will enter our new home in a new city with a new body! Following Christ should be a new experience; it should be something that motivates you to learn on a regular basis.
On my son's sixteenth birthday, against my wife's wise counsel and definitely against my father-in-law's advice, I took my son hang gliding. My father-in-law is the former Launch Director of the NASA Space Shuttle, so he knows what makes things fly. When I told him we were going to give Jordan hang gliding lessons, he said, "That is a bad idea." I was all for it until we got out there and the guy directing the operation was wearing pink Crocs. Several other things created an unsettling feeling. The guy with the pink shoes and looking like he had just walked off the shores of a distant beach said, "Hey dude, you guys want to take a flight today?" I'm thinking, There is no beach around here, and I am not a dude; I am a Baptist preacher!
My doubt continued to mount when he said the flights were delayed because of high wind, which he described as anything above five miles per hour. I'm thinking, 5 miles per hour are you kidding me? I can make a five mile per hour wind by sneezing. Then they could not get the tow plane working. I'm thinking, That is a BIG problem. While we are waiting for the wind to die down, the pink Croc dude is trying to get his plane working. He yells for Bubba to help. This guy who looked like he had been living under the hood of car for the last fifty years comes out with a huge monkey wrench. Bubba walks up to the plane and "Bam"-- strikes the plane's engine a couple of times. I promise I am not making this stuff up. You can ask my wife who is about to go into cardiac arrest. "Now try it," yells Bubba. The engine sputtered a few times and started. This made pink Croc dude happy because he responded with a toothless grin and a big thumbs up.
When Jordan's time came around, I'm praying, Lord Jesus you have been gracious to forgive my stupidity before; please do it one more time. Here is what I want you to understand. When you hang glide, they strap you in a harness. It is a yoke. In this yoke you lay in a horizontal position slightly suspended off the ground. Then something incredible takes place. The plane with pink Croc dude flying takes off pulling your glider with a tow rope. They go maybe twenty yards and whoosh, the hang glider takes off in the air. Without the yoke, without the harness, he would never have gone thousands of feet up in the air. But with the yoke, my son went higher and farther than he could have ever gone on his own.
Almighty God is telling you, if you take the yoke of Christ and place it upon you, He will take you higher than you have ever dreamed possible. He will teach you some things you never thought you could learn. You don't have to trust some dude in pink Crocs, but you do have to "Come, Take, and Learn."