Jesus' invitation in Matthew 11:28-29 says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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."
In Jesus' day, people were familiar with the sight of a pair of oxen hitched to a plow with a wooden yoke. Unless you're Amish, you probably haven't seen a yoke lately, and you may wonder, How can a yoke be easy? And how will that help me find rest?
Jewish rabbis in the ancient Middle East taught people how to live out the Torah (our Old Testament), God's law. Rob Bell writes in Velvet Elvis: "Different rabbis had different sets of rules …. A rabbi's set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi's interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi's yoke."
So when Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, asks us to take up his yoke, he's inviting us into a way of life based on his teaching. When asked about his yoke ("What is the most important commandment?"), he answered: Love God all-out, and love your neighbor as yourself. His yoke is love, not legalism. And it is easy, but only if you do it with him. He invites us into the rest that comes from trusting that his grace is sufficient.
In The Message version of Matthew 11:28-30, Eugene Peterson translates Jesus' words: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Jesus does not say, "Get over here; I've got work for you to do." Nor does he tell us, "Get your act together enough to earn my approval." He invites us to come as we are, and to find rest in his presence. He invites us to a life of paying attention, rather than a life of rule-keeping.
Certainly, our life will have struggles; but focus on learning from him, rather than trying to impress him. And in that way, we learn the unforced rhythms of grace and rest.
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