In 2007, David Platt preached a sermon series titled Abide. Abiding in Christ is the starting point for the Christian life; everything else is simply an overflow of our relationship with Jesus. The first message in the series was on Matthew 11:28-30, in which Jesus said to his disciples,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.
Over the course of the sermon, he explains Christianity in its most elemental terms:
We give up all we have to Jesus–the full weight of our complete and utter inability to obey God.
Jesus gives all he has to us–pardon for our sins and the power to obey God.
Last week we highlighted a warning against legalistic thinking. This week we wanted to share a helpful illustration from the same sermon that shows how the Christian life is all of grace. In describing the infinitely greater contribution of Christ in this divine exchange, Platt uses the Matthew 11 imagery of a yoke to show how our obedience to God is totally empowered by Christ.
Now the imagery that dominates this particular passage is the picture of a yoke. And a yoke is a strong, heavy, wooden bar that is placed over an ox in order to allow that ox to pull a cart or pull a plow. And oftentimes a yoke could be singular, could be placed on one ox, but then also you can have a yoke that can be shared between two oxen. You have one ox on one side and the other on the other side, and they would share the load together in a yoke.
And if you have a yoke like this, that two oxen share, then basically the picture is: one of those oxen would be stronger than the other one. You would have a weaker ox on one side and a stronger ox on the other side. And the stronger ox would be able to basically pull the load of the weaker ox. You would have one ox that was more trained in the commands of the master, that was more experienced, that was stronger. As a result, the weaker ox would come in, and they could accomplish more together–and especially for that weaker ox, to be able to be pulled along (basically) by the stronger ox.
Jesus Gives us All the Strength We Need
How can Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you. You learn from me and you will find rest for your souls”? Because, here is the beauty of Christianity, this whole picture is of him giving us his ability to obey God, to please God. When we join in the yoke with him and we learn from him, what are we learning to do? We are learning to trust in him and not in ourselves. And as a result, slowly, surely, we are relaxing in the yoke and learning to let Christ do in us what all along we have been trying to do for ourselves.
Now, rest in Christ is becoming a deeper and deeper reality on a day-by-day basis. Why? Because we are learning to let go of the strain of trying to do this Christian life on our own, and we are learning to let him do it for us.
This is huge. “Are you saying that we sit back and don’t do anything?” Absolutely not. It is not a passive picture. It is learning, following, and going after the law. It’s not because the law doesn’t matter anymore. Many people have done this with the emphasis that the church has had on legalism, they say we don’t have to follow the law. On the contrary, we are free–not to forget the law–we are free to obey the law. And now we have in us Christ himself, who enables us to follow the law.
Jesus Gives Us Rest
Here is the beauty. The reason that Jesus can give us rest is not because he is giving us the rules. “Here are the regulations, here’s the law, here’s the commandments, now follow them.” Instead, the beauty of Christianity, what makes Christianity not just another religion, not just another ethic that we live up to, is the picture of Christ himself in us, enabling us to follow the law, enabling us to please God, enabling us to obey God. And now when we live our lives, it is Christ in us living through us. Then we bring great glory to our Father because he is doing it in us. And it is all saturated in Christ, the one who is giving us the grace moment by moment, day by day.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in your Christian life that God intends you to do on your own. It is all intentional –every single prayer we pray, every single step we take, every single thought–is intended to be saturated with Jesus Christ. And the picture of being in a yoke with him is that he takes over more and more every day, and we find more and more rest in him every day. Do you want this? This is the picture of coming into the yoke with him.
Listen to the entire sermon, “The Disciple’s Identity – Part 1: You in Christ”