His Yoke’s on You

His Yoke

“You look tired. Everything all right?” Ever heard that?1 I have. And you know, I probably did look tired. And you have probably looked tired a few times yourselves. We all get tired, every day. And every day, we do something to correct it: we go to sleep.

But that doesn’t always seem to take care of the problem. We wake up in the morning, or we’re woken up by an alarm clock or a voice and suddenly our time for sleeping might be over, but we’re still tired. Sometimes we snap out of it, but sometimes it just drags with us for the rest of the day. And even when we’re not thinking about it, we can feel it, in our face, in our bones. That tiredness is there, just under the surface.

So it’s not surprising people would try things to help them rest. There are medicines designed to gently help us sleep. There is certain kinds of music or “white-noise” makers that are made to help that sleep come faster. There are even special beds that are supposed to help. I remember watching adjustable bed commercials years ago and thinking that it sounded pretty interesting to be able to sit up and recline your whole bed.

But none of those things works perfectly. We still get tired, and even if we wake up rested one morning we’ll be tired again later, eventually.

That’s why it’s interesting to me to think of Jesus in our text. To picture Jesus in our text, calling out like some kind of salesman: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28) Here Jesus claimed to have the cure for tiredness, for being weary and burdened. But what was that cure?

It was a yoke. A yoke. And no, that’s not on the inside of an egg, a yoke is a wooden bar that would be used for two oxen, to connect them together by the neck. The yoke would keep the oxen together, plowing in the same direction at the same time. Yokes might also be used by servants or slaves. Someone might have a yoke that’s a bar of wood laid across their upper back so they could carry something on either end, like buckets of water.

Yokes are made for work. They are made when someone has to carry something heavy. Sometimes “yoke” can be short for slavery or bondage or any kind of cruel, back-breaking work.

So what does Jesus say? He says, if you want rest, real rest, take my yoke. It doesn’t make sense. It seems like a cruel joke to think a yoke would ever bring anyone rest.

But Jesus’ yoke is different. Jesus brings us spiritual rest. And he doesn’t do it by forcing us to work or making us his slaves. He does it by doing the work for us. He does it by bearing the burdens, the spiritual burdens and the burdens of sin and grief and shame in our place. Jesus gives us rest by connecting himself to us in his Word, and then giving rest to our souls now and forever.

So today, I want you to feel rested, spiritually. I don’t want you to be tired or bogged down or burdened in your spiritual life. I want you to feel the rest only your Savior can give you. Because his yoke’s on you.

It’s made for little children

From our perspective in the year 2014, it’s hard to imagine what it would’ve been like to actually be there when Jesus walked this earth. To witness his miracles with your own eyes and listen to his parables in his own voice. How incredible that must have been!

And that makes it all the more shocking to us to see how many people weren’t all that impressed by Jesus in the Bible. Just before the beginning of our text, Jesus was lamenting the fact that there he was, speaking, performing miracles, displaying the wonders of God in everything he did — and people wouldn’t listen. They didn’t seem to think he was so special.

Listen to what Jesus said about them: Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Matt. 11:21) Tyre and Sidon weren’t even in Israel; they were foreign cities known for their false gods. But Jesus was saying that they would have repented if they’d seen Jesus’ miracles and heard his teachings. But towns in Galilee, like Korazin and Bethsaida, hadn’t repented.

So, why hadn’t those cities repented? What does it take to make someone listen to Jesus? Who is the target-audience for this rest-giving yoke that Jesus is about to talk about. Well, our text goes on to show that it’s made for little children.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matt. 11:25-26)

Jesus reminds us here that faith is something that God alone gives, not something that we produce in ourselves. All these people in the cities of Galilee who hadn’t repented, the people who didn’t get it and believe in Jesus, they rejected Jesus because they were wise. Instead, Jesus said, the people who did get it are the little children.

Now, this might seem backwards. You’d usually think of something you have to understand as being something that you should be wise to be able to get, and that children might have trouble doing that. But Jesus shows that faith is a little different.

The trouble for us, though, is that we don’t like to consider ourselves children. If you were to go up to a little child in church today, someone just old enough to talk, and you asked, “Are you a little baby?” What kind of answer do you think you’d get? Probably something like I’m not a baby; I’m a big kid! Little ones don’t want us to think they’re so little.

The thing is, we never really outgrow this. It’s not really all about age; it’s about understanding. We don’t want to look like something takes us by surprise. We like to act like we’ve seen it all before, like we already have all the answers figured out.

We get that way spiritually pretty easily. “Oh, church? Yeah, I’ve done that before. Boring!” Or, “I’ve heard that Bible story before. Tell me something I don’t know!” When the Bible tells us something that we should be doing or, better yet, something we shouldn’t be doing, and it’s easy for us to react the same way. “Oh, come on. I’m a grown-up. Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

Oh, but being a grown-up is tiring, isn’t it? Knowing it all really wears you down. Convincing yourself that you know what you’re doing, well, it leaves you tired.

Jesus says he wants you, spiritually, to be like a child. Trusting. Hearing something from God and saying, “OK!” He wants us not to know it all ourselves, not to have accomplished everything ourselves, but to rely on him for everything. He wants us to look to Jesus for everything we need and in him to find everything we need. Jesus wants us to rest in him. He wants us to see that his yoke is made for young children, not young in age, but young in heart.

It’s given by Jesus

But that’s not easy for us to do. We want to accomplish things by ourselves. If there really is some magic yoke or something out there that is going to help us and give us true spiritual rest, well, then we want to figure out what we need to do to get it.

Jesus comes to us, though, telling us not to worry about getting something like this for ourselves; he says that his yoke is only given by him. In fact, everything we need spiritually really comes from him.

That’s what he told us in our text. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt. 11:27)

Our Heavenly Father has committed all things we need spiritually to Jesus. And Jesus says he will reveal the Father and all his gifts to those he chooses.

This really goes back to Jesus’ yoke being made for little children. Our hearts want at least some of what we need spiritually to come from us. We don’t want to be like little babies who need to be spoon-fed everything. We don’t want to be like beggars looking for crumbs coming from somewhere else. We want to be able to get what we need on our own.

We try to do that a couple of different ways. We can try to make God happy. We can try to do everything right, to do everything God wants, and then, well, don’t we have a right to expect God to give us everything we need, everything we want? And then we either feel guilty and defeated at how often we fail, or we start to get the delusion of being successful and thinking we are doing everything right.

The other option is that we try to go our own way. We leave God and his Word behind and find our inner fulfillment in something else — another person, other family members, a job, sports, drugs or alcohol, whatever it might be, we search and search to find that true rest.

But we won’t find it that way. And we won’t find it trying to please God on our own. It’s only given by Jesus.

It’s a delight to wear

Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of never quite feeling like you’re good enough, that you’ve never quite done enough? Aren’t you worn out from trying to find what you’re looking for in this world from things that never seem to satisfy you?

Aren’t you burdened? Don’t you have wear a load on your back of past mistakes and missed opportunities that you try — and fail — to make up for every day? Aren’t you burdened with the expectations of others, with thinking you’ve got to wear a cape and somehow do it all yourself? Are you weary of thinking you have to pass some sort of spiritual IQ test to get on God’s good side? Aren’t you tired, and weary, and burdened?

Then Jesus is for you! He invites you to have his yoke on you. He invites us all, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28-30)

It sounds hard to wear a yoke. It sounds like it will increase your burdens and just tire you out more. But Jesus’ yoke is different. It’s easy. It’s a delight to wear. Because he’s the one doing the work.

Wearing Jesus’ yoke is trusting that he has done all it takes to save you. He was the one who obeyed God perfectly; he was the one who lived a sinless life. We don’t work ourselves to death to make God happy, Jesus gave himself over to death on a cross to make God happy with us forever.

And those sins that we commit today, the regrets we have from yesterday, and the uncertainty we have in our future — Jesus takes care of it all. He forgives our sins, he removes our burden, and he assures us that our every day is already in his hand, that our eternity is already guaranteed.

And this doesn’t mean that we don’t do anything with Jesus’ yoke. No, with his yoke on us, we will keep going back to his Word, eager to hear and be built up again with his truth and the power of the Holy Spirit. With his yoke, we will be eager in serving God and serving others and always looking for opportunities to share our Savior with someone who has lost their way. With Jesus’ yoke we will keep going, tirelessly, for him. The difference is that this won’t be our work; it will be his. It won’t be our effort, it will be his power by faith. Jesus’ yoke is a delight to wear.

Just imagine it. Your alarm goes off on your busiest morning. Your to-do list is a mile long. But you feel no sense of dread. You have no inkling of hitting snooze and just staying in bed. You feel like leaping out of that bed and getting at it, full of energy and ready to go.

This might never happen to us, physically, in this world. We will still get tired. But spiritually? We don’t need to be tired again. Jesus invites you to rest. His yoke’s on you. So go and live, not with your power but with his, not with confidence in yourself but with a faith that rests in him, not burdened with your mistakes but freed by your Savior’s love and forgiveness. Take his yoke. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.


  1. Sermon preached for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost at St. John’s Lutheran Church on the weekend of July 27, 2014. Sermon text: Matthew 11:25-30 
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