28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
The Pharisees had 385 rules & regulations that they lived by & expected others to follow. Jesus criticised them for the burden that they imposed upon people. Jesus is not calling to himself those who feel fit and able to follow a religious life full of rules. He is calling the weary and the burdened, those weighed down with unrealistic expectations..
Jesus had been a carpenter and perhaps had made yokes for cattle. This would involve measuring the team of oxen in the way someone might be measured for a hand-made suit. When they returned after the yoke had been crafted final adjustments would be made, smoothing out the edges and ensuring it was a perfect fit. The Greek word translated 'easy' might be rephrased 'well-fitting'. Jesus yoke for us is made just for us, and it is a yoke for two - we are in partnership with him.
A yoke was designed to make carrying a load easier. Jesus is calling people to carry his load and learn from him. He is gentle and humble, not harsh and arrogant.
Jesus is not saying that following him involves no responsibilities, no load at all. Earlier in 5:20 he had told his disciples that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees.
This is about where you start from. The Pharisees were self-righteous and lived lives according to rules because they thought that they could please God this way.
Earlier we were reminded that following Jesus involves becoming like a child. 25 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. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 27 "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.
Being a child of God involves realising that we cannot earn God's approval, but that Jesus has done that for us, and that he has chosen us to follow him. One of the burdens that Jesus frees us from is the burden of our sin.
So our lives are to be lived in the glorious knowledge that we are chosen by God to be his followers. We know that God loves us and wants the best for us so we can joyfully do his will. Not to earn his favour... but because we have received his favour and are now free to love and obey him.
Unfortunately there are people who would call themselves 'Christian' but live lives that do not show that they rely upon Jesus. Their gratitude and worship is sporadic, they have even thrown away the light yoke that Jesus has given them. We must remember that Jesus said that on the day of judgement many will call him 'Lord' and point to deeds done in his name, but Jesus will say that he never knew them.
Jesus yoke is easy and burden light because he has given to his children freedom from sin and the motivation to do his will in gratitude for what he has done for them. Christians have received his Holy Spirit who gives the power to live and serve God. Let us go out in the power of the Holy Spirit tonight with the joy and security of knowing that we are chosen by Jesus, and the determination to serve, worship and obey him.
According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, "Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies."
The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, "If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it."
We all need time to loosen our bow. To come to Jesus for help in our hectic lives. He does not release us from all burdens. But his is manageable, and he helps us to share the load.