I love a good practical joke -- except when the joke's on me! A few nights before I was to be considered by the board of trustees for a faculty position at our seminary a telephone call interrupted a quiet evening at our house. The distinguished voice on the other end of the line identified itself as belonging to one of the board members. He said he was exercising his right to a personal interview and wanted to ask me a few questions before the vote.
I lost it! I asked him to hold while I changed phones. I dropped my little girl whom I was holding. I screamed at my wife. My mouth went dry. Horrifying thoughts raced through my mind. What if I messed up? What if I answered incorrectly? What if I made a fool of myself? What if I didn't measure up to his standards? I really was feeling the pressure! You can imagine how relieved I was when I returned to the phone and heard a close friend snickering in the receiver. He was just having a little fun, and the joke was on me.
The devil is the cosmic comedian of our day and the punch line is far from humorous. He is telling people they have to measure up to a certain standard in order to be accepted by God. As a result, many people really are feeling the pressure. To heavy hearts like those, Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 11:28-30
Come to Me, all you 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." (NKJV)
He's extending the same call today. Jesus is inviting people to accept him as the only way to know God instead of being the object of Satan's joke by trying to measure up.
The "yoke" was part of the harness used to pull a cart, plow, or mill beam. The instrument was the means by which the animals' master kept them under control and guided them in useful work. The term "yoke" came to be used as a metaphor for submission, usually to a teacher. But here, Jesus' use of the metaphor carried a deeper meaning. This meaning came alive to me during a pastoral visit on a muggy afternoon in the woods of South Mississippi. As I sat on the front porch of a wise, old sawmill operator in our community, I noticed a miniature yoke hanging on the wall. When I inquired about it, he began to explain how the yoke was used. His explanation fascinated me and reminded me of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30
. Three particular truths came to mind.
First, the yoke teaches that we can't measure up. My elder counselor first pointed out what should have been obvious -- the yoke was designed for two animals. The instrument was used to bring the strength of two animals together in order to pull a load that was impossible for one animal to pull on its own.
Jesus was speaking to a group of people who had been trying to carry an impossible load, namely the Jewish law and other standards imposed upon them by the religious leaders of the day. In the language of the New Testament, the word "labor" carried the idea of working to the point of utter exhaustion. The term "heavy laden" indicated that, at some time in the past, a great load had been dumped on a person and the individual was continuing to bear the load. Together, the terms described a person who was exhausted from trying to carry a burden assumed in the past. Jesus' listeners were exhausted from trying to measure up to the expectations of the law.