Introduction: In this sermon on trusting God, Matthew 11:28-30 is the focus to teach that we can’t measure up on our own. However, by trusting in God, we can measure up to all he intends for us. Use this sermon outline and illustrations to preach on trust and hope.
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.
Many people carry that same burden today. The pressure often manifests itself in strained relationships, depression, stress, feelings of inadequacy, and other conditions that tell people they don’t measure up. They seek to get rid of the burden by trying harder, climbing the career ladder, impressing other people, taking on more jobs at church, adding new spiritual disciplines, and more. Underlying all these efforts is a drive to win the approval of God and others. Jesus used the yoke to show people the impossibility of measuring up to God’s standard. The instrument continues to speak today. No person can make a grade high enough to merit heaven. Attempting to do so is both frustrating and exhausting.
Second, the yoke teaches that Jesus does measure up.
My experienced mentor next told me the two animals on which the yoke was placed were different. One of the animals always was more experienced than the other. Thus, the second animal became somewhat of a learner. The experienced animal was schooled in the commands of the master. This animal provided the direction, leadership, help, and training for the unlearned member of the team.
This fact illuminates a striking contrast in the passage. “To me” in verse 28 means “to me alone” and not to another. The contrast is seen further in the other pronouns in the text: I will give — my yoke — learn of me — I am gentle — my yoke — my burden. Jesus was contrasting himself with the religious leaders of His day. He not only claimed to know the only way to God, He claimed to be the only way to God (see Matthew 11:27)!
The word “gentle” and the phrase “lowly in heart” appear to be synonymous, further contrasting Jesus and the religious leaders. While Jesus demonstrated meekness and humility, they exhibited extraordinary pride, love for places of honor, special titles, and the exercise of authority over others (see Matthew 23:5-12). The point of the contrast is that Jesus’ spirit is more conducive for offering and receiving God’s salvation.
God’s standard for getting into heaven remains at the level of perfection. Jesus said, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Knowing the standard was impossible for us to reach, God loved us so much that he came to us in Christ. For 33 years Jesus did what we could not do. He met God’s standard. He made the grade. He measured up. Through his sinless life and subsequent death and resurrection, he earned the right to become the experienced member of the team in the yoke. Now, like then, He invites individuals to come get in his yoke and let Him be their credentials for acceptance by God!
Third, the yoke teaches that we can measure up With Him.
The knowledgeable parishioner ultimately helped me understand that the two animals worked together to accomplish the task. While the more experienced animal provided the leadership and direction, both animals worked together to pull the load.
Jesus promised that this cooperative effort would result in a refreshing experience for his tired followers. In Matthew 11:28, the “rest” he offered was a “resting up,” or rejuvenation, from the weariness of trying to measure up. In Matthew 11:29, the assurance of “rest for your souls” pointed to an unceasing sense of well-being with regard to one’s relationship to God. When a person gets in the yoke with Jesus, the new union issues forth in both an initial and continual relief from a heavy burden — the burden of trying to measure up to God’s standard.
Jesus wasn’t trying to give people another load, or yoke, to carry. He simply was inviting them to get in His yoke. There, He would be the experienced, mature member of the team, and those who responded would be the rested and refreshed learners. Neither was Jesus suggesting that a relationship with Him was absent of work. To be sure, He never would have chosen the yoke as His illustration had that assertion been His intent. The yoke was an instrument of work! The word “easy” in verse thirty is better translated “kindly.” “Burden” is contrasted with “heavy laden” in Matthew 11:28. These are kindred words which together present the idea of work that is lightened by Jesus’ help. Yes, the yoke of Christ involves work, but it is the work of love and joy. While Jesus asks much, He provides the strength necessary for people to respond. In essence, this easy, light load which results in rest is the difference between doing things for Jesus and doing things with Jesus!
The cosmic killjoy called the devil continues to play the ultimate practical joke on people. He tells them they must measure up, make the grade, and walk the line in order to meet God’s standard of acceptance. Consequently, many people are extremely tired of trying to accommodate. Yet frustration is all they reap because no amount of effort ever seems to be enough. The load is so heavy!
On the other hand, Jesus Christ has measured up by living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising again, all for our inadequacy. He invites everyone who is tired of trying to carry the load to come get in the yoke with Him. Within that relationship, He provides the experience, wisdom, skill, and ability to know God and to live a life of faithful service to Him.
So, the choice is yours: either the joke’s on you … or the yoke’s on you!