Serving Jesus is no frivolous joke. It is a serious yoke.
A yoke was a wooden frame, fastened to a crossbeam and placed on a team of two work animals to pull a plow or cart. The curved wood was shaped to fit comfortably over the necks of the animals, designed so that both animals could pull evenly. So common was the sight of two oxen pulling together that that term “yoke” (zygos) came to refer to a pair. We are saved to serve—but not alone.
Jesus invites us to “come” to Him. Jesus gave God a face, for when we come to Christ, we come to God Himself. And who is invited? The tired, the burdened, and the weary—those who feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the stress of life and dead religion (v. 28).
Upon reading this, our initial reaction might be that a yoke is the last thing we need! Vacation or R & R seems preferable over a yoke. But Jesus knows what we need, and He has personally fashioned your yoke. What Jesus is offering is not cessation from labor, but a new way of bearing responsibilities and better equipment to do it with. He does not tell us to “take a chair” and learn but to work with Him, listen to Him and be mentored by Him. This is the opposite example of the cold Pharisees who would “bind men with heavy burdens on men’s shoulders; yet would not help lift their burdens with one finger” (Matthew 23:4).
Since the yoke is for two animals, Jesus’ analogy in Matthew 11, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” means that Jesus will put His head in the other opening and pull alongside you. Jesus was a carpenter. In that era, it is almost certain He also made yokes in Joseph’s shop. Perhaps the sign over the door read “My yokes fit well.”
We are to “take” His yoke upon our shoulders voluntarily, just as we are to “take up His cross and follow Him” (Luke 9:23) every single day. We are not drafted into service for Christ: we are encouraged to take His yoke of our own free will.
But we cannot pull with Jesus in ignorance, for to work and serve with the Master is educational. The Greek term here implies that we are to come to Him and learn from Him—not just learn about Him. We can only “learn about Jesus” (v. 29) as we pull beside Him and with Him. Although there are millions of Christians, Jesus gives this personal analogy as a team of only two. We are asked in Amos 3:3, “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Working with Jesus is easy, for Jesus is a great conversationalist. He taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to converse and to commune with Him daily. Prayer is meant to be a dialogue, not a monologue.
Talking with Jesus is how we “learn of Him.”
A yoke implies hard and heavy work, yet Jesus describes it as “easy.” But isn’t this paradoxical? No, because discipleship is meant to be invigorating. The joy of the Lord is our strength! His personal presence alongside us proves that “His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3).
Working with Jesus is rewarding labor…and as such, it is restful. In verse 28 Jesus informs us that, “if we that labor come to Him with our heavy burdens, He personally will give us rest.” Our burdens become His, for He refers to His yoke as His own. He has asked us to shoulder it, to pull with Him in deliberate service. The work we do with Jesus brings us peace and contentment, for we know the end result of our service. We know why we are working.
When you “take His yoke” and deliberately put your head into His harness, His head instantly appears right alongside yours. Yoked with Him, you can plow a straight furrow every day.