“Come to me, all 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.” – Matthew 11:28-30
I know I titled this article in question form, but I am not going to spend any time speculating over the truthfulness of Matthew 11:28-30. Our infallible Lord uttered these words with unquestionable clarity. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. End of story.
However, I think it is fairly accurate to say that the majority of us do not always feel like this is true. There are days, weeks, or even prolonged seasons in which Jesus’ yoke seems unbearably hard and his burden feels crushingly heavy. The reasons for this disconnect between Christ’s words and our personal experience is definitely worth pondering.
We should first examine the context and meaning of Jesus’ words. He was speaking to Jews under the Mosaic Law who were heavily burdened both by their inability to obey the Law and by their corrupt religious leadership. He was inviting them to enter into his New Covenant rest—not a kind of rest that is void of submission and obedience, but a kind of rest in which he supplies the power to submit and obey. You and I may not be first century Jews living under the weight of the Mosaic Law, but, through this text, Jesus extends a similar invitation to us. He calls us to come out from under the crushing load of sin and embrace faith-driven, love-saturated, divinely-empowered obedience.
When we take Christ’s yoke upon us, he begins leading us away from the destructive ills of sin and toward expanded joy and deepened peace in God. And the burden we bear on this journey is light, because our Lord himself bears the weight of the load. He produces in us the ability to will and work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). To be sure, we do carry some weight in this process. We are charged with the daily task of abiding in Christ so that he can perform his sanctifying work within us. And with temptations and weaknesses within and around us all the time, this can be extremely difficult. Yet, even in light of this difficulty, Jesus still describes his yoke as easy and his burden as light. Why? Because the supernatural strength, joy, and peace he lavishes upon the one who is yoked to him far outweigh the difficulties of repentance.
So, back to our problem: why does a life of obedience to God sometimes feel utterly contrary to how Jesus describes it? Why does it sometimes feel so excruciating and wearisome? I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons. However, the one I most commonly see in my Western side of the world is a lack of tenacity. I think many of us groan and complain about how hard it is to follow Jesus because our culture has groomed us to be puny people. The burden we bear really is light, but it only takes a smidgen of discomfort to bring our comfort-loving souls to their knees. We have brothers and sisters all over the globe who are suffering in ways our soft American minds cannot fathom, yet they possess far more spiritual stability than we. Though these persecuted believers continuously walk through truly fiery trials, in joyful gratitude they say, “His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.” Some of us—myself included—simply need to “lift [our] drooping hands and strengthen [our] weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12) and realize we can withstand more discomfort and suffering than we might think.
Additionally, Jesus’ burden can feel unbearably heavy when our striving to obey him ceases to flow from love and divine power. Sometimes, I find myself trying to keep Christ’s commands merely because I am “supposed to” and not because I love him and desire to please him. I find myself trying to obey Christ without abiding in him, thereby detaching myself from his strength and power. Our Lord doesn’t call us to this kind of wearisome striving. He calls us to obey him while looking to him and leaning on him as he bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19) and strengthens us with his grace (Hebrews 13:9). The only way we can joyfully run this race is with the eyes of our hearts continuously fixed in love upon the Founder and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Whatever the reason we feel like Jesus’ yoke isn’t easy and his burden isn’t light, we must realize we are the problem. We don’t need to doubt his words; we need to ask him to fix the defect in our perspective and help us to repent. He was wholly truthful when he described what humble submission and faithful obedience to him is like. Such a life has its difficulties, for sure. But, again, the spiritual blessings lavished upon the one who is yoked to Christ far outweigh the difficulties of repentance.