My Yoke is Easy
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” These words of Christ contain very great comfort, and should be a source of inspiration for us all. There is a striking example of the easiness of Christ’s yoke in today’s reading from Acts. I’ll just read a few verses from it to refresh our memories of it. It’s in Acts chapter 16, verses 25 to 34. Paul and Silas are in prison.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.
In the Roman Empire, if you were a public official and you failed you generally met a very sticky end. One mistake, and that was it: you were executed. I think it is clear from this story that the jailer expected to be executed in a very gruesome way, and he wanted to kill himself to escape execution.
Now, being executed for failure is a very harsh thing. It is even worse when you realise that, in this case, it was a natural disaster that lead to the jailer’s supposed failure. The society he was living in was so brutal that he would rather kill himself than face the punishment for a random act of nature that he had no control over.
There is no way in which the yoke and burden of being a Roman official was either easy or light.
Compare that to living a life under Christ.
“What must I do to be saved,” asked the jailer.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” replied Paul.
There was no such way to escape from the clutches of the Roman Empire. That system was harsh and unforgiving. God’s way of salvation is different. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” You don’t have to convert others, you don’t have to live a perfect, blameless, sinless life, and you don’t have to understand the minute details of prophecy. Although we should try to convert others, try to live a sinless life, and try to understand prophecy, we don’t have to in order to guarantee salvation.
As followers of Christ, our secular burden is lightened by the love of God. Please turn to Luke chapter 12, verses 22 to 32:
And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
No worldly government could, or would say “Seek our kingdom and all these things will be given to you”. The kingdom of God is unique in that respect.
There are three ways that this uniquess has an impact on our lives. We must always behave so that we give a good impression of what it means to follow Christ; we must be forgiving and loving to others; and we must love our neighbour as ourselves.
I want to look at each of these points briefly. First of all, why should we always behave in such a way as to give a good impression? We can find the answer to that in Acts 16. Paul and Silas could have fled from the prison. They could have said “God has sent us this earthquake – lets go while we can!” If they had fled then the jailer would have been killed, and they knew that. The jailer had heard them preach, and knew at the very least that he was in need of salvation. He was so impressed by Paul’s behaviour that he immediately asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul’s behaviour was a perfect compliment to his preaching, and it was proof to the jailer that there was more to Paul than just hot air.
In our lives, if we live as honest, upstanding citizens we may have a similar effect on those around us. Of course, even in a secular way, nobody is perfect, but if we do not take advantage of those around us that can only help the way the world views Christ and his church. We may never have anybody ask us “What must I do to be saved?” but we may make a significant impression on those around us in any case. Once again we are reminded that the yoke of Christ is easy. We don’t have to do great things to preach. All we have to do is what we are easily able to do.
Why is forgiveness important? We all know that God is abundantly forgiving to us. We must be prepared to forgive others because God forgives us. The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew chapter 18, verses 21 to 35:
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
“Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” Those are words we should all remember when we feel that somebody has wronged us in some way. I admit that can be a difficult thing to do, but it is still a light burden. In many cultures vengeance is emphasised over forgiveness. This has lead to many dreadful events, ranging from violence and murder to genocide. The yoke of Christ frees us, on a personal level, from protecting our honour with vengeance, and makes us more honourable by making us forgiving.
The final point, loving our neighbour as ourselves, is another one that, superficially, seems quite difficult, but it is in reality an example of Christ’s yoke being easy. We all know the parable well, so I’ll just read a few verses: Matthew 25 verses 34 to 40:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
People didn’t realise that when they were helping others they were in effect helping Christ. Once again, no great task is required of us. We don’t have to go on great pilgrimages, or raise millions of pounds for the poor. Helping others can be helping Christ himself.
There are times in all our lives when things can seem very difficult, but the cares of this world can be eased by the sure and certain knowledge that we have a loving God, who gave his only begotten son that whomsoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.
I’m going to finish with a short reading, one that I have referred to several times already. Matthew 11, 28 to 30, a passage that applies to our daily lives, and points forward to the Kingdom of God:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”