“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls.” – Matthew 11:29
These words are so comforting and just incredible. We could literally just stop and meditate on these verses today but I wanted to include more of an explanation so that we can clearly and fully understand all of these beautiful words.
A yoke is a wooden device used to harness the working power of an animal, especially oxen. These could be made for a single animal, or to combine the power of several. Jewish people described living under obedience to the Law as having a yoke upon them. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees made that load even heavier by adding manmade requirements and regulations on top of the law of Moses (Matthew 23:4).
Jesus has declared that He knows God the Father and that He can reveal God to whomever He chooses. Then He invited His listeners to come to Him and take His yoke, to commit to Him and put themselves under His authority. He has promised rest to those who do this (Matthew 11:28). Now He elaborates, inviting these listeners to put His yoke on them.
The implication is to allow Jesus to put His own yoke on us, the way a farmer would put one on his livestock. It means giving Jesus control and letting Him direct our efforts. The work He has will not be difficult, Jesus says. He wants them to learn from Him. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus insists that He is gentle. He is lowly in heart (Philippians 2:6–7). He has not come to add to their burden but to give them rest for their souls.
This statement is from an entirely different perspective than Christ’s earlier comments on the wide and narrow gates. There, Jesus had said that the path to life was narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:14). In that context, Jesus was speaking of the world’s view: that following Christ meant taking on difficult circumstances. This is certainly true, since being a follower of Christ often means being persecuted (John 16:33). What Jesus refers to here, however, is the perspective of eternity. Compared to the impossible task of earning one’s own salvation (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16), Jesus offers something infinitely “easier” (Matthew 11:30).
By making this comment, Jesus is not offering freedom from commitment. His yoke is still a yoke: it still comes with demands from a holy God. But the apostle John will later write that obedience to the God we love is not burdensome (1 John 5:3). This is true in part, the gospels will reveal, because Jesus will carry the ultimate burden of our sin for us and will provide power in the Holy Spirit to carry out His will.
Jesus is not offering freedom from commitment. His yoke is still a yoke, it comes with demands from a holy God but this yoke is light, easy and not burdensome. Jesus carries the ultimate burden for us. He died for you. For me.
There is no greater sacrifice that can be made.