Nahum 1:13 NKJV
“For now I will break off his yoke from you,
And burst your bonds apart.”
We don’t see much of yokes anymore–not unless we live near an old fashioned farm, or live in a developing country. If you’ve ever seen one in use, you’ll understand that a yoke is both useful and a burden. A yoke can be used on a team of oxen to plow a field, used with horses to pull a wagon, or used by a person to carry something small but heavy, like two buckets of water or two sacks of grain. In ancient societies, it was not unusual for a slave to be chained to the very yoke they used for hauling water or stone for their master. A yoke is a symbol of hard labor, tedious and heavy work, and in the Old Testament, a mark of slavery.
But yoke can have another meaning. In traditional Jewish teaching, the word “yoke” is used to refer to the teachings of an elder or a rabbi. It is the burden that a disciple bears for his or her teacher, the traditions and wisdom passed on from generation to generation. Before he came to know Christ, the apostle Paul was known as Saul, and he was a student of a great Jewish rabbi named Gamaliel. Saul bore that yoke from his teacher, and it spurred him to be zealous in his persecution of the first Christians. But then Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and that yoke of teaching was destroyed. In its place, Saul now bore the yoke of Jesus.
Matthew 11:29-30 NKJV
29 “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.
30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Saul became Paul, and he taught something radical to both Jews and Gentiles: God loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die in our place so that through faith and repentance, we are saved. Paul received and passed on the light burden of Jesus’ yoke, the teaching of love, faith, and hope.
But we bear such heavy burdens in our lives! We have been carefully taught to love and to hate, to devalue life, to put ourselves first, to fight for our “rights” at the expense of righteousness. We bear the yoke of our parents’ prejudices and our forebears gradual loss of faith in God. We carry a heavy load of our own guilt and sin and pride. Look at what Jesus tells us to do with all that:
Matthew 11:28 NKJV
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
That is what Jesus says right before He offers us His yoke. So His offer is two-fold:
1) We are to lay down whatever burdens we are carrying–all our past teachings, all our guilt and shame, all our pain and sorrow. Whatever we carry that makes us weary, we are to lay it down at Jesus’ feet.
2) We are to pick up the yoke of Jesus’ teaching.
When we lay down our old yoke, Jesus sets us free from it. He will take the yoke from us and burst the very chains that bind us to our past. He will set us free from slavery to sin and pride and hatred and unforgiveness. He will give us His yoke of freedom to be holy and humble and loving and righteous.
But once we have laid that old yoke down and taken His yoke upon us, what do we do then? We must turn away from the old life. We cannot expect to bear the light burden of Jesus’ teaching if we simply return to our old life of pride and sin. We must repent and bear Jesus’ yoke with joy and obedience and love for God and others. Where we once were in chains forged by our sin and selfishness and upbringing, now we are free to bear the yoke of Jesus’ teachings so that we may bless others along the way.
Romans 6:22-23 NKJV
22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No slave can ever expect to die anywhere except in chains, unless they are redeemed by someone. Jesus Christ bought us with His own body and blood, and we are now His. When we accept Jesus as our new Lord, we acknowledge the price that was paid–such a high price indeed!–and we must now bear His light yoke, being slaves to righteousness rather than sin, slaves to life rather than death.
No matter where you are in your life, Jesus can and will set you free. He will break whatever yoke you bear and shatter the bonds that keep you bound to despair and loneliness and shame and selfishness and pride and all manner of ungodly things. Lay down your fears and sorrows, lay down your addictions and sin, lay down your past and its unforgiveness. Take up Jesus’ yoke, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Holy Lord God, thank You for taking this yoke from me. Thank You for bursting the bonds that held me to a life of sin and shame. I gladly give myself to You, to be a bondservant of righteousness in Your name’s sake. To You be all glory and praise. Amen.