Jesus spoke to the religious establishment of His day and the people who were oppressed by the religious system that Judaism had become, and called it out, exposed it for what it was, an oppressive legalistic controlling system that made following God unbearable to the people who wanted to follow God. Jesus not only exposed it and continues to expose it, but also provides Himself as the solution to that problem of unbearable religious oppression, and the sense of obligation and duty that is wrapped up in man centred religion.
MATTHEW 11 [The Message]
28-30 Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely lightly.
Living in Christ and for Christ has never been about performance or obligation
The Judeans of the Gospel era were not only oppressed by a foreign invader and occupation, but were even more severely oppressed by the interpretation and application of the faith for their forefather Abraham and the patriarchs that had been reinvented into an oppressive and burdensome religious system by the Pharisees and Sadducees that ruled the spiritual life of the people of the occupied state of Israel. This was the world that Jesus invaded through the Incarnation, became the “God-man”, Immanuel, “God with us” and walked among those who were oppressed, and He identified with this dual oppression of the people He was called to come and deliver from oppression and bondage.
In this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus confronting the oppressive nature of that Pharisaical religious system which burdened the people. Jesus not only asks questions, for many spiritual people ask questions, and asking questions is a good thing. But Jesus offers an invitation to the people, an invitation to trust Him personally. All who labor and are heavy laden speaks to the immediate context of the oppression of the religious legalism that was imposed on the people by the Sadducees and Pharisees. The application is vast and wide, that Jesus provides real and true rest, rest for our souls, eternal rest for all who seek restoration, wholeness, and not only forgiveness of sins, but true freedom from the crushing legalistic burden and the guilt of trying to earn salvation, or prove your worth through good works and performance.
When Jesus spoke of not laying anything ill-fitting or heavy upon the people, upon us, He was addressing the “yoke”, the wooden frame that joins two animals (usually oxen) for pulling loads, which was a metaphor for one person’s subjection to another, and a common metaphor within Judaism for the Law. The Pharisaic interpretation of the Law, with its extensive list of do’s and don’ts had become a overbearing burden but the people believed it to have originated with God.
The wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen) for pulling heavy loads was a metaphor for one person’s subjection to another, and a common metaphor in Judaism for the law. The Pharisaic interpretation of the law, with its extensive list of proscriptions, had become a crushing burden (cf. 23:4) but was believed by the people to be of divine origin. This was why Jesus’ words are so significant. When Jesus speaks of His “yoke” it is a yoke of discipleship, that brings rest through simple relational union and commitment with him (cf. 1 John 5:3).
The great “swap” is available to you and I today
Life assails us with all kinds of challenges, be they physical health, family issues, work problems, spiritual and emotional issues, all people everywhere are assaulted in one way or another. When I read the words of Jesus, he addresses these spiritual challenges in the primary context in this passage, but the principle applies to all of life. Jesus removes whatever “yoke” of “oppression” a person has in their life. Jesus completes the “great swap”, of taking that ill-fitting yoke from you and I, and replaces that heavy thing that is too heavy to bear, with a loving relational bond and relationship, that is life giving, sustaining, and refreshing. Loving God should NOT be a burden or an obligation. It should be an abundant life experience where you experience more of the love, grace and mercy of God in your own life, and it spills over to affect all those who are in your circle of influence.
Time to “cast” and “throw off” our burdens upon God
Peter, one of the disciples who became an apostle and a leader of the Early Church, he heard these words from Jesus. Peter had his own way of speaking to this same issue of laying down our burdens. He speaks about cares, concerns and anxieties in 1 Peter 5 [ESV]:
7 “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
I believe it is time for you and I to start a regular casting of our cares upon Jesus. If you already cast your cares and concerns on Jesus, please continue to do so, and expand on it throughout your day. If you have never taken your heavy heart and concerns to Jesus, maybe you should take time to consider it. Take time today, to name your concerns, and to literally give them to Jesus, and experience for yourself, His taking of your burdens and cares and anxieties from you, and give you, swap with you, giving you His love, grace and peace and sense of well being.
What I do, you can do, and we can do together
I practice what I preach. I live out what I write about. Even just over an hour ago, I was getting a dressing change at the clinic. I did not take my pain pill before hand, but that did not deter me from getting my dressing change. I began praying the Jesus Prayer, the most ancient prayer known in the Christian Church, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” The Spirit of God syncs my breathing in and exhaling with the words of this prayer. I just repeat this prayer consciously aware of my breathing in and breathing out. I end up speaking out (out loud or in my head) “I breathe You in Jesus, I breathe out all that is not of you.” I become conscious of breathing Jesus in, and all His goodness, His healing grace, His virtue. I become aware that God is pouring Himself out into me through my breathing in. In the Gospel of John Jesus breathed on His disciples:
JOHN 20 [ESV]
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
So, like the disciples I receive the breath of God, receive the Holy Spirit, the spirit of life and restoration. I breathe Him in, and I release in my exhale all that needs to be let go off.
You can do this as well. Every time you breathe in, just tell the Lord that you are breathing Him in and all His goodness that He has for you. When you exhale, you let go of all that needs to go. Practice this throughout your day, and in all situations. You can do this in silence, and you will feel the tension and anxiety leave your mind, leave your body and you will experience the peace of God all over you.