This past weekend, as Tim Bounds spoke about joy, he referred frequently to Galatians chapter 5. In that chapter, it says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1 ESV)
Jews at the time were very familiar with this term yoke. Now, if you need to stop here and Google what one looks like, go ahead. Seriously. I promise this will still be here when you get back . It’s important because it gives us a picture of what that Galatians passage is all about.
God uses the word yoke as He speaks to Israel all throughout the Old Testament. He uses it particularly as He’s bringing them out of slavery or out from the oppression of foreign rulers. Here are just a few of the places in the Hebrew Scriptures where He speaks to His people with this term: Leviticus 26:13, Isaiah 14:25 Jeremiah 2:20, Jeremiah 5:5, Jeremiah 30:8, and Ezekiel 34:27.
And Jesus begins to speak with the same kind of language in Matthew 11:28-30:
“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 you souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Wait, wait, wait, you might say. It sounds like Jesus wants us to trade up one type of yoke for another…? Why would he do that? Because when we surrender ourselves, take up his cause, and live the way he says we should, we get to spend our days being and doing exactly what we were designed for. And that is how God lets us experience the joy and true freedom of Christ. This is what Scot McKnight refers to as a polemical dimension to freedom: “(This) freedom is something that Christians know about, that Christians enjoy, (and) that Christians experience.”
And just to be fair, let’s call out part of what Jesus is referring to when he talks about the “burden” of His yoke.
To look at part of what this burden entails, I borrowed a list from 2 Peter 1. Peter tells us to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. These are things that are added to our character when we live in step with “His divine power” as 2 Peter 1:3 suggests. In other words, they come from putting his yoke upon us. And this catalog of attributes sounds a whole lot like the fruit of the spirit that we will be talking about this summer. So let’s just lump all of them on there too, and not to mention godly relationships and marriages, along with God’s mission and calling on our lives and all the other promises God has made to us in Scripture. And to be honest, the more I look at these items, the less these things feel like weights or burdens and the more they feel like things that I want in on. And the extraordinary thing is, I think that’s the point. God is freeing.
But none of this is feasible all by our lonesome. Which brings us back to Jesus and what he tells us about his yoke in Matthew 11. The word for yoke that Jesus uses is zugo/ß(zugos). This type of yoke is one that is coupled or paired. We aren’t going though this alone. We get to be paired up with the Holy Spirit. And I can think of no greater joy than to be paired up with God Himself.
Kidz Coordinator–Mid Rivers