The Yoke, the Cross, and the Thorn
Edwin Adams, London
Matt. 11. 28-30; Mark 8. 34; 2 Cor. 12. 7.
OUR LORD'S ALLUSION to a yoke in Matthew u. 29 and 30 was easily appreciated by His hearers. They were quite familiar with the frame of wood joining the oxen at work. In the Scriptures the yoke is illustrative of national bondage, of afflictions, and of the ritual of the Mosaic law.
The yoke of Matthew 11 stands for our service to God, understood in its widest sense. A yoke always remained a yoke; it was always a weight, and there was always the tendency to chafe the neck of the ox. In like manner, every believer realizes that in his life as a service rendered to God there is the element of pressure and control, and that against which the natural desires tend to rebel. The yoke is a constant reminder that discipleship involves discipline.
How is our Lord's yoke easy? It is easy compared with the service of sin, for sin is a cruel tyrant and the great enemy of our souls. Moreover, the service of Christ is light compared with the heavy burden of the Mosaic law - a yoke this, which, as Peter reminded the conference at Jerusalem, 'neither our fathers nor we were able to bear'. The yoke of Christ is easy, too, because we have the desire to please Him. The obligation to bear His yoke is reinforced by love for Him. The heavier end is upon His shoulders, for upon Him rests the responsibility for the direction and success of our lives. In our effort to co-operate with the Lord, let us remember to lay emphasis upon His working for and in us. It is as we learn of Him and submit to God, that we prove His yoke is easy and His burden light.
Our Lord's cross was unique; Calvary stands absolutely alone in its majestic grandeur. It is the awful yet blessed centre of our redemption, and the source of all our hopes for time and eternity. But the Christian has a cross, too. The Christian's cross is not the common trouble that is the lot of all men; it is a kind of reflection of the cross of Christ, and is peculiar to the followers of the Crucified.
The Christian's cross means the refusal of sin and self, and it may include the loss and suffering inflicted upon him by the world, especially in countries where the influence of Christianity is weak. The cross means that discipleship costs something - that it is essentially sacrificial. To the early Christians the cross was not an ornament dangling from the neck or placed upon the top of a church steeple; it was the symbol of the Christian life; the symbol of their faith, of the love of God, of the victory won by the Captain of their salvation over death and sin and hell. But the Christian's cross is not merely a symbol, it is a reality of daily life. There arc times when he feels the nails go through his desires, his hopes and his will. The cross for the Christian means living for the higher at the expense of the lower; living for the future at the expense of the present; living for the spiritual at the expense of the natural. How little or how much do we know of this - living for others at the expense of oneself?
'At Thy feet, O Christ, we lay
Thine own gift of this new day;
Doubt of what it holds in store
Makes us crave Thine aid the more;
Lest it prove a time of loss,
Mark it, Saviour, with Thy Cross'.
The apostle Paul was not alone in having to endure his thorn in the flesh; probably no believer has been exempt from this. The thorn may be lodged in the body, the mind or the circumstances. But it is always something that is sharp and proving; something that hurts and harasses. The thorn is to keep us humble, dependent and spiritual. Our hearts are naturally proud, and spiritual pride was described by the saintly John Newton as 'the worst of abominations'. Hence the need to be constantly reminded of our dependence on the Lord for hourly and daily grace.
What shall we do with the thorn? Some thorns can be removed, as a splinter can be removed from the hand. We arc responsible for some of our own thorns; these we should try and get rid of in the light of God's Word. But what if the thorn cannot be removed? That which cannot be removed must be borne, not blamed. The Lord can give us grace to look to Him although the winds of adversity and the sands of affliction blow into our face and eyes. He is able to take the fret of annoyance from the mind, and turn the thorn into an occasion of blessing to ourselves and to others. The hearts that bend will never break. The best way to bear trial is to use it, while enduring it. Our prayer should be that we may bear the yoke, the cross and the thorn that, when we get Home, we may know that they have done the work that God intended!