The Cross and the Yoke (Part 2)
Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire
Having considered the significance of the cross for the Christian, we turn now to an assessment of the yoke which the Lord Jesus invites us to take up. The invitation forms part of the very familiar words recorded in Matthew 11. 28-30, but before studying this passage in detail it is helpful to see the way in which it develops from the earlier verses of the chapter. It forms the climax of a distinct section which begins at verse 20, a section which divides itself very clearly into three subsidiary portions which may be looked at in the following manner.
Emphasis on Repentance, vv. 20-24. The two occurrences of the related verb indicate that this is the burden of the Lord's words (v. 20, "because they repented not"; v. 21, "they would have repented long ago"). The mighty works which He had wrought in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were intended to bring the people to repentance by impressing them with the divine visitation which had occurred in their midst with the advent of the Lord Jesus. The people's failure to humble themselves in repentance and contrition would involve dire consequences at the day of judgment.
Emphasis on Revelation, vv. 25-27. Again two occurrences of the related verb suggest that this is the main topic here (v. 25, "thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes"; v. 27, "neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him"). In the first reference, the Father is the great Revealer, unfolding to men the meaning of the divine intervention being enacted at that time. In the second reference, the Son is the great Revealer, making known to men the character and attributes of the Father.
Emphasis on Rest, vv. 28-30. The word "rest" also appears twice in this portion (v. 28, "I will give you rest"; v. 29, "ye shall find rest unto your souls"). It thus completes a three-fold chain of truth which represents, in fact, an abiding pattern of man's progressive experience of God. This experience begins with repentance, proceeds to revelation and is consummated by rest. The unrepentant sinner cannot expect God to reveal Himself, and will thus be denied the ultimate rest of mind and heart that such a revelation would yield in his life. We are now ready, however, to consider more closely the three closing verses of the chapter.
One way of doing so is to underline the four key verbs which seem to form the framework of the Lord's teaching, namely "come", "take", "learn" and "find". The phrases surrounding these verbs lead us in an orderly fashion through this priceless passage.
Our Approach to Christ—"Come unto me", The Lord has just said "neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him". This sublime statement instinctively prompts in the mind the question, "to whom is the Son willing to make this most wonderful of all revelations, which must be the loftiest blessing to which man could ever aspire?". As though to anticipate the question the Lord immediately added "Come unto ME". Here is an open and unreserved invitation to men to approach the Saviour with neither dread nor hesitation. The words possess a charm and an appeal which have lost nothing during the long centuries which have elapsed since they were first uttered. How unlike the word to Moses, "Draw not nigh hither" !Observetoo, thatthequalifica-tions for approaching are clearly defined, "all ye that labour and are heavy laden". Strictly speaking, the invitation is not addressed to the independent, self-sufficient man who feels competent to manage his own affairs, and enjoys doing so. It is a call to the burdened, the weary, to whom living has become laborious. Perhaps when the Lord spoke these words He was thinking of the fact that Israel as a nation was bowed down under a burden of false laws and traditions imposed by its self-styled religious leaders, for in chapter 23, referring to the scribes and Pharisees, He said, "they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers", v. 4. The Lord offered deliverance from the laboured life imposed on the people by these unwarranted teachings. This need not exhaust the meaning of the passage, however; life has other burdens. The cry of the Psalmist in Psalm 38. 4 strikes a responsive chord in every enlightened heart: "mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me". The Lord offers rest of conscience from the burden of realized sin and guilt. He is able also to provide rest from the infinite variety of human cares and anxieties which fall within the scope of these words.
Our Association with Christ—"Take my yoke upon you". We have seen that the yoke is the counterpart of the cross. It is an invitation indicating that those who have come to Christ may walk with Him, may share His pathway, enjoy His companionship and submit to His will. Every thoughtful Christian knows instinctively that this life of daily fellowship with Christ is the highest blessing which can be experienced on earth. Christian fellowship is a great blessing, but fellowship with Christ is infinitely greater.
Our Appreciation of Christ—"Learn of me". Learning of Christ is a life-long occupation for the believer. In the daily study of the Scriptures, by the daily practice of prayer, and through the ministry of God's Word by others, we may learn of Christ. Failure here touches every aspect of Christian living. How can we remember Him with reality and freshness at the Lord's Supper, and how can we witness effectively for Him to young and old, if we are not constantly learning of Him? The fact that this injunction is linked with the taking of His yoke indicates that we learn of Him as we walk with Him.
Our Abasement through Christ— "ye shall find rest". That the thought of the disciple's abasement is involved here is indicated by the words which immediately precede this second promise of rest, "for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest". As we learn of Him, we shall grow into His likeness, which will lead to becoming increasingly lowly and self-effacing. The result will always be the same—rest for our souls. This is the rest of absolute contentment, and is the portion of the Christian who has renounced every trace of self-interest. He has reached the depths of humility through a growing occupation with the Lord Jesus. He is entirely happy because he is thoroughly and genuinely humble. He does not contend for his rights or seek recognition of any kind. He has the mind of Christ and seeks only the glory of Christ.
O patient, spotless One!
Our hearts in meekness train To bear Thy yoke and learn of Thee, That we may rest obtain.