Reading: Matt 11:16-19, 25-30
So how’s it going being yoked to Jesus?
An easy yoke? A light burden?
One has to wonder what we’ve done with this. (I’ll talk about the rest later – maybe tonight if you come along. Or perhaps the rests – following that great preacher Spurgeon who indicates more than one kind of rest.) For now – here – today – what about the light and easy stuff? This burden and yolk Jesus offers.
Have we missed it? I think we may have.
I suspect that the Jesus we think we know is a tad different from that warm attractive witty compassionate person who hung out with the fringe members of society – and found them repenting and being transformed – without the frills of our theological systems.
Oh and children were there too. Drawn to Jesus. As were sinners of all kinds and shapes.
They had the freedom there to totally be themselves. And I reckon they had a lot of fun. And they clearly were changed people.
What does an easy yoke actually look like?
Well rabbis would use a yoke to describe a way of life. The whole life. Most would have said they were to be yoked to the Law. That in itself would have been challenging – there were so many laws! We barely remember the big ten by heart!
The trouble is we sometimes see the yoke as a burden in a spiritual compartment – or as service of God – doing his stuff – when many people (as I do) think it’s more to do with our relationship with God – what we used to call communion with God. We are to be closely connected with Jesus.
Listen to this man writing about his ministry: His name is John Ortberg – you would have heard from him in home groups last year. (Remember – it all ends up in the box). A Presbyterian pastor.
I trained originally to be a therapist—a clinician, but discovered I wasn’t as good at it as I hoped and found the work quite draining. I discovered, instead, that I really loved the church. But after a few years in ministry, I began to become frustrated. I found myself asking, “What does it mean to be human? How do people change? Why is change so hard? Why doesn’t it happen more often in the church?” I found that we’re pretty good at helping newer Christian deal with surface bad habits. But after a while, people feel like the change process kind of stalls out. (As a second language teacher I would have used a different phrase from language learning – it plateaus! Levels out!)
People attend, volunteer, tithe, serve, avoid scandalous sins, but most don’t seem to be transformed more and more into joyful, loving, winsome persons. What is more disturbing than that is that no one really seems to expect such transformation. No one says we need a consultant to deal with this terrible problem. We rarely see the kind of renewal described in Romans 12:1-2, and we don’t seem to see this as a big problem.
Romans 12:1-2 says this of course: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
It’s about transformation! (Paul in 2 Corinthians talks about us looking to the Lord with unveiled faces – and transformation follows: 2 Cor 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.)
Ortberg says we settle for second best – by using what he calls boundary markers. We set up boundary markers. These are visible signs of our belonging to the organisation – for the rabbis back on that day it was keeping the Sabbath and circumcision – today it could be something else in which we measure who is in and who is out the club – whether it be clubs for hippies, yuppies or bikers. Or churches. Like Christians carrying big bibles and wearing big smiles to church. We all have visible boundary markers -signs of belonging.
They’re no measure or sign of actual transformation. But they help us placate our consciences as we tick the boxes we regard as important. And we do it too. Trying to measure church’s success by numbers or style rather than obedience. Measuring spiritual growth by activities – how many things we attend. Or who is here each week (again we tick boxes, although the intention is look out for the missing ones!)
Ortberg suggests that the easy yoke offered by Jesus – for ministers at least – begins with joy! Our whole life is meant to be lived “in Christ”. The most important thing we ought to do as minsters or pastors, he suggests – is to live a real Christian life – with deep contentment and confidence and joy – confidence in our everyday lives (Ortberg follows the thinking of Dallas Willard here). For me this is about a life that is characterised by integrity, reality, a genuineness (and not being fake).
And should think that this kind of congruence should apply to all Christians. What we say on Sunday should add up on Monday – wherever we find ourselves.
For pastors and those in ministry – success is not measured by impressive buildings and statistics.
It’s about sharing a life that is as attractive as Jesus’ one. And being able to laugh is one of the keys! It’s actually infectious. (I am blessed with a fairly healthy sense of humour – through which I have to laugh at myself a lot too!) Joy is a sign of a real life that is yoked to Jesus.
But in case you think I am trivialising this – behind the ability to laugh (which is not measured or rated by training and skill) – is the real Jesus stuff which oils and lubricates and fuels real Christian joy.
It’s called grace.
And – we are reminded – grace existed in God before sin came into the world.
Grace is not just about celebrating forgiveness of sins.
Grace made possible the amazing GIFT of creation – the very breath of life being breathed into the first human (Genesis 2:7) – the CONVERSATIONS in the cool of the day in Eden when they walked and talked together (implied in Genesis 3:8-9 where God walks and is wondering where they were hiding).
Our first waking moment – and every day we live and breathe – is a celebration of grace. Our Messy church celebration of WINTER on Friday included a reference in our story time to the celebration of the fact that we as people of dust received the breath of life from God! All of this is part of our prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude.
And you do hear it in people’s prayers don’t you – that sense of gratitude for the gift of life and salvation, creation AND redemption. (Or for some redemption AND creation!)
If you only thank God for sending Jesus to die for us each week – what’s up with the rest of the gift He’s given? Where are we hiding that? It pops out in our open times of prayer, especially when children pray, thanking God for the daily blessings of life, family, fun and holidays etc.)
How about the celebrations that we should enjoy? The recognition of the gift of life to us all and our responsibility to care for that life (in the broadest sense including the environment and the world of resources). There should be much more laughter and fun here! Christians together should be experts at celebrating EVERYTHING!
We have an amazing time sharing our lives at our home group – as an illustration. We read and pray and learn together. But there’s more. I think our curry nights as a home group are spiritual things too – not because of the potential for cleansing – but because of the intricacies of the tastes and flavours – the variety – the detail – and the people we share it with.
They too are gold! Choice, bro! It’s all a celebration of worship!
My sister in law – who lives in Brisbane now – once gave me a poster that said: don’t worry, don’t hurry, and don’t forget to smell the flowers!
It’s a deeply spiritual statement – of trust – restfulness – and thanksgiving along the way.
Jesus died for our relationship – not just a clean slate – he died for us to live in a new network, if you like. Full access. Network Trinity. And the network of his international and local family on a shared journey of faith. In a created world that despite its brokenness is still worth celebrating each day.
A theological aside
In the midst of these words from Jesus today – about people expecting the wrong stuff especially from religious leaders (neither John nor Jesus satisfied them, One too ascetic. One too happy really.)
In the midst of this, the relationship thing creeps in: Mat 11:27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. No one knows that Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him!
There’s a separate challenge. It’s not even up to us who comes into this network. In an amazing way not understood by us he includes those whom He chooses. That to is an example of sheer grace.
It’s not our job to understand this aspect of His will. It is our job to share the vision He has given us.
THE VISION AND THE YOKE
People sometimes ask me for a vision – which usually means they want a business strategy for ministry. For a successful church. And I understand the reason for this. If a church dies off – then what about the next generation? I understand this desire for a vision and a strategy – I used to be a church development consultant helping churches to plan to be effective.
In fact the best analytical question for church growth and future thinking is this: If all of us (as a local church) disappeared overnight (say we were beamed up somewhere like on Star trek) and were nowhere to be found. would we be missed? (You can ask that of any local church). Do we make that much of a difference (say as salt an light) that people would mourn?
When it comes to local churches – God brings the life generally where He chooses too. And some of the big growing machines in the mega church families can look like something quite foreign in my view. That’s my view anyway. The vast majority of Christian churches and communities around the world are fairly small (probably under 80 in active numbers).
Here’s the vision I offer today. This is what makes the difference in all those communities.
The yoke of Jesus.
Yoke up! Jump on the eternal life bandwagon – which means getting to know Jesus and the One called FATHER who sent Him. Remember another of Jesus’ prayers in John 17?
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3)
It’s a vision of God – and how glorious and generous he is – and how wonderful his grace is – and what a difference it makes to be yoked to him!
Simple really. Knowing Him. In fellowship – communion with God.
The church theological police (the wise ones from Matthew 11:25) will scratch their heads and bang their pointing fingers to the text and say – “what about this and that!” – (all those conditions that they lay down for people to come to Jesus…)
What about them?
Show me your life that is full of grace across it all – and I’ll say it’s the yoke of Jesus that’s doing it. It’s being connected to Him that changes us. You and me.
You have to be connected (yoked) with God to be beautiful for God to do beautiful things for Him!
And quite often what the world deems to be success (image, wealth, fashion, modern goodies and the latest cars) is a world away from the life Christ calls us to.
- We look upon His beauty on the cross. We see the grace in His praying – “father forgive them”. We see His suffering, and often will share in that suffering. (Read Colossians 1:24-29 as a Bible study this week).
- We gaze upon His majesty at the resurrection. We look at death and suffering in the light of this ultimate transformation beyond this life. (1 Corinthians 15 is worth reading as another study this week).
- We cast our eyes heavenward for His return. (1 Corinthians 15:42 onwards. And also Acts 1:4-11). This is our eternal perspective.
But in the meantime.
We are to be Him in the in-between years – Christ in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) – showing His grace and love without a dour disposition and miserable load of old rubbish that we carry around and want others to carry like the Pharisees used to. (See Matthew 23:4: They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.)
In the midst of these verses Jesus speaks about how we need to de-clutter it all and de-complicate things:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Mat 11:25-26
Later in Matthew we read this:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-3)
There is something simple in being yoked to Jesus in a close relationship.
Yay! Yea and Amen!