Some imagery in the Bible speaks clearly, even if we are far removed from the time and place in which it was first said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.)
You don’t even need to know that a yoke is used to hitch farm equipment to an ox or donkey. The point is clear: Jesus offers rest to the weary, and is gentle to our souls. His burden is light.
The people he spoke to weren’t far removed from the imagery, though. Oxen pulling plows across a farmer’s field would be a common enough sight even for city dwellers who traveled the open roads connecting Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Jericho and Capernaum and more.
For those who knew the writings of the prophets, Jesus’ message would have been even clearer. While we read the words and think how wonderful it is that Jesus offers rest, we don’t necessarily get that he is calling us to take off one yoke before putting his on.
His listeners got it.
Yoked by Sin
When Jeremiah wrote of Jerusalem’s downfall – the long prophesied consequence for the people’s unfaithfulness to God – he spoke for the city and personified it in its suffering:
My sins have been bound into a yoke. (Lamentations 1:14.)
The sins of the people were a burden, a yoke of oppression that bore them down. Jesus’ listeners would have heard his words and possibly thought of that ancient lament of the oppressive yoke of sin. Jesus offered of a light yoke of rest and peace that goes into one’s very soul, a yoke that is not burdensome but gentle.
Jesus did not offer a yoke to people who had no burden, then, but to those who were weighed down and weary from the yoke they bore. No one who is without a yoke; it just depends on whose yoke you are under.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Luke 16:13.)
You have a choice. You can wear the yoke of sin that weighs you down, or shed that yoke and take on the yoke of Christ who gives you rest.