Easy Yoke is an Oxymoron

In Jesus’ day, a rabbi’s teaching was called a yoke. The teaching-yoke of the religion scholars and priests was an endless list of laws, rules, traditions, and expectations that no one could measure up to — it was nobody’s best life!

But Jesus offered to free the people, including the religious leaders, from this deadly yoke of legalism. He opened his heart to anyone who would listen and offered his life-giving yoke of love:

“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)

Let’s soak in Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me… Lay down your heavy burdens… Receive my gentle love… Rest deeply… Be easy as you work in my power…”

That’s a God-blessed life! And the weary common people thronged to Jesus to experience it. Even some of the religious leaders accepted Jesus’ wonderful teaching.

“This teaching on the easy yoke is just what I need to hear!” an Executive Pastor said to me. “I overwork and don’t leave enough margin to rest in the Lord. But I wouldn’t want my Youth Pastor to hear this — he’s already too lax about his ministry responsibilities!”

I clarified, “Actually, Jesus isn’t inviting us to slack off or even to go on a spiritual retreat — he’s offering to put a yoke on us!”

Probably we want the “easy,” but not the “yoke.” Yokes are binding and they’re for working hard!

A Lesson on Yokes

You probably haven’t seen a yoke in awhile! Let’s review the basics. The yoke that Jesus is referring to is a heavy wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of two oxen. It’s used to attach them, neck to neck, and hitch up them up to a plow that they are to pull across a field to prepare it for planting a crop.

First, the new ox needs to be “broken in.” To train a young ox wise farmers are careful not to pair it with another young ox or an ox that’s been poorly trained. Young oxen might be strong and energetic, but they don’t know how to wear the yoke and they don’t know how to pull the plow. They jerk and strain to try to get out of the yoke. They charge forward to rush to the end of the job, chaffing their necks and choking themselves. Or they try to wander off to graze in a meadow. 

But if you take a young ox and pair it with a mature ox who has been well-trained then it learns. The lead ox shows the younger how to wear the yoke loosely and lightly. It pulls the brunt of the weight of the plow and leads the younger one to pull the plow slow and steady, step-by-step, straight-ahead — without getting bruised or worn out.

Jesus is the mature ox we need. But sometimes I find myself un-yoked to the Sovereign Lord and un-easy! When Kristi sees me reverting to my old pattern of self-reliance and getting weighed down by my work she reminds me, “Bill, it’s God’s field, not yours! You don’t have to plow the field all by yourself — he’s inviting you to participate in His work.” Thank you, Lord, this book is your project, not mine!

Kristi needs my help too. Sometimes she sees “hard” disciplines that I or others are using and thinks she should follow suit, but I remind her, “Don’t get in anybody’s yoke but Jesus’. He custom fits his yoke to be a ‘light burden’ for you.” It’s the same for you reading these words. The Savior adapts his yoke according to your needs — so don’t compare yourself to other people!

Excerpted from Bill’s book Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke



Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: Bill and Kristi sit down with pastors from Saddleback Church for a conversation on how to do hard things in an easy way. In the first of this three-part series, you’ll hear about the Biblical anchors of Jesus’ easy yoke, gain a picture of what his easy yoke looks like in everyday living, and dig deeper into how Jesus himself lived easily with the Father.


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