I will give you rest
During the week I popped in to see Dorothy Simpson. Of course, when I was there Harry popped his head in the door to say hi, but out he went again because he was flat out trying to sow grass seed.
After a few minutes, Ben and Will came in to say hi. They had also been in the field moving rocks so that the machinery could plant the seed without the rocks getting in the way.
Looking out the window of the Simpson house, I could see a few fields. They’re big fields. It’s just as well they have tractors and machinery to plough the fields and sow the seed.
Could you imagine doing all that by hand? Could you imagine using a hand plough or even attaching a couple of oxen to a yoke and dragging them around the fields turning the soil and then going round the ploughed soil to plant the seed by hand?
It would take ages to do that. And could you imagine how tired you would be at the end of the day? You’d be exhausted. I’m sure Harry is tired enough at the end of the day even with the machinery and tractors and so on, but could you imagine how much that would take out of you?
Ploughing a field by hand would be exhausting.
[Show hand plough]
Now, imagine that’s all you’ve known - ploughing a field by hand is ALL that you have done in the past and currently do. And then imagine that someone comes along and says that they’re buying a new tractor and would you like to take theirs for free…and also the attachments that are used to plough the fields too.
[Show tractor plough]
Now, think of how much easier it would be to plough the field.
Ploughing a field would be a gift - Now, here’s the thing...the work would be the same, but man alive, would you feel a lot more able to do that job with a tractor and plough.
And then think of how better you’d feel at the end of the day after using a tractor to plough the field than using a hand plough. Think of how much less tired and exhausted you’d feel.
Now, let’s take our verse for the week and combine it with this story...
Jesus says, ‘Come to me, everyone who is struggling to plough the field by yourself with a hand plough. Come to me and I will give you a much easier way. Take my tractor and my plough and use it and you’ll find my way so much easier to get the work done, because my way is easy and the burden is light.’
Now, what’s Jesus saying here?
You see, the Jews had the law of Moses - the 10 commandments, like we still do, but they also had all the levitical, ceremonial laws, which we don’t have any more.
But on top of that, the Pharisees added a ton of other laws and commandments that Jews in Jesus’ day had to follow. In fact, they had 613 commandments that an orthodox Jew had to follow.
And it was like ploughing a field by hand. It was SO difficult to keep them all and people were exhausting themselves and tying themselves in knots trying to keep every commandment that the Pharisees had imposed on the Jews.
Jesus even called the Pharisees out on this...
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
And Jesus says to these people - “look at you. You’re exhausted, trying to keep up with all these extra laws and commandments. You’re stressed to the hilt and you’re burdened with the pressure of trying to keep these laws...
Here’s an idea…come to me and I will give you rest from all of this stuff. I’ll give you a much easier way and your burden will practically disappear.”
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
And the yoke, as most of you may know, is a wooden crossbeam that is used to tie around the necks of two oxen so that they can be directed by the farmer to plough the field. Having two oxen yoked together means that you don’t need to plough the field by hand. And the yoke kept them from wandering in different direction - it kept them straight.
And Jews talked about the yoke of the law - meaning that they were constrained by and disciplined by the law. The law kept them straight.
But something I didn’t know about a yoke was this...the yoke was shaped around the oxen so that it fit well. It was carved to FIT the oxen - kinda tailor-made. And when Jesus says my yoke is easy in verse 30, the word for easy means ‘well fitting’.
In other words, if you come to me and be my disciple - be disciplined by me, I will give you a yoke that is well fitting and comfortable, so that the work you have to do will feel like nothing.
Or, to put it in modern language.
You’ve been ploughing the fields by hand, trying to keep the extra laws that the Pharisees have been giving you to do. There IS work to be done in the kingdom of God. There are commandments to be obeyed and a way of life in which you must live if you want to be my follower and taste heaven. But I’ll give you a tractor and plough that will mean that you won’t have to work hard at keeping straight - because MY way will get the job done, but for much less effort.
So what does this all mean?
What it means is that we, too, often struggle with keeping the law, with being good… we struggle with all the commandments in the bible and all the stuff that Paul says we should or shouldn’t do, and all the stuff that Peter says we should and shouldn’t do, and James, and John in their letters, and so on.
And keeping all that is tough. It’s hard work. It’s not easy to be THAT good a person, because keeping God’s laws goes against our sinful nature. And to go against our nature is HARD WORK.
But it’s hard work when we THINK that by keeping all this stuff it will somehow make God look more favourably on us. That’s not how it works.
There’s no bad thing that you can do that would make God love you any Less than he does. And there’s no good thing that you can do that will make God love you any MORE than he does.
So if we think that keeping the law, that by being good living will mean that God will look more favourable on us, then we will work hard at being good - and that will exhaust you. It will ware you out.
What Jesus is offering is a way to live free from this exhaustion. It’s a way to live without the burden of keeping every single letter of the law.
We still have to keep the law and do everything that the apostles write in their letters…but Jesus takes the BURDEN off us.
It’s like ploughing a field - the field still needs ploughed, but if you have a tractor, the burden of the ploughing is so much lighter.
Jesus gives us a tractor so that we can get the work done with ease.
So how does Jesus make the burden lighter for us?
There are different ways of looking at this. But consider this...
The Pharisees worked at the law because they thought that by keeping every letter of the law they would make themselves righteous - or ‘right with God’ - that by working hard at keeping the law it would cancel out the debt of sin.
And it’s the same today... a lot of people try to be good living in order to work off some of the debt that they owe God by being good.
Now we know that’s not true and we know that doesn’t work.
Because, as Paul says...
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
So we KNOW that working hard at keeping the law doesn’t save us.
And we also KNOW that Jesus does save us. That our FAITH in Jesus, through his grace, saves us.
So if keeping the law doesn’t save us - and our faith in Jesus DOES save us, then why do we keep the law? Why is Paul telling us how to live? Why is James, why is Peter, why is Jesus telling us how to behave?
Because it’s how people, saved by grace should live - and this way of living comes to us through the help of the Holy Spirit who is continually making us holy - it’s called sanctification. In other words, the Holy Spirit is working in us to make it easier and easier to live like Jesus and for Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is the tractor.
Which means that when we follow Jesus and have the Spirit in us, the burden on us is light. The Yoke is easy, and we will have rest from trying to work our way into heaven by being good.
It’s BECAUSE of our salvation we keep the law. We don’t keep the law to EARN our salvation.
So think about it - imagine you’re working at keeping the law and keeping the law, and one day you slip up and you mess up and break the law. Let’s say you have an affair.
If you’re counting on keeping the law to get into heaven then you’ve kinda just blown it. You’re going to have to work EXTRA hard to make God look upon you favourably... and the more commands you break the harder you have to work at it, the end result is you become exhausted and weary and heavy laden.
When you come to Jesus then all this working to get into heaven is gone. The debts are cancelled and you are made right with God.
It doesn’t mean you won’t slip up - but the burden isn’t the same.
Think of it like this...
Getting right with God by keeping every letter of the law is like ploughing the field by hand. It’ll take forever to get it done.
But when you are made right with God through Jesus, Jesus gives you HIS tractor and plough and you will still plough the field - you’ll still live for him and obey his commands, but you won’t be exhausting yourself to do it.
In fact, it will start to become natural to you, as you become more and more like Jesus through the sanctifying work of the Spirit who makes us more and more holy. Because as the Spirit work in us it will make our natural ability to keep the law much much easier…in fact, the burden will be light.
Jesus IS our rest. Jesus will make our righteousness easy - because he has done the work for us. And living for him is different - we will live for him because we love him and our lives will be an act of gratitude and worship TO him…but it won’t be in an attempt to buy our way into heaven through our good works.
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to come and renew us and to cleanse us and to make us more and more like Jesus so that living like him and for him will become second nature.