Kingdom Come: The Secret of the Easy Yoke (Matthew 11:16-30)

Bible Passage: Matthew 11:16-30

This passage explores the theme of the invitation to follow Jesus. It builds up to verses 28-30, the well-known moment where Jesus offers rest to all who are weary and burdened. Along the way, we see two groups of people who miss out on the invitation that Jesus offers.

‘This Generation’ (v16-19) – Missed the invitation because of fickle expectations
Jesus continues on from his discussion of John the Baptist earlier in the chapter by highlighting the reasons that both John and Jesus have been dismissed and rejected by the crowd. John was too austere, and his refusal to indulge led them to dismiss him as demon possessed. Jesus did the opposite, and enjoyed eating and drinking, frequently with ‘the wrong people’. This time they dismissed him as a glutton, drunkard and friend of sinners.

The fact that John and Jesus took the opposite approach and both were criticised for it shows that it was a lose/lose situation. The people of their day had a pre-conceived picture of what a person of God would look like, and when someone didn’t fit in the box then they found a reason to reject them. We must be careful not to dismiss Jesus just because he doesn’t match our pre-conceived expectations. We must take him as he is rather than trying to remake him in our own image.

‘These Cities’ (v20-24) – Missed the invitation because of unrepentence
The interesting thing about the cities that Jesus speaks to in these verses is that they are the places he had done more miracles than anywhere else (v20). They had seen up close and personal the power and compassion of Jesus, but had never taken that step of turning from sin to follow him.

There comes a point in the journey of faith exploration where a response is needed. It is not enough to be a permanent spectator or admirer of Jesus. Once we have seen who he is and understand the good news, the call is to repent and follow him.

‘Infants’ (v25-27) – Accepting the invitation by God’s grace
Accepting the invitation to follow Jesus is not something that happens by our own efforts. Of course, a decision is needed on our part, but this decision can be traced back to a work of God. The Father has given the truth of the kingdom to the Son, and the Son now makes the Father known to any he chooses. It is the humble and lowly who come like children that receive this revelation and accept the invitation to follow.

As we seek to follow Jesus, these verses challenge to come in humble dependence on him.

‘Those Who Are Weary’ (v28-30) – The easy yoke
The invitation Jesus offers is a simple one and is open to all. Anyone who feels weary and burdened is welcome to come. This is in contrast to the way of other leaders of the day, who laid burdens on people and never helped to lift them (Matt. 23:4). Following Jesus is not walking after a harsh taskmaster, but is gentle, restorative and life-giving.

The image of the yoke comes from farming, and it was a piece of wooden equipment in which two oxen were tethered together to work the fields. A heavy yoke would drive the oxen hard to the point of exhaustion, whereas an easy yoke would be restful and healthy for those oxen. The yoke is a good illustration for the restful life of the Christian, because that life is lived tethered to Christ: being with him, and doing the things that he did. It is as we walk with Jesus in the ways of Jesus that we live the flourishing, restful life that he promises.

Potential applications:

  • The passage makes us think about our own response to Jesus. Have we accepted the offer to ‘come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.’
  • Have we turn following Jesus into something hard and burdensome? The easy yoke challenges us to think again about what our Christianity looks like, and whether we are living in light of the easy yoke.
  • In verse 27, we are told that nobody knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals him. This should drive us to pray for those in our lives who do not know God. It will take a supernatural work of revelation in their lives for them to accept Jesus’ invitation.