Friday, July 25, 2008

The Great Invitation: The Heaviness and Lightness of Life

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 7A
Matthew 11:28-30
Bob Rakestraw

The scripture passage for this month is found in Matthew 11:28-30. It is a well-known section of God’s Word, spoken by Jesus, and is packed with spiritual insight.

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.
(New International Version)

Every word of this amazing scripture portion is so rich with meaning that I want to encourage you, first of all, to soak long and often in its healing waters. Fill your tub with the warm water of God’s Spirit, add these mineral-rich words of Jesus, and climb in. Receive the rest God gives you (verse 28b is literally, “I will rest you”) and, at the same time, inspect every word with an attitude of anticipation and submission. Memorize these verses, quote them often aloud, obey them faithfully, and the spiritual nutrition in them will sustain you for the rest of your life. I say this from personal experience. Whether you are a Christian or follower of some other religion or perhaps have no religion at all, Jesus invites you to come. There is no greater service I can offer you than to point you to the Author of these words, and the literally life-saving and life-sustaining truth in them. I am convinced that every one of you who asks God with a sincere heart the meaning and application of these words for your life, will find true hope and help for this life—every day—and for the life to come.

Denying the Words of Christ

It is my personal situation that serves as the motivation for selecting this text at this time. While meditating on this passage, God showed me that there was an inconsistency between what I said I believed about these verses and my daily life experience and thinking.

Even though these verses have had a powerful effect on me throughout my life, I recently realized that I have been, lately, denying the truth of verse 30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Whatever else verses 28-30 are teaching, this much seems clear from verse 30: the person who is “yoked” (joined by submission) to Jesus and instructed by him will find daily life in Christ to be not only bearable, but agreeable and pleasant.

Verse 30 is one of the most remarkable descriptions of the daily life of the faithful Christian! I have been thrilled by some of the translations, paraphrases and text notes I have come across. “For My yoke is easy [comfortable, or pleasant] and My burden is light” (New American Standard Bible). “For my yoke is mild and pleasant, and my load is light in weight” (The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, by Kenneth S. Wuest). “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson).

My basic error is that I was not viewing Christ’s yoke as pleasant, nor his burden light. Since my heart transplant in 2003 I have been battling rejection of the heart by my immune system. (In any other health situation a strong immune system is greatly desired!) As many of you know, this battle has not gone well. It has been very unpleasant at times—physically and psychologically, and even spiritually and socially. I have been living for these past several years by the grace of God, resting often in his care, but nevertheless with the view that my place in life was difficult, and that my burdens were heavy. Of course, I realized (and do increasingly the longer I live) that my trials in life are quite small in comparison with millions of the world’s people. My so-called “sufferings” are minor relative to theirs. I know that. But I still viewed my burdens as hard and heavy, not easy and light.

Why has this been an error on my part? Because of Matthew 11:30: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus is saying that the life of the one who is yoked or bonded to him is not to be thought of or experienced as primarily difficult and severe, but rather as grace-enveloped and pleasant.

The Heaviness and Lightness of Life

Here is where the matter gets a bit complicated. While Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden light, he also says that his followers will face trials and sufferings, and he expects of us a very high level of Christian commitment. He told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). “The cross was an instrument of death and here symbolizes the necessity of total commitment—even unto death—on the part of Jesus’ disciples” (NIV Study Bible note). He also spoke of persecutions and hardships and suffering as part of the life of discipleship. Which is it? Does he offers us a life of comfort and ease or a life of trials and difficulties?

This is not simply an academic issue for me. I am struggling with it as I write these words, and I struggle with it daily. The greatest health issues for me since my heart transplant, in the sense of physical symptoms, are dizziness, breathing problems, bodily weakness, and headaches. These leave me drained and pained daily.

Until recently, I would look upon these afflictions as part of my calling here on earth. I asked God for the strength daily to endure them without complaining, and to have courage, stamina, and ability to continue serving him with joy and grace. I still believe and pray this way, but the difference is that I now have begun to view my day not as a hard and burdensome ordeal but in the light of Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” What has changed is my perspective, and the reason for this change is my becoming convicted by the truth of this verse. Jesus speaks only the truth. I cannot continue to look upon my life primarily as one big trial or ordeal. Instead, I am now trying to view my life as an experience of living under the “easiness” of Christ’s yoke and the “lightness” of his burden.

Have my circumstances changed with this past week or two? No. Life is pretty much the same. The difficulties have not lessened, and I continue to need to call upon the Lord daily for strength, freedom from pain, stamina, spiritual and mental focus, and kindness to those I encounter. My starting point and outlook are different, however. I choose to believe Matthew 11:30 is an all-encompassing statement of life for me and each one of Christ’s followers—even those with chronic illnesses, financial burdens, family issues and other stressful situations—or I will be denying one of the key, life-giving teachings of Christ about existence here on earth.

In my next posting I hope to unfold the remainder of our text. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ teach us all the true meaning and application of this remarkable scripture passage.

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