“The Yoke of Real Freedom” (Matt. 11:25-30)
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (July 5, 2020)
Happy Independence Day Weekend! As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, “Let Freedom Ring!”
Unfortunately, in our present days of governmental pandemic mandates, as well as all the chaos and violence foisted upon our cities by Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and other anarchists, we are being made to realize that we freedom loving Americans are not really free at all. Oh, yes, we are free from foreign rule. No one is walking around in shackles and chains. But we Americans of every color, ethnicity and social standing are being made acutely aware that we are not truly emancipated either. In a way, perhaps we are more severely shackled and enslaved than anyone living in 18th and 19th century America ever was.
With all that is going on, it is clear that there are many forces trying to yoke us all to their perverse ideologies, their woke politics, and to their lusts for power and control over our minds, hearts and lives. The progressive anarchists want a total destruction of our society. Like some of their cohorts attempted to do by forcefully seizing and setting up their so called autonomous zone in Seattle, they want to establish their own style of a just society. However, after several young, black, men were murdered by their own citizens, their little experiment proved what sort of just and life-affirming society they could establish by their mob rule. The same voices that charge every white person in America with the sins of racism, privilege and tyranny toward people of color, are the same ones seizing and burning down property that does not belong to them and forcing people to literally bow down on their knees to them and confess their evil sin of white privilege to them. The very ones who cry the loudest for tolerance and the freedom to speak whatever filthy words they want to utter are the same ones who silence and threaten violence against anyone who dares to speak anything that contradicts their philosophies and opinions.
Are we Americans really free as we declared in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in our constitution or are we in our weakness simply allowing ourselves to be enslaved to fascist dictators? Only time will tell.
Politics aside, there is an even more heinous form of slavery that ought to concern us. The apostle Paul speaks of it in our Epistle Reading from Romans chapter 7. We read: We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
The basis of all slavery is sin, of course. And here in lies the problem. White, Black, brown, red, yellow, we have all been conceived and born in sin. We all justly stand under God’s judgment and condemnation. The Ten Commandments make this perfectly clear to us all. They point out quite clearly that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Ro. 3:23). With this condemnation hanging over our heads, we all live under a heavy burden of guilt.
But as St. Paul tells, as Christians, we also are bound by another burden. We know from the Law what is good and right in God’s sight. We also know of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ when we fail. That promise of forgiveness moves us then to want to do what is right. However, we still have the sinful desires of the flesh living in our members. Accordingly, like St. Paul, we feel an immense tug-a-war within ourselves. We want to do what is right but also feel the strong pull to do the very evil we don’t want to do. It’s a slavery like none other! As Paul confirms, it is a peculiar “wretchedness!”
And, yet, in the midst of our slavery, comes the voice of Christ Jesus. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
This takes some careful consideration. No one wears a yoke for fun or as a fashion statement. Yoke’s are by their very design made to assist one in carrying or pulling a heavy burden. A team of oxen are yoked together so that together they can more easily pull a heavy load. In many places in the world, people also wear yokes to help them haul water or other heavy objects.
But often, the yoke poses a special burden itself. It might indeed make the burden being carried feel lighter. Yet, that yoke binds one to the labor. It is most often quite confining and restrictive in its own right. It can be most uncomfortable and sometimes quite painful.
The yoke, then, is a symbol of obligation and subjugation. The yoke restricts freedom even if it aids in carrying the burden. The yoke implies you are not free of the burden. In fact, it makes you a slave to the burden.
The Law of God itself can be quite enslaving. Its demands bind us to certain behaviors, thoughts, and desires. The Ten Commandments place a heavy burden on our conscience and life. To be sure, this is a good burden. Just as Adam and Even discovered, the Law’s demands are designed to keep us from death under the wrath of God. But, alas, the Law itself can not relieve us of the burden, nor make it easier to bear. As Holy Scripture says, no one can justify himself by the Law. The Law always points out our short comings and sins. But as the apostle Paul instructs us in his letter to the Galatians, God did not give us the Law to free us. The Law was designed to be a taskmaster over us “until Christ came” (3:24). The Law leads us to see we need a Savior, an Emancipator!
Indeed, in Jesus we have received the true and only Emancipator from what really enslaves us. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus came to do what the Law could never do for us. He subjugated Himself to His own law that He might keep it for us and set us free from its demands and penalty. He perfectly fulfilled its requirements on our behalf. He also came to take our place under the wrath of God. He allowed Himself to be punished in our place, satisfying fully its demands.
Accordingly, Jesus calls for us to “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Jesus is no lawgiver or another taskmaster. He doesn’t free us from one set of chains only to bind us to others. He truly does set us free in the forgiveness of our sins, no strings… no chains attached.
However, with Jesus there still comes a yoke. It is a yoke that attaches us to Him. Unlike other yokes, however, it is not uncomfortable. In fact, it is not simply "easy" but, literally, “comfortable,” even “useful.” That yoke is simply faith in Him. Again I refer back to St. Paul’s words to the Galatians. We read: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:25-27).
Attached to Jesus by faith, therefore, the burden is so light that you are blessed not even to feel it at all. Jesus has carried it all for you. You can’t ask for a better deal, can you?
Therefore, as you heard earlier the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed centuries before Jesus these words of joy for all those yoked to Jesus, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey… he shall speak peace to the nations.” (9:9, 10b).
Biblically speaking, one can hardly talk about slavery without recalling ancient Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Yet in spite of the iron fist of Pharaoh that confined them and made their lives miserable, it was by blood that the LORD God set them free from their enslavers. It is no coincidence or accident that the first plague God sent against Egypt was that of blood. Their river and ponds and lakes turned to blood. It prefigured the 10th plague as the LORD caused their land to run red with the blood of their first born. This shed blood finally caused the Pharaoh to set God’s people free from their bondage.
What greater more perfect emancipator could you, dear baptized believers in Jesus Christ, ever have? Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross for you to set you free (Phil. 2). Learn from Him. He is gentle and lowly in heart (v. 29). He does not rule by force… penalty…or by demands. He is your Savior… Your King… Your Emancipator by love… grace… and His own self-sacrifice for you. Those who learn from Him, learn that His yoke, faith in Him alone, not only takes away the burdens of your sin and life, as He has already removed them by atoning for them with His blood, but His yoke actually and literally “refreshes” (v. 29) your souls.
No matter what in this world is seeking or in the future will seek to enslave you, dear friends who are yoked to Christ Jesus, you are prisoners of hope. You have already been set free by the blood of Jesus, your King, Your , humble, Emancipator. Like His people of old, the LORD God says to you, as well, “…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” (Zech. 9:11,12).
Happy Independence Day! Let this freedom ring throughout you lives and land!