Is Jesus’ Yoke Really Easy? Is His Burden Actually Light?

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.” – Matthew 11:28-30

I know I titled this article in question form, but I am not going to spend any time speculating over the truthfulness of Matthew 11:28-30. Our infallible Lord uttered these words with unquestionable clarity. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. End of story.

However, I think it is fairly accurate to say that the majority of us do not always feel like this is true. There are days, weeks, or even prolonged seasons in which Jesus’ yoke seems unbearably hard and his burden feels crushingly heavy. The reasons for this disconnect between Christ’s words and our personal experience is definitely worth pondering.

We should first examine the context and meaning of Jesus’ words. He was speaking to Jews under the Mosaic Law who were heavily burdened both by their inability to obey the Law and by their corrupt religious leadership. He was inviting them to enter into his New Covenant rest—not a kind of rest that is void of submission and obedience, but a kind of rest in which he supplies the power to submit and obey. You and I may not be first century Jews living under the weight of the Mosaic Law, but, through this text, Jesus extends a similar invitation to us. He calls us to come out from under the crushing load of sin and embrace faith-driven, love-saturated, divinely-empowered obedience.

When we take Christ’s yoke upon us, he begins leading us away from the destructive ills of sin and toward expanded joy and deepened peace in God. And the burden we bear on this journey is light, because our Lord himself bears the weight of the load. He produces in us the ability to will and work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). To be sure, we do carry some weight in this process. We are charged with the daily task of abiding in Christ so that he can perform his sanctifying work within us. And with temptations and weaknesses within and around us all the time, this can be extremely difficult. Yet, even in light of this difficulty, Jesus still describes his yoke as easy and his burden as light. Why? Because the supernatural strength, joy, and peace he lavishes upon the one who is yoked to him far outweigh the difficulties of repentance.

So, back to our problem: why does a life of obedience to God sometimes feel utterly contrary to how Jesus describes it? Why does it sometimes feel so excruciating and wearisome? I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons. However, the one I most commonly see in my Western side of the world is a lack of tenacity. I think many of us groan and complain about how hard it is to follow Jesus because our culture has groomed us to be puny people. The burden we bear really is light, but it only takes a smidgen of discomfort to bring our comfort-loving souls to their knees. We have brothers and sisters all over the globe who are suffering in ways our soft American minds cannot fathom, yet they possess far more spiritual stability than we. Though these persecuted believers continuously walk through truly fiery trials, in joyful gratitude they say, “His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.” Some of us—myself included—simply need to “lift [our] drooping hands and strengthen [our] weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12) and realize we can withstand more discomfort and suffering than we might think.

Additionally, Jesus’ burden can feel unbearably heavy when our striving to obey him ceases to flow from love and divine power. Sometimes, I find myself trying to keep Christ’s commands merely because I am “supposed to” and not because I love him and desire to please him. I find myself trying to obey Christ without abiding in him, thereby detaching myself from his strength and power. Our Lord doesn’t call us to this kind of wearisome striving. He calls us to obey him while looking to him and leaning on him as he bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19) and strengthens us with his grace (Hebrews 13:9). The only way we can joyfully run this race is with the eyes of our hearts continuously fixed in love upon the Founder and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Whatever the reason we feel like Jesus’ yoke isn’t easy and his burden isn’t light, we must realize we are the problem. We don’t need to doubt his words; we need to ask him to fix the defect in our perspective and help us to repent. He was wholly truthful when he described what humble submission and faithful obedience to him is like. Such a life has its difficulties, for sure. But, again, the spiritual blessings lavished upon the one who is yoked to Christ far outweigh the difficulties of repentance.

  • (From my blog)

    “I think one of the most profound statements in the Bible is in Matthew 11:28-30, when Jesus said “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    Our preacher at church spoke on this and I had a “Aha!” moment, one that changed me forever. I was suddenly freed. Carrying the yoke of Christ means that no longer did have to be something I’m not. No longer did I have to follow the dictates of society or religion concerning what it means to be a man. No longer did I have to succumb to the propaganda of the LGBT community. All of a sudden I realized that God had not asked me to be straight (which I can’t) but just to love Him and keep his commandments. There are only ten.

    It freed me to say to a guy “I love you” outside of a sexual context. It meant I didn’t any longer have to overcompensate and pretend to be manly. It meant I didn’t have to feel guilty for ‘betraying’ the LGBT community. I didn’t have to have a boyfriend. I didn’t have to have a girlfriend. I didn’t have to be conservative. I didn’t have to be liberal. I didn’t have to apologize to anyone for being SSA (gay). I didn’t have to apologize for being celibate. I didn’t have to apologize for masturbating. I didn’t have to apologize for noticing a cute guy’s butt. I didn’t have to apologize for missing David Wells…

    I AM FREE!!!

    Now this freedom doesn’t mean I can go hogwild and do anything I please (and believe me I don’t want to). It has freed me from having to live up to what somebody else’s idea of what a man is or what a gay guy is; and I lived with that for so long. God loves me for who and what I am, not what somebody thinks I should be.”

    https://brokenbutredeemedblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/the-greatest-gift/

  • Lyle Nelson

    As I thought more about the question of why this burden seems so heavy to me, I realize that it is primarily because I’m a perfectionist at heart. Prideful and legalistic would be other words that fit here as well. If I view Christian behavior as something I need to do perfectly, than I’m automatically setting myself up for failure because, well, nobody other than Jesus has ever done that. And failure hurts and feels “hard”. There’s that pride thing again! A good, big dose of humility is what I need!

  • Lynn Cole

    I have been pondering this passage lately so I was so glad to see your take on it Matt! The Lord has truly given you a gift to be able to examine His truth in light of the fact that as you said “this culture has groomed us to be puny people.” It reminded me of the time 30 some years ago when Richard Wurmbrand (Lover of Jesus who the book “Tortured for for Christ) was asked this question at a speaking engagement in the United States, “Who is the most persecuted Church in the World? We were all surprised if not shocked to hear him say, “You are.” I wish I could remember word for word but He said something like this. “You are so rich, you can meet all of your owns needs and will if you can. You have no need to cling to Christ and therefore you do not receive His Power to live a Victorious life filled with the Beauty and Joy of His Presence! (He did not use an exclamation point here but I had to use one. ; ) God help us to throw off the brainwashing of “Self Sufficiency” to experience His All Sufficient Grace! Thanks you once again Dear Brother.

  • This comment has much to do with this blog and the logic did not come from me but from a question the Spirit of God posed to me. I have heard so many times by people that experience SSA, “God made me this way.” I have tried to explain why this is not true but in my feeble human mind I fail. I have spent many hours trying to think of the kind, non judgemental and Christ-like explaination, and I fail.
    A few weeks or so I was thinking about this and the Lord asked me this, If this is true then let’s go back to Adam and Eve. When they were created did I create them imperfectly? Was it My will that they should eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? If it was then why would I have warned them about eating from it?
    I thought about these questions a lot, even though I knew they were rhetorical. There is, however, much information and provide the answers to many of our questions.This, on top of the many other things that I love about my Holy God, is another reason that I love Him. When He speaks and gives us just a glimpse into His mind, His words will apply to many different questions that humans have and I am sure that if we could extract all the information contained in His simple answers we would know everything.
    So what did these questions reveal to you? Simply this, no our Holy God didn’t create sin nor did He imbed it in some back corner of Adam and Eve’s mind. We were never meant to fall from grace. If you are looking for the reason for your SSA then look to that serpent that was there in that Garden with them. God warned them for the reason that He gave them from the start, If you eat from this tree you shall die. ( I heard someone refute this by making the foolish statement that God lied. Adam lived to be….) Yes he did but the key word here is LIVED! Past tense. Adam and Eve died just as God said they would and such is still our lot today. Be assured the warnings He has given us in His Word will happen just as they did with Adam and Eve.
    My point is that, no matter what or who says different, from conception we are sinners. God allows us life, as He said He would, but none of us are born pre programmed. We are shaped by our environment, our nurture, and by that same “serpent” that was in that Garden over 6,000 years.ago. The only way to make this different is by turning to the Holy Son & God’s Word in the flesh, Jesus the Christ, who over 2,000 yrs ago shed His cleansing BLOOD on a cross, on a hill, died and 3 days after overcame death and is alive and seated at the right hand of His Father and our God.
    I pray to You, my Lord and my God and ask that You allow these things You in Your wisdom gave to me, allow as many as You will to see the truth and knowledge give by Your Spirit. I ask that it not only be given to those who serve you but to all Lord as pleases You. It’s in the name of Jesus that I ask this of You. Amen.
    And in the words of John I say, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

    • Julian Barnes

      Amen

  • Guido Benazet

    A very, very good article for all of us that had suffer christian persecution and are always surprised about how many Christians in USA believe how hard is their yoke.

  • Rollan McCleary

    While it’s true that orare est laborare (to pray is to work) was a saying of the
    Benedictine monks and one can’t like some people try to make prayer time into a
    fun time, but work and struggle can’t be the whole story either. If it is then many persons
    and sources including the Psalms have misinformed us. If there is mostly just
    arid struggle then there are likely reasons for the kind of condition described.

    First, one can suspect an error that an emphasis of American evangelicalism encourages and it’s one which avoids things implicit in Jesus’ own teaching. The Lord’s Prayer, the very way to pray according to Jesus, is to the Father. This is backed up by statements like “We have fellowship with the Father and with his Son (1 Joh 1 : 3), the Son mentioned second. One prays to the Father
    through Jesus but not first or necessarily foremost to Jesus. Insisting on a familiar relationship to Jesus as the essence of religion and taking every issue to him as a kind of advice giving buddy, subtly avoids the Trinitarian basis of belief and prayer itself. It doesn’t make for what we may call proper Christian “God consciousness”, At worst it may even make for a lot of junk revelations
    as people strive to make Jesus say things simply to be sure they are on the right
    track or to give others the impression they are sufficiently “born again”. Moreover
    it’s not just the Father who is to be heard or addressed but the Spirit who is
    supposed to help form the prayer and for what subjects. (The more relaxed and free
    wheeling Charismatics have something to teach in this area). “Hear what the
    Spirit says to the churches” says the Jesus of Revelation – that means not just
    or only what even he or the Bible have to say.

    Evangelical avoidance (for all practical purposes) of a
    full Trinitarian devotion can throw believers back onto almost slavish devotion
    to the voice of a scripture which however inspired is not inspired in every
    word but must be read in the light of conscience, history and of course the
    Spirit….. (Come back and tell me if you truly believe “God’s Word” spoke and
    inspired Ps 137’s suggestion we are blessed to take the children of Babylon and
    dash their heads upon rock! One wonders how thinking evangelicals can honestly sustain their position )

    Second, it’s almost a commonplace to persons like
    myself with a wide academic acquaintance with gay theologies and spirituality
    that many gays have found it impossible to pray to God or even believe God
    exists until and unless they have acknowledged that they are gay and/or that
    God knows that fact. Gay is an entire psychology and world view, a talent even.
    It’s is not as evangelicals imagine primarily any kind of “lifestyle” though
    some gays may misguidedly make it so. But to go round in circles telling
    yourself that any gayness is a result of the Fall to be rooted out of the soul
    is a refusal of creativity and spiritual potential itself (which always engages
    eros to some degree). It will render all spiritual development problematic and
    largely abolish the possibility of rejoicing in the Lord. To pretend gay being
    means nothing at all ultimately helps no one and nothing. And if one cares to
    refer everything to Adam and Eve like one correspondent here, then you might as
    well say because Adam and Eve were procreators no one like David, (who must
    have had a double dose of original sin for bisexual tendencies!) should be a
    prophet or psalmist but should keep to procreating because God doesn’t reckon upon
    human development or variation on a theme. And few would seek to deny that heterosexuality
    and marriage constitute the main theme.

    I don’t suggest I or anyone have or could ever have
    all the answers and there will always be difficulties managing a spiritual life
    in today’s materialistic, godless atmosphere. But there are
    nonetheless adjustments of beliefs, attitudes, psychology and habits which
    could still be helpful. At the purely practical level, the latter might include (for
    restless minds), shorter times of prayer distributed across the day rather than
    a solid hour at one time of day only.

    The Great Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness https://goo.gl/oI543k
    Cosmic Father: Spirituality as Relationship. goo.gl/ONzFFF
    Beyond Marriage Equality goo.gl/bD2gHy