In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus invites us all who are weary and overburdened to come to Him so He can give us rest for our souls. In Jesus’ call to us who are overburdened, He speaks of taking His yoke upon us. Now we all know that a yoke in that agricultural society was a wooden press that bound two animals together who would then contribute equally to the pulling of the plow by putting their strength together. Some yokes were extremely heavy according to some commentators and some were lighter but all involved some kind of a burden. But the yoke that Jesus was referring to was the heavy burden that the religious leaders had placed around the necks of the people binding them to a law that was unbearable. That yoke, the Yoke of the Law, only drove us to the recognition of our true sinfulness. Jeremiah made this clear when he used the idea of a yoke in his lament. In Lamentations 1:14 we read “…My transgressions were bound into a yoke…they were set upon my neck.”

Many commentators suggest that Jesus’ yoke is still a yoke and still represents something we must bear up under but it’s slightly lighter or radically lighter than the yoke of the law. This is not possible! If Jesus is exchanging one yoke, the yoke of the law which condemns us of our sin, for His law, how can we fail to recognize that His yoke is much more severe than the yoke of the law that the religious leaders were strapping to the backs of the people. In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus says (my paraphrase) the law teaches that you must not kill, but I teach you that if you have hatred for someone you’ve already committed murder. He then added that the law teaches that you should not commit adultery but I teach you that if you harbor lust in your heart when looking at a woman you are already guilty of adultery. No, Jesus’ law was much more severe than the law of the Pharisees in my opinion.

Jesus’ yoke is not a yoke with a lighter burden. It’s a yoke with no burden at all. It’s a yoke with someone who has already plowed the ground. It’s to yoke with someone when the work is all over. We are called to yoke ourselves with Jesus after the work has already been done. One commentator rightly concluded, “What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and his burden light is that in Jesus’ own active obedience (i.e., his perfect fulfillment of the Law of God), He carried the burden that we were meant to carry. His perfect obedience is applied (imputed) to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.” I don’t know about you, but that’s the only thing that really gives me rest for my soul.