My Yoke Is Easy
“My Yoke Is Easy”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 9, 2017
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145
We have many opinions or ideas about what life is. Some feel that life is hard and a constant battle; that it’s very challenging, demands all that you have and there’s little joy in it. On the other hand, there are those who feel that life is full of blessings and joy. Scripture tells us that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. What is in the heart is reflected in the mind and affects a man’s thinking and attitude toward life. If a person feels that life is difficult, the mind will see it as such and perceive everything to be difficult. But if the heart of a man is filled with the joy of the Lord, it will give that signal to the mind that everything is great. A person with that mindset will find peace and even joy, even in the midst of difficulties and even if it’s not easy to see good in unpleasant situations.
In the Old Testament reading from Zechariah, Israel had gone through difficulties, battles, had turned against God many times, and perhaps were very discouraged about life. They were “up”, then “down”, and every time they were down and went through difficulties, it was because they had turned against God by disobeying His commandments. When they turned back to God after learning their lesson, life would become good again. Zechariah told them that a day would come when the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem very humbly and bring them deliverance, new hope and new life. Despite this prophecy, they continued to struggle and be in difficulty. Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly”. If there’s a people today that should be rejoicing greatly, it should be us. God has given to us more than we can ever imagine – blessings, provision and guidance. How many times has God rescued us and come to our aid? How many more times must He help us before we become a grateful people? It’s amazing how easily we forget how God has helped us. We say a simple prayer for help for something as simple as a parking slot or getting thru traffic, and when the help comes, do we remember to thank Him? Are we aware that we need to build in our hearts an attitude of gratitude and become a thankful people? A thankful heart changes our perspective about life. Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly….shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your king is coming to you” (Zechariah 9:9). He’s saying that something good is about to happen – “your King is coming”; not the king of Rome or some other nation, but their own king. Shouldn’t this be a time of rejoicing and excitement? But if we look at the time of Christ in today’s Gospel, we see that even though the prophets foretold of this as coming, and even if John the Baptist prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah, they couldn’t digest the truth. The gossip about John the Baptist was that he had a demon because he didn’t eat anything but locusts and honey and lived in the wilderness. They were hearing the words he was saying but they had lived in oppression for so long that John’s words weren’t getting into their hearts and heads. There was no revelation among the people. Even when Christ came and walked among them, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead and showing all signs and wonders of deliverance and new life, they still wanted Him crucified. They said He was an evil man and they turned against Him. This is obviously a result of sin, but also there is something in man’s make up that’s not really who he is, and this is holding him in bondage and slavery. God created man in His image and likeness, not in the image of bondage and slavery – in fear, anxiety and stress. God didn’t create man to be that way; sin brought the bondage into man’s life. Yet sin is not deeply rooted in man because his soul still has the image of God entrenched deep within him.
The question set before us is what will we set our hearts on? What will we believe? We’ve gone through the first six months of the year. We’ve studied all that Christ has done for us. We’ve learned how much God loves us that He would give His only Son to become like us by taking upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. The flesh – the physical body – is not actually sinful because it was created by God and everything He created is good. “Sinful flesh” refers to the “body of sin” or the area of sin. This drove the people to put John the Baptist in prison and behead him. He was speaking the truth and giving hope, but he was rejected. When Christ came – the one who was prophesied as the Messiah, the King who was coming – there was a bitterness towards Him. Yes, they took everything He gave, but did they follow Him and give themselves to Him? No. When He went to Jerusalem, they cried, “Crucify Him!” They were controlled by the religious leaders and did almost everything they were asked to do. They were offered the chance to receive the new life of hope and deliverance, but because the religious leaders put fear in them and held them in bondage, they couldn’t understand it even if hope was knocking on the door. God has done so much for us and we should be challenged to live in gratitude to Him for them.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”. When we think of yoke, we think of a heavy wooden yoke that goes on the neck of an ox. From this we understand that when two oxen work together and share the load, the load becomes lighter. I want to share something different with you without taking from the truth from that common understanding because it’s true that when two work together, the load becomes lighter. We gain from the fact that somebody else is taking the load and this is exactly what Christ has done for us. He took the load by taking the sin. In talking about this yoke, He’s telling us that sin holds us in bondage and slavery; we’re caught in it and can’t get away from it. That’s a yoke. In today’s society, many are hooked into drugs. Young people think it won’t hurt them to try it. They think they can enjoy drugs for a while, then quit it and go on to live a normal life. Many don’t realize that using it for a while is addictive and could hold one in bondage for the rest of his life. I worked in the drug area for 13 years as president of Philcadsa. We had a drug rehabilitation center and rarely did we see any who was really set free from drugs. They would be free of it for a while, then go right back to it after a while. There’s something in the drugs that captivates them. They say that marijuana is medicinal, but the substance builds up inside of the user and may cause a stroke, heart attack or other illness. There are chemicals in it that are also addictive.
Jesus said, “My yoke is easy”. He doesn’t put us in bondage and slavery. If you confess your sin, He immediately forgives and wipes away all the record against you. Sin can’t do that; once it’s there, it holds you. It gets deeper and deeper into your life – you cover up one lie with another lie, one crime with another, and it gets more intense as you go along. But with God, we can be released from the clutches of sin. We have that hope in Christ. This is what Jesus means when He said His yoke is easy, unlike the other things that will hold you in bondage and even kill you (like drugs and sin, in general). When Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”, they aren’t just words that He’s sharing with us. He made it true for us by going to the cross on our behalf. He took the penalty for our sin and gave us new life. If you read Colossians, you’ll find out that we are in yoke with Christ as far as our whole life is concerned; because everything we have is because of Him, through Him, by Him and for Him. He gave us grace. It doesn’t matter what we’re up against. He gives us grace to overcome because His yoke is easy. He empowers us with an ability to do things.
Jesus is pleading with the people: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”. He’s telling us that He has the answer for us. If we’re into drugs or other forms of addiction and we’re heavy-laden, when we come to Him, He will set us free and lift us up. This is the joy we have in Christ. He is the answer to these situations. When discouragement, disappointment and hurt come, if we take the wrong road of hatred and revenge, we will be pulled down even further. What Christ gives us is forgiveness and restoration. Jesus said in the preceding chapters that John the Baptist was the wisest of all; that no one was greater than John. He lived a simple life in the wilderness. He wasn’t afraid of anything but gave up everything to preach the truth. He wasn’t intimidated even if many thought him to be demon-possessed. He had peace, joy and God’s provision in his life. We have this same hope. Jesus is telling us today to come to Him if we’re weary and tired because He will give us rest. He will give us strength. When we come to God, we will be strengthened with the energy we need to face any adverse situation.
Today’s reading from Romans talks about the battle we’re in – how that even if we’ve made the decision to walk with Christ, there’s still that area in the flesh where sin pulls us down. We make a decision to stop doing wrong and instead, do what Christ expects of us, yet when temptation comes, we succumb to it again. We come right back up, we confess our sin and we live great for a while, then we go right back to sin. St. Paul asked, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” We want to do what is right but our flesh seem to always do what is wrong. Who will set us free? “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You’re fighting a battle. Don’t give up in the midst of it because God will give you the strength so you won’t be pulled down. Paul says, “Wretched man that I am….” We want to do what is right and good, but something seems to make us do otherwise. “Who will set me free from this body of death?” That’s not talking about the physical body but of the law of sin operating in our bodies. Christ is the only one who can set us free. “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25b). Thank God who gives us hope in Christ! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Every time a person goes through a major situation in life and he fails, he makes the choice to come out of it and vows not to do it again. Some people say you have to protect them by keeping them away from the areas that cause them to fall so they won’t go back to them anymore. I don’t believe that; I believe there comes a time when we must face the temptation and overcome it. The first time you do, you may fail, but you have to get up again. You have to be an overcomer, not one who is protected. You have to go out there, face the enemy and win. You may fail many times but don’t worry about it. Keep on trying until you conquer because then, it will no longer be able to faze you.
Overcoming means facing the issue until you conquer it. We have to go out on the battle field. It’s nice to be sitting in this comfortable room with people we know and get along with. But this isn’t our mission field; this is our training ground. We don’t fight the battle here, but out in the world, facing the issues, conquering them and bringing life. If we don’t do that, we are lost. To use sister Len as an example, she was in ICU for six weeks, but she decided that she would leave the ICU, and she did. When she left the hospital, she had to go through a process of healing. As she continues to conquer, she’s being a witness of God’s faithfulness; that she’s an overcomer and what happened won’t put her down. Chato is the same way. She could’ve chosen to stay behind closed doors; instead, she comes here every Sunday looking like a fashion model. She may be feeling physically unwell, but she won’t let you see that because she goes out there to be a witness to God’s power working in her life. We don’t give up. We face the enemy until he’s defeated. Jesus is telling us that His yoke is easy. He has given us everything – the Holy Spirit, His grace, wisdom, mercy and compassion. What else do we need? He has equipped us and empowered us for His glory; yet we still struggle. Yes, it’s hard but Jesus said His yoke is easy because it doesn’t lead to slavery, bondage and death, but to life eternal. Yes, we have to struggle. Christ struggled for us. He went to the cross, was beaten, mocked, spit upon and persecuted. But He overcame on the third day in His resurrection. He conquered. He not only won the battle; He won the battle for us.
This is the character the Lord wants us to manifest. Don’t run away from problems. Don’t hide because if you do, it’s going to become more difficult for you. Instead, rise up and be what God wants you to be. This isn’t easy. Many times we just want to give up. When we do something good, sometimes people don’t like it and fight us. But we just keep right on going. God won’t fail. He created us to be like Him. He calls us to Him: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”. How can you have rest when you’re going through a storm? Jesus slept through a storm. The disciples weren’t sleeping but were afraid because they didn’t cast their burden on Him. They were carrying the burden themselves. The yoke that the enemy puts on us weakens us. But with Christ, the weakness and weariness disappear. He gives us hope, strength and ability. This is the grace of God. Stop feeling defeated, tired and downhearted. Come to Him. Let Him give you that renewed life. What doesn’t destroy you strengthens you. God has given us the ability to be conquerors. The yoke is not heavy because He has given us the ability to take on the heaviness. Even if we think we can’t do it, we can because God gives us the ability. We are not a lazy people; not a people in slavery. We are in the Kingdom of God and we do things for His honor and glory. Nothing should be too hard for us. Even if we fail, He will be with us telling us that He understands the battle we’re in and there’s no condemnation. Keep on fighting the battle. Don’t give up. You’re trying; that’s the most important thing. Don’t give in to the temptation. We’ve been given everything; we should give God thanks, glory and praise. We should be the ones extending help, not the ones asking for help because God is our help. He is our King, Lord and Master.