By the time we have celebrated the resurrection of our Lord at Easter each year, the academic year has already begun to wind down. Faculty and staff have labored faithfully throughout the year in the classroom, during office hours, and through various types of service and activity that make university life special. Likewise, students have had many heavy burdens. They've attended classes, read volumes, completed assignments, make friends and stress over final exams. Another academic year has come and gone with enough activity to fatigue the youngest and most energetic among us. In short, it is time for a break.
As the year comes to an end on GCU’s main campus, we’re also wrapping up another season of Theology Thursday. Contributors this year have offered biblical insight into a broad range of topics that stem from the wonderful diversity of the kingdom of God. Their attention to Kingdom diversity has given us opportunities to reflect on the need to honor God and love our neighbors during a world where civility, compassion and grace are in short supply. Fortunately, the grace, compassion and peace that we so often long for is never in short supply within the kingdom of God. Indeed, just as God once rested from his incredible work of creating the world and everything in it, Jesus calls us to rest in him by offering a peace that is not available elsewhere.
During Jesus’ ministry, he was no stranger to difficulty and strife. Indeed, he suffered intensely in life and in death due to the animosity and vitriol of those who rejected God’s Kingdom. After one such encounter with recalcitrant religious leaders, Jesus turned to His followers and extended a gracious invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavily 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 11:18-20, ESV). Perhaps some reflection on the peace and rest that he offers will bring some much-needed encouragement to those who have joined the Theology Thursday conversation over the past year.
Notice first the scope of his invitation. He calls to all, rather than a few, and specifies that his offer is for everyone who labors under a heavy burden. This suggests that those who have come to the end of themselves physically, mentally and spiritually should pay special attention to his call. It is an invitation to cease our strivings and hard labor in order to find a more peaceful way of life amid the world’s demands.
Notice also that he will personally provide rest indiscriminately to everyone who will receive his gracious offer. No strings are attached and no conditions apply except to take him at this word and to receive from him, by faith, a rest that only he can offer. Those who have experienced the burden of laboring under their own strength are simply encouraged to take Jesus’ “yoke” upon them, to learn from him, and to rest peacefully under the care and direction of one who is lowly and humble of heart.
In biblical times, a yoke was normally a wooden stick or small beam that enabled one to distribute a load in a way that made a load more manageable. From other passages, we learn that we were never intended to bear the challenges of life alone. This remains true as we study this passage at hand, but this particular teaching actually encourages us to live our lives in a new way that is less burdensome and difficult.
By taking Jesus’ yoke up we are being encouraged to live in the way of Jesus, trusting in his provision and grace with every step. In doing so we will find liberty from harsh judgement, grace in our shortcomings, and peace of mind knowing that his response to our efforts will be marked by humility rather than harshness. We are to be faithful in all that we do but we do not have to fret and worry about the success of our efforts since all is in his control.
Jesus calls us to follow him in living a life of faith, hope, and love regardless of the ways that we may be tempted to live as we experience difficulty, strife, and suffering. But he has also invited us to rest in him and to enjoy a peace that transcends the challenging circumstances of our world. For those who are ready for rest after a long and difficult year of heavy burdens, Jesus’ invitation should be understood as good news for the weary and hope for those who are heavy laden and in need of a break.
Grace and peace,
Dean, GCU College of Theology & Seminary
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.