July 5/6, 2014
Text: Matthew 11:25-30
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
What does a yoke have anything to do with little children? I was wondering this too when I was preparing the sermon. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus puts these two together. In the beginning of the text, it says. “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’” And in the end, 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.” It seems that the relationship between yoke and little children has to do with revelation from God the Father and the gentleness and lowliness of Jesus. But what is exactly the connection?
First, let’s find out what a yoke and little children are. What’s a yoke here? Jesus uses a yoke as an illustration to explain his helping carry our loads. People at the time of Jesus knew this very well. Some people say, Jesus may have learned from Joseph how to make a yoke because it’s so common at that time. A yoke is a wooden beam used between a pair of oxen or other animals for them to share the load. It may also be a shoulder yoke of a carrying pole used by people to carry a heavy burden, buckets of water or baskets of goods. When Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you,” He is not talking about giving you another burden as if you didn’t have enough of it. He is talking about sharing your load and bearing your burden. Then, who are the little children? Well, it seems that we all know who little children are. But you may not know who the little children are that Jesus is talking about here. What are the essential characteristics of a little child? What so special are these little children that God the Father reveal something to them that are hidden from the wise and understanding? Little children are little and simple. They are gentle and humble, totally dependent on parents. So, Jesus is talking about not only literally little children but also those who are pure and simple, gentle and humble in heart, totally depending on God. Immediately, I thought of those blessed ones in the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek and humble, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the pure and simple in heart, for they shall see God.” Also Jesus rebuked the disciples and embraced the little children and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
You may ask, what’s wrong with the wise and understanding? Firstly, Jesus is talking about wisdom and understanding in the eyes of this world, not in the eyes of God. Sin and unbelief make people so complicated and so sophisticated that they doubt everything and anything. They are so strong-willed that they bend everything to their own advantage. They are so proud that they are blind to the truth of the Gospel and despise the grace of God. They have lost the pure and simple trust in God. They are too adult to be like little children. They think little children are too meek and humble that anyone can take advantage of them. Adults think the babes and little children are too dependent. Yes, they are. In the morning, when they wake up and open their eyes, they know who their parents are. They trust their mom to feed them and their dad to protect them. But a lot of adults don’t. They don’t recognize their parents. They are too independent. They are too smart to let their elderly parents to be a burden to them. Adults think the babes and little children are too simple and pure. Yes, they are simple. They are too simple to understand why adults cannot get along with one another, why mom and dad have to divorce.
Ironically, selfish sinful nature together with all the sophistication and the pride of this world doesn’t give us ease and peace in heart that it’s supposed to bring. Rather it brings a heavy burden upon us. Temptations, conflicting loyalties, broken relationships, struggles, stress, cares and worries are normal patterns of our life. We have to bear loads of sins, guilt of conscience and accusation of the law. These burdens are not just heavy, they are unbearable. They are getting heavier and heavier as we grow older and older. They pull us down and down until we are totally crushed by sickness, death and punishment of the Law. Like a millstone tied to our neck, they drown us in the sea of destruction. This is the problem of the wise and understanding in the eyes of this world.
But, thanks be to God, here and now, with sweet sound of the Gospel, Jesus invites us. In fact, He all inclusively invites everyone. 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.” Jesus is asking us to learn from Him, the littlest child, and the most humble and simplest one for He says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” In many places of the Bible, God shows us a principle called the great reversal. “God resists the proud and give grace to the humble,” says Apostle James. Jesus says to His disciples, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” In Mary’s Magnificat, she sings, “God has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.”
Jesus Christ is the ultimate great reversal. His pure and simple heart compelled Him to say the truth even in front of Pontius Pilate, which eventually became the only so-called crime that He committed, “the King of the Jews.” But His purity and simpleness reflect His relationship with the Father. In the middle of today’s Gospel reading, that is between text about little children and the text about the yoke, Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus is THE little Child, the only begotten Son of God. He and the Father are one and simple, undivided. At the same time, His meekness and humbleness led Him to the suffering and death on the cross. On the cross, Jesus made a “yoke” that bore the sin of the whole world and carried the burden of God’s law and His wrath. This yoke lifted up all humanity by the power of the resurrection. The littlest child, the most humble and simplest one, Jesus Christ, accomplished the greatest thing and brought the peace, pardon and eternal life to everyone who should believe. The littlest Child of the greatest God bears the yoke of this world. This is the connection between yoke and little children.
Now, He invites you to take His yoke on your shoulder to bear your burden and to lighten your load. You, who labor and are heavy laden ones, come to Him. Lay all your sins, guilt, frustrations and worries on Him, on His yoke. And He will give you rest. When two oxen pull a load with a yoke, the stronger and faster one bears the most of the load. The same way, imagine two people share a yoke to carry a burden. If the stronger person bears the most weight, the weaker person like me can just pretend and whistle-blow some happy tunes along the way. That’s the picture. Jesus promises that when you take His yoke upon you, He actually will bear the entire burden. When He says, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” He means it’s going to be so easy and free that you will feel like no burden at all. May the peace and rest from the littlest and the most humble child, Jesus be with you now and always.