By Bobby Blanken
Edited by Mark Thomas
“Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my load is light.”
Cultural ideas of leadership come in many forms. One form I regularly encounter is the individual with a strong wit, appealing countenance, and a contagious, almost infectious, personality that captures their followers’ attention. They demand their allegiance. If I’m being honest, I’ve followed some of those leaders in the past. I had my specific reasons, but I’ve discovered that leadership requires more substance than just a charismatic front. And if I’m brutally honest, I’ve tried to be that leader and failed miserably. I’m not sure our culture gets it right, leadership. To be fair, there certainly is nothing wrong with being a charismatic and compelling leader. But as followers of Jesus, I think our leadership ought to most mimic His. In essence, Christian leadership is the experience of we apprentices as learning how to best imitate and follow in the footsteps of the Master.
In Matthew 11, Jesus makes a statement about leadership and calls the weary to take on His yoke in order to find rest. The apparent paradox seems glaring: how does one find rest in a yoke? While we might not easily connect with the term, any farmer would be the first to tell you that a yoke symbolizes anything but rest. Two large arches connected to both ends of an even larger wooden beam created this horticultural tool that was then placed around the necks of two oxen. The oxen, guided by the farmer, would then trudge forward dragging a heavy wedge through the hard ground in order to turn the soil. So why should we be encouraged to step into the yoke? If Jesus was trying to gain followers, surely he thought out this metaphor before suggesting it to the crowds, right??
And here is where we are confronted by the brilliance of Jesus. If you were to investigate this metaphor further you would learn that any pair of young oxen would be terrible candidates for bearing the load of the yoke. Both oxen would be undisciplined and would pull dyssynchronously, unable to maintain the straight line necessary for farming. But place one young ox in the yoke with an experienced ox and the metaphor becomes clearer. Pull left and right as they might, the young ox will be unable to turn the plow because of the insistent steadiness of the older ox. Try as the young ox might, with all of the stubbornness its will can allow, it will ultimately succumb to the persistence and experience of the older ox. Soon enough the young ox will be walking the straight lines needed for the farmers field.
Christ is our experienced ox and he calls us to join Him, in His yoke, in an apprenticeship with the Master. I’m overwhelmed by this invitation on so many levels.
And yet uncertainty best describes my initial reaction to this call. It came from the most brilliant leader of all time. And if humanity is anything like me (which they are), it is burdened and faced with a bleak reality at times. For many, hope seems to be little more than a campaign slogan. What makes Jesus’ call to follow him any more believable than others who promise relief?
Part of what intrigues me about Christ’s call to the yoke is the absurdity of His request. He is essentially saying: If you are weary or heavy laden I promise you rest. Just take this yoke, this symbol for bondage, and put it on. I think Jesus is being honest here. Jesus is saying that an apprenticeship with Him is bondage. Following Jesus is slavery but He is not your ordinary master. He is not your ordinary anything.
You will need to give Him everything in order to gain what He offers and what He offers is life. Master Jesus wants you to learn from Him when we put on the yoke. He promises that He is gentle and humble in heart, which is not the typical description of a master by any estimate. He promises rest for our souls and on top of everything else, He claims that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
I recently heard an illustration from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias that captures the magnitude of the cost of followership or apprenticeship to Rabbi Jesus. Ravi tells a story of a man traveling in the hot desert who is desperately thirsty. During his journey the man stumbles upon an old, rusty water pump protruding out of the sand. The man, extremely thirsty from his long journey, begins to frantically pull the lever up and down in the hopes that water will be pumped out. The man stops for a moment when her sees an old rusted can attached to the pump.
Inside the can the man finds a set of instructions. The instructions read, “In order to pump water out of the ground, you first need to prime the pump. Buried in front of the pump is a bottle of water. Take the bottle of water and pour the entire contents into the pump. This will prime the pump and provide what is needed to draw the ground water out at which point you can have all the water you need. Once finished with the water, please fill the empty bottle again and bury it for the next traveler. Please be warned that you may be tempted to drink some or all of the water. DO NOT GIVE IN TO THIS TEMPTATION. If you drink this water you will only be thirsty again.”
So what, then? Give everything you have and Jesus will give you life in return. Sacrifice the water you believe will save your life and in return Jesus will give you rivers of living water.
It costs us everything we have to follow Him, but we find rest for our souls in Him.
I want to lead like Jesus. I want others to describe my leadership as gentle and humble. Open but conditioned with experience. I want to know that when I have the opportunity to lead others, I am setting them free from the traditional idea of followership. I want to be setting them free from bondage and burden. When my leadership is examined, they ought not see a grim picture where hope is vague, but rather a promise of rest from a leader who has walked in my shoes.