“Take My Yoke upon You, and Learn of Me”

What is this?

  • MD
  • PhD

It’s a paradox (pair of docs).

What is a paradox?

It is a statement in spite of sounding logical and rational leads to a conclusion that doesn’t make sense or is self-contradictory. Some people call it “backward wisdom.”

Let me give you a few examples of a paradox.

  • Nobody goes to that restaurant; it is too crowded.
  • Don’t go near the water until you have learned how to swim.
  • A girl goes into the past and kills her grandmother. Since her grandmother is dead, the girl was never born. If she was never born, she never killed her grandmother.
  • At the present time, scientists believe the speed of light is as fast as anything can go. But what happens if you are in the back of a plane that is traveling at the speed of light and you run down the aisle to the front of the plane. Aren’t you going faster than the speed of light? I argued that one with my physics teacher; he didn’t like me after that.
  • Answer truthfully (yes or no) to the following question: Will the next word you say be “no”?

So paradoxes can be fun. They make great brain teasers because they make you stop and say, “huh?”

Today we’re going to talk about a paradox Jesus used as he was teaching his disciples and then see if we can figure out what it means, why he said it, and what we should do about it.

Jesus used a number of paradoxes in his teachings. For example, in Luke 17:33 he said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” Or “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” But we’re not going to talk about those. The paradox we’re going to talk about comes in one of the most beloved and well-known verses of the New Testament, which is found in Matthew 11:28–30.

Matthew 11:28–30
28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I see a paradox in the last verse. I also see some irony in there. Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” How can that possibly be true?

The most heavy and difficult burden ever borne throughout all time and eternity was borne by Christ. He was the one, the only one, who was able to rescue us from a telestial mortality and endow us with a celestial immortality. And he did this through what Amulek called an “atonement” or an “infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:10).

By the way, those two words, “infinite” and “eternal” are interesting to me. Sometimes we think that the atonement was a one-and-done three-day event. But in many ways, the atonement is still going on, and will go on into eternity until the all the children of God who desire it will reach “at-one-ment” with our Heavenly Father. So perhaps the atonement didn’t end with Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, or with the resurrection at the Garden Tomb. That’s something worth thinking about.

Continuing on, we also know that the suffering the Lord endured was so intense and far beyond our comprehension. He said that himself:

D&C 19:15, 18
15 …how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
19 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.

In other words, the Lord descended below all things so that he might ascend above all things—another paradox. And then, through his generosity and his kindness and his mercy and his love—most of all his love—he promised that he would bring us along with him if we made and obeyed specific covenants and believed and received specific ordinances.

So how is his great and awful atonement, and his on-going mission to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”—how is this an easy yoke or a light burden?

Let’s go back and take a closer look at his entire message and break it down a bit further. Verse 28:

Come unto me…

I love that phrase. We could stop right there and close up the scriptures because it says it all. That’s the whole point of the entire scriptures. That the entire point of mortal life. We don’t need further qualifiers. This is a direct invitation to come unto him, to draw near unto him, to follow him, to love him. Let’s continue.

Come unto me, all ye who labor…

Now we’re not talking about women giving birth here. This invitation is for those who labor and toil. Laborers are consciously and intentionally working towards something that takes time and effort. He isn’t talking to those who sit back and let life happen to them. He’s talking to those who are anxiously engaged—those who are putting forth energy. Those who are actively slogging away. Not the lazy, not the fence-sitters, not those who are idling away their lives. But those who are willing and able to labor.

Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden…

When we think about “labor and are heavy laden” we often think about someone who is carrying around a heavy load—something that they can’t offload to a vehicle, or a wheelbarrow, or even their friendly neighborhood donkey. For some reason they have to carry it themselves and it isn’t fun. In fact, it is burdensome it isn’t pleasant at all. It slows them down and hinders their forward progress and makes them weary.

Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

So the sooner we decide to turn our lives around and come unto Christ with all of our feelings, thoughts, and physical and emotional energies—the better off we’ll be. Notice that this implies work and self-discipline and lots of blood, sweat, and tears. But if we do it we will eventually get some rest.

But I don’t think he means that after we come unto him we can stop working and start resting on our laurels. No, as far as I can tell, the work is going to keep on going and going and going until the day we die. Then, even after we leave this world, by all accounts of people who have reported about life in the Spirit World, there is not a lot of rest going on over there either. We’re not sitting around playing harps all day long. In fact, it seems like there is even more hustle and bustle as the work of salvation kicks into an even higher gear. So what kind of rest is the Lord talking about?

I think he is saying that perhaps we can rest from worrying about the things that don’t really matter, like worrying about things the world has to offer, like fame, fortune, power, or influence.

Or perhaps he is talking about resting from carrying the burdens of guilt and shame or the feelings of unworthiness that come from our sins and imperfections. Perhaps he is saying to us, “I’ve already paid the price for your sins. You can ignore my gift if you want, and pay for it yourself, but it might just waste some valuable time. Trust me. Just follow me. I’ve got your back. All you have to do is…”

And in the next verse he tells us what we need to do.

Take my yoke upon you…

Whoa. A yoke. What’s a yoke? Something that comes out of an egg?

oxenA yoke is something that is placed around a beast of burden to help them carry a load. There are single yokes which are used by single animals, sort of like a harness or the reins that are attached to a bit in the mouth of a horse. But more often, a yoke means something that is placed around the heads or shoulders of two beasts, so that they can work together to carry a bigger burden than they could carry by themselves.

Jesus knew all about yokes. After all, remember he probably apprenticed in the “Joseph and Sons construction business. Perhaps he had used an axe and a plane to carefully turn a piece of wood into something that would go around the necks of a pair of donkeys, or horses, or cattle.

But putting on a yoke sounds suspiciously like you’re being outfitted to do some more work. In fact, it sounds like the real work hasn’t even begun yet. Let’s keep on reading.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…

So the Savior is asking us to work side-by-side with him and learn how to work the way he works. We are to literally follow his every move. When he moves forward, we move forward. When he stops, we stop. We choose to surrender our own selfish desires and, instead, share the burden he is carrying.

“But,” you may ask, “How can I carry my share of the burden alongside the greatest being who has ever walked on this planet, or, for that matter, any other planet in our universe?”

Well, let me let you in on a little animal husbandry secret. You rarely yoke two animals that are equal in strength to each other. One is always stronger than the other. What matters is not their strength, but their ability to work together. If they are of one heart and one mind, then they probably have enough strength to do what needs to be done. As the weak one works harder to keep up with the stronger one, he becomes stronger in the process. Eventually, he’ll become the strong one who is yoked with a weaker one. Meanwhile the stronger one works with yet another weaker one.

Jesus is asking us to walk with him, not behind him, not following in his footsteps, but with him, side-by-side. Yes, he has a pretty big burden to carry, and he can handle it by himself, but he wants to help you to become stronger. He wants to teach you a few things that only he can teach.

Besides, who, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to work side-by-side with the Great Jehovah? Imagine what things he could teach you! He knows exactly what you need to learn and exactly the best way to teach you.

And how does He know that? Because he has already spent lots and lots of time with us. He’s our oldest brother after all. He’s seen us grow up in the pre-mortal life. He was a part of our family councils. He’s seen us struggle there as we learned obedience and developed our talents and character. He saw us struggle through our pre-mortal life and he helped us overcome challenges and become successful. I’m sure he rejoiced when we chose to follow him to mortality and he promised he would continue to do everything he possibly could to help us return to the presence of Father and Mother. And one thing is absolutely certain—he always keeps his promises. So he will help us here—if we let him—if we take his yoke upon us.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart…

Remember what we learned about meekness and “lowliness in heart” a few weeks ago in the Sermon on the Mount? Someone who is meek has plenty of power, but chooses to use it gently, carefully, wisely. They don’t use it just because they can. They don’t use it to control, or coerce, or cajole us into obedience. They gently persuade, friendly teach, kindly invite, and always, always, respect our own choices, whether or not we agree with them.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained it like this:

Meekness is more than self-restraint; it is the presentation of self in a posture of kindness and gentleness, reflecting certitude, strength, serenity, and a healthy self-esteem and self-control. (“Meekness—A Dimension of True Discipleship,” Ensign, March 1983, p. 71;)

So what do we have to lose by choosing to be yoked side-by-side with the Son of God, the personification of meekness and humility? What do we have to lose? Absolutely everything! Or I should say, absolute everything that keeps us mired in the mud of mortality. When we lose that sense of self-importance and pride and mirror the humble attitudes and behaviors of the Savior, then and only then will the rest of the verse come true.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

And ye shall find rest unto your souls. I’m pretty sure “rest” doesn’t mean kicking off our shoes and settling down in front of the TV. We are still yoked to the Lord and there is lots of work to be done.

But it does mean that we can stop worrying about the welfare of our souls. We can rest from our worldly cares—such as worrying about the approval, the acceptance, and the admiration of mankind. We only become interested in the things that really matter—the things of eternity. It also doesn’t mean that we abandon all of our mortal cares—after all our families still need nurturing and provisioning and protecting. And then there’s everyone else out there in the world who also needs help with those things.

But it does mean we can move forward without worrying about the state of our immortal souls. In fact, the more we labor with Christ, the more comfortable we get being in His presence. Our confidence grows, because we know we are doing the right thing at the right time and in the right place, because we are constantly listening and obeying the voice of God. And surely, that brings rest to our souls.

And that brings us back to the ironic paradox in verse 30.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Jesus, more than anyone else, knows exactly what pains and sorrows mortal life has to offer. He has “been there and done that” in a way none of us can fully understand. And he also knows our individual limitations. He knows that we cannot run faster than we have strength. He knows that you will break the bow if you always keep it bent.

In fact, while he was on the earth, he frequently left the crowds that followed him and found some rest either in solitude or with his friends and family. He took time to stop and smell the roses, watch the birds, ride a boat, and experience the world around him. But, as soon as he was recharged, he resumed his labors and went about doing as much good as he could.

It is this kind of labor that he is inviting us to do with him. He found that doing this kind of labor—the labor of proclaiming the gospel, inviting others to follow him, and healing their bodies and spirits—was actually a relatively light task. But it was light burden compared to what?

What was the hardest task he ever faced? May I suggest that perhaps it was the atonement itself. A feat that only he was qualified and capable of doing. A feat we could never do for ourselves. It is this burden we can never share with him. It was his alone. And it scared him. And he wasn’t sure he could do it. Especially when he was left alone without the presence of Father. But he did not shrink. He did what he promised he would do. He worked out the atonement and he became our Redeemer and our Savior. He did all of the horrendously difficult work nearly 2,000 years ago.

Why did he do it? Well there is only one compelling reason I can think of and it is one I hope we never forget. He did it because he loves us. He loves us completely, unselfishly, wholly, thoroughly, and far beyond our comprehension. He didn’t do it out of duty or responsibility or even obedience to the will of the Father. He did it out of love. He did it because he wants us to be happy and live with him for all eternity.

Even though his personal load really wasn’t so light and was far more burdensome than we can ever imagine, I think he said what he said so that we know that in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t too heavy because he loved us so much that he would do absolutely anything to help us out.

Today, all he asks of you and me is to help him help the rest of Father’s children. Then, when we find ourselves serving God and others, he gives us a precious gift: his love. That love empowers us with a zest for doing good. And that zest overcomes the aimlessness and selfishness that often drives us to exhaustion. And in its place we find ourselves stronger and more confident and more able to face the challenges that life has to offer.

I believer that true success and real happiness in life largely comes from our attitudes about the yoke of Christ. When we think our way is better than his way, or our thoughts are greater than his thoughts, or if we think we can handle our burdens without his help, or if we see an alternative path that looks really, really interesting, or if we try to take an unapproved shortcut—that’s when our burdens start to feel onerous. That’s when the yoke of Christ starts to chafe at our necks. That’s when we feel like we are being restricted or coerced or confined and want to be released from the yoke. If we pursue this course of attitude and behavior long enough, we will find ourselves released from the yoke and allowed to go free. But, in an ironic twist, we will find that we can’t make any forward progress at all. And we become lonely, and bitter, and thoroughly miserable.

But, when we yield to the enticings and promptings of his Holy Spirit, when we remember the joy and peace that always comes when we are in the service of God, when we take advantage of the circumstances we find ourselves in and humbly learn the lessons that have been carefully crafted by our Creator to make us better and stronger, we will find that our burdens aren’t really so heavy.

In fact, we’ll find ourselves looking around and noticing that lots of other people are struggling with their burdens. Then you’ll feel compelled to help them. And because you are now stronger because of your association with the Lord, you will lend a hand. And you will shoulder some of their burdens and you will make their loads lighter. And you will help them make it all the way back to our heavenly home.

In conclusion, let us review this wonderful passage of scripture one more time. But this time, I pray that the Spirit will touch our hearts and drive these 52 words deep into our souls so that we will never ever forget what how much the Lord loves us.

Matthew 11:28–30
28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 

I am a teacher in my local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint congregation. The following article summarizes some of my feelings on three verses from Matthew 11 in the New Testament. This lesson was presented on 15 March 2015 and corresponds with lesson 10 in the LDS Gospel Doctrine class.