Matthew 11:28-30 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)
“A Pleasant Yoke and Light Burden”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
July 5, 2020
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 11:
25At that time Jesus answered and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you hid these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants. 26Yes, Father, because in this way it was well-pleasing before you. 27All things were entrusted to me by my Father, and no one truly knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone truly know the Father except the Son and the one to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. 28Come to me, all who are laboring and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me that I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you lives. 30For my yoke is pleasant, and my burden is light.”
Fans of Star Trek know that Mr. Spock was the first officer of the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. Spock, a Vulcan, loved to offer his logical perspective on life to the volatile Captain Kirk, commenting on society and humanity, offering an insight into the Vulcan mind. Some of his many famous quotes include, “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” “In critical moments men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.” “Without followers, evil cannot spread.” “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
I wonder how the fictitious Mr. Spock would handle Jesus’ words in our Gospel lesson. Our Lord’s words are somewhat logic-defying. He invites the laboring and heavily burdened to come to Him for rest. But that “rest” means carrying a yoke and a burden. That sounds “highly illogical.”
Let’s consider our burden this morning as we take a look at ourselves and our humanity. Romans 3:23 is as good as any place to begin, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Also Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” All who are descended from Adam and Eve inherit a sinful, fallen nature. Because of the total depravity of the fallen human race, all people of every time and place, including you and me, are subject to the heavy burdens of sin. What is the burden of sin? God’s displeasure and wrath. Separation from God. Death—physical and spiritual. Eternal condemnation in hell. Even our corrupt consciences tell us that our actions, desires, thoughts, and words do not always conform to the perfect will and Law of God. St. Paul speaks of this in Romans 2 saying, “the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Rom. 2:15 ESV). In other words, all people do feel the burden of the knowledge that they are not living as God intended and how they have fallen short of who the Creator expects them to be.
I guess I don’t need to tell you, then, how difficult life as a fallen creature can be as we live in a fallen, corrupted creation. What was once declared by the Triune God to be “very good” is no longer so. Drought and flood, disease and pestilence, pandemic and plague. Earthquakes, storms. Wars, violence, hatred. Nature against humanity; people against people. This is a hard life under the burden of sin, the consequences and effects of sin in our personal lives as well as in our society and world, and the end result of sin which is everlasting death and condemnation in hell.
That’s the burden. This is what we carry around, the sinful nature clinging to us. The weight of the guilt we experience. The stress of a world gone mad; fallen, evil, and deadly. And it is to you that Jesus offers His invitation of grace. The One, Triune God intended and prepared salvation for all people from sin and its effects and consequences, salvation from death, and from hell. Even as He alone planned and prepared salvation for you and the whole world, so He alone gives salvation. Our God and Father does all this through His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. He says in verse 27 of our Gospel, “All things were entrusted to me by my Father, and no one truly knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone truly know the Father except the Son and the one to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him.” Jesus is so completely the Father’s agent to save us that He alone knows the Father. And the only way we or anyone can know the Father and all the good things He wishes to give us—forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation—is to know the Son of God by faith. Jesus must reveal the Father to us.
By the power of God the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel, you and I come to know Jesus Christ by faith. We come to Him and learn from Christ the gracious and merciful heart of the Father who loves us and who has had mercy on us by sending Jesus to suffer in our place His wrath and His punishment which would have meant our eternal death. This very death and hell Jesus willingly suffered on behalf of all humanity on a cross. Because of His own humility of heart, Jesus went to that cross to be your Savior from all sin, death, and hell. The Gospel words of Philippians 2, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5–8 ESV).
For you. For your forgiveness. For your release from the power and burden of sin, death, and the devil. He took upon Himself the weight and burden of your sin and the sentence of condemnation and Christ bore it in His own body as if the burden was His to bear. He died under the curse of the Law for your failures and sins against God and neighbor. In shedding His blood, He purchased your complete forgiveness. Instead of everlasting death, there is for you everlasting life with God.
The heavy burden of sin and death is no longer yours to carry. Christ has already lifted that yoke and weight from your shoulders and placed it on His own. He died under that burden. And He rose in victory forever releasing you from the penalty of death and hell. Your sins are forgiven. And now He offers you a Gospel invitation: “Come to me, all who are laboring and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me that I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you lives. For my yoke is pleasant, and my burden is light.”
Yes, Mr. Spock, it seems so illogical that the rest Jesus gives is a rest involving a yoke and burden. But look at how Jesus describes that yoke—as pleasant. The word here conveys the meaning that the yoke Jesus has for you causes no discomfort. It is easy to wear. I appreciate the way the late R.T. France explains this in his commentary. He says, “The animal yoke, which harnesses two animals together to pull a plow or cart, is to be distinguished from the human yoke, which is worn by a single person to distribute the weight of a load across the shoulders. . . . The purpose of the human yoke is to make it easier to carry or pull a load. If there is a burden to be borne, it is better with a yoke than without. . . . [Jesus] is offering those who are finding their loads too hard to carry a new yoke which, far from adding to their oppression, will ease the burden and, paradoxically, will bring not further toil but ‘rest’.”
Jesus, by going to the cross for you, has lightened your load. Jesus did the heavy lifting of your sins against God and neighbor as He carried them up Golgotha’s hill and was nailed to His cross. He carried the weight of the Law and the burden of your condemnation all the way to death and resurrection. For you. For your forgiveness and new life of faith. The yoke and burden of Christ, then, is pleasant and light because Jesus gently receives and forgives you and all who come to Him in need. Disciples of the Savior find in Him alone rest for the lives. “All who come to his unparalleled authority and power with only their need in their hands find a Savior. He saves, indeed, because of his own humility of heart that [led] him to the cross and the empty tomb.” In a wondrous paradox, when the disciple of Jesus takes on the yoke of the Savior, Jesus lightens the burdens of life and of eternity. By grace you have been saved from death and hell through faith. Because of who Jesus is, your burden of discipleship becomes light indeed.
To Mr. Spock and many people in our day and age, this seems so illogical and even impossible, to trade one burden for another and have it be a blessing. But, as Jesus’ disciples by faith, you know the mercy and love of the Son and the Father, whom the Son has revealed to you. You trust in the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. This Gospel, as Martin Luther so appropriately stated, “is a great power: to be able to turn an unbearable yoke into one that is not only bearable but even pleasant and light, not by changing the load itself but by changing the person carrying it. For the person himself is clothed with new strength, which ‘can do all things through Him who strengthens him,’ as Paul [says] [Phil. 4:13]. For if I were commanded to bear heaven and earth, I would surely be utterly terrified. But if someone else were to supply a power that is enough to bear it very easily, as if I were tossing a ball, now I would not only be able to bear it, but I would even play and be delighted in carrying it! And this is the strength of Christ, who therefore says clearly ‘My burden.’ It is as if He were saying: ‘My burden is unlike other burdens. My burden does not weigh down but lifts up, and it bears rather than being borne.’” Amen.
 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 449.
 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), 591.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. Christopher Boyd Brown, vol. 67 (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2015), 148.