Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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 will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
John Newton, the author of the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace”, was painfully familiar with the agony of chains and slavery. He had once been captain of a slave ship that ran the Atlantic hauling human cargo from the coast of Sierra Leone. Eventually his life ebbed so low that he was a servant to a slave trader and cruelly abused. But after Newton came to faith in Christ he wrote a poem about spiritual bondage, “We Were Pharaoh’s Bondmen”. In the poem he celebrates spiritual release from Pharaoh and Egypt:
Beneath the tyrant Satan’s yoke
Our souls were long oppressed;
Till grace our galling fetters broke,
And gave the weary rest.
Jesus in that important hour,
His mighty arm made known;
He ransomed us by price and pow’r,
And claimed us for His own…
Like many before him Newton picked up on Scripture’s theme of spiritual slavery and bondage under Egypt’s “yoke”. Throughout Scripture Pharaoh’s yoke speaks of the slavery from which God delivers His people:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Leviticus 26:12-13, see also Exodus 6:6-7; Deuteronomy 6:21).
In today’s Scripture text Jesus is rereading the Exodus as the roadmap for our spiritual journeys. The yoke of Pharaoh and his slave masters represent the oppression and bondage from which Christ sets us free. The yoke that Jesus offers us is easy, and His burden light; we find rest for our souls in following Him. Bible commentator F. B. Meyer joins in rereading the Exodus story as our story:
To all of us Christ offers ‘rest’, not in the next life only, but also in this life. Rest from the weight of sin, from care and worry, from the load of daily anxiety and foreboding. The rest that arrives from handing over all worries to Christ and receiving from Christ all we need” (Our Daily Walk).
Jesus’ rest is not exemption from the trials and troubles of this life, but a rest in the midst of those trials and troubles as we walk reliantly in the yoke with Him.
- What “burden” do you feel that you are carrying today? Describe it. How does it feel to be carrying that “burden”? What do you want to do with that burden?
- Using the four steps of Lectio Divina (Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest) pray today’s Scripture text printed above (Matthew 11:28-30), taking ample time for the fourth step to “Rest” in Christ.