Monday, September 16, 2013
Effortless and Free
I’m currently in the research phase of writing my next book. That means I’m doing a lot of reading and studying and thinking about the topic before I eventually sit down to put my own thoughts down on paper.
This weekend as I was immersed in this process, I discovered something new and I had to share it with all of you here on my blog.
Many of us are familiar with Jesus’ statement :
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Now, I’ve always read that verse as if Jesus was saying, “Are you tired? Are you stressed out? Come to me and I’ll give you the peace you’re searching for.”
While this is still a valid reading of that verse, I discovered something even deeper was going on that I wasn’t aware of until now.
Jesus had a lot to say about the teachers of the Law, and almost none of it was good. His main criticism of them was this:
"(The teachers of the law) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." (Matthew 23:4)
"Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them" (Luke 11:46)
See, Jesus was pointing out that the teachers of the Law burdened people with endless rules and added pressure to perform in order to be accepted by God. Keep in mind that these same teachers of the Law were unable to keep these rules themselves, and they also refused to help anyone else keep the Law.
So, when Jesus turns and says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”, He is contrasting the Law of Moses with His Law (the Law of Christ).
This is significant for several reasons. One, because Jesus is giving people a choice. They can continue to try and follow the Law of Moses – which no one can keep. Or, they can take off that yoke and put on the one He offers which is easy and light.
This is a radical teaching. Jesus is offering people an opportunity to find peace, and to please God, without jumping through the hoops imposed by the Law of Moses. The Apostles expressed this same idea when they said:
"Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10)
But we’re not done yet. The second thing I realized was that Jesus’ offer to take on His yoke is not about following an easier set of rules. In fact, if anything, the Law of Christ is even more difficult to keep. Why? Because Jesus raised the bar on the Law of Moses by declaring that even our thoughts about sinful actions were equal to committing those acts.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasts the Law of Moses (“thou shalt not murder”) with His Law which says, “If you are angry with your brother you will be judged.” He also says that if you look at a woman to lust after her it’s the same as committing adultery with her, and so on. Yet, Jesus still maintains that His yoke is easier, not harder, than the yoke of Moses. How can this be?
Here’s the key. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says something that, at first, sounds like bad news:
"For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)
Wait…what? My righteousness must be greater than those Pharisees? How can that make things easier for me? That sounds more than impossible, especially if those guys can’t even keep the Law themselves.
And that’s the point. See, while the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law placed burdens on people that they themselves couldn’t carry, Jesus only expects us to do the things that He has already done demonstrated are possible to accomplish, (i.e. – Loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, forgiving those who persecute us, etc.). And while the Pharisees wouldn’t lift a finger to help people keep the Law of Moses, Jesus promises us that if we will remain in Him, He will empower us to bear good fruit and keep His Law of Love.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
See, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were victims of a grave misunderstanding. They thought, “If we do enough righteous things, we will become righteous.” That’s insane. Jesus pointed this out by saying:
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." (Luke 6:43-45)
In essence, the idea is this: Trying to produce good fruit will never make you a good tree. But, if you are a good tree you will naturally bear good fruit.
This is the major difference between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ: Jesus makes us into “Good Trees” that naturally bear good fruit. That’s why it’s so easy to keep His Law of Love. As long as we remain in Christ, who is Love, then we will be filled with His Love and we will bear good fruit that pleases Him.
I’ll end with one more verse, this time from the Apostle John who said:
"And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." - (1 John 4:21)
"In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome..." (1 John 5:3)
Keep in mind, the commands John refers to here are not the commands of the Old Covenant, but the New Command of Jesus that we love another. This command, unlike the Law of Moses, is “not burdensome” because Jesus is the vine and divine love flows through him like rivers of living water. All that matters is being grafted into that vine of life and endless love. The rest, is easy.