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Help for the weary soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30

I bring you greetings from the Baptist World Alliance, which met last week in Melbourne, Australia. It’s summer “down under,” 90 degrees and beautiful, but someone’s got to go “suffer for Jesus.” I learned to say “g’day, mates,” saw some kangaroos and koala bears, and heard some great messages. The Baptist World Alliance is just like all other Baptists—exciting, energetic, and disorganized. Someone said, “I don’t believe in organized religion—that’s why I’m a Baptist.” But it was a great meeting.

Janet and I were grateful to go, and glad to return.

Today I am to bring you my annual “state of the church” message. But while I’m interested in talking about our church and how we’re doing, I’m even more interested in talking about our souls and how they’re doing.

First walk with me through the word of God. Then you’ll see why I selected this text for us today, and its relevance for our church and our souls this morning.

What yoke are we wearing?

Jesus’ word to his disciples then and now answers four questions: what does he want us to do? Who should do it? How? And why?

First, what are we to do? Jesus invites us, “Come to me” (v. 28). The word “come” is better translated “hurry” or “come hither.” It means to hasten to him.

And to him alone. Not to the church, or religion, or other people, or ourselves. Go to Jesus, now. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or the end of the service. Come to him now.

Who needs to come to him? All the ones who are “weary and burdened.”

“Weary” translates the Greek word for “laboring.” This is in the active sense—those who are working hard of their own initiative. Work you’re doing to advance your career, to make more money, to help your family, to serve God and his church. Things you choose to do.

“Burdened,” on the other hand, is in the passive sense—those who have burdens placed on them by other people. The original context was the Jewish law, which Peter called “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). The Pharisees gave the people 613 laws to keep, so as to keep the ten God gave. For instance, a woman was forbidden to look in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it, which of course would be “work.”

For us, the context applies to any work we didn’t choose. Grief over loss, crises at work or home or school or relationships, health problems. Anything someone else put on us.

If you’re tired today, weary of what you’re doing or others want you to do, you qualify for this invitation. This is all you need to come to Jesus. But you need to come to Jesus.

How? “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (v. 29).

The “yoke” refers to the typical means of guiding an animal in Jesus’ day. The farmer used to yoke to tell the ox where to do, how fast, how far, and how long. To take Jesus’ “yoke” is to submit to his will, his leadership, completely.

Take “my” yoke, he says. Not just any yoke, but Jesus’ alone. There are many to choose from—the yoke of my own pride and ambitions, the yoke of your expectations, the yoke of our culture and its definition of success. Of all the options, we are to choose Jesus’ yoke alone. We can wear only one yoke at a time—we are to wear his.

Then he says it another way: “learn from me. Enroll in my school,” this could be paraphrased. Today students go to school for a certain number of hours, pay more or less attention, and get good or bad grades as a result. In Jesus’ day a student gave his life to his teacher. The rabbis and philosophers all had their “schools,” and they followed their master twenty-four hours a day. They belonged fully to them.

So to wear Jesus’ yoke, to enroll in his school, is to give our lives absolutely and fully to him alone. Every time we go out to “plow” we put on his yoke. We seek his help and guidance all through the day, every day. We seek to please him and him alone. He is our boss.

Is he your boss this morning? Are you wearing his yoke right now?

Why should we wear it? “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” (vs. 29-30).

Earlier Jesus said, “I will give you rest.” The Greek original says, “I will rest you,” or as a doctor might say, “I will cure you.” I will impart to you rest. Now he repeats the promise. And any promise made twice in holy Scripture is doubly good. How do we know?

He is “gentle”—the Greek word is praus. Aristotle defined this as the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. The man who always does the right thing. Jesus is the best boss for your life because he will always do the right thing with your life. When I first heard the gospel I rejected it because I didn’t trust what God would do with my life. Now I know that I cannot trust what I will do with my life, but I can always trust what Jesus will do with me.

He is “humble in heart,” wanting always your best. The worst boss uses you to advance his career and ambitions; the best boss puts you first. Jesus always does.

His yoke is “easy”—the word means that his yoke fits well. An ancient tradition says that Jesus the carpenter made the best yokes in all of Galilee, and that over his carpenter’s shop there was the sign, “My yokes fit well.” If the yoke is well fitted to the animal, it is “easy” to bear. He alone knows what purpose best fits our lives, our future. His yoke alone fits well.

Therefore, his burden is “light.” If the strap fits well, the luggage is light. If the yoke fits well, the burden attached to it is light. If your burden is heavy today, check your yoke. There are always enough hours in the days we give to God. The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.

So, what is his yoke, his purpose for his church?

He made it so clear it is impossible to miss: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthw 28:18-20).

Our “yoke” is to “make disciples.” This is our business, our purpose. General Motors exists to make cars, and IBM to make computers. We exist to make disciples, fully devoted followers of Jesus. We exist to help people follow Jesus.

And so do you. When we do this, our yoke fits well and our burden is light, joyful, filled with purpose and significance. When we do not, our yoke is hard and our burden is heavy. How’s your burden today?

How will we wear our yoke this year?

Our church has clearly determined that we exist to help people follow Jesus. We will obey Jesus’ mandate to go to our city (Jerusalem), our area (Judea and Samaria), and our world (the ends of the earth).

Here’s what we’ll do in Jerusalem this year, to reach the 100,000 people living within three miles of our campus who aren’t in church this morning.

We will empower our people for ministry through a variety of worship and prayer experiences. Our traditional services on Sunday morning will continue to minister to the large majority of our church family, and to our community. Our new SaturdayNight experience will minister to those who choose to worship in a less traditional format, and will be a tool for inviting our friends who don’t have religious backgrounds.

And we will meet on Thursday mornings at 6:00 a.m. to pray for revival in our church and nation, and in a variety of other prayer meetings and spiritual growth experiences as well.

We will evangelize the lost through personal evangelism strategies, congregational events, and media initiatives. Our Personal Evangelism Leadership Team is developing ways to train and encourage us in reaching out to our friends and neighbors. Our Harvest Event this Spring will share the gospel with our entire community. The Seed Initiative continues to help us pray for our lost friends. Our Easter celebrations will share God’s love with all who come. And our media ministry will develop ways to communicate the gospel through a variety of creative media strategies.

We will equip our members to be ministers through Sunday school, LIFEtime courses, and Internet training. We will move even closer to a full lay seminary this year, and are developing the funding and equipment needed to make all training available through the Internet to our church and anyone else in the world. Our education ministry is developing a disciple-making strategy for every age group, as part of our comprehensive ministry plan for this year.

And we will engage our members in ministry through evangelistic projects, need-based ministries, and local ministry projects across our city.

How will we reach our area and the larger world?

We will continue to lead all Baptist churches in Texas in missions giving and support.

We will develop a global missions strategy to link arms with apostolic churches across our area and the world. We will then provide them with equipping resources and spiritual support.

Our members will serve Jesus in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Russia, China, Venezuela, and other foreign countries this year. And our members will help people follow Jesus more fully than ever before.

We will wear Jesus’ yoke, and our burden will be joy indeed.

Conclusion

What yoke will you wear this year? When the year is done, what will you have done? I can only recommend one yoke, one purpose for your life, if you want fulfillment, joy, and significance. Like your church, your purpose this year must be to help people follow Jesus. How will you do this? What is your strategy?

What lost people are you praying for? Who will you bring with you to church, on Sunday morning or Saturday night? What will you do to become better equipped for serving and sharing Jesus? What will be your ministry this year? How much money will you give to God’s eternal kingdom? How much time? How much sacrifice?

At the Baptist World Alliance meeting, Tim Costello, pastor of the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne, told a great story. It seems that three pastors—a Methodist, a Catholic, and a Baptist all had the same, uniquely Australian problem: possums in the attic.

The Methodist told the others that he trapped the possums and drove them two hours out of town. But wouldn’t you know—in two weeks they were back.

The Catholic told how he trapped them and took them to the local zoo, but somehow they escaped and came right back.

The Baptist said, “I took a different approach. I baptized them and made them church members, and they haven’t been back since.”

Let us pray.