You’re hiking – first time on this trail. You’re having a beautiful time, following the markers easily. But then, you come to a place where the path diverges and the markers confuse you. What do you do? Turn left? Right? Go straight? Go back?
(I hate it when that happens…)
Thankfully reader, in the journey of life there is a path marked out for Jesus’ followers that is perfectly clear at every turn. You just have to learn to recognize the markers.
For most of 2010 I’ve been pondering over two unlikely markers, or symbols, Jesus chose to illustrate what it means to be His follower. I say “unlikely”, partly because they don’t initially seem very welcoming at all, and partly because Jesus introduced one with a warm invitation to the masses, and the other with a cold, hard warning to His disciples.
The path of Jesus is marked by two common, implements of wood – a yoke, and a cross.
An Invitation to All
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
A Warning to Followers
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. – Matthew 16:24-25
The first is warm and welcoming; the second is all sacrifice and suffering. The first invites me to find rest for my soul; the second warns that I will lose my life. Following Jesus is easy…or hard…or something like that…
Objects & Symbols
I began thinking about the yoke and the cross as physical objects. A cross is easy for me to imagine: roughly hewn, no thought for the comfort of the bearer, an instrument of death. A yoke is similar: an instrument of bondage, of servitude and oppression, a bar across the neck to exploit the strength of an ox, or a pair of oxen…or a slave.
Crosses and yokes both awakened extreme negative connotations in the minds of Jesus’ Jewish audience. A cross was used to torture individuals and intimidate conquered nations. It reminded the Jews of their humiliating subjection to Rome. Likewise, the yoke recalled their forced-labor slavery in Egypt, and centuries later, their shame and exile in Babylon. The “yoke of bondage” was the common phrase. They thought of crosses and yokes the way we think of Pearl Harbor and 911, times a thousand. So, why did Jesus use these symbols to mark the path behind Him?
The Jews thought of themselves as under the yoke of Rome, which they hated. They also thought of themselves as yoked to the teaching of their spiritual leaders, which wearied them with hundreds of hoops to jump through in order to earn God’s favor. But the path of Jesus is marked by a new kind of yoke, one that brings freedom and rest instead of bondage and endless labor. He invites me to learn from Him, to put on the yoke of His teaching and follow Him. It marks a path of freedom that physical bondage can never enslave. On that path I experience an unconditional welcome from God because Jesus did what I could never do to earn that welcome for me.
He earned it on the cross, the wooden implement of torture and death. The Jews thought of the cross as a cursed place, where God pours out His wrath on the guilty. And Jesus, being innocent, bore that curse for His followers so that His path might be marked by a new kind of cross, one that brings life to those who will carry it. He warns me that the path may cost me this life, just as it cost Him. But He also promises that I’ll discover a far better life, one that lasts beyond the scope of this world.
If you’re not finding rest for your soul, if you haven’t found a life that’s worth dying for, then maybe you haven’t found the path yet.
It’s an easy path to follow…or it’s hard…or it’s something like that…
Thank you for spending the last few minutes with Average Us. If this post helped you, please share it with your friends. Thanks very much!