In today’s short reading, Jesus helps us to understand salvation. By using a metaphor, He explains what He’s offering us and what we need to do to receive it. What is a metaphor? A metaphor is a comparison of things that are basically not the same, but which have some striking similarities. For example, I might say, “That man is like an oak tree.” What is similar between the man and an oak tree? I probably mean that he is very big and strong. I don’t mean that leaves grow on him or acorns fall from him each September!
Jesus used metaphors that the people He was teaching could easily understand. He first spoke of carrying heavy burdens and being weary. All of Jesus’ listeners could understand what He was talking about because they didn’t have cars and trucks in their day to help them carry things. People carried most things on their backs if they didn’t have a donkey or a cart. Can you imagine having to carry your groceries all the way from the supermarket to your home on your back? You’d be pretty worn out by the time you got home!
The burden Jesus was talking about was the burden of sin and guilt that unsaved people carry with them all the time. Some people do a good job of ignoring the weight of that load, but their weariness is evident from the looks on their faces. Jesus wants to remove that load of guilt, giving them rest from it. He wasn’t talking about a physical weariness and rest, because He promised rest for their souls (see Matthew 11:29). Once a person has received forgiveness, a great load is removed from his mind and his conscience.
Jesus made it very clear that, in order to be saved, people first must recognize and admit that they are burdened and weary. Second, they have to want to be unburdened. Then they must come to Jesus, which means they must recognize that He is the One who can help them.
Jesus also said that He had a yoke He would place on those who came to Him. A yoke is a big piece of wood that is placed around the neck of an ox, attached by ropes to a plow or wagon. When a man places a yoke on an ox, it means he has work for that ox to do, and it means that he is the owner and master of the ox. This tells us something very important about salvation that many people unfortunately don’t understand. When we come to Jesus, we are making Him our owner and master; we are ready to go to work for Him. Being saved means being submitted to His will. It means listening to and learning from Him, being His disciple.
Many people have supposedly “accepted Jesus” as their Savior, but never have submitted themselves to obey Him. They still want to control their own lives, and they demonstrate no evidence of any submission to Jesus. Even though they may think they are saved, they really aren’t.
Although Jesus wants to be our owner and master, He assures us that He will not be a harsh one. He won’t whip us or drive us mercilessly! Rather, He said that He is a master who is humble and gentle. He loves us dearly, a million times more than any man ever loved his ox! The yoke that He puts on us “fits perfectly” (Matthew 11:30). That is, it’s custom-made by His loving hands so that it won’t scratch our backs or hurt us in any way. And the burden He gives us to pull is not heavy. We won’t strain under His load. When people say that they don’t want to become followers of Jesus because it would be too hard, we should remind them of what Jesus said here. His burden is light.