By Robert Engel
On one trip to Honduras, our group was walking through some slightly rough terrain. Upon passing over a creek bed on a footbridge, I observed two oxen yoked together and were driven by a man. One ox was younger and smaller than the other, and closer observation revealed the older ox was deliberate and steady in his stride, while the younger one was pulling this way and that. Since there was no wagon or cart, I concluded this was a training session.
Upon approaching the bridge, the pair veered off to cross the creek bed. The “trainee” wanted to turn and walk under the bridge, which would have been a bad decision since the other side of the bridge dropped into a steep, rocky gorge. I could see the more mature ox strain at first, come to a standstill, then lean away and forcibly pull his yokemate to keep him on the trail they had been walking on. This was all occurring under the direction and instruction of the man holding the reins.
I’m sure you see where I’m going. Later in a quiet moment, I was reminded of this event, and it came to me what a beautiful metaphor this is for one aspect of our relationship with Christ. We recall that comforting passage of Scripture about peace and rest, but being yoked to Christ is also about Christ’s example, Christ’s domination, and Christ’s leadership. It is about us succumbing to Him, as we seek and submit to His will. We are surrendering more than just our burdens.
Let’s look at the context of the passage from Matthew:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:25-30, ESV)
If we are yoked to Christ, is He not much more than a friend and Savior? Is He not our Master, our Lord? We won’t discuss the controversy of Lordship salvation here, but can we agree that phrases like “you have been bought with a price” and “you are a slave to Christ” and “we are a possession” (1 Peter 2:9) clearly imply that we are not our own. There is an owner or master, and by the very nature of this relationship, we are yoked to him. This notion is instinctively distasteful to human pride and especially to those with a significant lifetime achievement. But …. like it or not, we are yoked to Him, and we are not in charge. We must continually remind ourselves of this.
It is not just that our will is in sync with His will. It is striving to a reach a point where His will IS our will, realizing that we cannot succeed apart from Him. Even Jesus sought to do the Father’s will.
I think about the times in my life when I was like that young ox, rebelling and struggling against His leading. I remember well the results. It is just because He knows what is on the other side of that bridge that we must submit and trust the master. Yes, He allowed me to enter into error, but His will is never for our destruction. In those times He never left me, and He graciously brought me back after eating pea pods with the pigs for a while (remember the prodigal son).
Being yoked to Christ is really about our identity in Christ. Our identity in Christ is founded in humility, submission, and obedience. It is not solely a product of our will.
Let us be yoked to Him in the fullness of all that means. Let us seek to be so in tune with the Master’s will that we not only submit to his leading, but we are literally in step with Him. Seeking God’s will is not about a where or what, but about a who. It is not about a geographical place God wants us to be or about a profession. If we are genuinely seeking God’s will, we are already where He wants us, though that may change tomorrow or next week or next year. God’s only explicit will for us in Scripture is our sanctification (1 Thes 4:3) — a life pleasing to God.
Being yoked to Christ simply means being dependent on Christ in each of our individual races through this life. Indeed, there will be the painful times struggling with sin and the glorious times of closeness. It can happen in Honduras or the United States or Kenya. It doesn’t matter whether we work as a veterinarian, or a baker, or a brick mason. It doesn’t matter whether we are a person of high achievement or modest means. How dreadful it would be to realize one day that most of your life has been about seeking the praise of men, not God.
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