Jesus’ target audience was what we might refer to today as the working class. The segment of the population that was overburdened by taxes and what must have seemed like a never ending daily requirements for more and more of their limited resources. Speaking to a mixed multitude of interested spectators, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). What Jesus was describing was a partnership in which the toils and hardships of life were shared between him and his followers. The yoke, a wooden crosspiece that was fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to a plow or cart that they were to pull, was symbolic of joint labor. Jesus wasn’t asking his followers to go it alone; he was assuring them that he would be by their side, handling life’s challenges along with them.
One of the things that Jesus was trying to clarify was God’s expectations for his children. Jesus didn’t tell his followers that they would have a life of ease, but promised them that life would be easier with his help. Jesus’ statement, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” referred to being used by God. A believer’s burden is the responsible he has for his own moral behavior and his accountability to God for making spiritual progress throughout his life (Galatians 6:4). The purpose of a yoke was to balance out the load so that a larger burden could be handled. The Greek term translated yoke, zophos means “a coupling” (2218). If you think of a couple as being complementary partners, you could say that as a partner, Jesus can provide anything that might be lacking in an individual’s spiritual capabilities. In order to do God’s will, Jesus was saying that he could supply everything that was necessary to complete the spiritual work that each individual needed to accomplish.
The rest that Jesus invited his followers to take part in was not a vacation from work, but a type of recreation that made work less burdensome. “Christ’s rest is not a rest from work, but in work; not the rest of inactivity but of the harmonious working of all the faculties and affections – of will, heart, imagination, conscience ‘ because each had found in God the ideal sphere for its satisfaction and development” (372). Another way of describing the kind of rest that Jesus wanted his followers to experience would be collaboration. The Apostle Paul depicted collaboration as a “building fitly framed together” (Ephesians 2:21), and also said we are all “members” (Ephesians 5:30) of Christ’s body. In other words, everyone has a part to play in the work of God’s kingdom. When we all join together and do what each of us has been specifically designed by God to do best, our work seems easier and the “burden” (Matthew 11:30) of it much lighter. Therefore, doing God’s will becomes a type of rest or recreation that we want to do more often.