Meek and Lowly
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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)
As my awareness of the depth of my own sinfulness increasingly becomes more evident to me, I feel the need to soak in this passage for reassurance and hope. I can only handle so much exposure to my own warped character before I start to feel so hopeless that I am tempted to think I am too much even for God to transform to become like what He is showing me He is like.
But then I have to be reminded that my sin is not so great that the God of the universe is incapable of rescuing me from my selfishness. I know I am slowing Him down far too much with my resistance, but He has dealt with millions of similar people before and He has many surprises waiting to accomplish whatever it takes to change my heart and transform my character if I simply give Him permission. My role is to keep choosing to believe that God can and will do what He says He can do in me in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. That is what Abraham was praised for – believing God could do the impossible and trusting Him in spite of contradictory evidence, confusion and intense fear.
Righteousness is defined in the Bible by this choice of Abraham, so the same has to apply to me as well. By choosing to believe that God can do the impossible in me instead of still trying to do it myself, I not only am considered righteous (that just sounds arrogant and bizarre, I'm sorry – but its true) but in doing so I come to Jesus to receive needed peace and rest. This is not just a good idea but is vitally necessary the more I become aware of how selfish I really am.
This morning when I opened my computer Bible back to where I had located these verses, I came across an interesting connection in the story of John the Baptist who was struggling with depression and doubt while languishing in prison. He very likely was beginning to wonder why, if Jesus was God and had all power at His disposal, that He was choosing to ignore John so completely. I know I would certainly feel that way and would be severely tempted to feel offended and doubt whether this man was really the Messiah. John had poured out his entire life and short career to launch the ministry of Jesus and now all he gets as a thank-you is an apparent snub.
I don't think John was the only one struggling with similar questions. Not only were John's disciples tempted to question the motives of Jesus but even Jesus' own disciples must have puzzled as to why He never seemed to even give a thought or mention of John after all he had done to pave the way for Jesus' popularity. It could have been easy for them to assume that Jesus was an ungrateful recipient of massive effort and great favors by John, and now that John was out of the way Jesus could now happily build His own empire of popularity with little gratitude for all the blood, sweat and tears of the forerunner who had suffered so in the way of public insult and resistance, all for His benefit.
Now John was quickly heading into obscurity and even toward death. It appeared Jesus had no regard or even so much as a 'thanks' for the friend who had done so much to prepare the public to notice Him. Certainly John in his isolation and depression was likely wrestling intensely against haunting questions that came out in the words he told his disciples to ask Jesus. "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Because we see the larger context and know better what was really going on, it is easy to miss almost entirely the intensity of the pressure to doubt that had to be attacking the heart of John. Not unless you have spent time in prison yourself, isolated from the outside world and battered by demonic influences to doubt God's work in your life, can you begin to appreciate what John must have felt like. Yet part of the answer that Jesus gave John's disciples is very revealing in that respect.
"And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (Matthew 11:6)
Yes, it is true that before Jesus said this He first listed off the activities that John's disciples watched Him doing that day as a means of encouraging John to not give up hope. I find much meaning as I ponder each of the things Jesus listed as reasons why His ministry was authentic and not a sham as John wondered. But the deeper issue that John needed encouragement to face and resist was not just whether Jesus was indeed who John had publicly announced Him to be under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but the more serious temptation to take offense.
After taking an extended look at the issue of offenses a few years ago, this word has become more meaningful than it used to be. So when I saw it here in this story I saw it as a warning from Jesus to take very seriously for myself. This is not just part of a narrative in a story that happened long ago and far away but is very relevant today and for me. My life is a constant series of opportunities to take offense, and sadly it seems I fall for them far too often. And given all that God has done to teach me the true danger of taking offense, I have no excuse for doing so; yet I keep being tripped up as my selfish heart asserts itself and even lashes out at times in offensive ways that hurt the reputation of my God.
That takes me back to where I started. As I see how easily I fall into this trap of offense instead of resting and trusting in God's love and deriving all of my identity and value from Him, I am tempted to feel my case is so desperate that I question if I can ever escape this trap of offense. A few years ago I read an entire book on this subject that also dramatically opened my eyes to this danger. It is called The Bait of Satan by John Bevere and is a potent revelation of the true nature and danger of taking offense. Since then God has increasingly shown me how dangerous this trap can be, but I still struggle to stay out of it and far too often find that I have fallen into it yet again causing pain and suffering and even more offenses in others.
So what must I do to be saved? I hear the familiar answer reverberating from thousands of years ago, yet still just as true. 'Believe on Jesus the Messiah.' Of course that needs to be understood and perceived properly or it has little effect as I discovered after many years of believing the wrong things about Jesus and why He came. But now that light is increasing in brilliance and exposes even more of my own faults and sick symptoms, I hear Jesus speaking urgently to me,
Come to me, all of you who are overworked and overburdened and I will give you rest [i.e., spiritual refreshment]. Accept my reins [on your life], and learn about me, because I am gentle and humble, and [in my service] you will experience rest in your spirits. For my reins [on your life] are easy [to respond to] and the burden I place [on you] is light. (AUV)
Again I am reminded to let go of religion and simply rest in God's love for me and trust that He can do what He says He wants to do in my heart and life. What do I have to do? Of course the emphasis is usually on the wrong idea of what 'do' means. Believing that Jesus really loves me is not usually what first jumps into my mind when I think I have to do something to be saved. But I have become more aware lately that this is exactly what I need most. Believing that love really is as powerful as God says it is in spite of all that religion and many others insist.
Today we are noticing an increasing outcry protesting vehemently against the belief that God's love alone is sufficient to overcome all sin. As the light of this emerging truth increases, so too does resistance intensify against it, particularly within the church. Strangely people feel very threatened when the notion of a non-violent loving God is proposed and they feel compelled to fight against it fiercely. Of course this should not really be that strange, for it is a principle that we reflect the kind of God we believe in, and we reflect the same attributes in the way we treat those who disagree with us.
So when I meet fierce opposition when I assert that God is love and light and in Him is no darkness at all, those opposing this feel compelled to attack and discredit this message. That is perfectly consistent with their opposing views of how God should operate. But the real danger is that because I am still partially infected with those same old feelings about God, I am strongly tempted to react in a similar spirit that they are bringing against me. This is the bait of Satan that lures me into the trap of offense. And sadly I have to admit that I fall into it all too regularly.
'Come to me, all you who work hard, and you who are overburdened, for I will give you refreshment. Learn from me and put on my yoke, for I'm meek and I have a gentle heart. Then you'll find refreshment for your souls… for my yoke is gentle and my load is light.' (2001)
Yes, I need refreshment. I also need to keep seeing ever more clearly that both Jesus and God the Father are equally meek and gentle, one of the very issues that arouses such fierce protest from those insisting on a God who will stand up against evil and fight fire with fire – sometimes literally. Yet what I am discovering is that God's fire increasingly reveals my own sinfulness and that I am just as infected with lies about God at the heart level as many who argue and contest that God is not like what I am finding Him to be. Because my own selfish heart still resonates so much with their version of God, even though it conflicts with what He is showing me, I find myself too often reacting in ways more consistent with their counterfeit version of God than the one I am coming to know and share.
Oh yes, I am definitely resonating with the frustration expressed by Paul!
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
And the answer that gives me hope is the immediate comeback that Paul discovered for himself –
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
So I find it helpful to sit and soak in the presence of Jesus, allowing His reassurance and love and even His discipline to comfort and continue the work He is doing inside of me. I feel His presence and His Spirit speaking deep into the fears and apprehensions inside me as I ponder His invitation to me again.
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. (KJV)
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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." (NRSV)
Come to me, all you who are troubled and weighted down with care, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and become like me, for I am gentle and without pride, and you will have rest for your souls; For my yoke is good, and the weight I take up is not hard. (BBE)
Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you, and learn from me; for I am non-violent and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your lives. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light. (CGV)
Come to me, all of you who struggle and who are burdened down. I will give you rest. Accept my yoke, and learn from me. For I am kind and I have a humble heart, and in me you will find the rest you need. For my yoke is gentle, and my burden is light. (FBV)
Come to me, all of you who toil and are burdened, and I will let you rest. Let my yoke be put upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-minded, and your hearts will find rest, for the yoke I offer you is a kindly one, and the load I ask you to bear is light. (GSNT)
Come to me, all of you who are struggle under a heavy load, and I will relieve you! Put on my yoke and learn from me, because I have a gentle and humble heart. You're going to find relief for your spirits! Because my yoke is a good one, and my load is light. (SENT)