Sunday 8th February – 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Walking the Way of Jesus
Theme: The Yoke of Jesus
Bible Readings: Matthew 11:28-30
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
The Apostles Creed is one of the key foundational documents of the church. It is a statement of our beliefs. However, an interesting observation is that in the section about Jesus it starts with Jesus birth and then jumps straight to his death.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”
What about his life? What about his teaching, his ministry, the way he drew people close? What about the example that he showed about a different way of living? I don’t think you can separate Jesus life from his death and resurrection. They are so connected that you can only really understand either of them in the light of the other.
As a church, we are on this journey to the cross. Easter is 7 weeks away. Lent starts on Wednesday. And maybe a good way to prepare for the profound significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection is to spend some time thinking about Jesus’ life. What was it about the way that Jesus lived, taught, interacted with others that was so different, so confronting that it ultimately led to his death. What is it about the life that Jesus lived that was so transforming that even death could not hold that life down? What is it about the life of Jesus that points to who Jesus is?
Discuss – Jesus is … Write up answers.
Over the next 5 weeks we are going to look at many of these… Christ the teacher, the Messiah, the healer, the life-giver, the way, the truth and the life. As a way of trying to bring all these together in a sermon series I have entitled this series, “Walking THE WAY of Jesus”.
In my weekly email, I asked you to think about a “pre-sermon” reflective question. I had a video clip of the great old hymn, Trust and Obey and asked you to explain a line in the last verse:
“Then in fellowship sweet, we will sit at his [Jesus] feet,
or we will walk by his side in the way”.
How do you understand this line? That we are in Jesus way? Is Jesus thinking, “Get out of my way!” Any answers?
The hymn is using the phrase, “in the way” to refer to following a path or an example or lifestyle. The bible also uses the phrase “the way” … in this way.
• 2 Peter 2:2,21 talks about the way of truth and the way of righteousness.
• Romans 3:17 talks about the way of peace
• Ephesians 5:2 encourages us to walk in the way of love
• and Ephesians 4:20 talks about the way of life we learn when we hear about Jesus
• And in Mark 12:14 the Pharisees admitted that Jesus came to teach the “way of God”
But the gospels in particular talk about the way of Jesus.
• What did John the Baptist do Matt 3:3, “Prepare the way of the Lord”.
• In Matt 7:13-14 Jesus said that there was a way that lead to death and there was a way that leads to life.
• In John 14:4, Thomas asked Jesus to show ‘us the way’
• And in John 14:6 Jesus replied and said that “I am THE WAY”
I think this is what the Apostles Creed missed. That Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord –was born, died and rose again … but Jesus also came us to show us the way. Show us through his actions, his teaching, his example the way of living that is transformative and that brings us life.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. In Matthew 7:1-13, Jesus says that other ways lead to death but his WAY leads to life. Jesus wants his disciples to have life and therefore is calling his disciples (including us) to follow him and to walk by his side in THE WAY. To walk in HIS WAY. Are you getting this? Because this is the heart of what we are going to look at over the next 6 weeks … what is this way that we are to walk in.
Sometimes when we read the Bible we miss some of the profoundness of Jesus words because we don’t always understand the cultural context in which the words were spoken. Take for instance our bible reading about Jesus encouraging the crowd to take his yoke on them. It is a great image. The yoke was often used by a farmer when trying to train a younger ox. They would link the younger one up using a yoke with an older (already trained) ox to learn from. In the same way, we need to be “yoked” with Jesus so that Jesus can guide us, teach us, show us the way. Good illustration, isn’t it. Let me take it to another whole level.
I actually shared the first part of this illustration in my CHURCH sermon in January but stay with me because there is more to this illustration that I didn’t share… It has got to do with the Jewish idea of the Rabbi and his students or his disciples.
Back in Jesus time the children from the age of about 6 to about 11 or 12 would have to go to school at the local synagogue and be taught by the local Rabbis (or teachers) about the first 5 books of the Bible and how to put that into practice.
Most kids when they turned 12 would just go and work in the family business. But if you wanted more education the only way for that to happen would be to become a follower of a Rabbi. (Actually, a Rabbi would need to call you to follow him).
If I Rabbi said, “Follow me” you sort of became a Rabbi’s apprentice … but in reality it was much more than an apprentice. You didn’t just go to work for the Rabbi, you would be required to commit your whole life to him, to basically lived life with the Rabbi. You would follow him, listen to him teach, eat with him, slept in his house. The Hebrew word for this is not apprentice but disciple. If you followed a Rabbi you would become the Rabbi’s disciple.
As a disciple … your goal was to become like the Rabbi – to get to a point where you thought like the rabbi, understand the law like the rabbi, lived life like the rabbi. You succeeded if people looked at you and saw your Rabbi in you.
I really love this image because we are followers of Jesus. We are disciples of Jesus. Our goal as Christians should be to:
• Think like Jesus thought
• To read and understand scripture like Jesus did
• To live life like Jesus did
• To act and react to those around us like Jesus did
• Or in the words of this series … TO WALK IN HIS WAY
We should be so much walking in the way of Jesus that if people looked at us they should see JESUS our Rabbi in us.
Now there is a challenge!
But wait … there is more. When you became a disciple of a Rabbi there was this understanding that you would take on their teachings and understandings, that you would follow in their way. And there was a term that the Hebrew people used to talk about the essence of a Rabbi’s teaching and way of life that the disciples would be taking upon themselves. Can you guess what this term might be?
When you became a disciple, you would take on the Rabbi’s …
YOKE. Yes … in the same as we talked about it before … just as an older train oxen would be yoked to a younger ox, they had this idea of a disciple being yoked to a Rabbi. But the yoke became the symbol to represent all that the Rabbi was – their thoughts, teaching, beliefs, principles, passions, their sense of justice or compassion, their way of relating to others, their way of living … and when you became a disciple, it was like you were taking their yoke upon yourself.
Now for some Rabbi’s this yoke was really heavy and hard. A well-known Rabbi usually had huge expectations of what their followers should be doing and should not be doing. They had long lists of daily rituals and actions that were required if you were their disciple. They had high standards for adherence to their understanding of the law and harsh penalties if you broke them. There was this sense that a “proper” Rabbi had a heavy yoke. If you were to be a disciple of some of a famous Rabbi they were harsh, their way was tough, their yoke was heavy and burdensome.
And yet what did Jesus say in our bible reading for today?
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Can you hear the profoundness in these words for the first century listener? Maybe they had already had the experience of trying to be a disciple of a Rabbi and just couldn’t handle the burden. Maybe they had seen something in Jesus that stirred deep within them, but were worried that they would never be capable of being a disciple of Jesus … and Jesus says, Come to me, for my yoke – my way – is easy and my burden is light.
Does this mean that Jesus has lower standards than the other Rabbi’s? Does an easy yoke mean that you can get away with doing nothing? No. You just have to read the Sermon on the Mount and see that Jesus standards are higher on the things that really count to God … his way is uncompromising but Jesus the Rabbi is also known for his Grace. Jesus is not a harsh teacher who rules with judgement and fear but rather he is gentle and humble in heart – and taking upon his yoke is not a burden but rather living life Jesus’ way bring you hope and peace and rest for your souls. Taking upon yourself Jesus’ yoke, committing to walk in Jesus’ way, … brings life.
So are you willing to take this learning journey with me over the next 6 weeks – to explore this yoke of Jesus, the way of Jesus. Are you willing to wrestle with the challenges but also to embrace the discoveries? This road we are on is leading straight to the foot of the cross at Easter … but there is 6 weeks of Lent to traverse before then.
So, are you willing to take this learning journey?
But this is actually so much more than a learning journey.
The real challenge is not to learn about the WAY of Jesus but to commit to walking the way of Jesus.
Just as Jesus did in times of old, Jesus calls to us today to be his disciple. To follow him, to live life with him to the point that we become like Jesus.
Just as Jesus did in times of old, Jesus calls to us today take his yoke – his teaching, his lifestyle, his principles, his example – to take his yoke upon us and learn from him.
Jesus calls us to walk his way because his way brings life, and peace, and rest for our souls.
Jesus is calling you … What is your response.
We are going to play a song which I am hoping will become a bit of a theme song which I am hoping will become a bit of an anthem during of Lent journey. It speaks of the sufficiency of Christ – that Christ is enough for me. But as I play this song I want you to think about what it means for you to take upon yourself the yoke of Jesus.
In one article I was reading, they suggested that the prayer shawl of the Rabbi was sometimes referred to as their yoke. That the material that the Rabbi wore around their shoulders represented their way – their teachings, lifestyle, example etc. So when you became a disciple of a Rabbi and followed him, each time you wrapped your prayer shawl over your shoulders it reminded you that you have taken on their yoke.
Up the front here I have a whole bunch of material … and as I play the song, if it is helpful, you might like to come out the front and in a symbolic way of saying that you have taken on Jesus’ yoke, wrap the material around your shoulders. You might like to even just stay for a while and pray, or go back to your set with the material. Whatever is helpful.
But here clearly the call of Jesus today.
• Come, Follow me
• Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.
• Take my yoke upon you and learn from me
• Come, walk in my way that leads to life
What is your response…
I have decided to follow Jesus …
No turning back.
No turning back