Under the Yoke
9, 10. In ancient times, of what was the yoke a symbol, and why did Jesus invite people to take his yoke upon them?
9 Did you note that in the words quoted from Matthew 11:28, 29, Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Back then, a common man might have felt as though he were working under a yoke. From ancient times, the yoke had been illustrative of slavery or servitude. (Genesis 27:40; Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 28:48) Many of the day laborers whom Jesus met worked with an actual yoke on their shoulders, carrying heavy burdens. Depending on how a yoke was fashioned, it could be easy on the neck and shoulders or it could chafe. As a carpenter, Jesus may have made yokes, and he would have known how to shape one that was “kindly.” Perhaps he lined the contact points with leather or cloth to make the yoke as comfortable as possible.
10 When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you,” he could have been likening himself to one who provided well-made yokes that would be “kindly” to a workman’s neck and shoulders. Thus, Jesus added: “My load is light.” This signified that the yoke bar was not unpleasant to use, and the work was not slavish either. Granted, by inviting his listeners to accept his yoke, Jesus was not offering immediate relief from all oppressive conditions then current. Still, the change of viewpoint he presented would bring considerable refreshment. Adjustments in their life-style and way of doing things would relieve them too. More to the point, a clear and solid hope would help them find life less stressful.
Refreshment Can Be Yours
11. Why was Jesus not simply suggesting a trading of yokes?
11 Please note, Jesus was not saying that people would trade one yoke for another. Rome would still be in control of the land, just as today’s governments are in control where Christians live. First-century Roman taxation would not go away. Health and economic problems would remain. Imperfection and sin would continue to affect people. Still, refreshment could be theirs by adopting Jesus’ teaching, as it can be ours today.
12, 13. What did Jesus highlight that would bring refreshment, and how did some respond?
12 A key application of Jesus’ illustration of the yoke became apparent regarding the disciple-making work. There is no doubt that Jesus’ main activity was that of teaching others, with the emphasis being on God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 4:23) So when he said, “Take my yoke upon you,” that would certainly have involved following after him in that same activity. The Gospel record shows that Jesus moved sincere men to change their occupation, a major concern in the life of many. Remember his call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come after me, and I shall cause you to become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-20) He demonstrated to those fishermen how satisfying it would be if they did the work that he was putting first in his life, doing so under his guidance and with his help.
13 Some of his Jewish hearers got the point and applied it. Picture the seaside scene that we read about at Luke 5:1-11. Four fishermen had toiled all night but had caught nothing. Suddenly, their nets were filled! This was not by chance; it resulted from Jesus’ intervention. As they looked toward shore, they saw a multitude of people keenly interested in Jesus’ teachings. That helped to explain what Jesus told those four: “From now on you will be catching men alive.” What was their response? “They brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.”
14. (a) How can we find refreshment today? (b) What refreshing good news was proclaimed by Jesus?
14 Basically, you can respond in a similar way. The work of teaching people Bible truth is still going on. About six million of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide have accepted Jesus’ invitation to “take [his] yoke upon” them; they have become “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Some make it their full-time occupation; others do as much as they can part-time. All find it refreshing, so their life becomes less stressful. It involves doing what they enjoy, telling others good news—“the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23) It is always a pleasure to talk about good news but especially this good news. The Bible contains the primary material we need to convince many that they can lead a less stressful life.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
15. How can you benefit from Jesus’ teachings about life?
15 To some extent, even people who have just started to learn about God’s Kingdom have benefited from Jesus’ teachings about how to live. Many can truthfully say that Jesus’ teachings have refreshed them and helped them to turn their lives around. You can establish that for yourself by examining some of the principles of living set out in the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, particularly the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
A Way to Refreshment
16, 17. (a) Where can you find some of Jesus’ key teachings? (b) What is needed in order to find refreshment through application of Jesus’ teachings?
16 In the spring of 31 C.E., Jesus gave a lecture that is world-renowned to this day. It is usually called the Sermon on the Mount. It is recorded in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 and Luke chapter 6, and it summarizes many of his teachings. You can find other teachings of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels. Much of what he said is self-explanatory, though putting it into practice can be challenging. Why not read those chapters carefully, thoughtfully? Let the power of his ideas influence your thinking and attitude.
17 Obviously, Jesus’ teachings can be arranged in different ways. Let us group key teachings so that there is one for each day of the month, with the goal of putting them to work in your life. How? Well, do not pass over them too quickly. Recall the rich ruler who asked Jesus Christ: “By doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” When Jesus reviewed vital requirements of God’s Law, the man responded that he was already meeting these. Still, he realized that he needed to do more. Jesus called upon him to put forth greater effort to apply godly principles in practical ways, to be an active disciple. Apparently, the man was not ready to go that far. (Luke 18:18-23) Hence, one who wants to learn Jesus’ teachings today needs to remember that there is a difference between agreeing with them and actively embracing them, thus reducing stress.
18. Illustrate how you can use the accompanying box beneficially.
18 As a start to examining and applying Jesus’ teachings, look at point 1 in the accompanying box. It refers to Matthew 5:3-9. Frankly, any of us could spend quite a while meditating on the wonderful counsel presented in those verses. Looking at them as a whole, though, what do you conclude about attitude? If you truly want to overcome the effect of too much stress in your life, what is going to help? How can you be affected for the better if you increase your attention to spiritual matters, letting such occupy more of your thoughts? Is there some concern in your life that you need to attach less importance to, allowing for greater attention to spiritual issues? If you do so, it will add to your happiness now.
19. What can you do to gain additional insight and understanding?
19 Now take the matter a step further. Why not discuss those verses with another servant of God, perhaps your marriage mate, a close relative, or a friend? (Proverbs 18:24; 20:5) Bear in mind that the rich ruler asked someone else—Jesus—about a related matter. The response could have increased his prospect of happiness and lasting life. The fellow worshiper with whom you discuss those verses will not be equal to Jesus; still, the conversation about Jesus’ teachings will benefit both of you. Try to do it very soon.
20, 21. What program can you follow to learn about Jesus’ teachings, and how can you assess your progress?
20 Look again at the accompanying box, “Teachings to Help You.” These teachings are grouped so that you have at least one teaching a day to consider. You can first read what Jesus had to say in the verses cited. Then think about his words. Ponder how you can apply them in your life. If you feel that you are already doing so, ponder to see what more you can do to live by that divine teaching. Work with it during that day. If you have to struggle to understand it or to see how you can apply it, spend another day on it. Bear in mind, however, that you do not have to master it before you move on. The next day, you can consider another teaching. At the end of a week, you can review how successful you have been in adopting four or five of Jesus’ teachings. The second week add more, day by day. If you find that you have slipped in applying some teaching, do not get discouraged. Every Christian will have that experience. (2 Chronicles 6:36; Psalm 130:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; James 3:8) Follow through on the third week and the fourth.
21 After a month or so, you may have covered all 31 points. In any case, how will you feel as a result? Will you not be somewhat happier, perhaps more relaxed? Even if you make only a little improvement, you will likely feel less stress, or at least you will be handling stress better, and you will have a method for continuing. Do not forget that there are many other fine points of Jesus’ teachings that are not on the list. Why not search for some of them and try putting them into practice?—Philippians 3:16.
22. What may result from following Jesus’ teachings, but what additional aspect merits study?
22 You can see that Jesus’ yoke, while not weightless, is truly kindly. The load of his teachings and of discipleship is light. After more than 60 years of personal experience, the apostle John, Jesus’ dear friend, concurred: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) You can be just as confident. The longer you apply Jesus’ teachings, the more you will find that what makes life very stressful for many today will not be as distressing to you. You will see that you have found considerable relief. (Psalm 34:8) Yet, there is another aspect to Jesus’ kindly yoke that you need to consider. Jesus also mentioned his being “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” How does that fit into our learning from and imitating Jesus? In the following article, we will consider this.—Matthew 11:29.
“Learn From Me”
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.”—MATTHEW 11:29.
1. Why can learning from Jesus be pleasant and enriching?
JESUS CHRIST always thought, taught, and acted appropriately. His time on earth was short, but he enjoyed a rewarding and satisfying career, and he remained happy. He gathered disciples and taught them how to worship God, love humanity, and conquer the world. (John 16:33) He filled their hearts with hope and “shed light upon life and incorruption through the good news.” (2 Timothy 1:10) If you count yourself among his disciples, what do you think it means to be a disciple? By considering what Jesus says about disciples, we can learn how to enrich our lives. That involves adopting his viewpoint and applying some basic principles.—Matthew 10:24, 25; Luke 14:26, 27; John 8:31, 32; 13:35; 15:8.
2, 3. (a) What is a disciple of Jesus? (b) Why is it important to ask ourselves, ‘Whose disciple have I become?’
2 In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word translated “disciple” basically means one who directs his mind to something, or one who learns. A related word occurs in our theme text, Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.” Yes, a disciple is a learner. The Gospels usually apply the word “disciple” to Jesus’ intimate followers, who traveled with him as he preached and who were instructed by him. Some people might simply have accepted Jesus’ teachings, even doing so secretly. (Luke 6:17; John 19:38) The Gospel writers also referred to “the disciples of John [the Baptizer] and the disciples of the Pharisees.” (Mark 2:18) Since Jesus cautioned his followers to “watch out . . . for the teaching of the Pharisees,” we can ask ourselves, ‘Whose disciple have I become?’—Matthew 16:12.
3 If we are Jesus’ disciples, if we have learned from him, then others ought to feel spiritually refreshed in our presence. They ought to discern that we have become more mild-tempered and lowly in heart. If we have management responsibilities on our job, are parents, or have shepherding duties in the Christian congregation, do those in our care feel that we treat them as Jesus treated those in his care?
How Jesus Dealt With People
4, 5. (a) Why is it not difficult to know how Jesus dealt with people who had problems? (b) What experience did Jesus have when dining in the home of a Pharisee?
4 We need to know how Jesus dealt with people, especially those with serious problems. That should not be hard to learn; the Bible contains many reports of Jesus’ encounters with others, some of whom were troubled. Let us also note the way the religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees, dealt with people with similar problems. The contrast will be enlightening.
5 In the year 31 C.E., while Jesus was on a preaching tour in Galilee, “a certain one of the Pharisees kept asking [Jesus] to dine with him.” Jesus was not averse to accepting the invitation. “Accordingly he entered into the house of the Pharisee and reclined at the table. And, look! a woman who was known in the city to be a sinner learned that he was reclining at a meal in the house of the Pharisee, and she brought an alabaster case of perfumed oil, and, taking a position behind at his feet, she wept and started to wet his feet with her tears and she would wipe them off with the hair of her head. Also, she tenderly kissed his feet and greased them with the perfumed oil.”—Luke 7:36-38.
6. Why might the woman who was “a sinner” have been at the home of the Pharisee?
6 Can you picture that? One reference work claims: “The woman (v.37) took advantage of the social customs that permitted needy people to visit such a banquet to receive some of the leftovers.” That might explain how a person could enter uninvited. There may have been others who hoped to glean at the end of the meal. However, this woman’s behavior was unusual. She did not watch from the sidelines, waiting for the dinner to break up. She had an unsavory reputation, being “a sinner” of some note, so that Jesus said he knew of “her sins, many though they [were].”—Luke 7:47.
7, 8. (a) How might we have responded under such circumstances as those reported at Luke 7:36-38? (b) How did Simon respond?
7 Imagine yourself living back at that time and being in Jesus’ place. How would you have reacted? Would you have felt uneasy as this woman approached you? How would such a situation affect you? (Luke 7:45) Would you have been appalled, horrified?
8 If you had been among the other guests, might your thinking have been at least somewhat like that of Simon the Pharisee? “At the sight the Pharisee that invited [Jesus] said within himself: ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman it is that is touching him, that she is a sinner.’” (Luke 7:39) In contrast, Jesus was a man of deep compassion. He understood the woman’s plight and sensed her anguish. We are not told how she fell into a life of sin. If she indeed was a prostitute, the men of the town, dedicated Jews, apparently had not helped her.
9. How did Jesus respond, and with what possible result?
9 But Jesus wanted to help her. He said to her: “Your sins are forgiven.” Then he added: “Your faith has saved you; go your way in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50) Here the account ends. Someone may object that Jesus did not do much for her. Basically, he sent her away with his blessing. Do you think that she probably returned to her sad way of life? While we cannot say for sure, take note of what Luke next says. He related that Jesus journeyed “from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom.” Luke also reported that “certain women” were with Jesus and his disciples, “ministering to them from [the women’s] belongings.” The possibility cannot be ruled out that this repentant and appreciative woman was now among them, embarking upon a godly way of life with a clean conscience, a renewed sense of purpose, and a much deeper love for God.—Luke 8:1-3.
Difference Between Jesus and the Pharisees
10. Why is it profitable to consider the account of Jesus and the woman at Simon’s house?
10 What can we learn from this vivid account? It stirs our emotions, does it not? Imagine yourself in Simon’s home. How would you feel? Would you respond as did Jesus, or would you feel a bit like his Pharisee host? Jesus was the Son of God, so we cannot feel and act exactly as he did. On the other hand, we may not be eager to think of ourselves as being like Simon, the Pharisee. Few would take pride in being Pharisaic.
11. Why would we not want to be classed with the Pharisees?
11 From a study of Biblical and secular evidence, we can conclude that the Pharisees thought highly of themselves as guardians of the public good and the national welfare. They were not satisfied that God’s Law was fundamentally clear and easily understood. Wherever the Law seemed to them to be unspecific, they sought to plug apparent gaps with defined applications to eliminate any need for conscience. These religious leaders attempted to devise a precept to govern conduct in all issues, even trivialities.*
12. What view did the Pharisees have of themselves?
12 The first-century Jewish historian Josephus makes it obvious that the Pharisees considered themselves to be kind, gentle, just, and altogether right for their task. Doubtless, some of them came fairly close to that. Nicodemus might come to your mind. (John 3:1, 2; 7:50, 51) In time, some of them embraced the Christian way. (Acts 15:5) The Christian apostle Paul wrote about certain Jews, such as the Pharisees: “They have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) However, the Gospels present them as they were seen by the common people—proud, arrogant, self-righteous, faultfinding, judgmental, and demeaning.
13. What did Jesus have to say about the Pharisees?
13 Jesus castigated the scribes and Pharisees as hypocritical. “They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” Yes, the load was heavy, and the yoke imposed on the people was harsh. Jesus went on to call the scribes and Pharisees “fools.” A fool is a menace to the community. Jesus also called the scribes and Pharisees “blind guides” and asserted that they had “disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Who would want Jesus to think of him as Pharisaic?—Matthew 23:1-4, 16, 17, 23.
14, 15. (a) Jesus’ dealings with Matthew Levi reveal what about the ways of the Pharisees? (b) What important lessons can we learn from this account?
14 Almost any reader of the Gospel accounts can see the critical nature of most Pharisees. After Jesus invited Matthew Levi, the tax collector, to become a disciple, Levi spread a big reception feast for him. The account says: “At this the Pharisees and their scribes began murmuring to his disciples, saying: ‘Why is it you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ In reply Jesus said to them: ‘. . . I have come to call, not righteous persons, but sinners to repentance.’”—Luke 5:27-32.
15 Levi himself appreciated something else Jesus said on that occasion: “Go, then, and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13) Although the Pharisees claimed to believe in the writings of the Hebrew prophets, they did not embrace this saying from Hosea 6:6. If they were going to err, they made sure it would be on the side of obedience to tradition. Each of us could ask ourselves, ‘Do I have a reputation for being a stickler for certain rules, such as ones that reflect personal opinion or common approaches to a matter? Or do others think of me as being first of all merciful and good?’
16. What was the Pharisaic way, and how can we avoid being like them?
16 Pick, pick, pick. That was the Pharisaic way. The Pharisees looked for every flaw—real or imagined. They kept people on the defensive and reminded them of their failures. The Pharisees prided themselves on tithing the tiniest herbs, like mint, dill, and cumin. They advertised their piety by their dress and tried to direct the nation. Surely, if our actions are to be in harmony with Jesus’ example, we must avoid the tendency of always looking for and highlighting the flaws in others.
How Did Jesus Handle Problems?
17-19. (a) Explain how Jesus handled a situation that could have had very serious consequences. (b) What made the situation stressful and unpleasant? (c) Had you been there when the woman approached Jesus, how would you have reacted?
17 Jesus’ way of handling problems was far different from that of the Pharisees. Consider how Jesus handled a situation that could have been very serious. It involved a woman who had had a flow of blood for 12 years. You can read the account at Luke 8:42-48.
18 Mark’s account says that the woman was “frightened and trembling.” (Mark 5:33) Why? Doubtless because she knew that she had broken God’s Law. According to Leviticus 15:25-28, a woman with an unnatural flow of blood was unclean for as long as it lasted, plus a week. Everything she touched and every person she came in contact with became defiled. To approach Jesus, this woman had to work her way through the throng. When we look at the account 2,000 years later, our hearts go out to her in her discomfort.
19 If you had been present that day, how would you have viewed the situation? What would you have said? Notice that Jesus treated this woman in a kind, loving, and considerate way, not even alluding to any problems she may have caused.—Mark 5:34.
20. If Leviticus 15:25-28 were a requirement today, what challenge would we face?
20 Can we learn something from this event? Suppose you were an elder in a Christian congregation today. And further suppose that Leviticus 15:25-28 were a Christian requirement today and that a Christian woman had violated that law, feeling frantic and abandoned. How would you react? Would you publicly humiliate her with critical counsel? “Oh,” you say, “never would I do that! Following Jesus’ example, I would make every effort to be kind, loving, thoughtful, and considerate.” Very good! But the challenge is to do it, to imitate Jesus’ pattern.
21. What did Jesus teach people about the Law?
21 Essentially, people felt refreshed by Jesus, uplifted and encouraged. Where God’s Law was definite, it meant what it said. If it seemed general, their conscience would come more into play and they could show their love for God by their decisions. The Law gave them room to live and breathe. (Mark 2:27, 28) God loved his people, worked constantly for their good, and was willing to be merciful when they faltered. Jesus was like that.—John 14:9.