Page last updated






Religion – the Way it Was Intended
based on Matthew 11: 28-30
by Rev. Frank Schaefer



There is no doubt in my mind that RULES are part of the reason why organized religion is shrinking, especially those rules that are rooted in the culture of ages past—rules that don’t make sense in today’s world.

Examples of such rules, often unspoken, include:

  • Wearing formal clothes to Church

  • Giving isn’t optional, ushers will collect

  • Certain seats (and offices) are “reserved” for faithful donors

  • No applause during the church service

Many years ago, this list of rules was substantially longer (here are a few):

  • No going to the movies

  • No watching TV

  • No wearing of pants for women

  • No makeup

  • No pastoral role for women

When Jesus said"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28), he was talking about his idea of spirituality over and against the spirituality that was preached by the priests and Pharisees of his time.

Being religious in first-century Judea meant that you had to observe the Purity Laws which included the 600+ Laws of Moses, as well as hundreds more that were added by the religious leaders. The Pharisees, especially, would load their followers down with commandments, rules and expectations to a point where people couldn’t possibly keep up with them.

Can you imagine how that would have burdened people’s consciences? They must have lived in a constant state of guilt.

This idea of religion that advocates observance of rules as a path to salvation is all too common even to this very day, and sadly, even prevails in Christianity.

But Jesus advocated for a very different kind of spirituality, one that wasn’t based on fulfilling the law, but one that was grounded in God’s love and compassion. That’s why grace, forgiveness, love and compassion are recurring words in Jesus’ sermons, while the Pharisees emphasized theological words such as: obedience, duty, sin, punishment, and condemnation.

Jesus didn’t negate the validity of the law, however. He just had a different emphasis. He once said (Mark 2:27): “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” In other words, the law was created for us, to be a benefit, established so we could be guided to live a good, happy and fulfilled life. We are NOT supposed to serve and slave under the law in Jesus’ theology.

It is in this context that Jesus says: “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.”

Jesus audience was familiar with “spiritual” yokes. The opponents of Jesus had made wearing their spiritual yoke a heavy, demanding, draining burden. Yes, Jesus’ first audience knew what it meant to wear a “yoke” and it wasn’t an easy task.

Jesus words would certainly have gotten the people’s attention. What does he mean “my yoke is easy?” How can a yoke ever be easy?

In first century Judea, when farmers brought a team of oxen to the yoke-maker, he would spend a good deal of time measuring—their height, width, the gap between the two animals, the heights of their shoulders.

He would go to work and a week later, he would gently place the yoke over the shoulders of the oxen, watch for rough places, and carefully smooth the yoke until it fit perfectly. For the oxen, the yoke was then “easy.”

And that’s the kind of yoke Jesus offers us—one that fits, one that makes the tasks of life easier. A good fitting yoke is a great tool that can even make heavy burdens manageable. This kind of yoke is helpful.

Jesus’ idea of religion is that it should be helpful to us, it should be guiding us and help us take the burden off life, NOT become a burden in addition to the hardships of life.

When you enter into the church of Jesus you will be greeted with love, grace, and forgiveness. In Jesus’ church, you will find rest and inner peace. No need to carry the heavy burden of guilt around with you; you are accepted, you are forgiven, you are somebody important in Jesus’ church.

There you will find guidance for your life, you will find the joy of God’s presence and experience the love between brothers and sisters. There you will find the higher purpose that God has placed on your life. And you will be fitted with a yoke that helps you carry out that calling so that you can make this world a better place. That’s Jesus’ idea of religion, that’s why his yoke is indeed easy.

Jesus is inviting us too this morning, saying, “Come! Take my yoke upon you. You’ll find that it fits you just right!”

Eugene Peterson translates Matthew11:28-30 as follows:

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Amen and Amen.