I have a friend who is a hiker. I too appreciate a good hike, that is, every so often I enjoy a leisurely walk in the woods. My friend, however, is a true hiker. He hikes miles through mountainous terrain, carrying backpacks that weigh 60-70 pounds each. He’s a hiker.
A while back, my friend was preparing for an epic two week trek over a mountain trail. In order to train his body, he took a bunch of large rocks and put them in his backpack. Every evening after work, he grabbed the backpack and went walking miles through his neighborhood and city streets. I once tried to put the backpack on. It almost tipped me over. I couldn’t imagine walking 10-15 miles a day carrying that load.
We all have rocks in our backpacks. Worries, doubts and regrets often weigh heavy on our shoulders and hearts. Your marriage is crumbling. Your job is in danger. Your mother is dying. You are stressed. You are tired.
If you are carrying a backpack full of rocks right now, Jesus has an invitation for you. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from, 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).
Do you know what a yoke is? Jesus wasn’t talking about the yellow part of an egg. A yoke is the wooden frame they used to put over the shoulders of horses or oxen so they could pull the plow.
Yokes were heavy. Yokes were burdensome. Yokes were like a backpack full of rocks.
Your Savior is offering you a trade. “Give me your burdens, your yoke, your backpack full of rocks,” he says. “I’ll carry it for you and you can carry my yoke.”
That begs the question, though: What is Jesus’ yoke? He tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. But what is his yoke?
Jesus’ yoke are his promises. Promises like, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Promises like, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Promises like the promise Jesus made to the thief on the cross.
He was thief and a murderer. He was a louse. As he hung there from the cross, he knew he would never had a chance to make amends for his sins. Yet what did Jesus promise him? “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
How was that possible? It was possible because Jesus was suffering the punishment of all his sins right there on the cross. God punished Jesus instead of punishing the thief. God punished Jesus instead of punishing me. God punished Jesus instead of punishing you.
And Jesus suffered it all – he paid the entire price of heaven. He cried out from the cross, “It is finished.” The entire payment was made. The Apostle Paul promises us, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s a gift. It’s free. It doesn’t depend on you or what you do.
Last week, I had the privilege of preaching at the funeral of a longtime member. When she first joined our congregation many years ago, she was carrying a backpack full of rocks called guilt. She often told me how, when she finally understood the full and free forgiveness Jesus won for her, it was like a huge weight being lifted off her shoulders.
Jesus’ promises do that. Are you carrying a backpack full of rocks? Go to your Savior. Listen to his promises. Find rest for your soul.