"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Thus far the text.
Are the words of Christ that describe His easy yoke only about salvation, or are they also about our struggles under hardship? We know for certain that Christ takes away the heavy burden of us trying to earn our salvation by good works. He replaces that impossibly crushing load with the lightness of salvation by grace through faith on account of His works.
But does the text also speak of Christ easing our earthly burdens? We are rightly cautious of applying this text in a theology of glory way. We must maintain that Christ does not take away all crosses and burdens. The struggles of a Christian are often much worse than an unbeliever.
Yet we want the text to give us a promise that our lives will be somehow easier. We want Christ to promise that He will lighten the weights we carry as we stumble through this painful life. How could we not wish that? Our tribulations can be most painful. We do no wrong to pray that He would lessen our sorrows.
More than that, does He promise that He will make our burdens light? Well, that is what He actually says. There is nothing specifically in the text that limits His promise as if it were only about salvation. In fact, there is nothing here to say that it is about salvation, although we know that to be true. Therefore, we must say that Christ is speaking to our lives as a whole and making a general promise. We should seize upon this general promise as a wonderful comfort to us.
Doctor Martin Luther also took this passage in a general sense in his final sermon. He said, "Christ says, 'Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden,' and it is as though He were saying: Just stick to Me, hold on to My Word and let everything else go. If you are burned and beheaded for it, then have patience, I will make it so sweet for you that you easily would be able to bear it. It has also been written of St. Agnes that when she was led to prison to be killed, it was to her as if she were going to a dance. Where did she get this? Ah, only from this Christ, from believing this saying, 'Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.' That is to say: 'If things go badly, I will give you the courage even to laugh about it; and if even though you walk on fiery coals, the torment shall nevertheless not be so severe and the devil shall nevertheless not be so bad, and you will rather feel that you are walking on roses. I will give you the heart to laugh even though Turk, pope, emperor, and everybody else be filled with horrible wrath and rage. Only come to Me; and if you are facing oppression, death, or torture, because the pope, the Turk, and emperor are attacking you, do not be afraid; it will not be heavy for you, but light and easy to bear, for I give you the Spirit, so that the burden, which for the world would be unbearable, becomes for you a light burden. For when you suffer for My sake, it is My yoke and My burden, which I lay upon you in grace, that you may know that this your suffering is well pleasing to God and to Me and that I Myself am helping you to carry it and giving you power and strength to do so.' So also say Ps. 31: 24, and Ps. 27: 14: Let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord, all you who suffer for His sake. Let misfortune, sin, death, and whatever the devil and the world loads upon you assail and assault you, if only you remain confident and undismayed, waiting upon the Lord in faith, you have already won, you have already escaped death and far surpassed the devil and the world.
"Lo, this means that the wise of this world are rejected, that we may learn not to think ourselves wise and to put away from our eyes all great personages, indeed, to shut our eyes altogether, and cling only to Christ's Word and come to Him, as He so lovingly invites us to do, and say: 'Thou alone art my beloved Lord and Master, I am Thy disciple.'
"This and much more might be said concerning this Gospel, but I am too weak and we shall let it go at that."
And those were Luther's last words ever spoken from a pulpit. They were not idle words. Death was coming upon Luther soon. Yet, in the face of death, he preached that we could endure all hardships cheerfully because of Christ.
How much lighter all things are when we realize that death is conquered! Then we see that the raving of the hostile world will pass away. The pains we endure are temporary, and only a brief moment compared to the everlasting glory that awaits.
When the devil thunders mightily at you to try to frighten you, remember that He is beaten. The threats of the devil are hollow. Oh, he may hurt you, if God allows him. Christ also was wounded by satan in His heel, as it were. But that was the occasion of satan's deep wound, his crushed head, from which he will never recover. He is beaten, and you are victorious because of Christ.
Will we suffer crosses? Yes, and we suffer them even now. Sometimes they will hurt so sharply that tears may be forced from our eyes. Yet Christ gives us His promise that He will take the worst of the sting away. He has carried most of the burden on his side of the yoke, so that our suffering is light compared to what it could be. Take comfort in that.
Take comfort also that Christ knows your sufferings. He also went under the yoke. He sympathizes with our weakness, since He took the weak form of a servant.
When days are dark, when things press hard on you, it is best to take your eyes away from your sufferings, and look instead to Christ. That is hard to do. If we focus only on our pain, then Christ will seem distant and unsympathetic. But He is never distant. He is closest when we feel that He is farthest away. Cling to Him in prayer. Cling to Him in His Word, where His sweet promises dwell. Cry out to Him in the words of the Psalms, which He also used in His hour of need.
If sorrow is in your heart, do not doubt that Christ is with you. Do not say, "He promised that my burden is light, and this is no light burden!" That would be to trust your feelings over the promise of our Lord. He will never break His promise. What feels heavy will pass soon. What feels overwhelming will not destroy you. Christ is with you, especially in the dark times.
And there will be times when He will give joy in the midst of hardship. He will open your lips to rejoice when your feelings urge you to weep. He will give peace beyond any human comprehension.
This He will do because you are His own, and He will never abandon His own.
In His Name, who is compassion and mercy. Amen.
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