"Take Up My Yoke"

Let us pray. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and stir up in them the fire of your love. May your message today nourish our soul and change us forever. Amen

In our Epistle lesson today Paul is encountering internal conflict, probably much like many of us go through from time to time. We know what we are supposed to do as Christians but sometimes it's hard to follow through with the appropriate actions. It's a battle, sometimes a constant battle.

You see the battleground for Christians is not in the air, sea, or land; it's in our mind. And for some the battle is fierce and is a mighty struggle. You've seen cartoons where on one shoulder sits the cartoon character of the devil and on the other an angel. They are each putting thoughts into the head of the person, arguing back and forth why their way is the better way until the person makes a decision.

Unfortunately, many times the sin represented by the devil wins because there is more influence around us to proceed in a more "devilish" direction. Every day we experience peer pressure; social pressure, media pressure and so on, which drives us to actions we know are wrong, but are difficult to stop.

Paul says, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." Paul calls the experience of being unable to do the good one desires "a law" because it is unavoidable. And the law Paul speaks of is the sin within us. Haven't we all experienced this type of conflict within ourselves?

At the time Paul wrote this letter he was a mature Christian, not a recent convert. So this conflict I speak of is not caused because Paul recently changed the way he lived, but rather he is experiencing this conflict as a mature Christian, and this is a common struggle among mature Christians trying to live the way Christ has called us to live.

My goodness if Paul struggled with this internal conflict how much harder it must be for us.

All Christians find themselves wanting to do what is right, because Christ lives within them, but often times we're not able to do what we would like because of the continuing presence of indwelling sin. And Paul wasn't the only prominent Christian to struggle with this conflict in his day.

Jesus disciples also struggled with this battle, and they followed Jesus and listened to Jesus teach day after day. So really, why should we expect it to be any easier for us today?

We must never get complacent and comfortable, and underestimate the power of sin, and we must never try to fight the temptation of sin on our own. Satan is a crafty tempter, and we as humans have an amazing capacity to make excuses for our actions.

In fact the problem is really worse than what I've already stated. As we mature in Christian faith, meaning we are growing closer to Jesus Christ, wanting to be more like him, the classic struggle between good and evil grows stronger rather than weaker. The truth is those who struggle most vigorously against sin are not immature Christians at all, but mature ones.

Perhaps you've noticed harder struggles in your own life as you have participated more in Bible Study and have improved your prayer life. This is not uncommon, as we continue to grow in faith together we will come face-to-face with some tough obstacles. After all the hardest battles are fought by God's saints.

Whenever Paul experienced a battle raging within himself he would return to the basic truth that by grace he had already been freed by Jesus Christ, and he would focus on this fact.

Whenever we feel confused and overwhelmed with temptations, which we know are wrong, we ought to follow Paul's example. Those of us participating in the First Place Weight Management class try to do just that. When we feel tempted by food we know we aren't suppose to have we turn to prayer and to God's Word. And you know what, it works!

We should thank God that he has given us freedom through Jesus Christ to resist temptation, and we should allow the power of Holy Spirit to lift us up to defeat the power of sin.

But a key point we ought to embrace is, instead of trying to overcome the power of sin on our own we must turn to Christ and take hold of the tremendous power available to us.

This is God's provision for victory over sin - he sends his Spirit to live in us and to give us power. And when we fall, which we will from time to time, it's important to remember that God stands there ready to help us up.

Our Gospel reading this morning is a part of the scriptures where Jesus is teaching about the kingdom to ease John the Baptist's doubts about whom he is.

Jesus proceeds to strongly condemn the attitude of his generation. No matter what Jesus said or did, those listening took the opposite view. They were cynical and skeptical because he challenged their comfortable, secure, and self-assured lives.

Jesus is concerned with this way of living because it can serve as a greenhouse for temptation and falling captive to sin.

If Jesus were to come among us today I don't think he would have a different opinion. Not much has changed over the past 2000 years with respect to temptation and sin.

Too often we work hard to justify our opinions and false beliefs because listening to God may require us to change the way we live. It may require us to leave our comfort zones, step out in faith, and take risks for the good of God's kingdom, all of which is uncomfortable. We find ourselves offering Jesus an opposite view by remaining trapped in the Use-ta's.

Oh, we all know the use-ta's. We used to do this and we used to do that, and we have all fallen victim to this trap. All the comfortable, secure, and self-assured things in life.

When life becomes uncomfortable we want to return to the things we use-ta do, to regain that comfortable feeling once again, rather then looking ahead to the opportunities the future might hold.

At the end of our Gospel reading today Jesus mentions two kinds of people in his prayer: the wise, which are those who are arrogant in their own knowledge, and the "little children," which are those people who are humbly open to receiving the truth of God's word.

What we each need to come to terms with is are we wise in our own eyes and feel living in the Use-ta's is the way to go, or do we seek the truth in childlike faith, realizing only God holds all the answers, realizing we need to leave the Use-ta's, stepping out in faith for a better tomorrow under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

To help us with this Christian battle, Jesus offers us advice when he says, "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." "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." This is one of the most comforting passages of scripture in the Bible.

As many of you know a yoke is a heavy wooden harness that fits over the shoulders of an ox or team of oxen. Then the yoke is attached to a piece of equipment that the oxen are to pull. The yoke aids in pulling the heavy burden, or equipment.

Jesus knows that we too carry heavy burdens, the burden of: sin, excessive demands of secular life, oppression and persecution, and tiredness in the search of God.

Jesus came to free people from all of these burdens by offering rest. The rest Jesus speaks of does not mean inactivity. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of Moses but to fulfill it by providing its ultimate interpretation. What Jesus offers is not a vacation from the law but a less burdensome way of fulfilling it.

By rest, Jesus promises us love, healing, and peace with God. And it's our relationship with God that changes meaningless, thankless toil into spiritual productivity and purpose. But as long as Jesus is one of our many options, he is no option at all.

We should not allow Jesus to sit on one shoulder and speak in our ear. Jesus must be the very center of our whole being. As long as we can take Jesus or leave him, we might as well leave him, because he won't be taken half-heartedly.

Jesus offers us a good yoke, meaning one that is carefully shaped so that there will be minimal chafing. Jesus yoke will be kind to our shoulders, enabling us to carry the load more easily. You see Jesus does not diminish the weight of our accountability to God but helps us to bear this responsibility.

The yoke Jesus speaks of is not one he imposes but rather one he wears. I believe Jesus is saying to us, "Become my yoke-mate, and learn how to pull the load by working beside me and watching how I do it. The heavy labor will seem lighter when you allow me to help you with it."

Learning from Jesus involves paying serious attention to the fact that he is "gentle and humble in heart." This reminds us that the service of God requires the spirit of gentleness and humility, as exhibited by Jesus. As apprentices of Jesus we must watch him closely as he crafts his obedience to God, and as he shows evidence of the kingdom in his deeds, his teaching, and his gentleness.

And to accomplish this we need a support system in our lives to nourish us in the faith. This is the role of the body of Christ. We need each other, we need time to praise and worship God, we need time in prayer and study; we need to put Christ first place in our hearts.

"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." Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade