When Jesus says to his disciples, “Take my yoke upon you” and “learn from me” (Matt 11), he is not just drawing upon a vague farming metaphor. “Yoke” was a common metaphor for a particular rabbi’s interpretation and application of God’s torah to everyday life.
In Jesus’ day, all devout Jews wholeheartedly sought to live in obedience to God’s law – the “torah” revealed in the OT Scriptures. Our English translations of “torah” is typically “law.” This doesn’t capture the fulness of it’s meaning. Torah should be understood more broadly as “instruction”, “guidance” or, perhaps best, one’s “total way of life.”
When a disciple began following a particular rabbi, they “took up their yoke” and committed themselves to living out God’s torah as taught by their rabbi. Jesus’ followers would have understood the life-altering, sold out commitment Jesus was asking of his followers when he invited them to take his yoke upon them. Two thousand years later, however, the “yoke” metaphor is lost upon most modern ears.
I would like to imitate Jesus’ way of teaching by offering my own modern metaphor to help revive Jesus’ first century metaphor which was itself attempting to describe the even more ancient command of Moses to bring the totality of one’s entire life under the wise guidance of God’s torah. Today if Jesus wandered onto a university campus, finding his way into a coffee shop, instead of saying, “Take my yoke upon you,” he might invite tired, stressed and confused college students to “Download my soundtrack.” His invitation would be to let our lives play to the rhythm of a new song.
God has created us to live in harmony with Himself, our neighbor and ourselves, dancing in perfect step with His perfect will and letting our lives echo his beautiful melody out into the streets. God, the great Creator and Composer, has been carefully writing His divine opus upon the pages of history, a symphony filled with grand crescendos, bright angelic melodies and eerie measures of darkness and dissonance, carefully tuning each of his carefully crafted instruments to his perfect pitch.
Yet, all too often everyone insists on playing their own tune, beating their own drum and choosing their own life’s soundtrack. Hence, the world sounds more like “clashing cymbals and noisy gongs” (1 Cor. 13) than a divinely composed masterpiece. Some choose to dance to the tune of the latest mega-hit such as Eckart Tolle’s A New Earth or Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret.
Here’s the crux of the matter: Christians claim that God has written his song on into our DNA — we are created “in His image” — and we are therefore instruments in God’s cosmic orchestra, created to perform our unique part in God’s symphony. Sin has done its best to deafen our hearts to God’s song. Jesus came to earth performing all parts perfectly and opening ears once again to the irresistible rhythms of God’s grace.
God’s torah functions like sheet music to the trained musician. The more we practice the better we perform. The better we perform God’s torah the more beautiful our lives sound to those nearby. When Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon us, he invites us to listen to his version of God’s song, to let every note penetrate our inner being. Jeremiah prophesied the day when Jesus would come and sing God’s new song. On that day, the Lord declared:
“I will put my law (torah) in their minds and write it (torah) upon their hearts… No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord (Jer. 31:33-34).
To paraphrase for an iTunes generation: God will upload His song into our minds and write the lyrics upon our hearts, so we’ll no longer need to go around singing out of tune trying to teach others our remixed version.
Two thousand years ago God sent his son into the world to invite us back to the wedding dance we were created for. Many refused the invitation and continued along humming their own tune. Today, the invitation still stands. The kingdom jukebox knows only one song — the song of the Lamb. Hear the Jesus invitation once more in the words of Eugene Peterson:
“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” (Matt 11:28-29).
“The unforced rhythms of grace.” Shall we dance?