Freedom or slavery

Often, to a new Christian it may seem that this thing called Christianity is filled with rules, particularly “don’t do that” rules; it seems to them that there are unwritten rules around worship services and how and when to pray and many other aspects of Christian life both in the church building and in their life outside the building.

Today I want to dispel that rumour. That is not the case.  Christianity is about freedom. It is not about slavery.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus calls us:

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


If you are agriculturally minded and about 200 years old, you would know that a yoke is the wooden piece that sits over the shoulders of a pair of oxen, when you attach the animals to the plow or to the cart or some other farming equipment.  It attaches the thing to the animals and helps spread the load on the animals and helps them work together.


Jesus uses this agricultural picture because the listeners would have known what he was talking about.  They would also have known that he was comparing his teachings with that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.


The Jewish religion was a thing of endless rules and regulations, all of which had to be observed. People lived their lives in a forest of rules and regulations which dictated every action of their life[1] The yoke which Israel’s teachers placed upon the shoulders of the people was that of a totally unwarranted legalism. [2]


This occasion  he alluded to that burden placed on the people but previously he had been more direct in his condemnation of them. Matthew 23:1-4


Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.


Come to me all who are weary (tired from hard work) and burdened (weighed down) and I will give you rest


He said, “My yoke is easy”. The meaning of that term ‘easy’ in Greek is “well fitting”. It won’t chafe or cause sores or be uncomfortable. And when it is well fitted the load is spread and is light.

His yoke is gentle but not in the sense that it is less demanding than Judaism. In some ways it is more demanding. But it is the yoke of love, not of duty. It is the response of the liberated, not the duty of the obligated. And that makes all the difference.[3]


It is about freedom and not slavery.


First, he is speaking about our salvation and how it is a gift to us and not something we need to work for.


Romans 6:23

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Romans 3:23

23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus


The heavy burdened applies to anyone who, for whatever reason, tries wholly or partly to achieve salvation by means of his own exertion.


Hendriksen asks pointedly: And does not the heart of every sinner, including even the man already reborn but still living here on earth, harbor a Pharisee, at least once in a while?[4]


Our default is that we want to work out our own salvation, we are wary of anything offered as a gift. We want to know what the hook is. So, we try to work out our salvation under our own steam. That is what Hendriksen means when he says there is a little of the Pharisee in each of us.


Jesus is saying that we do not have to work out our salvation. It is done.


Jesus promises that in John 6

37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.


But secondly his talk of a light yoke talks about any burden we carry that weighs us down.


To those whose hearts were heavy with doubt and sorrow and fear, Jesus gives this gracious call, to come to him, as to one who can reveal to them the father in all his grace and goodness and love.[5]


Jesus said in Matthew 6

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


Jesus says he will give us rest from our worry, our fears and our doubts.


Such rest is not only the absence of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and despair; but it is also peace of mind and heart and assurance of salvation.[6]




John 6:35

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.


And thirdly, Jesus is offering rest for our souls from the burden of sin (and its consequences)


John 6:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.


Rest is not cessation from toil, but peace and fulfilment and a sense of being put right.[7]


So, we do not need to worry or be burdened.


That was the comparison that Jesus laid out for the people then and also for us now:


“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Simply trusting in Jesus brings peace and joy. The person who lives this kind of life is no longer a slave.



This contrasts with any attempt to save ourselves by means of scrupulous adherence to all the artificial rules and arbitrary regulations superimposed upon the law by scribes and Pharisees. That spells slavery. That produces wretchedness and despair[8]


Our burden is light because of God’s love for us. William Barclay, in a particularly jovial mood wrote: When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love God and to love men, then the burden becomes a song.[9]


Remember the song, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother?” Perhaps that is the song that William Barclay had in mind.  It certainly is the concept that Jesus suggests with his “yoke is easy” claim, especially when we remember that he took the sins of the world – he took on our sins – in order to save us.


Are there rules and regulations in Christianity?  No there is freedom in Christianity because Jesus has taken away the ‘try harder but never good enough’ mentality of Judaism.


Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
















[1] William Barclay The Gospel of Matthew Vol 2 18

[2] William Hendriksen Matthew 504

[3] Michael Green The Message of Matthew 143

[4] Hendriksen 503

[5] Charles Erdman The Gospel of Matthew  107

[6] Hendriksen 504

[7] Green 143

[8] Hendriksen 505

[9] Barclay 20