If you are following along with my Advent series, you might feel overwhelmed. Jesus brings hope into the world. But then He instructs His followers to reflect that hope into the world. To participate in building the kingdom of God. For those who are task- or results-oriented, you might think this is too big of a job. And you are right, it can’t be done. All human effort alone cannot build one piece of God’s kingdom. Jesus has a simple message for you. He welcomes you to find peace and be still.
My Yoke is Light
Jesus arrived to find God’s followers obsessed with following rules. Rules mainly about how to be holy and stay holy. List after list of tasks to complete and tasks to avoid. And then, on top of that, the very best of the teachers would argue how to apply the rules in every situation. And teachers would disagree. So you might not even follow the rules right if you weren’t listening to the right teacher. Or you might look down on those who seemed less holy or pious than you.
God’s people had replaced knowing God with knowing the rules. So Jesus invited His followers to take on His yoke. Jesus cut through all the list of rules and narrowed it down to two tasks. One, be obsessed with loving God. Two, be obsessed with loving people. Jesus knew that His yoke (His teaching) was light or easy compared to other teachers. Instead of trying to follow all the interpretations, Jesus knew that if you loved God and loved people, you would be getting it right.
Jesus’ yoke is light, but we still struggle to follow His teaching. It is a choice we need to make daily. Depending on the day, we must choose to love God and love people hourly, and sometimes, we work on it from one second to the next. And if all we had were human effort and energy, we would fall very short. But Jesus explains to His followers how they can do the impossible. He invites His followers to abide in Him.
Abide means to find life in or to dwell in. Jesus calls us to rest to live in His presence. He uses the metaphor of a vine. We are the branches and are reminded that apart from the Vine, we cannot bear fruit. What we can’t do on our own, we learn to do by abiding in and with Jesus. It is through this continued relationship that we participate in being Kingdom builders. Like the boy with a few fish and some bread, we bring what little we have and watch as Jesus multiplies it.
Not to mix metaphors too much here, but Paul explains how this works using the idea of walking. When we abide in the Vine and find our strength and power in resting in God, we will go where the Vine goes. In other words, we will walk by the Spirit. Not in our power but through the power of the Creator, living and moving in our lives. And this is where we find peace. In the intersection of knowing that God has called us to a purpose. Combined with the knowledge that He has given us access to the power to accomplish that power.
When we live and walk in the Spirit, resting becomes doing. We abide in the Vine, and only through that connection can we produce fruit. Dependence becomes our power source as we allow God to work through us. We no longer have to try to check off all the right boxes and hope God is pleased with our efforts. We are free to devote ourselves to loving God and loving people. And especially to love people just as God has loved us.
Though the yoke is “light,” it isn’t easy. Sin so easily entangles us. Paul complained that he often does what he does not want to do. And doesn’t do what he wants to do. We desire to abide and walk with Jesus but still mess up. We still miss the target and fall short of the standard. Is there any peace for those who can’t get it right?
Thankfully, those places where we fall short are the places that are filled with God’s grace. Jesus’ sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection opened the way for us to receive grace. Our peace can be destroyed when we aren’t sure if we have done everything like we should. It is destroyed when we realize beyond a doubt that we have failed and sinned. But God restores our peace with His never-ending grace and forgiveness. When we confess our sins, we know God is faithful to forgive. And God takes our sin and that guilt and throws it as far away as the East is from the West.
Why does God give us grace? The answer is both simple and profound. God offers grace because He loves us. As humans, we struggle with feeling loved. Do our friends and family love us? If people knew who I was on the inside, would they still love me? Does God love me? Paul knew all people struggle with this. Paul was the best at doing all the right things and still didn’t know if God loved him. Then, he had an encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. He went from persecuting those God loved to ministering to those who needed to hear about God’s love.
The truth is that there is no hiding anything from God. God knows us inside and out, the good and the bad. So Paul goes to the furthest distinction that we might understand God’s love. In his letter to the Romans, he writes that even while we were still enemies of God, God loved us. Don’t miss this. God loved you when you were at your lowest point. He knows the worst version of you and still loves you. He made the way for us to know and love Him back. Psalm 147:11 says that God takes pleasure in those who love Him and hope in him.
When you look around your world, country, state, city, or just your family, you may feel overwhelmed at how little hope you find. The world is broken, and broken people continue to miss the mark and cause suffering and hurt where love and kindness were intended. You are to be the light that shines through such darkness. Be the salt that preserves and spices life when it is hard. You can’t do it on your own. Rest in Jesus and find power in being dependent.
Find peace, my friends, because Jesus works with the stubborn, the mistake-prone, and those who can’t seem to get out of their way. If you read about the people God has used over the whole story of the Bible, you will find that it is often the exact opposite of the people you would expect. If you find yourself in such a company, know that you are among the people God uses. May you find peace knowing that God loves you unconditionally, offers you grace when you fail, and includes you in His plans for advancing the kingdom. You may feel overwhelmed by knowing that you can’t do it, but I hope you are overwhelmed with joy this season because He can!