Monday, March 25, 2013

Your Cross Is His Yoke

Jesus Offers His Children His Rest


Jesus gave us one of His most personal and powerful promises in Matthew 11:28 – 30. This promise has been touching hearts and lifting people for 20 centuries. It is a blessing beyond measure for every one of us who have believed it and received it. What is truly amazing is that the comfort we receive from this promise is magnified exponentially, if we understand the context of our Savior’s words and the true depth of His offer to us.

Receiving as Children
We are given this great promise of rest and peace from Jesus within a much broader context of being seen and known by God as His children. This is not simply because we are His natural human children created in His own image. There is actually a much deeper reality which Jesus alludes to, as recorded by Matthew in the verses just prior to His promises in verses 28 – 30. Starting with verse 25, Matthew records the words of Jesus as He greatly rejoices and praises His Heavenly Father, for His wondrous gift of supernatural faith and knowledge to those of us who have been childlike enough to receive it. In these texts, Jesus suddenly begins looking heavenward, joyously proclaiming His thanks to His Heavenly Father, with wholehearted praise in the Holy Spirit.

Both in Matthew 11:25 and the parallel passage from Luke’s Gospel, we are given a vivid and dramatic picture of the wholehearted expressiveness of Jesus, as He joyfully communicates to His Father God about His amazing wisdom from above, and the Father’s love for the children He is drawing to Jesus:

MATTHEW 11:25 At that time Jesus began to say, I heartily praise and thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth [and I acknowledge openly and joyfully to Your honor], that You have hidden these things from the wise and clever and learned, and revealed them to babies [to the childish, untaught, and unskilled].  26 Yes, Father, [I praise You that] such was Your good pleasure.

LUKE 10: 21 In that same hour He rejoiced and gloried in the Holy Spirit and said, I praise and thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that  You have concealed these things [relating to salvation] from the wise and understanding and learned,  and revealed them to babes (the childish, unskilled, and untaught).  22 Yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will and choice and good pleasure.

Jesus made very clear His understanding that the real truth of Who He is can only come directly from revelation by the Father. 
This is confirmed in Matthew 16:13 – 20, when Simon Peter correctly answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter then told Jesus, ”You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” for which Jesus commended him by stating, “For flesh and blood [men] have not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven.”

This truth is another humbling statement for all of us, proving that our faith is truly authored by God Himself and revealed to us, in spite of our lack of maturity or humanly acquired knowledge. Jesus indicates that these human pursuits only tend to block real Truth from entering into our hearts and minds, even to our own destruction.
The substance of this heartfelt proclamation of our Savior is wonderfully refreshing, because it also shows the depth of God’s undeserved love for us, through His sovereign choice to reveal His true identity to us. Because of nothing we have done, but because of God’s grace to keep us from pride and presumption about ourselves, we have somehow been granted to know the greatest possible thing we can know: Who each Person of the Trinity really is!

The last words of Jesus’ proclamation were actually a well known Jewish statement emphatically confirming the truth of the preceding expression, and underscoring it for His listeners of that day. Using this religious expression as He spoke directly to “I AM” as His own Father, would have also been extremely jarring for the Jewish listeners of His day. At another time of sharing with His disciples, Jesus revealed more of the truth which He had begun to show them through this proclamation to His Father. At that later date, He went on to explain to them (and to us through their Gospel descriptions) that we can actually choose, by His grace, to become more like little children, willing to be relieved of any of our own pretension or pride.
Jesus wants all of us to understand how absolutely vital childlike faith is, and to enable us to receive God’s divine Self revelations, leading us into greater usefulness for His kingdom here in the earth, and into life eternal:

MATTHEW 18:1 At that time the disciples came up and asked Jesus, Who then is [really] the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  2 He called a little child to Himself and put him in the midst of them,  3 And said, Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all]. 4 Whoever will humble themselves and become like this little child [trusting, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Recognizing Jesus as Sovereign 
The true knowledge of God is a gift that comes totally from Him alone, which we can only humbly receive! The core of this entire realm of godly understanding, is the enlightenment that causes us to actually come to know directly through our spiritual connection to God by His Spirit, the Persons of the Triune Godhead, both intimately and intellectually: 

MATTHEW 11:27 All things have been entrusted and delivered to Me by My Father; and no one fully knows and accurately understands the Son except the Father, and no one fully knows and accurately understands the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son deliberately wills to make Him known. 

LUKE 10:22 All things have been given over into My power by My Father; and no one knows Who the Son is except the Father, or Who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son may choose to reveal and make Him known. 

As these parallel passages from Matthew and Luke make clear, our infinitely loving Heavenly Father desires to reveal to each of us, just who Jesus is fully and accurately. Jesus makes His Father God known only to those He has deliberately chosen to hear and receive this ultimate truth. In the verses following this proclamation, as recorded in the Lucan version, Jesus goes on to remind His hearers and all His faithful followers down through the centuries, how privileged and blessed we really are to receive this true, intimate knowledge of Him and of His Father, and of the Holy Spirit. We are privileged to receive it, both directly through the work of the Holy Spirit to enlighten each of us, and indirectly through His Word - the Bible, preserved and protected for all of us to read and study, giving the Holy Spirit greater access to our minds and hearts, so that He alone can share with us and convince us more fully the depths of God’s truth: 

LUKE 10:23 Then turning to His disciples, He said privately, Blessed (happy, to be envied) are those whose eyes see what you see!  24 I tell you many prophets and kings longed to see what you see and they did not see, to hear what you hear and they did not hear. 

Realizing Our Fulfillment 
We are prepared to receive the heavenly aid Jesus offers us, in greater measure as we humble ourselves, recognizing that we are dependent receivers of God’s incredible love and mighty strength, through His revelations of who He is and what He has done for each of us. When our hearts are softened and humbled, we are more completely willing and able to receive Jesus’ divine offer of help in the midst of our need:

MATTHEW 11:28 Come to Me,

Jesus commands us to personally come to Him alone, not to anyone or anything else! He alone is the One who will take hold of us and be our Savior, our Good Shepherd, our Redeemer, our Friend who is closer than a brother or a sister, our All in All who cares more deeply and knows each of us better than any other in the entire universe!

all you who labor (and are weary) 

Jesus re-emphasizes that this is a personal call to each of us who are laboring, with an internal weariness, worn and beaten down by the burdens of this life, of sin, of rule keeping, of the resistance to the believer, from our own flesh, this world system, and the devil.

and are heavy-laden and overburdened, 

We can also be overloaded with external burdens from the world around us, from great weights of sin, whether un-confessed or not repented of, or still producing negative consequences in our lives, and even of any self-energized religious practices, rules, or laws placed on us by ourselves or by any others. All of these emphases are confirmed by Jesus’ use of the term YOKE in the next verse. Later in the New Testament, we are explicitly warned by the Apostle Paul not to be yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14) nor to be yoked again to the slavery of following the law to achieve our salvation (Galatians 5:1)! 

and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] 

Jesus Himself is our rest, our Sabbath, our relief, our refreshing, our redemption every moment, every hour, every day!! 
In this text we begin to see a composite revelation that is made more clear by meshing it together with some other texts from the Gospel of Luke.

LUKE 9:23 And He said to all, If any person wills to come to Me,
let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself]

The connection between this verse and those promises in Matthew 11 is found as we discover the deepest root of our problems and issues: SELF
Once we become convicted of this fact, we can then come to know the truth, that denying self and losing sight of our own interests, by completely giving self up on a daily basis, is exactly the same thing as giving over our laborious weariness and our heavy burdens and weights.

and take up his cross daily

Taking up or lifting up our cross is an everyday action, Jesus commands us to do. He does not place it on us, but we take it onto ourselves. 

and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also]. 

Following Jesus, clinging and cleaving to Him, causes us to conform to His example in everything we do, which is actually the very best course of life we could ever possibly choose. Living like Jesus every single day, being led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) takes us into the most fruitful experiences daily, and makes us truly Sons and Daughters of God, more and more like Jesus over our lifetimes!

MATTHEW 11:29 Take My yoke upon you

Taking up or lifting up or raising up our own yoke is a command from Jesus that we must choose to do. Once again Jesus does not place His yoke on us. We choose to take our yoke up, joined together with Jesus.

Acknowledging this deep and penetrating core understanding of our walk of trusting love and faith with Jesus, goes back to His first disciples: 

Paul the Apostle harkens back to Jesus’ words of choosing to yoke together with another person, when he tells one of the leaders among the Philippians in chapter 4:3 I exhort you too, [my] genuine yokefellow, help these, for they have toiled along with me in [the spreading of] the good news (the Gospel), as have Clement and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the Book of Life. 

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. In his Homily 38, he focuses on the taking up of our cross as the yoke of Jesus.

John of Damascus (Damascene) , recognized as the last of the Eastern Church Fathers of the Faith and Doctors of the Church, composed many liturgical writings, including the Orthodox Funeral, where a proclamation is made to the faithful servant of Jesus:  Ye who have trod the narrow way most sad; all ye who, in life have taken upon you the Cross as a yoke, and have followed Me through faith, draw near: Enjoy ye the honors and the crowns which I have prepared for you.

In more modern times, many teachers and preachers have seen this composite truth of the CROSS AND YOKE. Among these, are both Charles Finney and Charles Spurgeon (who actually gave many sermons based on these particular verses, and stated that it could be “never too often”)

and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and blessed quiet) for your souls. 

We can spend our whole lives learning from Him and about Him. His gentleness and humility are our touchstones for godly living in this world, as dead people, who have trusted God by surrendering all of ourselves every single day, to live in His resurrection life. It is in this surrender alone, that we can really and truly find the rest for our souls He has promised. Surrendering self is the only way to Christlike humility and gentleness, because we have no resources to create these qualities in ourselves. As we surrender on a minute-by-minute basis, hourly, or daily as we need to, like John the Baptist we decrease and He increases, until we find ourselves in Him and He in us!  Saint Paul put it best in his letter to the believers in Galatia, when he said, “I am crucified with Christ. It is not I that live, but Christ that lives within me, and the life that I now live is by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).

30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good —not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), 

Being yoked together with Jesus is clearly good, comfortable, gracious, and pleasant. The yoke of Jesus joins us to Him as the stronger and greater, older partner in the walk and work ahead. We must always remember that we have chosen to yoke ourselves to Jesus, because He has already chosen to yoke Himself to us for all eternity in His boundless love for each of us (1 John 4:19). In His great love, Jesus has also joined us to His incredible work of redemption for the whole world. In yoking together with Him, we must realize that it is also taking up our cross as well, which joins us in communion with His finished work on His cross, already borne for each of us, yet offered also for us to bear with Him. 

and My burden is light and easy to be borne. 

Jesus is carrying us as His yoke partner and as His disciple, joined to Him in the work of His cross and in the race He has set before us, lightening our loads, and making easy everything committed and submitted completely to Him.
In dying to self, by taking His yoke and our crosses up, we daily choose Him again and again as Lord of our lives. For most of us, coming to Him was an obvious surrender we knew we had to choose, because we had made such a mess of our lives by trying to do what we wanted, or what we thought others wanted for us. By coming to Jesus as often as we need to, day after day, we are recommitting our lives to Him, knowing we will still make a mess of things again and again, anytime we choose to live without Him. The carrying of Jesus’ burden, through taking on His yoke and taking up our crosses, will always be lighter and easier, when we compare it to any attempts we would try to make to steer our own lives, write our own histories, or create our own destinies by ourselves again! When we become willing to take up His yoke and our cross, we join the tremendous company of those who have gone before us, running their race of loving trust in our one and only Redeemer King, Jesus!

HEBREWS 12:1 Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth],

Happy day when we come to understand and appreciate the great company of God’s people that have gone before us, and left incredible testimonies of His goodness, love, and power in their lives. T
his is not only the Old Testament saints listed in Hebrews 11, nor just the New Testament heroes of the 1st century, but every follower of Jesus who has surrendered all right up to this moment in His-story! We are surrounded by those who have gone to be with the Lord, and by those who are still walking their faith journey every minute, in this life right now. Among them, are folks we can learn from, because they have walked further or faster than we have, and have a deposit from God in their lives to share with us and to teach us His way!  Whether living now or having gone to be with Jesus forever, these followers have become “Jesus-y” in a way that will bless us if we are willing to be humble and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through their words whether written or spoken directly to us, all beautifully formed in the fires of holy refinement

let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race set before us, (verse 2) Looking away [from all that will distract]

Once again, we are given a set of commands that we must choose to do or not to do. We must strip off, we must throw aside, we must look away, so that we can run the race, just as we put on His yoke and take up our cross. The race is not a sprint, but is a call to go for the long haul, in fact the whole distance, focusing on endurance and persistence as we continue toward the goal. 

to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. 

By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are able to look away from distractions, and instead we are aided to keep focusing on Jesus, who has shown us who our Father God is, and has given us understanding of who He is also, through His Word and by His Holy Spirit. Flowing out of these undeserved revelations we receive, comes the substance we then synergize within our faith relationship with Jesus. He gives us what is needed to initiate our faith and to complete the race. Patience is born within us by the Holy Spirit growing His fruit as we race, enabled by the divine aid and strength given to us as well. Our daily goal of running with endurance becomes more and more long term, until we begin to see that we have been energized to go on with Jesus for years and decades. All the moment-by-moment, everyday goals are built upon, as legs of a very long journey with only one ultimate goal, so beautifully expressed by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3, as he neared that endpoint himself. Paul’s heartbeat was to cross the final finish line and hear his Master’s voice, welcoming him into eternal glory, and commending him as a faithful servant.

Jesus, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus, who initiates and authors our faith, has done so by pioneering the way before us. His prize was to conquer every evil and every dark force, as He ascended above all things, to be reunited completely with His Father in the throne of heaven, and to bring with Him all those that He had released from the captivity of death and Hades! To author and perfect this faith work being done within us, Jesus yokes up with us as we carry our cross daily, throughout the lifelong faith journey we are on. He finishes with us as well, perfecting us in the process, teaching us to endure and to despise and ignore the shame we are leaving behind. Like us, Jesus had to experience Himself as a sheep led to slaughter, so that He could show us how to become a true overcomer, who is more than a conqueror, and to bring us into His eternal victory!
All faith in Jesus is a gift given to us because He loves us. Every good thing comes from the Father of Lights because He loves us. All the power and energy needed to stay connected and to conquer in this life, is released to us through the Holy Spirit because He loves us.

2 CORINTHIANS 5:14 For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us, because we are of the opinion and conviction that [if]
One died for all, then all died; 15 Jesus died for all, so all those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him Who died and was raised for their sake 

Jesus died for each of His followers because of His great love for them, both individually and also corporately. If His love compelled Him to die for us, so His love compels us to die also, to all our selfish desires and self preservation.
We are convinced by our faith to believe that Jesus died, and by His love that He died for each one of us personally, uniquely, as well as for all of us corporately. Even as Jesus’ death and resurrection flow from His great love for us, so we are also enabled to receive this reality of His love for us into our own hearts and minds, and we are also being convinced and convicted and compelled to show that same love to others. There is no other way to show the agape love from Jesus to others, except as we die to our own selfish desires. Resurrection power and love only flow out from people who have taken up their crosses and died. We enter death to be made alive in Jesus forever – eternity is now if we choose to be living in the flow of grace, compelled to show people a kind of love that is beyond our human capacity. Believers who live for Jesus now, live in resurrection life! 

16 Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value].  [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, 
yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. 

Our knowledge of Jesus is that same knowledge that He has shared with every follower of His, down through the ages:
By faith through grace, Jesus has revealed Himself to us as God the Son, Our Savior, Redeemer, and Lord!  If we are given the ability to see who Jesus really is, then we are also being granted the privilege and blessing of seeing everyone from an eternal perspective, as children of God who have been created in the natural in His image, to be loved with a real sense of dignity, whether it seems to us deserved or not.  We are also given a greater blessing of seeing those who have joined themselves to Jesus, by running the race, by taking up His yoke and their crosses, as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, in process and unformed as they (or we) may be. 

17 Therefore if anyone is [engrafted] in Christ  they become a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [moral and spiritual condition] has passed away.

Jesus our Lord is also our Resurrection and our New Life as we find divine Rest, Refreshing, and our new eternal identity in Him alone! Thus it is so for every other person we encounter, who names the Name of Jesus as their Lord. The life we lead in the Spirit must be gladly pursued and received by faith, so that these spiritual truths become living realities for each of us, not only in how we view ourselves, but also in how we are gifted by the Holy Spirit to view others. By being grafted into Jesus, we allow our own root systems to be cut off, to be replaced into a new, dependent connection, so that we stop living in our own resources. As this new life begins to take hold, we receive our spiritual nourishment from the living Vine, Jesus, becoming more fully His branches, growing out from Him to the world around us. The substance of our very being, our spirit and our soul, becomes transformed by the nature, character, and life of Jesus flowing through the Holy Spirit. Jesus enlivens the core of our very being, so that we decrease as He increases, purifying and preparing us for greater usefulness in this life, and for eternity with Him.

Behold, the fresh and new has come!
~Neil Uniacke


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Prison Visit

I’ve been thinking about my recent visit with my friend, Mitch (not his real name), who is in prison. Mitch is serving a life sentence at a state penitentiary in eastern Pennsylvania; I won’t go into the details of the activity that put him in prison, but suffice it to say, Mitch is looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Mitch and I grew up in the idyllic setting of boyhood friendship, living adjacent to each other on small farms, going to school together, swimming, fishing, hunting, sleeping out, working together and even, yes, getting into trouble together. Our paths separated after high school, and while we stayed in touch occasionally, our worlds were far apart. During those years that we were on different journeys, Mitch got into the shadowy world of the drug trade, while I chose the path of Christian service and church ministry. Mitch’s world turned violent and he ended up in prison in the mid-1980s. Our paths joined again after my wife and I and our sons moved back to this area from out of state and became involved in local church ministry. I decided it was time to try to reconnect with Mitch; I had heard he was in state prison, and so I contacted Mitch’s father about how I might get in touch with Mitch.

In 1992, I began to visit Mitch on a regular basis. In our visits we often spend time reminiscing about times past and the fun we had together. But reminiscing can only last so long; we also talk about the struggles of prison life and the lessons he has learned over the years. Mitch came to know Jesus at the beginning of his incarceration, and while it has been a struggle for him to stay faithful amidst the challenges of living with men, a lot of whom have nothing to live for, Mitch is steadfast in his faith. He challenges me many times in my faith and prays for me and my family. Each time I visit Mitch, I reflect on the verse where Jesus said to his disciples: “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36). I believe that when I visit Mitch, I am visiting Jesus, and so I often ask Mitch: “What word would you have for me today?” He usually says something like: “Keep being a good husband and father,” or “Work hard to keep young folks from coming to a place like this,” etc.

Another unexpected opportunity that came out of my relationship with Mitch was the chance to be involved with Mitch’s dad (Sam). I had actually worked for Sam on his farm when I was a teenager, but little did I know, at that time in my life, that one day I would have the opportunity to reap spiritual fruit in Sam’s life. Sam and I met numerous times over the years I had been visiting Mitch. When Sam was dying of lung cancer several years ago, I had the blessed opportunity to care for him spiritually. When he came to the Lord about a week before his death, I was privileged to baptize Sam in his hospital bed and witness his entrance into the family of God. Then a few days later, after he died, Sam’s family asked me to conduct his memorial service. I felt so blessed to have a part in the life of this family that I had become reunited with.

I visited Mitch last week. I and another old school friend are the only people who visit Mitch regularly. There are always tears when we part. I grieve as I leave Mitch each time. I can walk out the door and go back to my wife, family, work, and friends, while Mitch goes back to his cell. I guess I grieve over the loss of the years, of the wasted potential and lost relationships, that characterize Mitch’s life. And yet there is also the joy of being able to share life with Mitch. The bitter with the sweet - a picture of life.

Tom Horst
Marriage and Family Therapist

Monday, March 11, 2013

In Memory

Recently, I was affected by the death of two persons. One was a friend and neighbor who I had known for many years. The other was our financial counselor here at New Hope, Elaine Bero. Death always makes me think about the life I am living. In their memory, I offer this poem by an anonymous author:

Life's Clock
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just where the hands will stop--
At late or early hour.
To lose one's wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one's health is more,
To lose one's soul is such a loss
As no man can restore.
The present only is our own,
Live for Christ with a will;
Place no faith in tomorrow,
For the clock may then be still.
Submitted by Ann L. Gantt, Ph.D., LCSW, New Hope Counselor


Monday, March 4, 2013


As a township auditor for the Township I reside in we recently completed our annual audit for last year. Those of us with checking or savings accounts realize the importance of keeping track of our deposits and withdrawals. However, as a Christian we should also keep our lives "in check" on a daily basis. In our lives that type of auditing is better known as accountability.

Deposits in our lives are our investments in others, whether it is being a listening ear to a friend in need, assisting a neighbor or sharing the Word of God with someone. Our withdrawals are the expectations that we feel "entitled" to. Those expectations could be what we want from God or others. As Christians we should limit our withdrawals and increase our deposits; however, that is not an easy task to achieve. Romans 14:12 reminds us "so then each of us shall give account of himself to God".

So when we are standing before God all of our excuses and lies that we have used here on earth will not "hold up" in the eyes of our Lord. On a daily basis I need to take a look at what kind of deposits and withdrawals I have made to further my Father in Heaven's Kingdom.

Elaine Campbell, MA