Sometimes we struggle with understanding the words of Jesus because we look at them through a narrow lens of a single passage. For three years Jesus sat with his disciples, teaching them. His teaching was not fully understood in a moment, and his disciples showed their lack of understanding time and time again.
Each new concept learned can be like a system update calibrating our entire understanding of the Kingdom of God and the life Jesus offers. The disciples, however, had difficulty understanding Jesus’ teachings at every turn. They couldn’t update their understanding with the new information. Even when Jesus didn’t use parables they struggled comprehending. Part of this is Jesus has not yet endured the cross, descended into hell, been raised from the grave, ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit leads us into truth, but like the disciples we often get caught up in drawing conclusions from a single teaching instead of viewing it as a part of the whole teaching of scripture. Jesus gives many statements about following him which when considered in isolation can cause us to form false and conflicting views. One of those concepts visited frequently in Matthew’s Gospel is the difficulty of the way of Jesus. Jesus calls the path narrow and hard, but states his burden is easy.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
– Matthew 7:13-14
There is but one way to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through Jesus. Many try to fit part of their journey through the wide gate and still follow Jesus but get stuck on the narrow gate because one cannot go through both gates. They do not go to the same place.
Getting rid of everything other than Jesus is how we unburden ourselves before fitting through the narrow gate. Jesus takes our burdens so we can fit through the gate. Without this it is impossible to enter his kingdom.
Many will choose the path where they need not forfeit their life. They define their own path and cling to things the Lord hates. For these, although they wish to follow Jesus, the call is too high, the path too narrow. All they can see is what must be let go of. They do not view it as an exchange but a sacrifice that is altogether burdensome.
When we first confess Jesus is Lord we place our wills in a posture of total release. This is followed up with a constant exchange as the Holy Spirit reveals specific areas of repentance required in a season.
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:25-30
Jesus follows up his statement of the way to life being hard by saying his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. That is enough to confound the wise. How can a way be both easy and hard? If you take a look at the two passages, one describes coming to Jesus, and the other is a commentary of the two gates. Jesus invites us to exchange what is hard for what is easy. But ease is only found through a constant exchange. Any attempt to go the way of Jesus without him is without the rest he provides.
When we remain in Jesus’ rest, our burdens are let down. It is not a place to occasionally visit but a place to remain. We should not depart from the Lord only to return later. We are to remain in the rest he provides in all we do. We remain in his rest as we walk in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The grace of God allows us to remain in his presence even as we are still being sanctified. Remaining in his presence happens by his grace in our obedience and not by our perfection. We live with an easy yoke and a light burden not because the exchange has been finalized but because it is complete according to what is currently required by the Lord. He will initiate new exchanges in every season as we find ourselves continually sanctified.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
– Matthew 16:21-23
Peter has formed conclusions about Jesus, about God, that are based on a partial understanding and emotions. He doesn’t want the death of Jesus to be the end result as he still has a view of the Messiah as a conquering King.
This whole interaction is incomprehensible to me. How does Peter show an understanding of Jesus as Messiah in one setting and then challenge his choices in the next? The way Jesus rebukes Peter’s rebuke is fascinating. Peter’s audacity to take Jesus aside shows how thick headed he is. He thinks he understands but still cannot comprehend the way of Jesus.
Peter can’t comprehend how the path of Jesus could be both as conquering king and slaughtered lamb. The heavy cost of the victorious path is not understood. How can this be your end Jesus?
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
– Matthew 16:24-28
The way of Jesus is both light and heavy. The law points out just how heavy the path to life is. It is impossible for man. To go our own way even in the slightest is a burden that overwhelms and takes us off the path to life. You could call it impossibly burdensome to hang on to even a sliver of your own life. But the burden of Jesus is light, his yoke easy.
Jesus never says laying down our lives is easy. It is his cross on the other side that is light. It is where we are at peace and find rest. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus shows he has not yet come out the other side.
In each season of our lives, the Lord continues to sanctify us. The further we move in step with the Lord, the more we realize the freedom which awaits us on the other side of the cross and the more we know his rest is where we need to be. We also know God is not finished working within us. As a result, the mature will quickly turn to the cross, the place of exchange, a familiar place.
“Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:11
David cries out, cast me not from your presence. Our home will also become the presence of God. In maturity our desire is to embrace the difficulty of approaching the cross, the place of exchange, bringing our sin and carnal nature and exchanging it for his burden and remaining in the presence of God.
Lord let us not avoid the heaviness of bringing our burdens to the cross. Let us not be cast from your presence, but acknowledge the grace of the season to run to the place of rest and freedom you provide.