St. Paul is an apostle of the Lord, called by the Lord himself to be his messenger and witness to the nations. Yet, in Paul’s letter to the Romans he says that he struggles with sin (Romans 7:14-25). This man who we look up to as a pillar of the New Testament Church still struggled with sin. He says that he knows the right thing to do, but he has trouble doing it. And he knows the wrong things to do, but he has trouble not doing them. He says that he is at war with himself, his spirit seeking the things of God but his fallen flesh pursuing sin.
So, you see that Paul, a saint of God and an apostle, still struggled with sin and was still pursued by evil, even though he was a faithful believer. It should not surprise you, then, that you and I still struggle with sin also. If Paul felt that he was at war with himself, you should not be surprised that you also often feel the same way. You are also saints of God and His witnesses on earth, yet you are still in this fallen world and so sin and evil are still crouching at your door, seeking to devour you (cf. Genesis 4:7). And at times you will fall into it, just as Paul did. And at times you will experience the fallen nature of this world as a sense of brokenness or alienation.
What are we to do? Who will deliver us from this body of death (cf. Romans 7:24)? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is Jesus who delivers us. Paul continues in chapter 8, saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1). You have forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Now, warfare is hard work, especially to be at war with yourself. It wears you down to struggle with sin, or feel that the world is broken and not as it should be, or contend with alienation from others in your life.
And yet, in a very real way, Jesus has already won this war for us and comes to us, offering rest. Through his death and resurrection he has reconciled you to God, to each other, and to creation. So, in Matthew 11:25-30, Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Now, a yoke is used to hook animals up to a plow, and the animals attached to the yoke go wherever the plowman directs them. Jesus’ statement concerning the yoke presupposes that we were already yoked to something. He’s removing our current yoke in order to join us to him, since his yoke is easy and his burden light.
How often do we view these verses as Jesus putting a yoke on our empty heads, without considering that we actually were already yoked to something. When we were conceived and born into this world, we were enslaved to sin and death and the devil, because we are fallen creatures. St. Paul speaks of this earlier in his epistle to the Romans. Another way to say it is that when we are born, we are yoked to the devil’s plow, because that is the yoke to which the sin of Adam and Eve hitched us. And where does the devil lead us? He leads us to eternal death, plowing furrows of sin and decay and disorder. The devil drives us with the frenzy of someone who does not seek the good of the yoked creatures, but only his own pleasure and ends.
But, God has freed and redeemed you from this domination. Through Jesus Christ, He has unyoked you from the devil’s yoke. But, what happens to animals who are unyoked? They may wander off, they may die, they may drift aimlessly, they may even be re-caught by their cruel master and re-yoked to his plow of death.
So, what does Christ do once he sets you free? He brings you to himself and yokes you to his plow. And you heard Christ say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He is as a kind plowman who plows with concern for those who are yoked to him. He leads you gently, with concern for you his creatures, and with a light burden. He guides you along the furrows he has surveyed, and you plow goodness and mercy in this world, because of your gracious plowman.
We often talk about how our good works flow from our faith. Maybe this image of the plow and the yoked creatures helps drive that image home. Those yoked to the plow go where their master leads them. So, you, as those who are yoked to Christ, go where he leads you. St. Paul says it in Ephesians, where he writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). You are Christ’s and therefore you walk in the paths which he has drawn out for you.
Yet, creatures on a plowman’s yoke sometimes stumble and sometimes stray. And so the plowman has to direct them back to their proper path. Likewise, you who Christ has yoked to himself, may stumble and stray. But, there is always Christ there with you, bringing you back to the proper path and then forgiving you.
And he corrects your path through the Law. God’s Law rebukes us. It reveals to us the sinners that we are. It shows us when we stray from God and from His holy will for our lives. It shows us when we are off the path that God wills for us. It shows us when we are not walking as we ought. And it also shows us the proper path.
And then the Gospel speaks God’s word of forgiveness through Christ. It says that although we are at war with sin, the devil, and our very own sinful flesh that Christ has already won this war for us. He has already won our independence from sin, death, the devil, and even our own fallen flesh which wars against us. And now we are yoked to Christ and where he is heading.
And where he is heading is eternal life with us and eternal peace from this warfare. His is the blood of the covenant spoken of in Zechariah, the one who sets us free and brings us to himself (Zechariah 9:9-12).
God himself has done all this for you. He brings you to faith in Christ and keeps you in faith. You heard St. Paul say it when I quoted from Ephesians: “… by grace you have been saved through faith… this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And you heard Jesus say the same thing in Matthew, that his Gospel is hidden from the wise and understanding and revealed to little children. The Gospel is not something that our fallen reason can find or fathom; it must be revealed to us, just like how fathers reveal truth to their children who cannot quite understand it, but take it on faith. You are the children of God to whom Christ has revealed God to you. You have been freed and brought to faith so that you may be Christ’s people; and he bears your burdens for you.
So, you can be sure that your salvation is certain. You don’t have to strive to earn it. You don’t have to struggle to defeat sin, death, the devil, and your own sinful flesh yourself. Christ has already done all this for you. He’s already delivered you, just as he delivered Paul and all the other saints of the Old and New Testament Church with whom we are joined because of Christ. That’s what it means to be the Church; you are Christ’s people, yoked to him and to each other, and walking in the paths in which he guides you. You are still sinners in this life and still at war with your own flesh and still stumble and fall at times, but Christ has already won the war and continually corrects and guides you.
The enemies of God’s good creation – sin, death, and the devil – are still lashing out at God’s people, but these are tantrums of desperation because they’ve already lost. Christ has won the war, and we await his glorious return when we will finally rest from the battle and receive our crowns of victory which he has won for us; and, we will no longer battle sin and no longer be at war with ourselves, but will be perfectly restored, along with the rest of creation. Christ has reconciled us to God, us to each other, us to creation, and us to ourselves as well. And when he returns this will be perfectly and fully completed. Amen.
(Image: By Carla leal121 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32649768 )