“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Ellen G. White makes an interesting comment on Matthew 11:28. She says, “The yoke and the cross are symbols representing the same thing—the giving up of the will to God.” Our High Calling, 100. Christ says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me … and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Here we find the yoke and the cross are symbols representing the same thing: the giving up of the will to God.
“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Taking the yoke and taking up the cross represent the same thing: entering into fellowship with Christ in His life of self-sacrifice and self-denial.
Now the question is, How in the world could that truth be called an easy yoke? Luke records the Savior’s words nearly the same as how Matthew wrote them but in Luke there is an additional word: “And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). The extra word is daily. That means every day. It means Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and each of the remaining days. It does not mean the first day of the month or once a year, but daily. The easy yoke then is not a life of ease. Let me make that clear. The easy yoke that Christ offers us is not a life of ease; it is a life of self-denial.
You may ask How could that be an easy yoke? That is one of the paradoxes of the Bible. It is a paradox but it is the truth. The fact is that this is not one of many ways to be free from worry and fear and anxiety, and useless burdens; it is the only way. Since sin entered this world there is no way to live a life free from the worries and the cares and the heavy burdens that afflict the people in life in general unless you accept the life that Jesus offers in fellowship with Him, and that is the life of the cross.
So Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). A life of ease? No. An easy yoke? Yes.
Now this is like many other things – it is known only by those who experience it. There are many things in life that way. Do you know what a watermelon tastes like? If you do it is because you have experienced it. If you have never tasted a watermelon you do not know what it tastes like. You may have read books, you may have studied seed catalogs, you may have looked at the pictures, you may have heard other people talk about its sweetness, but you do not know what it tastes like. So it is with this experience. The easy yoke that Jesus offers is understood and known only by those who experience it.
Few people really enter with Jesus into this easy life. The majority of the people in this world are not even interested in Christ’s yoke at all; they’re just carrying their own program, wanting to live their own life, do their own thing. But even among those who have chosen to follow Christ, few there are who enter fully into this experience. They are either afraid of the cross or they are afraid to trust themselves with Jesus.
In The Ministry of Healing, 480, 481, we find these inspiring words: “Many who profess to be Christ’s followers have an anxious, troubled heart because they are afraid to trust themselves with God. They do not make a complete surrender to Him, for they shrink from the consequences that such a surrender may involve. Unless they do make this surrender they cannot find peace.”
Here is a man who is trying to quit cigarettes and we say to him, Friend, why do you want to quit cigarettes? Well, I’m afraid I might get lung cancer. Or I’m afraid I might have a heart attack. Or I’m afraid I might get an ulcer of the stomach. A dozen other reasons could be given. But he says, it seems so hard to quit cigarettes. As far as a man’s feelings are concerned who, day by day, is in the grip of a cigarette habit, is it easier to quit or easier to go on? It’s easier to go on for most people and that is why most people do it. There are millions of people who would quit tonight if it wasn’t so hard. But tell me, is that the yoke of Christ? Is that what makes it hard? Why, no. The hard part is getting away from the yoke of sin, the yoke of slavery to that evil habit.
Christians who never smoked cigarettes do not feel that not smoking is a heavy burden. They do not feel sorry for themselves because they don’t smoke. It is not a burden or a load to carry – it is easy. But the poor fellow who is in the grip of the tobacco habit, tell him that, and he may say, Yes, I wish I had never started, but believe me, it’s hard to get out. Now Christ is willing to help him. But the way out is the way of self-denial. The way out is the way where the man by faith in Jesus chooses to say no to that craving. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and every selfish, sinful lust and craving. Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” There is no other way. Is it worth it?
Smoking cigarettes is just an example of a hundred things that are troubling people, things that keep people from having real peace, things people are hanging on to. Christians, you saints of God, what is it that is keeping you from having abundant life, abounding peace and joy in the Lord? The Holy Spirit will talk to your heart about it while using this example of the cigarette habit.
Now here’s our man. He’s been smoking three packs a day and he says, I do want to quit but this is so hard. I think I’ll cut down tomorrow to two and a half packs. I’ll try that for a week. If I can make it with that then I think I’ll try just two packs a day, and maybe a year from now I’ll be only smoking one cigarette a day and finally I’ll come to the day when I’ve smoked my last one. Is that a good program? Will it work?
My friends, don’t miss the next point. Even if this method would work, it is not the easiest way to overcome this habit but instead it is the painful way. Some people try to cut sin out of their lives a little at a time. So, they have to go through the pain and the agony and the struggle over and over and over and over again.
Your problem may be something else. When the Spirit of God begins to deal with your soul, when the pruning knife of God’s word is applied, do you cry out, Oh, would you take that out of my life? Why, I have a hard enough time as it is, and if you take that out, what will I do? I’ve got to have a few cigarettes or else I can’t live with myself and the family can’t live with me. I’ve got to have something. That is not the easy yoke, friends—that’s the hard way.
It is the same with every other sin, every other indulgence, every other form of turning away from Heaven’s best program. You apply it to your problems. Why not give yourself soul and body for life or death to Jesus to be everything, all for Him without any reserve of any kind? Put everything on the altar, not holding back anything, not trying to do it on the installment plan. Right now. Everything for God.
When you make that surrender you may not know all that it involves. Tomorrow or six months from now God may bring to your mind something that He wants to come out of your life that you don’t even know about today. But you’ve made the decision now and everything is on the altar. After all, Jesus gave everything for you so that you might be redeemed. The cross of Calvary represents a sacrifice made so that others may be redeemed. Jesus took that cross for you and as you take that cross for Him it means that you link up with Him in giving your life in service for others.
Concerning John the Baptist, Jesus said, “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). If a candle shines, it burns, and what happens to the candle? In Westminster Abbey where one of the saints of God lies buried is a candlestick, and the candle is burned clear down. There in the granite are chiseled these words: “Burned out.” Would you burn out for God? Would you give your life in service for Him? Or would you seek to consider your desires, your whims, your ambitions, your plans, your purposes, the things that please you? But somebody says, Didn’t you say that God wants to please us? Yes, hence the paradox. The only way you can ever be pleased yourself is to forget all about yourself.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it” (Luke 9:24). If you are just trying to look after your desires, your plans, what you like, you will never even satisfy yourself. But if you will forget about yourself, put your all on the altar and let Jesus link you in service with Him, taking His yoke, then you will find the real joy and meaning of life.
Paul did it. On the Damascus road he met Christ and from that moment on there was just one thing for him. He summed it all up in those immortal words, “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, first part). “For me to live is Christ.” That’s all I have to live for, just Jesus. If He wants me to suffer, if He sees that is the best way to advance His cause, that’s all right. If He wants me to die, that’s all right. When Paul appeared before Nero, that cruel monster on the throne of the world’s greatest empire, he wasn’t afraid. He knew that his life was on the altar and if the time had come for the sword to cut his head off, it was all right. He knew that his life was hid with Christ in God and that “When Christ who is our life, shall appear, he would appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Friends, a Christian cannot lose. “… to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, last part). This makes a Christian fearless.
One of the early Christian witnesses for God was taken before a Roman provincial governor. It was a time of persecution, and the governor said to this Christian, “Listen, if you don’t give up this Christian religion we are going to take all your goods.” He said, “I have no goods; I gave them all to Christ.” The governor looked at him and said, “If you don’t give this up we’ll take your life!” He said, “I have no life; I gave it all to Christ.”
Oh friends, what is your answer? Is there anything too precious to withhold from Jesus? It is this half and half business that makes people miserable. Too good for hell but not good enough for heaven. One hand with Christ, the other hand with the world and the devil. Why go that way?
Somebody says, Well, I don’t want to go to extremes. What do you mean, extremes? An extremist is someone who goes to the right or to the left farther than God said. You can never be an extremist doing what God said. If you try to do more than He said that’s being extreme. If you do what He says, there’s nothing extreme about that. That is what He expects. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
People talk about the middle of the road. The question is, Which road? There is a road that’s broad and leads to death and nearly everybody is going on it. The middle of that road will only take you to hell just like the right hand or the left of it will. There’s only one place to be in the middle of the road and that’s the narrow road and that road is just as wide as one man, the man Christ Jesus. The only way you can get extremes on that road is to get off the road. There’s a ditch on either side and that’s extremes. Do not worry about being an extremist if you just do what Jesus says. That will keep you busy. There’s plenty to do just to do what He says. You don’t have to invent things. We are warned not to invent crosses of our own. We’re not to deny ourselves of nourishing food. There’s no call to get off a comfortable bed and lie down on the floor or on spikes in order to prove we can take it. There are plenty of things that the devil would like to get us into to show that we are sacrificial, but Christ has not called for it.
“Many who profess to be Christ’s followers have an anxious, troubled heart because they are afraid to trust themselves with God. They do not make a complete surrender to Him, for they shrink from the consequences that such a surrender may involve. Unless they do make this surrender they cannot find peace.” The Ministry of Healing, 480, 481.
I said to somebody one day, “Will you do something for me?” They responded, “That depends on what it is.” That’s all right to treat me that way but that is not the way to treat God. I might make a mistake. I might ask you to do something you couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. But when God says, Will you do something for Me, there is only one right answer — YES. God appreciates that.
“There are many whose hearts are aching under a load of care because they seek to reach the world’s standard. They have chosen its service, accepted its perplexities, adopted its customs. Thus their character is marred and their life made a weariness. The continual worry is wearing out the life forces.” Ibid., 481.
The family next door just got a boat. Well, I better get a boat too. If they have a boat, then we’ve got to get a boat. People up at the corner, they just bought a brand new car. They already have two others but now they have another one. Daddy had better get busy. Somebody had better get busy. Mother may have to go out and work, take a job along with Father to bring in more money to keep up with the neighbors. There are a thousand variations on that same tune. There are a thousand ways to wear your life out just by trying to keep up with what other people are doing.
Take the matter of dress. The idolatry of dress is costing the professed people of God millions of dollars every year – millions of dollars – and at the Judgment somebody will have to give an account. Somebody starts some new fad and the daughters and sons of Zion have to follow along. Some follow right up close; some follow at a respectable distance. But oh to be so linked with Jesus that we don’t have to spend time and money with the shifting fashions, some of which are immodest, some of which are positively indecent, some simply vain, shallow, and unnatural. That is not the way to wear the yoke of Christ. It will wear you out. The men and women who plan the fashions are in it for money and money demands a change of model frequently. The automobile folks know that. So, no matter how bad a fashion is, that fashion won’t last. No matter how good a style may be, it won’t last always, if the fashion makers can have their way. And back of the fashion makers is the devil.
What is the devil trying to do with fashion? He is trying to promote immodesty, indecency, and immorality. He has succeeded. He is trying to promote disease by bringing in all kinds of unhealthful fashions. He is trying to promote vanity and pride. People show themselves off like vain peacocks. They do all kinds of things from the hair on their head to the shoes on their feet just to show off. But underneath it all there is another purpose of the enemy. He wants to wear people out. He wants their minds to be filled with “What shall we eat?” or, “What shall we drink?” or “Wherewithal shall we be clothed” (Matthew 6:31)? Jesus advises that we study the lilies of the field. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; … even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28, 29).
If you want the yoke of Christ, which is easy, do not study the fashion plates of this world. Do not try to keep up with Paris or New York or Hollywood or anything else. Try to keep up with Jesus. This doesn’t mean being sloppy; it doesn’t mean being careless. For Christ’s sake, whose witnesses we are, we should seek to make the best of our appearance but that doesn’t take a lot of wearing toil. It doesn’t take a lot of unnecessary expenditure either of money or of time or of thought. Natural simplicity is the way of true beauty. It is the easy yoke that Christ is talking about. So it is with every other phase of life.
Take the matter of food—how people today are spending money and time and thought to create some new sensation to tempt the appetite. Why? Not because they are hungry. Their appetites have been so perverted that they do not know what natural hunger is. Many of them eat all day and into the night. They come to the table with very little genuine appetite so somebody has to be busy thinking up concoctions, all sorts of things to tempt the appetite. This calls for time and money and thought that could be devoted to something better. And again, as on dress, so on diet, the answer is not to be sloppy and slovenly. Just throw the food on the table and let people eat like the cattle from the manger. No, no. God wants us to present the food in a beautiful and attractive way. This reminds me of the Eden that was and the Eden that is to be. And the food that God gave our first parents is still the most delicious, the most palatable and the most nutritious. Do you notice, friends, that the nearer we get to that program, the more time and thought we have to devote to the spiritual side of life? The food itself contributes to that and it doesn’t call for those hours and hours of toil in preparation that the worldly program does.
Someone may say, today we don’t have to spend much time in preparation. We just run down and buy these TV dinners and just sit at the TV and eat. Mother doesn’t have to cook. I believe that is also a heavy yoke.
What was that word Luke used in Luke 9:23? Daily. What a wonderful experience it can be to be alone with God to settle this question. All on the altar. He has got a blessing for you in fellowship with Him. He wants you to be all alone when you enter into this because He has some things to tell you He won’t tell anyone else. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant” (Psalm 25:14).
Lord, tell us what to cut out of our lives so that we’ll have more time, more money, more thought, more love for the things that are worth the most. Teach us how to sense our privileges, to lay aside the yokes of bondage, to accept Thy yoke which is easy and Thy burden which is light.
Elder W.D. Frazee studied the Medical Missionary Course at the College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, California. He was called to Utah as a gospel medical evangelist. During the Great Depression, when the church could not afford to hire any assistants, Elder Frazee began inviting professionals to join him as volunteers. This began a faith ministry that would become the foundation for the establishment of the Wildwood Medical Missionary Institute in 1942. He believed that each person is unique, specially designed by the Lord, of infinite value, and has a special place and mission in this world which only he can fill. His life followed this principle and he encouraged others to do the same.