Locked in prison awaiting execution was not what John the Baptist had expected. It’s not that he minded spartan fare—he had been living in the desert off locusts and wild honey for years. But when a vocation like John’s is disrupted and replaced with weeks in dank, dark confinement it can cause a body to doubt.
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John directed his followers to inquire of Jesus.
Do you hear the confusion in John’s voice? From conception John had been set apart for a specific purpose: to fulfill an ancient prophecy to be “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’.” John understood it as a calling to prepare the people for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah by urging them to humble their hearts in repentance. But one too many calls to repentance had landed him in prison, and a niggling thought was pestering him: was Jesus not the Messiah? How could Messiah’s messenger end up here?
Jesus’ reply is equally thoughtful and combines both a warning and an invitation.
“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me,” He begins, and then finishes with “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus knew this was exactly what John the imprisoned needed to hear. John was feeling discouraged and maybe even on the verge of doubting. Things weren’t going well for him and in situations like his it is natural for feelings to begin to usurp conviction. Have you ever felt like John?
Jesus responds to John by encouraging him to face the facts—Jesus is the great Realist who knows the havoc our fears and delusions can wreak in our lives. In effect, Jesus is saying, ‘You are not in prison in spite of being my messenger—you are there because of me.’ Jesus’ work on earth paralleled a work in the unseen realm where righting a human wrong requires divine arbitration. The Apostle Paul would later describe this as “a struggle not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12).
Following Jesus is not about taking the easy way out; it’s about taking the true way to real life, which, He warns, won’t always appear attractive on the surface. It means choosing to ally ourselves with Jesus in a world where dark earthly authorities and evil spiritual forces will focus their power against anyone in Jesus’ service. Those who do not crumble under the assault, says Jesus, are blessed—are doing the right and reasonable thing in terms of eternity.
But He doesn’t stop there. It’s not just a warning that He gives; it’s also an invitation.
Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. He’s referring to the practice of harnessing beasts of burden together to allow them to pull a load more easily than one alone could have done. He’s saying that yes, those who ally themselves with Him will be—for a time—in the line of fire from earthly and spiritual forces opposed to Him, but He will make the burden bearable and even restful for our souls. It’s an oxymoron we find hard to conceive of until we actually choose to obey it. But it is a promise made by the One who would go on to bear the weight and burden of the guilt of all our trespasses against God—who rose from the grave that evil men and dark demons had hoped would swallow Him up and now stands at the Father’s side awaiting the right time to bring final justice to every created being.
“Come to me,” Jesus invites. Join my team; pull with me as I till the land and plant the seeds that will grow into an amazing harvest. Then join me feasting on the abundance that my hard labour will have produced.
So when (not if, but when) we feel tempted to fall away from our alignment with Jesus because we seem to be paying a higher price than we imagined and the turmoil we face is anything but restful, we are invited to quiet our soul and just come to Jesus. Even, come back, if we’ve strayed far. We’re not too far to turn our hearts back toward Him, find our rest in Him and learn from Him. Imagine a King and Master who calls Himself “gentle and humble in heart”—can you come to a God like that and trust Him to ultimately do right by you?
John the imprisoned Baptist did turn away from his doubts and rest in Jesus, as have untold other followers of Jesus through two millennia so far. Let’s heed the warning and accept the invitation to be part of the team of those who choose to be yoked with Jesus through thick and thin. Be assured we will find what our soul longs for. Rest.
(Photo Credit: Abdalian, Leon H.,[[File:Pair of oxen at the Clinton Fair.jpg|thumb|Pair of oxen at the Clinton Fair]]