With the new academic year now properly launched, many young people have headed off to various colleges and universities, some of them for the first time.
Many months ago they received numerous prospectuses and brochures and weighed the various options. Many factors entered into their decisions about where to study, not least of which were the content of the courses and the characters of the teachers.
But, whatever school they chose, I’m sure every Christian pastor and parent wants their young people enrolled in Christ’s school before any other.
Why Christ’s school? Well, consider the content of the course and the character of the teacher.
The content of the course is easy. In Matthew 11:28-30, Christ was prospecting for pupils. He said, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn of me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.
The yoke was an agricultural implement, frequently used as a metaphor for submission – sometimes political, sometimes religious, and sometimes educational (as here). So Jesus is saying, ‘Put on this yoke of my teaching and learn in my school’.
Jesus’ school has many classrooms. In the history classroom we learn about momentous redemptive events. In the geography class, the wonders of the world and the capitals of great nations fade in importance as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Gethsemane and Golgotha take centre stage.
In fact the geography of the next world – heaven and hell – is the most important module. In psychology, we study human nature and how the Holy Spirit regenerates and sanctifies it. In the music department we learn how to praise God with new songs. In language class, we learn the language of prayer.
In arithmetic, we find out how uncountable God’s mercies are. In physical education, we run the way of God’s commandments. In the law class, we are repeatedly taught two vital lessons: the law cannot save, but those who love God keep his commandments out of gratitude for salvation.
There is also a discipline department, where our loving father reluctantly chastises his erring pupils. This is one of the busiest classes, but also one of the most effective. And how does Jesus sum up this course? ‘Easy’.
Easy? How can Jesus say that such a course is easy?
Well, obviously, it’s not easy because it’s a shallow course of study. Far from it! Neither is it easy to the unsaved. To those outside looking in, it usually looks extremely difficult and unappealing.
But even for those who do enrol, it’s not easy at the beginning. At first, Christ’s yoke usually feels a bit uncomfortable. We have a lot of rough edges to be smoothed down and we have quite few adjustments to make until Christ’s teaching feels more fitting and comfortable.
When Jesus says his course is easy, he is not promising a life of health, wealth and prosperity. He is not saying that if you become a Christian, life is going to get a lot easier. His use of ‘easy’ is mainly true in comparison with other yokes.
Jesus looked out on the world and saw people under the painful yoke of sin, the monotonous yoke of Old Testament rituals, and the unbearably heavy yoke of thousands of man-made laws.
Seeing all this agony he cried, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.
But Christ’s yoke was not just comparatively easy. It was also easy because of new motivation in his pupils. When sinners join his school, they are no longer motivated by fear of punishment, but by love.
There is also a new power in them, the power of the Holy Spirit. And there is a new help. Christ does not offer a single yoke and say, ‘Learn on your own’. He hands us a double yoke, puts his neck under one side and says, ‘Come learn with me’.
New motivation, new power, new help; that can make everything so much easier.
Is this school beginning to appeal? Let me go on to speak of the teacher’s character.
The character of the teacher is ‘meek’.
Most college brochures describe the qualifications, abilities and achievements of their teachers. There are usually lots of letters after their names, lots of journals they have published in, lots of conferences they have spoken at, lots of books they have written – all this to impress and appeal to prospective students.
When you open the brochure for Christ’s school, you find but one teacher who boasts of but one qualification – ‘I am meek’.
Is that it? Well, he puts it another way also, ‘I am lowly in heart’. Well, that’s not really going to appeal to be the best and brightest, is it? Maybe it’s not meant to. As Christ looked out on the teachers of his day he saw arrogance and pride. The Greek philosophers and Jewish Pharisees were impatient and scornful of the simple. They belittled and intimidated the uneducated. Who can learn under such teachers?
I had a history teacher who humiliated anyone who got the wrong answer. I had a chemistry teacher who smirked and sniggered at my attempts to do chemical formulae. I had a woodwork teacher who threw tools across the classroom when he got angry. I had a math teacher whose vocabulary was seven grades too high.
I had a French teacher who scared me so much I could hardly squeak, ‘Je ne sais pas’. It was almost impossible to learn in such an environment (not that I was the model pupil either!).
But here is a teacher who is gentle, tender-hearted, kind, patient, approachable, persevering. He is not full of majesty and terror but full of grace and truth. He is not out to show-off or impress. He is ‘lowly in heart’ (alternative translation: ‘close to the ground’). What a beautiful character! That’s the kind of teacher I need.
Take the yoke
And every time the gospel is preached, Christ comes to enrol pupils. He’ll take PhDs, but he prefers the simple (Matthew 11:25). As you enter, close your mouth, open your ears and realize that you know nothing yet as you ought to know (1 Corinthians 8:2).
Submit your whole minds to Christ’s truth – the bits you understand and the bits you don’t; the bits you like and the bits you don’t; the bits you agree with and the bits you disagree with. The more you submit, the easier the yoke will be.
And remember this is all about getting ready for the final exam (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is a universal and compulsory exam. There are no exemptions, extensions, exceptions or excuses. There are no re-sits or appeals. And just as exams often influence the direction of your future life, so the direction and destiny of your future eternity depends on this exam.
If you have not started preparing for this exam, come to the only school which can guarantee 100 per cent success. The course is ‘easy’. The teacher is ‘meek’. And the tuition is free.
The author is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (www.puritanseminary.org)