Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! -Mark 7:1-9
The Pharisees laid a terrible burden on the people. The Pharisees listed 613 laws from the books of Moses. Their interpretations of those laws and application of those laws resulted in hundreds of other rules and regulations. The Pharisees believed that these interpretations and applications were “oral law” transmitted by Moses along with the written commandments.
Imagine the average, poor Israelite family, working sunup to sundown, just trying to keep food on the table. They went through life famished and exhausted. Yet the Pharisees would lay on their shoulders these hundreds of additional “oral laws” supposedly passed down from Moses. The reality was that the poor people had no hope of knowing, not to speak of keeping, all the rules and traditions of the Pharisees. How would they ever be right with God? How would they ever get to heaven?
Jesus opposed the traditions of the Pharisees. The traditions were, perhaps, not evil in themselves, but they were taught as the commandments of God and they were laid on the people as an obligation for salvation. That made them evil. Jesus shut down the Pharisees with his strong teaching, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
It is in this context that Jesus cries out to the people, “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.” -Matthew 11:28-30
So what was Jesus’ yoke? What was his burden? The yoke is one in which Jesus would pull and toil and work for the people. The burden was the perfect keeping of the law which Jesus did as substitute for the people. The yoke is easy, and the burden is light because Jesus, our Savior, has taken upon himself all the work of our salvation. He kept the law for us, He suffered the payment of sin on the cross, He rose again for salvation. What burden do we sinners have to carry? Love for Jesus, if you can call that a burden. What yoke do we have to work in? Faith in Jesus, if you can call that a yoke. Jesus came to free us from the demands of the law for salvation. He did not come to add to the burden of keeping new laws and traditions.
It is a wonderful thing to be free in Christ. Yes, we are still obligated to keep the ten commandments of God—– Not for salvation, for Christ has accomplished that. We keep the commandments purely out of love for God, knowing that keeping his commandments is pleasing in his sight. What work can you do for salvation that Christ hasn’t already done? What can you suffer in payment for your sin that Christ has not already suffered? What remains to be done for your salvation other than what Christ has done and sealed with the words from the cross, “It is finished!”
Look to God’s written Word alone for his commands, and accept no human rules or traditions as necessary for your salvation. Live, serve, worship, celebrate in your freedom in Christ.