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. (Matthew 11:29-30 NIV)
Jesus calls us to come and “learn” from Him. The Greek word for “learn” in this passage is mathete, and from it comes the word for “disciple,” which is mathetes. To be a disciple is to be one who learns. But what is it Jesus calls us to learn from Him? Gentleness and humility.
The Greek word for “gentle” here is praos and is often translated as “meek.” But meekness is not milquetoast. Far from it. It is not weakness but strength. It is, however, a strength that is patient and calm, the kind of strength befitting a king. In the Bible, it takes on the added meaning of being yielded to God.
In the beatitudes, the opening of the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And when He made His final entry into Jerusalem (which we remember on Palm Sunday), Jesus applied the words of the prophet Zechariah to Himself: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:5 NIV).
Indeed, the promised Messiah would be characterized by this kind of gentleness towards those who were willing. Isaiah prophesied concerning Him, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Is this weakness? Perhaps in one sense it is. But it is this very weakness that would be Messiah’s strength, for look at what it would accomplish, as Isaiah continues his prophesy: “He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth” (Isaiah 42:3-4).
Jesus also calls us to learn humility, for He is “humble in heart.” Often, the burden we must set aside is our own vanity or pride or arrogance. But Jesus is neither vain nor proud nor arrogant. He came to us as a servant. On the night of the Last Supper, He washed the feet of the disciples, saying, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Jesus came to give Himself, even to the point of giving His life. In the book of Philippians, Paul exhorts bickering believers with this profound portrayal of Jesus in His servant humility:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)Humility is not something Jesus put on when He became a man and then took off again when He was exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above every name. No, being humble in heart is part of who He is. Being a servant did not camouflage His divinity — it revealed it. It showed that God is, by His very nature, a servant.
The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3), and Jesus Himself said that those who have seen Him have seen the Father (John 14:9). So when Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble in heart,” we are seeing something that is not just true of Him in His humanity. It is true of Him in His divinity, and therefore true of the Father as well.
This gentleness, humility and servant heart are basic to the nature of God. For they manifest love, and John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). It is this nature that caused the Lord Jesus to pour Himself out, to become a human being and submit to a terrible death on the cross for our sake.
It is these God-like qualities that we are invited to come and learn from the one who lives them most deeply. And it is in taking up this yoke of His that we will find rest and restoration in our lives. For the yoke of gentleness is kind and good to us, and the burden of humility is not heavy but light — and it is the Lord Jesus who bears them.
See also Divine Humility, Divine Greatness and The Humble God-Man Exalted with the Highest Glory.