Text: Acts 15:1-11

Key Verse: v.10, 11
Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

(no audio of today’s sermon)


human version
Picture provided by history.org

Let’s look at this yoke for a moment today.  We are going to be focusing on the word yoke – not yolk as in egg yolk.  A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that’s fastened over the necks of animals and is then attached to a plow or cart.  You can think of a yoke as a harness, a collar, a tether, or a hitch.  There are also different kinds of yoke as well.  There is the yoke for animals as defined above, but there are also human yokes.  The human yokes are also worn around the neck and also helps with the heavy lifting of things like water buckets.  There were also slave yokes which were forked wooden sticks that they used to tie slaves together in a line when they needed to transport the slaves. Yokes, we can conclude, are essentially controlling devices/mechanisms.  They, to the user, were more a burden than some helpful kind of tool to use.  They were devices that would weigh on its wearer and become a nuisance.  They were essentially putting a stranglehold on the wearer of the yoke. Why are we putting a stranglehold on each other?

The Message

In today’s text we get a chance to get some insight into the early stages of the Christian church. In the second chapter of Acts you get insight on the communal effort that was put forth by believers.  These folks were so happy and so high on their faith in Jesus Christ that they were willing to give up all they had.  They were excited to learn and the teachers were excited to teach Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection.  However, as with most things in this world, a certain group of men just had to have it their way.  They were looking to put a stranglehold on how somebody could be saved.  These men, in the very first verse of our text, were saying that the only way one could be saved was if the people were circumcised according to the custom/tradition of Moses.  Remember, it was only the men that would have been circumcised and this, as in their (Israel) days of old, would have represented their relationship with God.  This was a covenant made only between to the Israelites and God, and had absolutely nothing to do with the Gentiles (the rest of the world).  These men felt that the Gentiles should adopt Israel’s way or else they would not be saved.

This was something that both Paul and Barnabas argued greatly and brought forward to the council in Jerusalem.  Paul, especially Paul, was all about bringing Jesus’ saving gospel to the Gentiles and he was not going to let this stop the spread of the Gospel. At the council you will notice that there were some Pharisee believers that made up part of the council meeting.  These men not only agreed with the certain men of verse 1 but also felt that the Gentiles should adopt and keep the law of Moses.  The Law was of great importance to the Pharisees and they felt that it should have also been of great importance to the Gentiles.  However, the Law was only given to the nation of Israel and not to the Gentile world.  The Law, which was God’s law and not Moses’ law, was for Israel to keep and follow; which they did a poor job of doing by the way.

Peter stands up in during this council meeting to remind that they, the nation of Israel, had done a poor job of keeping the Law themselves.  Peter asks the question, “why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (v.10)”  You see this, in a way, were actions of hypocrites because they were ready to put believers under a way that the nation of Israel had not been able to follow since Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt! Peter’s question is, “if we could not do such a thing, why would we put a stranglehold on our fellow brothers to do such a thing?”

This was not a thing that they wanted all Gentiles to do, but only a thing that they wanted the Gentile believers to do.  These men wanted to control who could believe in God!  They (the nation of Israel) were used to having God all to themselves but now the mercy and the love of God had been revealed to all men.  They were ready to run believing in God like a boys club – a secret hand shake or a snip job of yourself, or your brother, or husband would have been needed for you to join that boys club.  They were really ready to keep such goodness away from others! Why do we do this? Why are we people like that?  Why do we go about putting yokes about the necks of each other?  Why do we go about putting yokes around the necks of our brothers, our sisters, our family, and our friends?  What is wrong with us?

If you go into our history, you will sadly see that the human history has been built on holding folks down.  Our history, even though there are really good moments, is a sad history full of holding ourselves back from reaching our full potential.  We go to war with each other over land and who controls the land.  We go to fight each other because, “they got something that we don’t have”.  We go to kill each other because, “that person don’t look like me and I’m afraid”.  People were literally enslaved in our history because that’s how nations and people proved they were greater than the other – truly sick stuff.  We had just had to be controlling.  We just had to be so belittling to people who were giving the same breath and breathing the same air.  You figured we would have grown and matured from the lessons that history taught us but many people will tell you that they still feel like a yoke is around their neck today.

Folks, myself included, feel like a system has been established to see a certain 1% of people succeed.  One of the greatest con jobs in history took place when they said that all men were created equal.  All men were certainly created equal but I have taken a look around at our society and it seems like it’s just a select few that live without a yoke about their necks.  They then spread their message of mass confusion which has confused many into putting yokes on the necks of those that they should be helping to succeed.  We are masters of putting yokes around the necks of each other.

A society has been created where folks feel like they are being held down, held back, and kept in check so that they cannot succeed.  We, the other 99% it seems, are the ones really hurting each other.  Look at how we treat those that work hard on their jobs.  Folks will come into their brand new job and be lazy on the job while letting others bust their butts – you have put a yoke about their necks.  Entrepreneurs trying to start up their businesses and we mock them for “still living out of momma’s basement” – you have put a yoke about their necks.  Our young women and men are off trying to get an education and we tell them they have to get loans or pay thousands and thousands of dollars just to get that education – a yoke has been put about their necks.  We tell our young children that by the time they are 18 they have to “get it” even though we know good and well that they are still nothing but children when they hit 18 and that this world is going to tear them apart – we put a yoke around their neck.  It, in my opinion, is pure nonsense and it is that kind of nonsense that we try to bring into the Church.

In the church, we have set up a system so that only the preacher can make the decisions, only the preacher can pray over the food, only the preacher can do all the teaching – the preacher has absolutely nothing to learn because the preacher is perfect.  We, inside of the body of Christ, have set up a system where there is little to no growth spiritually for others and that’s just not right!  We have created these positions of control, and we will man these positions for not simply years but for a life time!  Again, we are not about allow others to grow but we want to put the yoke about their neck and control what it is they can or cannot do.

How do we know what somebody gift is?  How is it that we can decide what somebody should or should not do?  There are many hypocrites within the body of the Church.  We will go about telling others what they should, how they should act, but the whole time we are living and doing a completely different thing.  The thought is that some of us try to live yoke free while quickly putting a yoke burden, we know cannot be handled, around the neck others.  We do the same exact thing to many nonbelievers who wish to join the Church.

Why is it that many people feel they have to act/be a certain way to be a Christian? Because, like the certain men and the Pharisees, we have established our ways of being a Christian.  During their day it was the Law and circumcision.  During our day it’s you can’t look a certain way, you can’t dress a certain way, you can’t drink a certain way, you can’t speak a certain way, you have to be at church every Sunday (like its a job), and you have to tithe every week (like its a membership club).  We have put yoke out there and the nonbelievers that would join, who aren’t foolish enough to put on such a yoke, turns around and walks away from Jesus.  We are essentially putting a yoke on who can or cannot be saved! We are holding people back from the goodness of our Savior.

Why are we so set on putting yokes on each other? Why are we so dead set on holding each other back?  Why do we hold each other back in the world?  I’m not so concerned about what we do in the world, but we still have to actually live in this world – why do we not want to see each other succeed?  I then look at the spiritual side of things and I absolutely cannot understand why we do not want to see a brother or sister in Christ grow!  I absolutely cannot understand why we try to hold folks back from believing in Jesus in their own faith.  Why are we so dead set on holding each other back from the goodness of the Lord?

How much better off could we be if we were to simply take off our brother’s and sister’s yokes?  How much better off could we be if we didn’t try to put a stranglehold on each other in the first place?  We brag about how far long we have come in the world, but I see a world that could have been even further along if we were not so hell bent on holding each other down.  There is just no telling how “advanced” this society could be if weren’t doing the things we do.  We need to remove the yokes and start to push each other and want to actually see each other succeed!  Let’s put our kids in a better position to succeed by really showing that education is the best thing – education in the world and a spiritual education!  We need to let go of the old traditional ways of thinking because not all of those ways were right.  Just because you may have been kicked out when you were 18 does not mean it is the right way for your kid – just for example.  Most importantly let’s let go of the hater/fearful mentality that we have – let’s motivate each other to do better.

We need to remove the yoke as well spiritually.  I love to see people grow in their faith and in their spirit – it is one of the most beautiful things to witness when you watch somebody grow spiritually.  See, I know where I was spiritually just six years ago but here I stand now speaking boldly and proudly thus said the Lord! Let’s encourage and lift up each other spiritually and give room for each other to grow spiritually.  We need to allow others to have their relationship with God because all of our relationship with the Lord is different.  Somebody else may talk to God a different way than you – that doesn’t make them wrong!  God is literally limitless.  God is fully capable of having a one on one relationship with everybody who professes faith in Him so don’t you dare hold somebody back because of how they communicate with God.  Paul says that those who are stronger in faith should teach those who may be weaker – we are to encourage their faith and allow their faith to grow! There is no one way, no one tongue to give the Lord praise.  It is Jesus who saves and not “our way of doing things” as the certain men and Pharisees needed to learn.

We hold on so dearly to the “old way of doing things” when we don’t realize that it could potentially be the old way that hurts a great many people.  We need to remove the yokes and allow folks to become comfortable in believing in the one true God and His only begotten Son.  If they come to worship and sit in the back during worship, why should it bother you if they are learning?  If they come in wearing whatever it is they are wearing, why should it bother you if they are learning thus said the Lord.

We as a people could grow significantly in the world and spiritually if we were to stop putting a stranglehold on each other!  We are masters at holding each other back – this must stop!  If we truly want to move forward, in faith and in the world, we must take off our brother’s yoke and leave it laying on the ground.  Take off your brother’s yoke! We can all be successful in the world. We can all be saved after this world.  Everybody has a right to heaven but if there is one yoke that cannot be removed is this – you must believe in Jesus to be saved.  That is a yoke that will never be taken off of the gates of heaven my friend.

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