By T.R. Robertson
In 2007 I travelled to Mexico on a mission trip with a group of college students. Our task that week was to complete several construction tasks for a small church in a rural village. I discovered that week just how soft I had allowed myself to become in the years since I moved to a desk job.
On our third day of construction work, a truck arrived with a load of bagged cement. Everyone lined up and took turns hoisting the heavy bags from the truck and carrying them to a pile on the ground.
As I took hold of a bag and hoisted it onto my shoulder, the difference between my 50 years and the young kids around me shouted out quite loudly. I staggered under the load and managed to crash my entire body onto the pile, whereupon I redirected myself to a chair nearby, where I rested and watched the rest of the job.
The Heavy Load
Sometimes the load is just too much for our shoulders.
Throughout their history, the people of Israel had been oppressed by one government after another.
God warned them what would happen if they insisted on having a king like the other nations. Through Samuel, he spelled out a long list of things a king would require of them and added, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18).
Romans 13:1-5 tells us that governments are assigned by God the task of commending those who do good and punishing wrongdoers. History has proven, though, that not all governments use godly definitions of good and evil, and sometimes the punishments are not evenly distributed or justly administered.
It’s no different in the modern world. There are good governments and bad governments, but even the good ones prove out the truth of God’s warning to the Israelites through Samuel. Kings and governments always put burdens on their people because the nature of their business is to define—and thus restrict—freedoms. One person’s freedom can often result in a restriction for his neighbor.
Some people today long for, and even work toward, a theocracy of sorts—a government run by Christian principles. They seek a day when, as they see it, the government will truly be on the Messiah’s shoulders.
But is that really what God was promising in Isaiah 9?
For Unto Us a Child Is Born
In Isaiah 9 the prophet echoes the words of Samuel, promising that God would shatter the burdensome yoke of the oppressors. He promised this would happen through a child yet to be born, the Son of God.
Isaiah lists several ways the coming Messiah, the Christ, would relieve the oppression of kings and governments and return Israel (in the form of the church, which the New Testament identifies as God’s chosen people under the New Covenant) to God’s original plan of kingship.
He will be a “Wonderful Counselor,” advising and guiding the people of his kingdom. He will rule with power and authority as the one true “Mighty God.” He will lead us, his children, as our “Everlasting Father.” He will be the “Prince of Peace,” not a king of war.
But before he spells out those familiar titles and roles, he tells us “the government will be on his shoulders.”
This echoes what he said just verses before: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”
God’s plan was never to lead a revolution and replace the governments and kings that rule over us. The people at the time of Christ—both his followers and enemies—were convinced that was the promised task of the Messiah; but Jesus confounded them all, refusing to lead an insurrection.
Instead, he offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice. He allowed himself to be arrested, falsely convicted, beaten, reviled, and killed by the government, forced to carry his cross on his own shoulders.
But then he rose from the grave, defeating death and shattering the power and yoke of any human government or institution to control or restrict the freedom of his people.
And now he intercedes for us, taking that government yoke, that burden, that rod of oppression, upon his own shoulders.
Christians throughout the centuries who understood this Messianic role have been victorious in spite of the governments that have tried to keep them under control.
Corrie ten Boom and her family were the hands and feet of the Messiah, bearing the burdens of the Jews they hid from the Nazi occupiers, until they were found out. Even in the concentration camp, she spent her time taking part in God’s work of burden bearing.
Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned for his faith by the oppressive communist government in Romania. He spent those years putting down deeper roots of faith and offering what spiritual guidance he could to his fellow prisoners, bearing their burdens for the sake of Christ in any small way he could manage. After his release he took a lead in publicizing the continued government oppression and persecution of Christians throughout the world, through his Voice of the Martyrs ministry.
During the long decades of communist oppression in China, Christianity was outlawed and severely restricted. When the lid of oppression was lifted and the light of increased liberties began to shine behind the bamboo curtain, the world discovered that the church in China had not been crushed and killed under the weight of the regime’s disapproval. Instead, nurtured by faithful leaders who trusted Jesus to carry the government’s burdens on his shoulders, the church had grown to include tens of millions of believers.
Throughout history, government oppression has forced God’s people to deepen their faith, to trust in his shoulders to carry their burdens, and to bear the burdens of one another as yokefellows for Christ.
For those in today’s postmodern America who fear the decisions made by our own government, this historic truth is as powerful as it always has been. Be concerned, be active, and take advantage of the freedoms democracy provides. But above all, trust the one true King to bear your burdens, to hold your fears close, and to calm your panic and anxieties.
Political panic and paranoia from Christians doesn’t reflect a people who fully believe or trust in Isaiah’s prophecy. Why would we give in to the temptation to express our outrage to our neighbors about something that we, of all people, should know was predicted by the God of Israel?
Instead, we should be the ones who act as true yokefellows with Christ, doing everything we can to be Jesus’ hands and feet—and his shoulders—to relieve the burdens of those around us.
“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” (Matthew 11:28-30).
T.R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
Struggling with the Promised Ruler
The Old Testament promised a Messiah who would rule. Many Israelites were expecting a savior who’d take on the government and legislate peace for the people. The Christ they met seemed far different than that. Though he did indeed fulfill prophecy and come with power, it didn’t match the picture that many had been waiting for.
Modern Christians also often face a Christ who isn’t what they expected or hoped for. The biblical and modern-life realties of the Messiah aren’t what we pictured. He doesn’t exact justice in our time or way; he doesn’t tell us only the wonderful things about us, ignoring our sin; he doesn’t shy away from statements that can be downright offensive.
As Christians the tension between the Christ we want and the Christ we have can stir up disappointment, frustration, and guilt. We feel let down. We feel like God is less effective than he could be. We feel like we’re disappointing him because of our inability to accept him as he is. Those feelings are too much to carry alone.
Consider areas where you secretly or openly feel this tension. Acknowledge them to God. Repent, and ask God to help you bear the burden that comes from these expectations that seem unmet.