Jesus contrasts his teaching to the teachings of the Pharisees here. The yoke (teachings) of the Pharisees was heavy and burdensome. They heaped laws upon laws in an attempt to become acceptable to God for themselves, and to help others become acceptable to God also. Paul, in Romans 10:3, summarizes this for us very clearly. As Paul speaks about the motives, beliefs, and actions of the Pharisees he does so from at least two perspectives. First, Paul sees their error from the vantage point of his own past experience of being a Pharisee. Second, he sees even more clearly form the vantage point of being “moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:21 and 2 Pet 5:16) as he writes these words. Romans 10:3 says, “For (Christ-rejecting Jews) being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Here Paul points out these law-loving people are working hard to establish their own righteousness completely separate from Jesus Christ. What a burdensome thought!
The righteousness that Jesus established for us was accomplished by His active and passive obedience. By active obedience, I mean that He actively fulfilled the OT law through perfect sinless obedience. By passive obedience, I mean that He passively fulfilled the OT law’s demand for justice through His atoning death as the Lamb of God. Jesus’ finished work is called the “righteousness of God” by Paul in Romans here.
Consider the weightiness of that righteousness. The law-loving Pharisees were ignorantly condemning themselves through their own endless work of trying to establish their own righteousness. I say endless, because there is no possible way any law-loving person could establish the same righteousness as Jesus did with His sinless life and sacrificial death. Endless work indeed!
Jesus says, my yoke is easy an burden light. Take my yoke and I give you rest, he says. Rest. Rest from what? Rest from “going about trying to establish” your own righteousness. That is what’s so amazing about grace! By faith a person takes Jesus’ yoke upon themselves and receives the imputed righteousness of Christ by grace. All who come to Jesus are accepted by Jesus (John 6:37). That’s me! Is that you too?
Now all who believe in Jesus is at rest. Resting in Christ is the essence of the Christian religion. Romans 8:1 is so beautiful, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”, scripture declares. Amen. So then, my religious piety is not a burdensome work in order to become acceptable to God. Now, my religious piety is a happy response to the acceptance with God that I already enjoy because of Jesus.