The Principle of Obedience

If you grew up in a home with several siblings, you can easily remember instances of sibling rivalry. It’s natural, isn’t it? Sometimes you were the victim, sometimes the instigator; but in all cases, there were sinful actions and sinful reactions. Even if you are an only child or have one sibling, you can likely remember some hurtful interactions with friends or cousins or maybe even parents. I have three brothers, two older and one younger. There were times when wars would take place. Sometimes they were verbal and periodically, they would become physical. As good or as stable as any of our homes are or were, the reality is, none of us grew up sinless. Even before we heard the word sin, we were sinning on a daily basis.

How many of you knew that Jesus grew up in a large family? Some traditions taught that Jesus was an only child, that His mother Mary didn’t have any more children. But in the gospel of Matthew, he records the names of four half-brothers: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. Then he speaks of “all his sisters” in chapter 13. The word “all” would seem to indicate at least three sisters. So Jesus grew up in a large family. I have a friend in Fort St. John who couldn’t have children so they adopted. After getting approved for adoption, she became pregnant as well. After having 6 more boys, they finally had a girl. Can you imagine what it must have been like with all those siblings? Can you imagine the poor guy who wanted to date the girl?

So when you think about Jesus’ family, there were probably a lot of interesting dynamics there. You can imagine there were probably a lot of issues with all of them except even amid all the chaos, Jesus did not sin. He never grew impatient, never acted in spite, never retaliated if something was done to Him. He was absolutely sinless in every respect, both in His nature and His behaviour.

We often look at the teenage years as the rebellious period in a person’s life. But for Jesus, the teenage years couldn’t have been that way. Jesus never, even in His mind, succumbed to the many temptations of adolescence such as pride, lust, envy or coveting. He was infinitely more than a model teenager. He was sinless.

As an adult, He faced the furious onslaught of Satan’s temptations in the desert and successfully withstood each one of them. Toward the end of His life in one of the many confrontations with His chief antagonists, the religious leaders, He could say, “I always do the will of my Father.” Everything was under the will of His Father – His will, His motives, His thoughts, everything! Even when Jesus asked the Pharisees if they could prove Him of sinning, they were left speechless.

There is an old story about a little boy who insisted on standing up on the pew during the church service. After several threats from his mother, she finally gave him the last time ultimatum. As he sat squirming in the pew, he whispered to his mother, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” I think a lot of us can identify with this little boy to some degree.

On more occasions than not, pushing the envelope when it comes to rules is something we often do. The reality is obedience is hard. There are times when our inward desires do not match our outward behaviour. It might be driving within the speed limit? It might be skiing within bounds? It might be in our relationships with one another? The reality is, even if we act properly on the outside, sin might be in our hearts.

But that was never the case with Jesus. His words would be that of Psalm 40:8, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” You could even say that Jesus not only desired to do God’s will, He also delighted in doing it. In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food… is to do the will of him who sent me.”

I think we understand that obedience that we don’t take delight in or enjoy isn’t perfect obedience. We know that with God, attitude matters. Yet that was the kind of obedience Jesus lived throughout His lifetime. Maybe that’s why at the beginning and near the end of His ministry a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” You can find that in Matthew 3:17 and 17:5. But what is the significance of Jesus’ obedience to us today?

In John 19:23, the apostle described Jesus’ undergarments as “seamless.” In many ways, that is how we should look at Jesus’ work on our behalf. As the old hymn puts it, “Jesus paid it all.” But to understand it, we need to break it down piece by piece. Each part of His birth, life, obedience, death and resurrection put together form the seamless work that brings us into a right relationship with God.

In recent years, people have focused, and rightly so, on the death and resurrection of Jesus. But in doing so, we have neglected the sinless life that Jesus lived. For many, the sinless life He lived was just seen as a prerequisite of His death. The truth is Jesus not only died for us, but He also lived for us. All that Jesus did in both His life and death, He did in our place as our substitute.

When it comes to obedience, two adjectives are often used to distinguish the two types. Those words are active and passive. You might be thinking, isn’t obedience just obedience? Why are their two types? Well, when you look at the Law, there are two parts to it. There are the commands or precepts which are to be fully obeyed and there are the penalties that are imposed for the least infraction of the commands.

What the Law of God is in Scripture is in essence a transcript of God’s own moral nature. It is the Law that was on Adam’s heart as part of being created in God’s image. It is the same Law that Paul said is still written on people’s hearts regardless of how obscured it maybe today. It is a universal law applicable to all people at all times. When Paul spoke about being under the law, he was talking about this law. Jesus was born under this law and obeyed it completely. He did what we could not do. Having a sinful nature prevented us from achieving this standard so He perfectly obeyed it. This was His active obedience to God’s Law.

It would be like having a professional driver do our road test for us. They would be able to follow all the rules and do all the required skills in your place. Your passing would be guaranteed.

But there was more to it than that. As our representative, He was not only obligated to obey the Law, he had to suffer its penalty for our violation of it. You see, sin occurred. There was a penalty that still had to be paid. This was part of the obligation He took on as part of the Father’s will. So firstly, He actively obeyed the Father’s will, the Law and then He passively obeyed the Father by suffering the consequences of our sin, our disobedience to the Law. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (10:10)

When we think about the suffering of Jesus, it is usually the moments leading up to His death that we focus on. The reality is, Jesus’ suffering began at the Incarnation when He laid aside His divine glory and assumed a human nature subject to the same physical weaknesses and infirmities we are exposed to.

Leith Anderson tells this story: Several years ago, I was visiting Manila and was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump. Tens of thousands of people make their homes on that dumpsite. They have constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food in other people’s garbage so they can have family meals. People have been born and raised on the garbage dump. They have had their families and died there without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing. But Americans/Canadians also live on that garbage dump. They are missionaries who have chosen to leave their own country to communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing, but not as amazing as the journey our Savior made from heaven to earth. The Son of God knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed from heaven to earth on a mission to save the human race.

Jesus was born into a poor family in a nation under the dominion of a foreign power. Being a sinless child in a sinful family probably meant He had to suffer at the hands of others. Scriptures say that during His three-plus years of ministry His brothers and sisters didn’t believe in Him and on one occasion, recorded in John 7, they even mocked Him. He was misunderstood, criticized and harassed by the Jewish religious leaders. In the words of Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” That was Jesus.

In Galatians 6:7, we find one of the most quoted verses in our culture today: “A man reaps what he sows.” It is usually associated with karma, that actions have consequences. In the Christian context it means, sin has consequences, both spiritual and temporal. But with Jesus, it was different. He didn’t sin, but He suffered the consequences of sin.

What happened was Jesus reaped what we have sown. His entire life was suffering obedience and obedient suffering. In the face of suffering Jesus was obedient and endured everything thrown against Him. His suffering reached its climax on the cross, but even before that, we see His perfect obedience amid the struggle when He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus acted as both our High Priest and sacrifice. In John 10, Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep… no one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” In a sense, Jesus was just as active on the cross as He was in His life leading up to it.

The major focus of biblical teaching on the work of Christ focuses on His death. That is because of the terrible damage that our sin did to our relationship with God. It violated His justice, stirred up His wrath and brought us under a curse. Now for many of us, this seems contrary to the picture of the loving God we see and hear about. But like a parent who is disappointed and upset when their child does something wrong, God feels the same when we sin. But instead of giving us the full punishment our sin deserved, He offered grace and forgiveness. But even though God’s forgiveness is there, it doesn’t negate how He sees sin and how it makes Him feel.

So in the end, our sin left us spiritually dead, in bondage to the Devil and under the dominion of sin. We were slaves and prisoners. There was no hope for us unless an intervention took place.

I’ve mentioned that Jesus lived and died in our place. As our representative, He took our place and lived a perfect life by obeying the Law of God and did it completely. We call that active obedience. Then He took our place on the cross and paid our liability in full. That is what is called passive obedience. What Jesus did meet every need we had. He assumed our obligation and our liability by obeying and suffering in our place.

But as I thought about that, it didn’t make sense to me? How can Jesus take my place, our place in both obeying God’s Law and suffering the consequences of it? How can the innocent suffer for the guilty? How can consistently disobedient people be treated as if they were perfectly obedient?

It all goes back to Adam. Adam was appointed as the legal representative of the human race. We suffered the consequences of his disobedience. So to redeem humanity, Jesus was appointed to be our legal representative and His actions freed those who put their trust in Him. That is the point Paul was making in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Theologians call this federal headship. That is why Christ’s death becomes beneficial for us. He was our representative so what He did fulfils what we could not do for ourselves. What Jesus did would have no benefit if He died as a private person.

Throughout Paul’s writings, he uses the expressions, “in Christ, in Him and in the Lord.” This is his way of referring to what is called our union with Christ. That means we are united in and with Christ both spiritually and legally. So when Jesus lived and died in our place, He did so as our representative, freeing us from the bondage and penalty of sin.

This is what Paul means when he says we have been crucified with Christ. We died with Him, were buried with Him and we were made spiritually alive with Him. And when the time comes, we will be united with Him at the Resurrection or sooner!

Look at how Scripture describes it:

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Romans 6:4-5, 10 – We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Ephesians 2:4-5 – But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

In other words, everything Jesus did in His life and death is effective for us because we are legally united with Him. When He lived a perfect life, we did. When He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin, we too died on the cross. And when the day comes, we too will experience the resurrection.

Adam’s actions led to charges against us and Jesus’ actions were a credit to us. I cannot underestimate how important it is for us to understand this truth. It is the foundation of our salvation. Today’s message is called the principle of obedience. You see Christ’s obedience led us from poverty to the abounding riches in Him. But it is only beneficial if we put our faith and trust in Him.

It is easy to look in the mirror and see all of our imperfections. It might be our hair or lack thereof? It might be our crooked teeth? It might be the zits and other skin issues we deal with. And when you look at your life, you probably notice some areas need adjusting too. Yet despite the imperfections and the sin, when God sees us, He sees Christ, our Perfection, our Righteousness, our Brother and our Saviour. So when God says to Jesus, “This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased,” He includes you in that warm embrace. Christ’s obedience resulted in when we fully grasp this truth, that in Christ we are children of God, we will experience all that God has for us.


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