How Did Jesus Obey?
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death... (Philippians 2:8)
Why would obedience lead to death?
What is obedience really? It must mean something different than the external, behavior-centered, appearance-maintaining kind of obedience that I grew up familiar with.
Death in our thinking is very often viewed in the religious perspective as a punishment. Because we think so pervasively in legal terms we assume that death is the punishment for disobedience. But this verse doesn't bear that out since Jesus never sinned. And I reject the notion that Jesus performed legal fiction by His death to appease an angry Father. That simply is part of the great lies and accusations of the deceiver. Yes, Jesus took the consequences of our sins upon Himself in His death. But consequences of sin are not imposed but rather are natural results of violations of natural principles of reality. The only arbitrary thing about Jesus' death was that it was unnatural – in other words, grace.
But I still query, what was it that Jesus obeyed that led Him to the point of death? There must be some clues that will reveal to me the dynamics of what really is going on here and how that might affect my own existence as I follow His example.
If I view this from a basis of assuming that God is a loving God rather than an appeasement demanding tyrant, then Christ's death takes on radically different implications. Rather than God punishing Jesus on the cross for our sins, the cross becomes a stunning revelation of the true character and nature of sin and sinners in contrast to a loving, perfect, compassionate God.
Peter provides some important insights as to what really was going on around the cross and the kind of obedience that caused Jesus to die.
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. Although he was abused, he never tried to get even. And when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he had faith in God, who judges fairly. (1 Peter 2:22-23)
The first sentence is a disclaimer of sorts emphatically stating that Jesus in no way was involved with sin that might cause Him induce upon Himself the wages of sin. In fact, this verse reveals something vitally important to remember about the nature of sin; that sin in essence is based on a false view of reality which is deception. We are born into a world and raised in it trained in many forms of deception. But Jesus never took upon Himself the deceived nature of humanity. He took upon Himself the weakened condition of humanity after 4,000 years of depreciation, but He never became contaminated with any of the deception that filled the world around Him.
If I apply this verse to the previous one above it may reveal to me that the obedience exposed in the life of Jesus had something to do with His attitudes toward those who disagreed with Him, those who hated and abused Him. Rather than defining obedience as believing certain doctrines or following some set of religious practices methodically, Jesus demonstrated obedience as a disposition that determined how He reacted under intense pressure.
When He was abused He did not try to get even. In other words, He didn't subscribe to the deceptive and counterfeit ideas about justice that infects all of our thinking here on earth. Jesus and the God He represents are not into settling scores, balancing imaginary scales, or getting even with those who offend them. All of the false notions and teachings about hell and even the blame God receives for many of the bad things happening in our lives now are based on unchallenged assumptions about what constitutes fairness, what composes real justice. But Jesus did not subscribe to these human assumptions about justice but instead put His trust fully in God to define fairness from His perspective.
In addition, Jesus was not intimidated or controlled by fear of pain. He did not enjoy pain any more than any of us do, but He did not allow fear of pain to change His attitudes or dictate His reactions toward others. He knew from the get-go that demonstrating the true character of God among sinners was going to involve far more pain and sorrow than any of us will ever be able to comprehend. But rather than allow fear of pain to sway Him, He rather set His focus on the joy that was ahead of Him and despised the shame rather than let it control Him.
So, what was the kind of obedience that caused the death of the Son of God?
It certainly was not a submission to the punishment of an angry deity venting His rage in order to release sinners from suffering in hell for eternity. That is a monstrous and demonic view of God that drives people away from Him rather than attracting them to Him with real love. Jesus did not come to appease God but to reveal God. And the ultimate revelation of God that Jesus came to expose was that God loves unconditionally with a love that cannot ever be suppressed or intimidated. It can be rejected and God will respect our free will in doing so, but we cannot do anything to change God's feelings and opinions about us through any amount of ill-treatment or malfunction on our part.
When an immovable object is confronted by an irresistible force, something cataclysmic will occur. Sin is an immovable mindset that controls all who are infected with it. Our sinful natures are incurable and unredeemable. The only solution for our sinful, selfish, fallen nature is for it to die and for us to receive a new divine nature from Jesus. But there is never really any possibility of converting a sinful heart; we really must have a new one. Therefore our fallen sinful nature is best represented as an immovable object and this was demonstrated in the actions and attitudes of those who abused Jesus and tortured Him as He was dying.
But God's love and grace is far greater than the sin which has deceived so many in this universe. God's passionate love is the irresistible force that will never be stopped even though for centuries it has been veiled and greatly obscured, partly to protect us from its lethal potential. For when love and resistance to love come into close proximity to each other there is always going to be death involved on one side or the other. Either the love will die or the resistance to love will have to die. This is a far more plausible explanation of what took place at the cross of Calvary.
Jesus was obedient in the sense that He remained true to His divine nature of perfect love and total trust in the goodness and fairness of His Father without the slightest wavering or deviation. Sinners and demons did everything possible to intimidate Jesus in His weakened humanity to react in self-defense, to display some attitude reflective of the counterfeit principles of false justice based on revenge. But no one could succeed in getting Jesus to flinch even for a moment, to blink or to cry 'uncle'. Love was the irresistible force that shattered the illusion of the immovable object of resistance and the universe was finally convinced that God's ways are right and Satan's assertions are without the slightest credibility. Now we have to grapple with the same evidence and experience the same transformation if we are to be made safe to live in the passionate presence of the Almighty.
Jesus was obedient in maintaining allegiance to the principles of truth as embodied in the character of God. This is often stated as keeping the Law. Jesus kept His focus entirely on His Father's love and fairness even when circumstances around Him insisted that it was not real. When all of His senses failed to vindicate His internal belief in the fairness of God and it felt intensely real that God must have forsaken Him, Jesus still clung to the truth about His Father and thus broke through the spell of Satan by exposing him as the greatest fraud ever.
How can I participate in this kind of obedience? I am keenly aware that with my fallen nature and my propensities to evil that I can never demonstrate the kind of selfless love and consistency that Jesus lived out. My only hope for this kind of obedience, an obedience of fierce loyalty to the innocence, fairness and trustworthiness of God, an obedience that is a perfect reflection of His true nature of love – my only hope to have such a transformation is for Jesus to implant His own divine nature within me and help me to die to my fallen, sinful nature each day.
Only Jesus can live the perfect life of a loving God because He was Himself part of that loving Godhead. As such He had an inside track on the Source of all love. Only Jesus could endure the intensity of the hatred, the intimidations, the threats of pain and all the other abuse designed to get Him to indulge in our kind of revenge. And only Jesus can accomplish bringing me around to becoming a similar reflection of God just as He reflected His Father's love while living here on earth as a man. Only by His abiding in me and I in Him can I ever hope to see the transformation needed to prepare me to live both in the fire of hatred and hostility from evil and also in the fiery presence of the passionate love of His Father.
When Peter says that there was no guile found in His mouth, he was referring to the fact that Jesus was totally free of all lies, both in His mind and in His heart. That is the only reason He was able to cling to and be sustained by His relationship with His Father to the very point of death. The death of Jesus was not so much a punishment as it was the natural result of living so close to antagonistic sinners while seeking to love them unconditionally. Sin is totally anti-love and God is totally anti-sin. Sin has deceived us into believing myriads of lies about God, but Jesus is in the business of exposing and replacing these lies both in our minds and in our hearts as we are willing. This is the process of salvation, of restoring us to our original design and function in order to live in heaven with Him.
If I want to participate in the kind of obedience that Jesus demonstrated, I have to become willing, by the transforming power of experiencing His grace and love in my own heart, to allow Him to live out the same kind of love through me in the face of similar resistance. As I allow God's kind of love and passion to rule in my own heart my life will elicit the same antagonism that Jesus encountered and the same pressure to live in the realm of deception. The truth alone can set me free from the tyranny of the lies of sin in my heart and life. And only the Godhead can accomplish this freedom in me as I choose to cooperate with Their plan to transform me back into their image and reflect Their glory.
True obedience is an attitude, a mindset, a loyalty and belief in the true goodness and fairness of God. The outward manifestations of obedience in words and behavior are merely symptoms of the internal beliefs cherished in the heart about what God is really like. This verse tells me that the secret of Jesus' obedience was His unshakable belief that God was just and fair even though all the evidence around Him seemed to deny that fact. And because He refused to change His opinion about His Father or be deceived by all the threats and intimidations to believe otherwise, His life was able to reveal the results of true obedience.
What was the fruit revealed in Jesus by His clinging to the truth about God in His heart? The outward manifestations of true heart obedience was the ability of Jesus to demonstrate the character of a God of perfect love under the most extreme circumstances calculated to produced the opposite effect in Him. And the only true obedience that will empower me to ever be able to live similarly under pressure from others is that same unshakable belief that God is good, fair and worthy of my trust no matter what others insist or how bad circumstances become. That can only happen as Jesus Himself lives within me by His Spirit and empowers me to live out the same love, following Jesus' example who allowed His Father to live in Him by the power of that same Spirit.