This message is part of a series entitled, “God Tries His Children”. To see all of the messages in this series, please click here.
In the past two weeks we have discussed commitment and loyalty. Many might equate these two terms, but they are very different. Where both commitment and loyalty may call upon someone to sacrifice, functionally they are different activities. Commitment calls for a dedication to task or to a duty. It is a matter of a pledge. The pledge calls for us to set aside personal issues and drive in unity to complete an objective. In our armed forces, each man and woman swears to an oath that commits them to service for our country. Commitment is the attitude that one has to complete an obligation, engagement, action or responsibility.
Loyalty, our subject from last week, is not focused upon completing an activity, though that can be involved. No, loyalty is normally given to an object, not a concept. The definition actually reads, “firm and constant in one’s support for a person, one’s country, etc.”[i] In another definition, we find more generality but the same meaning, “the quality of being loyal to someone or something.”[ii] An individual committing to a concept or objective is far and away different from the loyalty demanded by a specific object, especially when that object is a person. Once again, we find the perfect example of this in our military. Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine may commit to serve in their respective service, but each one of them has a problem with one of their superiors, whether in their immediate command, the mid-level echelon, with their Commanding Officer, or even the President.
We found the first necessity in loyalty is a willing decision. We must contemplate and be decided in our mind. With a decision, comes the need to act. Action may be verbal, physical, or both. Loyalty, and the decision to be loyal, also means one must submit to needs, requests and desires. This takes loyalty to a greater level than commitment. Great demands are made upon individuals in their efforts and desires to remain loyal. People are often pressed and stretched past their personal comfort zones as demands are levied from the object of their loyalty. This leads to sacrifice on the part of the individual, in their efforts to fulfill their decision for loyalty. Loyalty does not waiver. It is not a “yes man” situation; in fact, loyalty requires one to encourage or even lovingly chasten another to promote the relationship. Loyalty demands honesty and steadfast dedication. Finally (and probably because of the overwhelming pressure loyalty can place upon someone), loyalty is rewarded. The Lord rewards loyalty in many different ways. The Christian strives for these rewards, the greatest of which is to hear a few simple words, “well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt 25:21, 23)
Today we come to an issue that results from either commitment or loyalty or both. One can obey without being loyal to an individual. One can obey without being committed to the whole concept. One can even obey without having either commitment or loyalty. However, obedience is required at a level to accomplish any task, mission, or project. The depth of obedience will indicate the level of commitment or loyalty.
We could simply open to Philippians 2:8 for this message. However, a much deeper understanding of this scripture is found in other places. We find the record of God tested in His obedience for our souls in three places: Matthew 26:38-39; Mark 14:37-38, 40-41; Luke 22:42-43. Philippians 2:8 tells us this is obedience. In these verses we find God’s commitment and His loyalty. As the Son, we see His obedience to the Father regardless the personal cost. We see the depth of strength and devotion perfect love requires. Love requires sacrifice. Because a wage has been earned, and God pays our wages (Rom 6:23a), His sacrifice is to take and spend them upon Himself. Perfect love provided a gift for all mankind – eternal life (Rom 6:23b). Today we look at tests of perfect, faithful, obedient love at all cost. These passages prove the love of God for man.
We have used Abraham’s sacrifice many times recently as an example for God’s testing. Consider Abraham under a new light with respect to testing. I read this the other day as part of my devotions:
“…Abraham interpreted God’s command to mean that he had to kill His son, and he could only leave this traditional belief behind through the pain of a tremendous ordeal. God could purify his faith in no other way. If we obey what God says according to our sincere belief, God will break us from those traditional beliefs that misrepresent Him. There are many such beliefs which must be removed…If the devil can hinder us from taking the supreme climb and getting rid of our wrong traditional beliefs about God, he will do so. But if we will stay true to God, God will take us through an ordeal that will serve to bring us into a better knowledge of Himself.
The great lesson to be learned from Abraham’s faith in God is that he was prepared to do anything for God. He was there to obey God no matter what contrary belief of his might be violated by his obedience. Abraham was not devoted to his own convictions or else he would have slain Isaac and said that the voice of the angel was actually the voice of the devil. That is the attitude of a fanatic. If you will remain true to God, God will lead you through every barrier and right to the inner chamber of the knowledge of himself. But you must always be willing to come to the point of giving up your own convictions and traditional beliefs.”[iii]
We have some tremendous examples in scripture of obedience and submission. None compares to our Savior: pure, unblemished God in Heaven, among perfection, absent from any temptation, foreign to any pain, disease or suffering, and wholly content. What an amazing existence we look forward to! He determined to walk among us (Matt 1:23). He left the perfection of Heaven and came to an existence of complete chaos and suffering. He left without experience of physical pain. His first exposure to this world was through physical childbirth in a cold, dark, smelly stable.
His sojourning was not without purpose. His death, burial and resurrection saved us from our sins. However, today we look at how Jesus emulated His own expectations for our obedience. We consider Him, in His humanity, struggling to submit to the Father. Though the spirit struggles horribly, it seems even more willing at times (compared to the body and emotions). The human part of Jesus struggles with what lies ahead. Jesus will be crucified. He will suffer the most horrid torture and death known to mankind. When we consider these truths, one aspect of it should be clear to us. Jesus did not only know what He was going to suffer. The false accusations, humiliation, scourging and crucifixion are only a part of the challenge for the Savior. He knew what everything was going to feel like when it happened. He is God. He knew who was guilty for every injustice. He is God. Above all, Jesus knew the exact moment His Father would have to abandon Him as the sins of the world arose from the depths of Hell to engulf His being. As He accepted complete responsibility and possession of man’s sins, he accepted complete responsibility for man’s rightful judgment. When we see the scene in Gethsemane, do not just consider the physical aspect of His request. It is more deeply felt in His spirit. Jesus, for the first time in all eternity, was truly going to face complete separation from God the Father. He never had in ages past, nor will He in eternity future have to face this moment.
We wonder why relationships are so important to people. God made us in His image and relationships were very important to Him. Jesus would be isolated between two whole worlds. All on Earth abandoned Him. All in Heaven judged and forsook Him. If you can imagine feeling no love or sensing no hope; if you can imagine looking into the darkest abyss of cold judgment and punishment possible, then you begin to glimpse Jesus’ suffering on the cross. On the cross, Jesus was physically tortured and spiritually tormented, as no man can ever understand. Through all these trials, even in the worst of times, Jesus remained obedient.
I. The Greatest Tests of Obedience Come at the Worst Times (Matt 26:38-39)
How do we know that Jesus knew what He faced in the next several hours? This question has encouraged theologians to see Christ’s full humanity over those who would deny it. Some of the greatest arguments for Jesus being the God-man (100% God and 100% man) are found in this passage and the others we will consider today. Jesus was exceeding sorrowful. He knew what lay before Him and knew it in every detail. Some dismiss the physical because of the emotional distress and spiritual death (“thanatos” is the word used for death in this verse, see study by clicking here) He would experience. He was cloaked with the sins of the whole world, from the beginning of time forward to the end of it. A sinless God who cannot be associated with sin would literally become sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus the God-man knew He would be torn from the presence of the Father. He also knew all those who claimed to love Him would eventually leave Him.
Jesus asked these few, most-dedicated disciples to “tarry here.” He knew He needed time alone with the Father, but He needed His loved ones on Earth to support Him too. Jesus asked that they remain nearby. He asked that they stay and support Him in prayer. He asked that they watch, be vigilant and not fall into sin. He asked those who claimed to love Him to be there for Him spiritually where they could not be there physically. Jesus just wanted to know He had someone because He knew He was losing everyone.
We see the first signs of complete distress as He fell on His face. This is our Savior crumpling to the ground under the weight of the task ahead of Him. The next few hours will be almost unbearable. I have heard more than one Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine tell me that waiting for the command to attack or the first moment of engagement was far worse than being in the thick of a fight. A man’s nerves can wreak havoc on him, and cause physical damage as the stress stretches out one’s emotions like a rubber band.
Our Lord begs for the one, longest lasting, most meaningful relationship He has ever known. Jesus calls to His Father. Many hearken back to childhood for parental protection, running back to hide in mother’s skirt or father’s strong arms. What greater comfort can anyone imagine than seeking the Father of Lights. Our Lord begs the God of Heaven, imploring that He might not have to suffer the future He knows is inevitable. Jesus knew what was going to happen. With the stress upon Him and understanding the ability for our psyche to influence physical pain, we see our Savior’s soul in great pain “even unto death.” We also find Him praying as if great drops of blood let from His brow (Lk 22:44). He experienced emotional and spiritual pain so great it felt as if it would kill Him. Life giving water poured out of His body in great drops and so drained His strength it was as if He were bleeding to death.
Ultimately the most resigned and willful individuals will return to the task, but still seek relief from the responsibility. “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” – our Lord makes His request to the Father three times. Please let this cup pass.
How often do we think about the other side of this equation? He also resigns Himself to the task three times. This is an encouragement to all of us. Even the God-man did not want to go through something horridly painful if He could at all help it. He not only asked to get out of the mess once, but repeatedly. Obedience does not mean you wholeheartedly desire torment or pain on behalf of the Lord. It is not at all sinful to ask to be relieved of the responsibility or the occasion. It is not even sinful to go back a few times and ask repeatedly. What is sinful is to refuse the responsibility when it is set before you. Sin would be when you do not take the actions you know are necessary, regardless of the personal pain they may cause. Our test of obedience is not that we want to suffer pain, or that we do not ask to forgo the suffering for God’s kingdom. Our test lies in the final action and submission. Will we go through with it regardless the personal cost to ourselves, even when we see plainly before us that it is going to be very painful and personally destructive? Like our Savior, our desire is to further the Father’s kingdom.
Those who are the most obedient recognize first their aversion to obedience – their own will. Ultimately, pure obedience results in understanding and submitting our will to the will of the authority placed over us. In Jesus’ case, He chose to submit Himself under the authority of the Father. He submitted wholly in body, mind and spirit.
We have considered the struggles within His spirit, through His emotions and the physical manifestations of His struggles. Now we find the greatest tests of obedience come when one is alone, isolated or companionless.
We might ask why the Lord seems so upset concerning His disciples at Gethsemane. Jesus was normally very understanding with them. It was late at night. Jesus asked them to watch, but He walked away from them. He actually prayed through the night after the Passover. Jesus prayed for an hour and came back to the disciples. He challenged them quite strongly asking them why they couldn’t stay awake, for even just an hour for Him? If they would not stay awake for Him, maybe they’d stay awake to protect themselves. Jesus asked them to pray for themselves to beware of temptation. Then He prayed another hour and came back and realized they would not even stay awake for themselves.
The fact is that the most serious tests of obedience come in personal isolation. This truth may develop great fear in many. However, God does not give the spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7). You may be around others when you find that wallet on the ground. You would not think twice about turning it into the authorities. True obedience is displayed in private, though. The test comes when you are alone and there is no visible accountability. In this case, isolation is forced and the cause is hostile. This is a situation where not only is no one around, but they have chosen to ostracize, even denigrate and publicly humiliate Jesus.
You may have friends and family who desert you. We will never feel as alone as Jesus felt though, because the Father isolated Him. The only time we might sense this feeling is before we know Christ. If we know Christ, we are never truly alone. Jesus will always be with us; He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). We also have the Holy Spirit in us. If we ever feel alone we should remember the Holy Spirit is in us and the Lord Jesus is with us. Tests of obedience for us should become a matter of understanding. We should understand God is testing our obedience but He is always with us. We will never suffer as Christ suffered. It may feel as though we are completely alone, but we are not. If Jesus can obey the Father in total isolation, we can obey God when we have the Holy Spirit and Jesus with us. We still have communion with the Father through the Son. Jesus lost all connection; He was truly alone.
Jesus died so we could have this peace. Jesus gave Himself so we would never be alone. Jesus was alone in Gethsemane so we would never be alone on Earth. That is the depth of His love. Jesus suffered total isolation so we would never have to. Jesus knows the pain of isolation. He was in Gethsemane and knew the complete isolation that was coming. He loves us too much to let any of us suffer that pain. If you find yourself facing a severe test of obedience, remember that Jesus promised to never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5). He is and will always be with you.
Though our Lord is all we need, He is not the only comfort. Jesus also employs His heavenly host to encourage us.
III. The Greatest Tests of Obedience Come with Heavenly Help (Luke 22:42)
Having considered the powerful emotional struggle our Lord suffered, they give us the evidence and surety to know His promises are true. He suffered vicariously so no one else would. He not only stays with us to encourage us, His Spirit encourages us. We are provided messengers to encourage us. Just as Jesus was encouraged in Gethsemane, Mary was encouraged by Gabriel, and Joseph was met by an angel. The Lord received comfort from the heavenly host. We have the Word of God, we have the Holy Spirit of God and we have the Son of God. We are grateful for these promises.
When faced with a seemingly insurmountable choice, to submit to God’s call or to fulfill our own will, we have many tools at our disposal. When we consider scripture and the Old Testament, we see men who failed in so many ways. We seldom consider they had none of the advantages we have today. There was very little of the canon of scripture written. The Lord had not yet sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus had not yet promised to be with us and He had not yet died on the cross at Calvary. Today we have far greater and more powerful tools at our disposal to encourage us and actually empower us.
In many ways, before Christ there were no tools available to fight off sin. Since the New Covenant in Christ we have many at our disposal. All we have to do is open the toolbox. Our biggest problem is we hardly ever take the toolbox off the shelf, let alone open it. It is there, it is loaded with wonderful things and everything inside the toolbox is calling out to you, vowing to help you in trying times.
We can take this one step further. With the promises in scripture, when we have fellowship with the Son of God, we have fellowship with one another. John wrote that in his first epistle, chapter one, verse three. Because of our mutual salvation in Christ, we are joined as a family in the body of Christ with all those who have gone before us. We are never alone.
Tests of obedience normally come at the worst possible time. You lose a loved one, you have lost your health, you are in a serious struggle with a church member or your church as a whole. Regardless, God tests our obedience and resolve in these times and we are strengthened through these trials. If tests were easy, there would be no reason for them.
The most severe tests occur in isolation, or seeming isolation. When you feel as though you have no one or nothing in this world; when you sense that emotionally you are empty; when you even feel God may have abandoned you, you may be tested. You may be viciously attacked, falsely accused and even prosecuted or persecuted for Christ. You may feel as though the suffering is just being heaped upon you. You may feel as though you will buckle and be crushed under the weight. We are tested in our obedience in these deep times of emptiness and in some of the most profound emotional pain or physical weakness. Those are the times when the greatest tests come about. These tests normally result in the greatest times of maturing and growth in faith in the Lord.
Finally, we must remember the wonderful heavenly support system God has developed for us. First, His Son indwells us and stands with us. He has been where we are and worse. Jesus has felt all the pain and suffering we might ever experience. He knows how you feel and has experienced the same emotional distress. Through all that, Jesus obeyed. Second, we have the Holy Spirit of God indwelling us. He knows our deepest sins and our worst temptations. He is not just an outsider, but deep inside, in the soul of man, guiding and directing. He is always there encouraging us to stay strong, submit, obey and be a better Kingdom saint, to be more like Jesus. Third, we have God’s word. It strengthens and encourages us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit use the Word to challenge us to obedience. We see Jesus, the perfect God-man, obeying through the most horrific trials. We also see King David, Solomon and others obeying God in many ways, and we are encouraged that we can obey as well. Further, angels are sent to encourage us. Others who love Christ come to tell us what a blessing we may have been in their lives, just when we need to hear how God is using us.
Ladies and gentlemen, we can face tests of obedience with full peace and confidence that our Savior is standing right with us (John 14:27). The thought of obedience should never be a test; it should always be the desire of the Christian. We know that we have many spiritual challenges that God must work out for us. We best serve God when we let Him work in and through us. That is our test of obedience.
[i] Catherine Soanes, ed., New Pocket Oxford English Dictionary, 9th ed. (Oxford Press: Oxford, 2001), 537.
[ii] Dictionary, Version 2.0.3 (51.5) Copyright 2005-2007 Apple Inc., All Rights reserved.
[iii] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, James Reimann ed. (Discovery House Pub: Grand Rapids, 1992), April 26.