Why’d He Do It? Obedience.

(Please read HEBREWS 5:7-10 in your favorite Bible version.  I quote from the NIV.)

Jesus surrendered His life on the cross because He was obedient to the will of the Father.

In a recent interview, Dr. Robert Jefress was asked why he wrote his book, Not All Roads Lead to Heaven, he replied;

“A recent Pew Study revealed that 70% of Americans with a religious affiliation say that many religions lead to eternal life. Some people might think that ‘surely the statistics among evangelical Christians is different.’ Not by much. A 2008 poll of 35,000 Americans revealed that 57% of Evangelical church attenders believe that many religions lead to eternal life.

“I’ve written Not All Roads Lead to Heaven to help Christians understand why this foundational belief of Christianity is so important, and to equip believers to share this truth in a compelling, but compassionate way. If we as Christians waffle and waver on this foundational belief, then we have absolutely no message to share with a lost world.

“Think about this. If the universalists are correct in saying that everyone is going to be in heaven regardless of what they believe, or the pluralists are correct that all religions lead to the same god, then the horrific death of Jesus Christ was completely unnecessary. The only reason Christ submitted himself to the horrendous experience of bearing the sins of the entire world is because his death provided the only way for reconciliation with God.”

<Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2016/02/not-all-roads-lead-to-heaven-an-interview-with-robert-jeffress/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief on 2/26/16.>

We shouldn’t think of this as something remote or academic.  Just this week I received a fund-raising letter from one of our American Baptist-related institutions, a seminary in Kansas.  This letter spoke approvingly of condolence offered to a student of the seminary that he would see his Muslim grandfather in heaven.  What is better – no hope, small hope, or a false hope?  I have contacted the seminary on the chance that I misunderstood the letter, but have so far not received a reply.

When the Church fails to obey the word of God, when we deliberately ignore the parts that make us politically incorrect, what hope do we have to offer the world?  Especially in this Lenten season of repentance, what purpose can repentance serve if all people go to heaven, regardless of their beliefs or deeds?

  1. Jesus lived a fully human life (7).

One of the places where the Gospel writers show the human side of Jesus’ life is in the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus’ struggle with His impending death was so intense that he sweated drops of blood (see Luke 22:44). This dramatic scene does not diminish the divine side of Jesus’ nature, it establishes the human side.  Even if we’ve never felt anything this intensely, we’ve all had strong feelings which should have lead us to intense prayer.

When you read what Paul wrote in verse seven, you get the sense that Gethsemane wasn’t the only time Jesus struggled with what God had planned.  This is implied in the fact that every noun in this verse is plural.  Gethsemane may have been the most intense time of struggle or the only time recorded in the Gospels.

At Bible study recently we talked about Jesus’ forty-day trial and temptation.  Surely that was a time marked by strong emotions and fervent prayer as well.

Jesus prayed fervently, and God the Father heard His prayers, but Jesus was not saved from death.  Let’s be clear: there’s no such thing as “unanswered prayer.”  God hears His children’s prayers and answers them.  BUT He never promised to say “yes” to all of them.  Even to Jesus, God the Father said, “No.”  He may have added, “Your death is my will.  This way you’ll save billions.”

The key phrase is REVERENT SUBMISSION.  It explains why Jesus’ prayers were heard: He offered them in respect (REVERENT) and obedience (SUBMISSION) to the will of the Father.

  1. Like all humans, Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered (8).

ALTHOUGH HE WAS A SON refers to Jesus’ divine nature and His status as the Son of God. Even though He could’ve pressed His advantage as the Son of God, Jesus did not short-circuit the will of God the Father.  He did not pull rank to get extra privileges, but did just the opposite: He drained the cup of God’s wrath, paid the penalty for our sin, and endured all the suffering of the cross, before and during crucifixion.

The phrase HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE causes us a little concern because we understand the Bible to say that Jesus was never disobedient.  We find an example of the sinlessness of Jesus just a few verse from our text: Hebrews 4:15 says, FOR WE DO NOT HAVE A HIGH PRIEST UNABLE TO SYMPATHIZE WITH OUR WEAKNESSES, BUT WE HAVE ONE WHO HAS BEEN TEMPTED IN EVERY WAY, JUST AS WE ARE – YET WAS WITHOUT SIN.  These verses do not contradict one another, they make the same point we’ve already observed: they affirm the humanity of Jesus without diminishing His divinity.

This expression does not mean that obedience was previously unknown to Jesus and He picked it up just in time to be crucified.  HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE means Jesus practiced obedience in the same way we talk about a lawyer “practicing” law or a doctor “practicing” medicine.  He put obedience to work for our sake.

FROM WHAT HE SUFFERED is the usual method we learn things: personal experience. Jesus’ sufferings are not limited to what Jesus suffered in the two days of His arrest and crucifixion.  This verse inculdes His life-long learning, several experiences of suffering.  What did Jesus suffer?  All the things you and I do; the Gospels state that Jesus was sad, tired, hungry, thirsty, etc.  He lived a fully human life.

  1. As the Son of God, His sacrifice saved us (9-10).

In a way similar to LEARNED OBEDIENCE, the phrase ONCE MADE PERFECT can be confusing.  Being MADE PERFECT is not a statement of Jesus’ moral nature: He was sinless.  I refer you back to HBS 4:15, quoted earlier.  Instead, this expression is a statement of the realization of God’s plan.

The word PERFECT is used in the Bible to refer to things that are completed. Verse nine then, refers to the cross as the time of Jesus being made PERFECT in the sense that God’s plan was completed by His sacrifice.  One of Jesus’ last sayings on the cross was, “It is finished.”  He could have said, “It is perfected.”  This word refers to a functional, not moral perfection.

The author cites two effects of Jesus’ perfect obedience.  One, HE BECAME THE SOURCE OF SALVATION FOR ALL WHO OBEY HIM.  We don’t have space to go into a detailed explanation of this, let us just observe that Jesus’ death paid the death penalty that we deserved so we can have eternal life instead.

The qualifier: ALL WHO OBEY HIM.  Jesus saved those who obey Him, who follow His example of obedience and REVERENT SUBMISSION to the will of God the Father.  Salvation is freely offered to all, but is effective only to those who choose to receive it and demonstrate the sincerity of their choice by being obedient.

Two, it is written that HE…WAS DESIGNATED BY GOD TO BE HIGH PRIEST IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.  Melchizedek is a person in the Old Testament of some importance.  Abraham, the father of all God’s people, gave tithes to God as he worshiped with Melchizedek.  He is also such a mysterious figure that some people speculate he may have been Jesus, appearing to be a human being.

To the Jewish Christian reader of Paul’s time, these references to the HIGH PRIEST and MELCHIZEDEK would’ve been very important as it show continuity between the Old Covenant and New.  To us it has a symbolic importance because just as the HIGH PRIEST was the mediator between God and man, so is Christ our Mediator.

The Screwtape Letters is a book of fiction written by C.S. Lewis. In the guise of a senior devil, “Screwtape,” writing to his junior tempter nephew, the great Christian author explores ways the devil tempts and distracts human beings from following God.  In this brief section he reveals the strategy of turning people away from God by using little things, things that compromise one’s faith eventually, but individually do not amount to much.

“The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

<From Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis, retrieved from http://links.biblegateway.mkt4731.com/servlet/MailView?ms=NTA3ODYwMzES1&r=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&j=ODYzMjQ5NzAzS0&mt=1&rt=0 on 2/26/16.>

Today we’ve seen that one of the things that motivated Jesus to surrender His life on the cross was obedience to the will of God the Father.  Jesus was also obedient when He brought sight to the blind, fed thousands, and did all the other miracles and teachings.  Surely those things were more pleasant than the cross.  But Jesus was obedient in ALL things, not just the pleasant ones.

As we follow His example, how can we do any differently?  When we gloss over or deny the central truths of the Bible just to fit in or make ourselves more comfortable, are we not disobedient?  If we will follow only on the easy, obvious, inexpensive, and convenient path, we will very soon disobey God.  Let us follow the example of Jesus and perfect the will of God in our lives by remaining faithful throughout our days.

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Real Lovers

(Please read 1 John 4:19-5:5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV.)

Real love can be identified by three unmistakable qualities.

  1. The life a real lover is marked by love.

Our love originates in God’s love for us. Verse nineteen continues the thought began in verse eight: WHOEVER DOES NOT LOVE DOES NOT KNOW GOD, BECAUSE GOD IS LOVE.  Real love originated in God.  This means that we are to love in the way God has loved us; unconditionally and universally.

Love for one another is the “flip side” of loving God.  Love for God & for others is not divisible.  IF ANYONE SAYS (v. 20) is the Elder’s reference to the false teachers that have plagued the church. The falsehood of their teaching is exposed by their lack of love.

A genuine experience of God is always verified by a loving character.  In this way, love is a test for truth.  While they are separate commands, you can’t have one without the other.  If someone claims to love God, but hates (has no love) for their brother, then their claim is proven false: HE IS A LIAR, John wrote.

No one can really love God – who is spiritual and invisible – and have no love for their brother, who is physical and visible.  The opposite is also true: you can’t truly love others until you have God’s love in your heart.

Love is more than a feeling; it is a command.  As V. 21, whatever God commands is the ultimate necessity.  So when the false teachers claimed a personal experience of God as the authority of their teaching, their lack of love betrayed them as false.  WHOEVER LOVES GOD MUST ALSO LOVE HIS BROTHER is linked with Jesus’ love commands (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28; Luke 10:25-28).

Belief in Jesus is where real love starts.

Verse one set forth the doctrinal distinctive that separates real lovers from false ones: EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST.

– JESUS refers to the human side of our Savior’s nature. As per Christmas, He was born into our human family and lived a human life.

– CHRIST refers to the divine side of our Savior’s nature. He is God & man at t same time.

– Failing to believe one or the other or both disqualifies you as a real lover.

Those who affirm this faith are BORN OF GOD.  Jesus said that in order to be saved, a person must be born again.  Belief in Jesus as both God and man is the first step toward being born again.

  1. The life of a real lover is marked by obedience.

Loving others is demonstrated by obeying God.  We show our love for God by loving each other.

– This is true in a relational sense. When we worship together, part of

worship is fellowship; strengthening relationships.  When we serve together, part of service is fellowship; it unites us in a common cause.

– This is true in a spiritual sense. Being united in Christ, believers share the Holy Spirit who joins us to God and each other.  Paul wrote that we share the mind of Christ.  While this doesn’t seem to guarantee agreement on specifics, it guarantees a common purpose.

– This is true in a moral sense. As individuals & as a group, we aim to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.  God’s love deals with sin by forgiving it, not by making excuses for it.

Obedience is the way we express love for God.  To encourage us, the Elder adds, AND HIS COMMANDS ARE NOT BURDENSOME.  This is a point he made four times in the Gospel of John (14:15, 21, 23; 15:10) and two other times in his letters (1 John 2:3-5; 2 John 6).

This is true for at least three reasons:

– God has issued His commands to love out of love. Forgiveness and forbearance are implied.

– God has empowered our love by the Holy Spirit who illumines His word and motivates us.

– God has put us together with one another to educate, encourage, and share the work.

  1. The life of a real lover is marked by victory.

We were told in verse one how to be BORN OF GOD.  In verse four we’re told what happens to people who are BORN OF GOD: we overcome the world! In this letter, overcomers are identified by:

– Doing what is right (2:29).

– Avoiding what is wrong (3:9; 5:18).

– Loving one another (4:7).

In John 16:33 = “I HAVE TOLD YOU THESE THINGS, SO THAT IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE.  IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. BUT TAKE HEART! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.”  To John, the WORLD is the system of negativity and evil that has aligned itself against God.  The WORLD can be intimidating and/or tempting, but it has no power over people who are BORN OF GOD.  We’re no longer part of that system.

There’s nothing in us that make us overcomers; it is another act of grace on God’s part.  The way we access the VICTORY Jesus won is by FAITH.  In that sense, FAITH is the victory (v. 5).  The VICTORY is available only to HE WHO BELIEVES.  Only the people who have a right relationship with God share in Jesus’ VICTORY.   The VICTORY is based on a specific belief; ONLY HE WHO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD.

A central truth about Jesus Christ is that He is both God and man.  Those who affirm this truth have VICTORY over the WORLD.  This is essential because God said so, and because our salvation requires it.