READ : Philippians 2:8
Jesus Christ, as the only begotten Son of God, was totally obedient to His Father
“And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
Philippians 2:8 RSV
As you recall what you may have heard about Jesus Christ or read about Him, what stands out most in your mind? Is it His miraculous healing power, His giving the blind sight, making the lame walk, even raising the dead? Is it His sovereignty over the realm of nature, the way in which He ruled wind and waves by His mere word? Is it the authority with which He taught the truth or forgave sins? Or is it His marvelous love whereby He gave Himself completely for us?
Those are all deeply significant aspects of Jesus’ ministry. But there was something else about Him that lay behind all that, something uniquely characteristic of Him, something which we often overlook. Jesus Christ, as the only begotten Son of God, was totally obedient to His Father.
The apostle Paul celebrates this in his well-known words to the Philippian church in chapter 2. He is urging his friends there to adopt for themselves the mind, the outlook, the attitude of Jesus. Listen:
Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Notice the progression here, the steps, as it were, of this amazing descent. As the everlasting Son of the Father, He was in the form of God, equal with God, sharing the divine nature, but He did not look upon that divine glory as something to be clutched to Himself. Instead, He
took the form of a servant
submitted to be born as a man
became obedient unto death
even death on a cross
I’d like to think with you especially about this remarkable obedience. The word obey in the biblical languages is derived from the verb “to hear.” It means literally, “to hear under,” that is, to subject ourselves to what someone else says. To obey God, then, means to respond appropriately to His Word. We listen to what He says and act accordingly. We take His Word seriously. We believe it. We are persuaded by it, and then we do it. That is obedience: so listening to God that we act on what He says.
Now according to Jesus’ testimony in the gospels, that obedience to the Father’s word is the focus of His whole existence. It began even before He was born! Remember how He repeatedly claimed that He had been sent into this world? His stooping from heavenly glory to take on our humanness was not His idea. It was the Father’s will. Listen to Jesus: “I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true.” The Lord expressly denied that He had any independent purpose in visiting our planet. “I have come down from heaven,” He says, “not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me.” Think of it: the incarnation, the birth as a baby in Bethlehem, the Almighty Lord becoming a helpless child – all of that was an act of obedience.
Jesus was aware from His early years that He must be about His “Father’s business.” He prepared for that ministry, Luke tells us, by being obedient in the home to Mary and Joseph. Sometimes we tend to think that Jesus, being the Son of God incarnate, would surely obey the Father – almost automatically. But that is to forget that He became truly human. The New Testament pictures His obedience as something dynamic and increasing. As Paul puts it, “he became obedient.” The writer to the Hebrews can even say that He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. He learned to obey just as anyone else would, by practicing, by enduring, by hearkening over and over again to the Father’s word.
He was obedient in what He taught. Jesus describes His teaching as not His own but the Father’s. In other words, He never assumed independent authority in what He taught. He first listened to the Father and then spoke in the world. Hear how He expresses that:
My teaching is not mine but His who sent me. I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has given me commandment what to say and what to speak… What I say therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.
In all of His preaching and teaching, Jesus is the obedient Son. His words are the words of the Father.
He claims that also about His works. First, He watches the Father. Listen:
The Son can do nothing by himself; He can only do what He sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.
This is true not only in major undertakings but in the little things as well. “I always do,” claims Jesus, “what is pleasing to him.” He can pray with these words at the close of His ministry, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
TO THE DEATH
We find a special emphasis in the New Testament on Jesus’ obedience unto death. We don’t know exactly when it became clear to Him that He would suffer and die for His people. But it must have been quite early in His ministry. He hinted in many of His parables that rejection and death were ahead for Him. Remember how He spoke mysteriously of an approaching hour when He would depart from the world? When He finally set His face while in Galilee to go toward Jerusalem, He began to teach His disciples clearly about the cup that He would drink. Matthew writes that He began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed. At least by then, it had become perfectly clear to Jesus that His obedience to the Father would finally cost Him His life.
When the full horror of what that would mean invaded His consciousness in Gethsemane, He prayed, “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” Jesus didn’t want to die, didn’t welcome death. His whole being cried out against it. If there were some other way for the Father’s purpose to be accomplished, He would gladly have embraced it. But when it became clear to Him that the cup would not pass away, that He must drain it to the dregs, then He chose to die, “Not my will but thine be done. No man takes my life from me,” He said. “I lay it down of myself.”
This is what the apostle Paul marvels at. The Lord of glory, to whom all worlds belong, having shared our life, became obedient unto death.
But the wonder of it doesn’t stop there. Struck with awe, Paul adds, “even death on a cross.” Strange plan of the Father this: that the Son shall not only die but be crucified. Crucifixion was death by torture, by slow, agonizing degrees. Crucifixion was the horror of the Roman world, a death reserved for slaves, traitors, and only the vilest of criminals. Crucifixion was a death associated with a divine condemnation. The fearful word of the Old Testament was “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
Can you imagine the Father of mercies willing that, ordaining that, for His beloved Son? Can you imagine the Son looking that destiny in the face and saying, “Yes, not my will, Father, but thine be done. Let it be to me according to your word.” But that’s the way it was. When Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished,” He had been obedient throughout His ministry. He had been obedient unto death. Yes, even to death on a cross. And after that, just before He died, with utter trust and surrender, He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES
What difference does it make that He did that? Listen to Paul:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Son who humbled Himself unspeakably is now highly exalted. The obedient Son is now the risen One, before whom all will bow. One day every person on earth will acknowledge that He, Jesus, is Lord of all. As the hymn writer puts it, “The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. Blessed be the name of the Lord. All majesty, power and dominion belong to the Lamb who was slain.” Second, it makes this difference: Christ has now become our salvation. Why the Father’s purpose? Why the Son’s obedience? It was all for us. God gave His Son because He so loved the world. Jesus loved us so much that He gave Himself for us. God sent His Son to die so that a great host of guilty ones might then live. Jesus carried our sins, bore our curse, died our death so that we might be forgiven and welcomed as God’s children. To the obedience of Jesus, in all that He did and all that He bore, we owe our one and only, all-sufficient hope of glory.
But there’s one thing more. Remember the setting in which these matchless words are placed. The apostle Paul points to Jesus, not only as the exalted Lord and the suffering Savior but also as our example, as the true man, as the One in whose steps we are to walk. We who believe are in Jesus Christ. We are joined to Him by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit of the obedient Son has come to dwell within our hearts and to make us over in the Lord’s image. In Christ we have not only a pattern for living but also a new power. As He obeyed the Father as a devoted Son, so are we to walk after Him, making it our great aim to do the will of God whatever the cost.
And even as Jesus forgot about Himself, emptied Himself, became a servant, poured out His life for those He loved, so each of us, writes the apostle, is to look not only to his or her own interests but also to the interests of others. So we are to do nothing out of selfishness or conceit but, rather, in humility to count others better than ourselves. The servant, as Jesus said, is not above his master. One of the richest fruits of Jesus’ supreme obedience on the Cross is His creation thereby of a new people, a people after His own heart, a people who follow Him all the way. Oh, let’s be among them – obedient servants of the obedient Son!
PRAYER: We praise You, Lord, that for our sakes You became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Help us to place our whole trust in what You have done for us and to follow You in the path of obedience. In Jesus’ name. Amen.