Trinity Church York


Jesus' wonderful obedience

By Matthew Roberts, 25 Jan 2016

Yesterday William Allan preached for us on Philippians 2:1-11. If you missed it you can download it from our sermons page.

Will pointed us to the remarkable phrase Paul uses to describe what Jesus, the Son of God who had taken the form of a servant, that is, he had become a human being like us, did when he went to the cross. He ‘became obedient to the point of death.’ Will pointed out how that phrase could not really be used of any of us. We don’t die as an act of obedience, we die out of necessity; we can’t avoid it eventually! But something was going on in Jesus’ death which is all about obedience. Jesus died in obedience to his Father’s command.

Now, Jesus’ obedience is worth thinking about carefully. There are two aspects to it. The first is that it was a passive obedience; that is, that he accepted and allowed the terrible torments that were heaped upon him to be heaped upon him. He died voluntarily. He laid down his life. He allowed himself to be arrested, tried, mocked, whipped, nailed, left to die, pierced and buried (all the gospel accounts show this repeatedly; it is always Jesus, not his accusers or judges, who is really in control). More importantly, he allowed God the Father to pour out his wrath upon him, to forsake him, as the just penalty for the sins of many. He allowed himself to be cursed for us, to be counted as sin for us. That is how it is that our sins are forgiven, washed away through his blood.

But here is an important thing. Jesus’ obedient death does not, according to Philippians or the rest of the Bible, return us to a situation where we are simply ‘innocent’. It undoes the effects of our sins and remove the judgment due to them, but it does more than that. It doesn’t simply put us back in the garden of Eden, back to where Adam was. No, it does much more than that. Through the cross, we are not declared by God to be ‘innocent’ but ‘righteous’; that is, not declared simply never to have broken God’s law, but declared to have actively kept it. How so?

Because there is another aspect to Jesus’ obedience. It was an active obedience. In accepting the sufferings of the cross he was actively obeying the command of his Father. The Father had sent him to earth with a command to do this, to lay down his life, to offer himself as a sacrifice for his people, to bear the sins of many. So in passively allowing these things to be done to him, he was actively carrying out the great command which the Father had given him.

Which means that at the cross Jesus was not simply undoing what Adam did when he broke God’s command in the Garden of Eden, and brought ruin on all his descendants. He was also doing what Adam didn’t do: keeping the command God had given him. So Jesus, through his obedience, was not merely innocent but positively righteous. He had done all that God required of him.

That is why Philippians 2:9 begins with an amazing word: ‘therefore’. God exalted Jesus to reward him for his absolute, active obedience to God’s command. And the incredible truth of the gospel is that the risen Lord Jesus, reigning over all things, to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, shares his righteous status with us. That is what it means to be ‘justified’, one of the critical words in the Bible describing what Jesus has done for us. It means that we are declared by God not to be guilty, as we deserve, nor merely innocent, because our guilt has been taken away; but to be righteous, counted as those who have kept all of God’s laws and commandments. Not, of course, because we have; but because Jesus kept them for us.

That is why Jesus’ obedience is such a glorious truth, and why Christians never trust in their own obedience but in Jesus who was obedient for us. And that is why we must, now we have been declared righteous on account of his obedience, do all we can to look to other’s interests rather than our own, and obey God for the sake of others, not ourselves. Our Lord and master did no less for us.