Death: The Acceptable Price of Obedience
As I set out to capture and summarize the concept of obedience from some of the richest passages in Scripture in a small, unworthy space, I know that I face a nearly impossible task. Entire books could be written on each of the passages that will be discussed, and many books have been written on the topic of obedience over the course of the last 2000 years. It is my hope to bring these passages together to paint a compelling case against the average follower of Christ today. A plethora of topics come into the forefront when discussing obedience so it is my prayer that the Spirit will now take control and give me greater understanding, enlightening my heart even as I write. My desire is that this exposition would be powerful, but I also know that there is no power in words alone. I cannot construct a compelling case apart from the Spirit moving on your heart. It is my prayer now that the Spirit will move on me as I write and will illuminate your eyes as you read.
Now, here begins this epic adventure. The story starts by rewinding in time back to the life of a man named Abraham. He was far from a perfect man as evidenced by many of his faults and mistakes listed in the book of Genesis. However, he was also a man of unparalleled faith. In fat, there may be no better Scriptural example of faith than Abraham. He is given the largest portion in Hebrews 11, which is a documentation of the incredible faith of many characters in the Bible. Yet we hear the story of Abraham over and over again growing up in church and Sunday school that we fail to recognize that these were actual events. I must admit that I have not begun to recognize the gravity of his decisions for obedience until very recently. Abraham made up His mind to be obedient to God; there was no price that he was unwilling to pay for obedience.
Have you placed a maximum price on your obedience?
Do you find yourself negotiating over God about acceptable prices?
Have you decided that there are things that you simply cannot and will not forfeit in this life in order to follow God wherever He leads?
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself receivedability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as deadat that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
We see from the account here in Hebrews 11, that Abraham’s obedience directly correlated to his faith. Faith and obedience are interchangeable terms. Faith in God produces for the believer a hope beyond all comparison. Faith takes God at His word, what He has promised, and acts in obedience accordingly. When, through Christ, we put our faith in God, the only proper, worshipful response is obedience. Abraham put complete faith in this personal God that had revealed Himself and given Him promises of blessings He could not fathom. When God spoke or commanded, Abraham moved.
When God called Abraham to leave his home and family, Abraham packed up everything and went.
By faith he and Sarah conceived a child well past childbearing age.
Over and over, when God called, Abraham moved.
He did not hesitate.
God promised Abraham that He would make Abraham into a great nation, and that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. The child, Isaac, given to he and Sarah was the heir of that promise. This was God’s ultimate promise of His plan for redemption. God would bring the Savior of the world, His Son, through the lineage of Abraham. In this way, Abraham would be the father of all those who came to believe. Here is where we turn to Abraham’s greatest example of obedience, a representation of our Savior’s obedience much further down the road.
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Imagine this situation. The child who was born to you when you ere 100 years old. Your lone heir through whom the entire world is to blessed. The one God promised to bless and build a nation out of. Lying on top of wood you chopped and an altar you built with your own hands. To be sacrificed to the very God of the promise. Imagine picking up the knife to kill your one and only son in order that you can burn his body in sacrifice to an unseen God. Why? Why would God ask Abraham to do such a thing? How could Abraham follow through with such a command?
The answer comes from Hebrews 11.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
Abraham realized that the promise he was living for and that God had given him went beyond this world. He was living for a different country, a land to call his own. There was no looking back to the old way of life or the comfort that he had come from. His decision was to follow God no matter where he would lead. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again when Abraham had obeyed. How could Abraham choose to disobey now? Instead Abraham chose to believe that God could raise his son from the dead. He knew that God would be true to his promise no matter what. Rather than entertaining even the idea of obedience, Abraham believed that God would grant life to his son.
Look back to the end of the passage in Genesis. God ultimately stops Abraham from killing Isaac, but He took Abraham to the edge. Isaac was the most precious thing in Abraham’s life, but Abraham refused even to withhold that from his God. He was willing to submit and surrender everything in order to follow.
As a result, God commended Abraham’s faith and gave Isaac back to him as a “type.” The Greek word translated “type” is the same word used for parable throughout the gospels. In saying this, the author was pointing to Abraham’s way of obedience and receiving back his son as an example of God’s sacrifice. Abraham’s tale foreshadows the obedience of Christ who is our ultimate example…
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Here Paul explains the attitude of Christ while commanding that this ought to also be our attitude. Jesus was willing to lay down everything to be obedient to the Father, even His own life. He submitted completely to the will of Father by becoming obedient to the gruesome death on the cross. He left His throne on high to enter the world in an unheralded fashion. He lived most of His life in relative obscurity as a carpenter’s son knowing all along that He was destined to die for the sins of the world. Yet the suffering He would experience and the separation He would suffer were minute in comparison to His desire for obedience. There was nothing that would stop Him from obeying the will of His Father.
But you say that Jesus was greater than us and it was far easier for Him to obedient than it is for us. Jesus was born of flesh. He was tempted in every way just as we are. Read these verses…
And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
Jesus wrestled heavily with what was being asked of Him. His sweat filled with bloods and poured to the ground from His body under the weight of the agony confronting Him. He longed for another way for His mission to be accomplished, but ultimately His words were “not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus obedience was unto death. He submitted His will and desire completely to the Father for the sake of the Father.
Our desire and drive for obedience. Our faith is so small. In Christ we are promised persecution, yet we lived relatively comfortable lives without fear of harm. Our lives are never threatened if we believe what we believe and as a result our faith remains stagnant. We set a maximum price on our obedience because there is nothing to force us into being obedient unto death. Should we not become obedient unto death? If Jesus is our standard do we not have a lot of work to do?
If we will truly follow Him we must die. We must die to our will and our desires in order to submit in obedience to the will of our Father who has promised a weight of glory beyond all comparison to those who follow and endure. We do not look enough like Christ. We are mastered and held captive by our worldly affections. It is time we wake up and follow the examples of Abraham and our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ. Anything short of the attitude that was in Christ is disobedience. Anything less and we find ourselves, once again, living for this world. We must realize that this life will bring scars if we truly follow. Where is your faith? Will you take Him at His word and follow wherever he may lead? Listen to the words of this poem by Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India, and allow them to convict you of incomplete surrender and failure to follow…
Hast Thou No Scar
by Amy Carmichael
Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?
We must ask for greater faith. We must learn to lay everything else down to obey. We must follow our Lord at any cost…