Jesus learning obedience as he suffers before our eyes

I’ve blogged about how we are called to take dominion over ourselves to better serve God. This process is what N,. T. Wright discusses in his book on Christian virtue. This is a calling that sin makes more difficult and more necessary, but it was true of the human race from our original creation before the fall. Jesus had to go through it as well.

John Murray wrote about this in terms of Jesus’ “climactic obedience.” I read this in his Collected Works and can’t find much about it on the internet. So I’m posting here what I remember:

First, Jesus goes through his ministry insisting that he must die:

From that time Jesus 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, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

He insists on it repeatedly, challenging others as to whether they can keep up with his calling:

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

And so he goes on, marching to Jerusalem to die. And then the hour before it is to happen, the full impact of what he is about to suffer hits him, and not one friend even will admit to what he is going through or stay awake with him. Here is Matthew’s testimony:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

And Luke likewise:

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to 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 knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Obviously Jesus was without sin. And just as obviously he was willing to go through whatever God put before him. But just as obviously he pleaded and begged for something that he knew God would not give him, as he himself had been predicting and promising for months or years now.

Not all obedience is the same. Knowing what you have to do next year is not the same as knowing what you have to do right now. And it takes adjustment. It takes dealing with your physical bodily reactions that you have to wrestle with to bring under your control. That visceral physical pain you feel sometimes when you are strongly tempted to sin. The pain in your gut. Jesus knows about that. He knows it better than you ever will.

And what happens? Jesus grows. Jesus learns obedience. John’s Gospel:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?

So Jesus, having prayed and prayed, is ready. He steps forward. He gets in the way and intervenes so that his disciples (who aren’t prepared for much of anything) don’t have to suffer. His old voice is back. The confidence rings out: “Shall I not drink..?” Duh. That’s what I’m here for.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5.8, 9).

OK, I should quit here, because anything more represents mission drift to this post, but I can’t.

I can’t help but think of Charles Hodge’s comment on First Corinthians 10.12. As I wrote last month, the fact that not everyone in the church is regenerate is good news in a way because…

First of all, it means that you can take God’s warnings against unbelief seriously. This is good news. Paul warns the Corinthians as a father reproves his children. This is how the elect persevere in faith.  As Charles Hodge wrote about one of these warnings in his commentary on First Corinthians:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (First Corinthians 10.12).

…There is perpetual danger of falling. No degree of progress we may have already made, no amount of privileges which we may have enjoyed, can justify the want of caution. Let him that thinketh he standeth, that is, let him who thinks himself secure. This may refer either to security of salvation, or against the power of temptation. The two are very different, and rest generally on different grounds. False security of salvation commonly rests on the ground of our belonging to a privileged body (the church), or to a privileged class (the elect). Both are equally fallacious. Neither the members of the church nor the elect can be saved unless they persevere in holiness; and they cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort. False security as to our power to resist temptation rests on an overweening self-confidence in our own strength. None are so liable to fall as they who, thinking themselves strong, heedlessly run into temptation (p. 181, Banner of Truth, emphasis added).

Watchfulness and effort. That is what Jesus asked of his disciples in the Garden.

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26.40-41).

Peter couldn’t do it. Why not? Because he didn’t believe he was frail. He had supreme confidence in his own perseverance.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

So there you have it. Peter is so confident he sleeps. The Son of God cries out to His Father for help. The Son perseveres and Peter falls.

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