One Man's Obedience
One of the most frustrating things about reading the Bible is how often people who have the power and opportunity to make everything so much better mess everything up. There has only ever been one time when everything went perfect and as planned. God created the and formed the world in six day and on the seventh day he rested. Everything was very good. The water stopped where it was supposed to, trees bore fruit, birds were chirping, Adam and Eve were naked. God walked with his people in Eden — this perfect Paradise and garden temple. They were to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. They were to rule over the animals and live forever. I don’t know about you, but living and working in a garden world to fill the world with God’s image and presence, living in harmony with God, with the animals, and with one another sounds awesome. Adam and Eve had power and opportunity to lay a great foundation for this cooperative project between God and humans.
But then Adam stood there and watched while a snake deceived his wife into eating fruit from the one tree God had withheld from them, and then he at the fruit too! They defiled this perfect, holy garden-sanctuary on the mountain of God. One sin and they were kicked from Paradise and from that moment on the world has been devoured by a curse. Before they left, God promised that the children of the snake and the children of the woman would fight. The snake would strike at their feet. But one day the children of woman would crush the head of the snake. And after that time, every single time a woman bore a child, there is always a little bit of hope and anticipation — maybe this will be the child who will crush the snake and lead us back into the garden.
But God declared that the bearing of children would come by great pain. And it is painful. Not only is the delivering babies super painful, the whole process is fraught with obstacles. Until the 20th century, moms and babies died all the time. But even without that risk, it is hard for many to get pregnant at all. But when there is life, there is opportunity.
Think about Moses, offspring of Abraham. God’s chosen people were enslaved, living out the curse doing never ending labor with no rest for the king of Egypt who had a snake on the crown on his head, but God calls Moses to lead Israel out of slavery into a land that is described like a well-watered garden paradise. The snake — Pharaoh — gets crushed. God sets his perfect, Garden-of-Eden-like presence among his people and they march to the land of promise. The people rebel against God, but Moses stays strong. He intercedes for the people time and again. He’s going to lead the people into the promised land. But then he cracks. The people wear him down, accuse him of leading them out there to die in the desert, and he loses it — turning God’s generous act of provision into an opportunity to take glory and vindicate his name. “Hear now, you rebels! Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” God immediately declares that Moses did not uphold God as holy before the people and he will not lead into the promised land. One sin and like that, Moses isn’t the snake-crusher to lead us back into Paradise.
Think about Solomon. God promised David he would cut off Israel’s enemies and plant them in their land and raise up a child after him who would reign forever. And when Solomon takes the throne after David, everything seems to go perfectly. The enemies have been subdued. The people of Israel are too many to be counted — as many as the sand by the sea, just as God had promised Abraham. Everyone had their own garden — sitting underneath their own vine and fig tree. Solomon ruled his people with divine wisdom to do justice and also wisdom about the natural world — he was the essence of someone who had subdued the earth and ruled over the animals. He knew all about trees, plants, beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish. He was like a new Adam. Peoples and kings of all nations from all over the earth came together to hear Solomon’s wisdom. Nations and kings also helped Solomon build a grand temple for the Lord in Jerusalem — God’s perfect presence and Paradise rested in a permanent structure among the people! The representation of Heaven’s throne was right there on earth and the people of Israel and of the nations could call out to God right there whenever they wanted.
When people like the Queen of Sheba came from great distances to Jerusalem to see if it was all really as good as she had heard, and it was. She was stunned. 1 Kings 10:7–9 (NLT-SE), “Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. How happy your people must be! What a privilege for your officials to stand here day after day, listening to your wisdom! Praise the LORD your God, who delights in you and has placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king so you can rule with justice and righteousness.” When you read this for the first time and everything slows down for 10 chapters and everything is almost perfect — you are thinking, “This is amazing. It’s done. Solomon’s the snake crusher to lead us into a the new garden of God.” Go read Psalm 72 later today and just hear how Solomon prays for his kingship to function in Israel and in the whole world. Though Jesus is the one who will do it, Solomon looks for the whole earth to be filled with God’s glory as a result of his kingship!
But at the height of greatness, Solomon’s heart was lifted up and he cracked. He made foreign alliances and married a thousand foreign women. He thought he was big enough to not be ensnared. They tugged at him asking him to build them shrines and temples for their gods, and in his love and lust for these many women, he caved under the pressure. He turned to their gods. And then Paradise crumbled. God raised up enemies to afflict the Israel. If Solomon was wise, his son Rehoboam was a fool — burdening the people with labor and taxes so that the north revolted and abandoned the lineage of David and Solomon. Over the course of the next few hundred years, the kingdom that was like heaven turned into the kingdom from hell.
Time would fail us to talk about Aaron, Gideon, Saul, David, Joash and so many others. Don’t you feel like as you read these stories we are reading a version of our own story? God has given us all a measure of power and opportunity to do good and obey him, even if it is just in our little family in our little corner of the world. And even when everything seems perfect and God has given us everything we need, even we crack and cave in moments of pressure. We fight, mess up marriages, yell at our kids, slander our friends, bring nasty entertainment into our homes, waste our opportunities to do good and stare at screens.
And then Jesus comes on the scene. He’s the son of David who could usher in all of God’s promises, or be a disappointment like so many other sons of David. He does good. He heals many who are oppressed by the Devil. When he is challenged, he preaches truth. Women are around him as they were around Solomon, but he treated them with respect. And when he is ultimately arrested and falsely accused — even as Moses was rejected by his people — he didn’t revile them in return, he persisted in honoring God. When we read the gospel accounts today, many of us know what is coming. We know he’s going to handle it right. But think through these accounts like it is the first time — like all you have ever read of in the Bible or seen in the world is that eventually everyone cracks under the pressure. Something, however small or large, eventually comes to the surface and we see they are like everyone else. And yet Jesus walked through the darkest hour flawlessly.
All the gospel accounts clearly show that what happened to Jesus was an injustice, but Luke is unique in emphasizing this even more. Look at Luke 23.
- Verse 4 — He’s falsely accused by a whole company of people, but Pilate says, “I find no guilt in this man.”
- Verses 14-15 — Pilate sends Jesus to be judged by Herod. Herod and his men question, accuse, and mock him (they look a lot like Satan in Zechariah 3) at this point. But Herod sends him back to Pilate who gives the judgment, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us.”
- Verse 22 — The people won’t have it, they cry for the release of a murderer and insurrectionist while they demand Jesus’ crucifixion. But Luke tells us Pilate responds a third time. “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving of death. I will therefore punish and release him.” Luke wants us to see that Jesus is declared innocent by Pilate three times, but the crowd wouldn’t listen. Their voices prevailed. Mob justice had its way. Jesus was taken by an angry mob and executed for crimes he did not commit.
- Verse 47 — A Roman soldier — the centurion — who had overseen Jesus’ whole crucifixion, execution saw everything that happened. He watched how Jesus responded to everything. Surely, he had seen many criminals die. He knew the type. He knew how innocent they all were until they got on that cross. Then the trash probably started spewing from their mouths. But not with Jesus. He had only love for the people who killed him. Imagine what that must have been like to kill Jesus. Notice verse 47. “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
Under pressure, everyone has always at some point cracked and ruined everything. But Jesus always did everything right. And because of that Luke tells us the most unbelievable thing happened. Luke tells us about one more man who testifies to Jesus’ innocence: one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus. Notice verses 39-42. The criminal said it plainly. Jesus had done nothing wrong, while the due reward for his own deeds was crucifixion. But then he begged that Jesus would just remember him when he came into his kingdom. Now this is astounding. This criminal knew something of the Scriptures. He knew about God’s promise to enthrone a Son of David to be king over the nations. And some how, despite the fact that Jesus was near dead on a cross he was convinced Jesus was that man. I like how one person put it (Plummer 1896: 535, cited in Bock, 1856), “Some saw Jesus raise the dead, and did not believe. This robber sees him being put to death, and yet believes.” And so, he anticipated a day when this dead man would be a king, when he would raise the dead and usher in God’s glory to fill the earth. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” But Jesus flips the script and tells him he won’t even have to wait until the resurrection. Verse 43, “Truly, I say to you today you will be with me in paradise.”
What just happened? Romans explains the theology which shows this story is ours.
One Man’s Obedience (Romans 5-6, etc.)
I want to simply conclude by showing you three simple results of Jesus life in contrast to others.
First, Jesus’ obedience gives sinners the free gift of justification. Notice Romans 5:16. Paul has been explaining how Adam’s one sin has led to us all sinning and earning death. And you would expect him to say that Jesus’ obedience has led to us all becoming perfect and earning life. But that’s not what he says. To be clear — our perfection is absolutely the goal, but it’s how we get there that is so stunning. In Adam, his trespass was followed by judgment and condemnation for all. In Christ, many trespasses are followed by a free gift of justification. Justification or righteousness in Romans is probably a little different than other places. It means you are declared innocent. It’s like if you go to court and the judge decides to clear you of all your charges. Because of Christ’s obedience, our many trespasses are followed by a clearing of all our disobedience.
And this is not just in a small way — a criminal who had no chance of paying back a single cent of his debt or ever doing any righteousness in this life — he was the very first one to have his charges cleared. Romans 5:17-21 explain. This is so powerful because we think that sin and death reign over life. We have good reason to think that because this is all we have ever seen out of ourselves and out of the story of the Bible. Everything good that anyone ever did is always undone by their sin which leads to death. And Paul agrees. So he helps us in verse 17-19 by stating that the one man’s obedience is more powerful that one man’s trespass. Adam’s trespass was so powerful that it really did cause death to reign. But this one man’s obedience is so powerful that we are now guaranteed to reign in life through his justification, clearing of our charges.
Verse 20 is so beautiful. The law “increased the trespass.” Paul is probably alluding back to 3:20 when he says that the law gives us knowledge of our sin. It is likely not that the law makes us sin more, but that it tremendously heightens our awareness of how sinful we are. But no matter how much sin or our awareness of it increases, Paul declares that the obedience of Jesus is still more powerful: grace abounds all the more. We cannot out-sin God’s grace. It shouldn’t be so. But it is. Rejoice, Christian. You have been and will be rescued just like the thief on the cross.
Second, Jesus’ grace ends sin’s dominion over us. Notice Romans 6:1-4, 12-14. Ever increasing grace has never caused any genuine Christian ever to excuse their sin. “Hey man, it’s alright, I’m forgiven.” What I pray God’s grace works in you is a passion to die to sin just as Jesus died. A passion to rise by God’s power to walk a new life. Isn’t this why we were baptized? To die to the old and live to the new? And this is how the grace fuels obedience: we no longer have to give up. Paul says don’t let sin reign in your body. Don’t present your members to sin. Why say that? Because in the past, sin has always meant hopelessness. Sin always ruins everything and leads to death. Righteousness is really, really hard — so why should we do so much work? “It’s over. I’m condemned!” But not any more. We are not under law magnifying our sin, we are under grace. So we have the insane, unthinkable privilege to beg God through Jesus to clear our charges, repent, and give God our body for righteousness. Jesus’ obedience and grace ends sin’s dominion.
Third, Jesus’ perfect obedience becomes our aim and our hope. Notice Ephesians 4:13, we are building one another up now “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In Adam, all we ever saw was every generation of humans fail. But Christ’s example has inspired and empowered a new generation — the children not of Adam but of Jesus — to not stop until they attain to Jesus’ perfection. And one day it will be ours. Notice Philippians 3:20-21. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 15:49 that “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” Paul is talking here about how, just as Jesus’ body was raised and he now has an eternal, glorious body, our bodies will be raised and transformed to be like his glorious body. We do a funny thing that the Gnostics did and we sometimes draw too sharp of a divide between body and spirit. Paul is not only speaking of an external body we will wear on that day but the whole of us. Our eternal history of frustration with sin and of following in the footsteps of Adam, Moses, Solomon who all cracked will be no more. We will be perfect even as Jesus and our heavenly father are perfect.
May we never think we can save ourselves by our work. It is all by grace. But may we never mock anyone ever for striving with all their heart to obey God — look at the power and the grace of one man’s obedience. Praise God and praise Jesus.