Day 3, Matthew 4, Jesus learned obedience
Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) It may sound odd to say that Jesus needed to learn obedience, but it starts to make sense as we understand the nature of obedience. The word itself may sound harsh to many ears and certainly the concept of obedience has been used to manipulate and abuse. However, in the Gospels, obedience is connected to love and trust, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Of course, the word “commandment” is often thought of in harsh terms as well, but the commandments of God, as described in the Scriptures and especially the Psalms, are seen differently. In particular, Psalm 119 records, “I find my delight in your commandments,” “Your law is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces,” and “your precepts have given me life.” The commandments of God are not oppressive but freeing, precious, and delightful.
Obedience is a loving, trusting response to God. God doesn’t desire for us to just conform to some rigid list of moral standards. He desires for us to walk with Him in love and trust. His commandments give us discernment for walking the path of love. They are a compass that guides us into loving response to the God who loves us. So, in what way did Jesus learn obedience? While He was perfect and continually in fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, an obedient response in the context of His humanity was something that had to be learned, or experienced. In the wilderness of Matthew 4, Jesus’ responsiveness to God the Father was tested and it is no coincidence that in each of the three temptations He responded with Scripture.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us we have a great high priest who has been “tempted just as we are” … tempted to take matters into His own hands, tempted to escape the wilderness, tempted to define His life outside relationship with the Father. Make no mistake, for Jesus the 40 days of wilderness were a time of vulnerability and danger. Mark 1:13 notes that Jesus “was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.” He was fasting during this time as well which would have had its own sense of vulnerability.
When we are in a wilderness season, God’s heart is that we would “learn obedience” as well, that we would experience a deep sense of trusting responsiveness to Him. Our responsiveness is tested significantly when we are left without our usual resources for making life work. Whether a health crisis, a relational crisis, or perhaps a financial crisis, one of the temptations is to redouble our efforts … to go to those old ways of managing life once again, trying harder.
The reality is that all of our efforts don’t solve the problems and we are often left wondering if we can trust this God who is leading us and showing us the way. The stripping down and the emptiness of the desert can feel far more vulnerable and dangerous than we believe we can stand. Robert Mullholland suggests that “Like the Hebrew people in the desert [we long] for the comfort and security of Egypt. [We cry] out to God, ‘Did you bring me out here to kill me?’ The answer of course, is yes.”
Yes? Really? God, you want me to be stripped down to nothing. You want me to die. And, if we are willing to be that honest … that willing to bring this question to God, we might just simply hear those words of Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) It is when we are willing to be in the wilderness space, vulnerable to all that it brings that we find the life that is truly life. As we let go and release trying to make things work, we find that, like Jesus, we are learning deeper responsiveness (or, obedience) to God.
It can feel lonely in this place and that is by design because, as Adele Calhoun writes, “Solitude is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work. When no one is there to watch, judge and interpret what we say, the Spirit often brings us face to face with hidden motives and compulsions. The world of recognition, achievement and applause disappears, and we stand squarely before God without props.”
Finally, because of the loneliness and disorientation, we can find ourselves in a place of resistance, still not sure that we are interested. Are there ways you find yourself resisting the wilderness? Consider the counsel of the prophet Isaiah, “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (30:20–21)
Question for reflection: how might the Teacher be speaking to your heart and pointing out the path to walk along? Pause and listen. Ask God to speak to you in this wilderness season.
Prayer: Lord, I am willing to abide with You in the wilderness even though I feel resistance. I want to trust that You are up to something good … for Your glory which is also what I desire. Give me strength to listen, to notice how You are with me and leading me. Amen.