This message is Part Two of The Great Rebellion. If you haven’t yet read that I encourage you to take it in first. It’s a long message, as is this one, but read together will mean greater profit.
“I was not rebellious…”
Now let’s consider the rebellion that God dealt with more severely than with any other—the great rebellion that He poured out His full wrath on—at Calvary. Jesus Christ put an end to all rebellion right there, beloved, the rebellion that is in the hearts of all those in Adam, and, reaching further back, the rebellion of Satan and the heavenly hosts that followed him. For we will yet see the judgment of Calvary fully carried out—the hosts of evil quake at the prospect of their destruction—and which those who bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ may apprehend by faith even now to their salvation.
Consider this passage from Isaiah:
The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. (Isa 50:4-7)
We are not told specifically what this one’s opened ear heard, but from what follows it’s apparent that he had heard God’s commandment to submit to suffering and shame. His response was that he was not rebellious, neither turned away back, but gave himself to being smitten, shamed, spat upon. As we read the passage, does it not bring Jesus before our eyes? Smitten. Shamed. Spat upon. That is Jesus. They tore out the hair of his beard (though the Gospels don’t record this).
But how can this be—Jesus saying, “I was not rebellious”? That’s hard to read. You mean He had the potential to be rebellious? If it were not so, He could not have become the Saviour of rebellious man.
It was in a garden that Adam rebelled against God. It was in a garden that Christ resisted a temptation to rebel, to turn back from His commitment to obey God whatever the cost. He had earlier proclaimed this, His life-long commitment:
Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince [ruler] of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me [no sin, no grounds for death].
But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence. (Jn 14:30,31)
“The prince of this world cometh…” What is this about? The adversary of God and man had tempted Him on other occasions already, but this was the game match in which Satan would spend his all to defeat the Son of man. The match took place on Calvary but it was engaged in Gethsemane when the prince of this world tempted Him to do His own will and not the Father’s will. Thus we overhear Him in an agony—a great conflict—crying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mk 14:36).
“Not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” Do you and I recognize that these words from our beloved Lord Jesus Christ spelled the doom of Satan the rebel, and of all rebellion?
Learning the obedience
The Holy Spirit, who also overheard Him in Gethsemane, had this to say by the pen of the author of Hebrews:
…Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10).
Young’s Literal Translation has, “though being a Son, did learn by the things which he suffered—the obedience…” This gives us the word order in the original Greek, placing for emphasis the obedience at the end of the sentence. Note that it includes the article—the obedience, specifying a certain obedience. What obedience is this, then—the obedience?
It is a very costly obedience. Jesus, though He was Son of God, and therefore had a disposition to obey His Father, still needed to learn by the things that He suffered what it would cost Him to obey. That cost can only be estimated by the appalling cost that disobedience has brought upon our world—and what it cost the Son of God to deal with it. Apart from this, how could He the Son of man otherwise become the great high priest of fallen men in need of learning obedience, if not by inaugurating the very pathway that they must tread in? What obedience is this then?
It is the obedience of the fear of the Lord
God by His messenger Malachi challenged His priests: “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?” (Mal 1:6). He’s talking about obedience. To honour the father is to obey the father. To fear the master is to obey the master. To fear God is to obey God. Again from Isaiah 50:
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant… (Isa 50:10).
Yet it’s an idea that some don’t like because it seems wrong to fear the Lord. But the fear of the Lord is not the fear that “hath torment” (1Jn. 4:18). David wrote, “Let them now that fear the LORD say that his mercy endureth forever” (Ps 118:4). In the same breath he continues, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” He fears the Lord, and therefore will not fear anything else. For, “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Pr 14:29).
When we think upon this, dwell upon this, actually to fear the Lord is to love the Lord:
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good. (Dt 10:12,13)
A while back I came up with a little homemade proverb that I tucked into my heart:
To fear the Lord is to obey the Lord is to love the Lord.
Try it the other way around:
To love the Lord is to obey the Lord is to fear the Lord.
I find that helpful; in any case let’s keep this in mind as we read the following passage. Are you familiar with it—Isaiah’s prophecy of the Branch in whom the Spirit of the Lord rests? Bear in mind that this same Spirit is the portion of those who abide in the Branch:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. (Isa 11:1-4)
Various commentators from the days of the early church till the present have seen here the menorah (lampstand) with its centre stem and three couplets of branches. Note the perception of this powerful illumination penetrating beyond the shallow reach of eye and ear.
But we want to focus on the last couplet marrying together “the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” To have knowledge that is not joined to the fear of the Lord is a recipe for certain destruction. But note especially—this is quite the revelation—that the fear of the Lord is one of the branches, one of the lamps, of His very Spirit. And so this couplet together with the other two aligned along the centre stem make the Branch “of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.” Let’s say that again. The light of this seven-fold Spirit means nothing less than the very eyes of the Lord in the Branch; there is no darkness, no haziness, no guesswork, no perplexity as to the will of God, but rather quick understanding.
Quick or quicken in the King James Version doesn’t have anything to do with speed; it means alive, or to impart life. However, Quick understanding is one word in the Hebrew: ruach. It means breath. One commentator has, “He shall draw his breath in the fear of the Lord.” The emphasis is on breath drawn through the nostrils and therefore having a fragrance. The same word in several other places is translated, “smell,” as when Noah offered his burnt offering, and the Lord “smelled a sweet savour [fragrance]” (Gen 8:21). But I think ruach in Isaiah’s prophecy is illuminated best in the story of Samson breaking the green withs [bowstrings] the Philistines had bound him with “as a thread of tow [a strand of flax] is broken when it toucheth the fire.” The word “toucheth” is ruach. That’s the King James Version. But get this. Young’s Literal Translation reads that Samson “breaketh the withs as a thread of tow is broken in its smelling fire (Jdg 16:9). What an image—the withs catch a mere whiff of fire and it’s enough to cause them to disintegrate on the spot. It’s this kind of response to the knowledge of God’s will that is the thought in Isaiah’s prophecy—the fear of the Lord being such that the very scent of His will genders a response of instant obedience. That is the fear of the Lord. Other translations have that the fear of the Lord is His delight. Young’s Literal Translation here says that the Spirit of the fear of the Lord shall “refresh him in the fear of Jehovah…” That nuance speaks to me. With the fresh quickening that only the Spirit can provide, our knowledge of God’s will is passing sensitive and our response of obedience instant. That, beloved, is what is meant by the fear of the Lord.
It is the obedience of Samuel…
Remember Amalek? Last time we wrote of Amalek viciously preying on the weak in the wilderness when Israel came out of Egypt. Some along the way had grown weary, and fell behind. Defenseless, they fell prey to the ruthless Amalekites. For this, God commanded that when Israel entered their inheritance they were to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it” (Dt 25:19) Why had Amalek done this evil? Because, said the Lord, “he feared not God.” The day came when God commanded King Saul to carry out His judgment and destroy Amalek and all that he had. Saul compromised, sparing Agag king of Amalek and the best of the sheep and oxen. Saul didn’t fear God either, would not obey him, but “turned back from following” Him (1 Sam 15:11). God called it rebellion.
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Sam 15:22,23)
And so God dealt severely with Saul for this; it cost him the kingdom. (And Samuel’s word to him was right on the mark—his rebellion led him to the door of the witch of Endor.) After pronouncing this to Saul, Samuel had Agag brought before him. Agag breathed a quiet sigh of relief; surely now “the bitterness of death” was past. Until he saw Samuel drawing a sword. (Was it Samuel’s own sword or someone else’s? Saul’s?) “And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal” (1 Sam 15:33).
I still read this, and… Samuel did that? Samuel? Yes, beloved Samuel, an old man with the fear of God in Him, uncompromising in his obedience.
It is the obedience of Abraham…
…in offering up his “only son.”
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt [prove] Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Gen 22:1,2)
There are poignant details in this whole passage; just now we want to connect two words together. Abraham obeyed God—that is, he feared God:
And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (Gen 22:11,12)
Now note the Lord’s concluding words a few verses later. To fear God is to obey God:
And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,
And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen 22:15-18)
That is the fear of God—uncompromising obedience.
It is the fear of Isaac…
…who voluntarily gave himself to be the sacrifice that God had commanded Abraham to offer. We may well ask if anyone, excepting one Man, ever feared God the way Isaac did.
A generation later Isaac’s son Jacob, disputing with his father-in-law Laban, told him that “the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac” was with him (Gen. 31:42). Arresting words. The fear of Isaac. That is to say, God Himself. Isaac feared God. When Abraham and Isaac reached their destination on Mount Moriah Isaac was already aware of his father’s earlier words that “God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” No doubt he helped his father build the altar, all the while aware that God had not yet provided the lamb. Did he start wondering if he himself were to be that lamb? Yet when the altar was ready, and his father now turned to him… we are not told that any words passed between them as they now stood face to face by the readied altar. But Isaac of his own free will let himself be bound and lain upon the wood he had carried on his own shoulders up the mountain. It was not death he feared, but God. He feared God and willingly became “obedient unto death.”
It is the obedience of the Son of God…
…to His Father’s will that led Him up Mount Calvary carrying His own cross, determined to be “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Php 2:8).
In the will of God, He endured the suffering and shame and death of the cross.
That is the obedience.
“Not what I will, but what Thou wilt.”
“He learned, from the things He suffered, the obedience…”
It is the obedience of all those who obey Him
…And being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation unto all those who obey Him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
The writer of Hebrews is enlarging here on his earlier words, that “it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2:10).
Thus the perfect Man was perfected—tried, proven—by sufferings, that He might lead others in that Way. The way of the cross. The way of the cross, mystery of mysteries, becomes the way of salvation. Being made perfect He became the author of eternal salvation unto all those who obey Him.
Walking in obedience, then, walking in obedience today, daily, with the same obedience of the Son of God, is the harbinger of our eternal salvation. Do we faint under the very thought of this, it’s just too much to bear? If so we’re not seeing the beauty of this. As our great high priest after the order of Melchizedek, Christ the Branch imparts to us step by step the needed grace, the help we need, to obey Him—His own Spirit.
And so, with that help, the help of His Spirit—the Spirit of the fear of the Lord—and since He who learned the obedience in the things He suffered is the author of eternal salvation to those who obey Him, let us arm ourselves with the same mind. Let us fear Him, obey Him, though to do so bring suffering upon us. As obedience surely shall in this world. For to cease from sin in this world will surely mean suffering:
Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Pt 4:1,2)
Let us so live, beloved, and see to its finish the horror story of rebellion. For, count on it, God with the judgment of Calvary will surely bring all rebellion in His universe to an end. Let us fear Him, then, and be wary of that alien voice, that thought, that suggestion, that to follow through on, would mean to rebel against the will of God. A very small thought, when fed gains strength, and will grow. And grow. And grow. As rebellions always do if not instantly quashed.
But what if I stumble, what if I sin? Is it all over for me?
But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared (Ps 130:4).
Forgiveness, that He may be feared? Yes, because to be left in sin is unimaginable horror; if I sin and continue in sin with no hope of forgiveness I am doomed to perdition along with all rebels. How then can I not fear Him, thankful beyond words to express, that with Him is forgiveness? Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Repentant of my sin, I swiftly repair myself to the throne of grace that I may receive the forgiveness, and the cleansing from sin, and continue in the pathway of obedience.
For, our obeying Him means the ultimate perdition of the rebellious.
And the salvation, eternal salvation, of the obedient.
And the gratification of delighting the heart of God.
And the fellowship of His everlasting Rest.