Why is Obedience Important?

How can we know that Jesus of Nazareth is actually God’s Son and the Messiah? Luckily for us, God chooses not to keep Himself hidden. Throughout the Old Testament, prophecies were given concerning the plan that God had, and has, for His people. Without the Old Testament, the Christian faith has no basis because there is no way to tell whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.

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            Matthew, whose name was also Levi, was a Jew who grew up learning and hearing from what we call the Old Testament (to him it was just Scripture). Throughout his gospel, Matthew explains how Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies in the Old Testament. This month we are going to discover together how we can know that Jesus is the Messiah, not just for the Jews, but for the entire world.

Before we begin, we need to notice something very important about the institution of Christianity. It is only about 2000 years old and the world is much older. Christians have not existed since the beginning of time, but God has. God has always had people that He called His own. The Christian church as an institution began when Christ was raised from the dead and the Holy Spirit came to be with us (Acts 2). Even though Christianity as an institution began to exist this late in history, it is based entirely on the Old Testament Scriptures (which preceded Jesus in the flesh) and entirely on Genesis 1, 2 and 3: which reveal God in the beginning and highlight a need, from the beginning, we would have for a Messiah or a Christ.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see that from the beginning of time, God did not hide His plan to deliver His people and to have one King through whom the entire world would be blessed. Matthew sets out to establish the fact that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, which had been given from the beginning, and to argue from a Jewish perspective that Jesus was and is the Messiah for the entire world.

We live in a society of rebels and renegades. We do not like the law, but we want it to benefit us. We seem to care only about what we want to do and what makes us happy. We don’t care to obey and we constantly try to justify our actions rather than genuinely ask if we are honoring God. Society tells us that we need a Jesus that secures us spiritually but does not require anything of us. We want a spiritual high without a commitment to do the things that God commands us to do. As a society, we care less about doctrine and more about preference. In light of these things, I have to ask if obedience is actually important. Why would the all-powerful God of creation give me instructions in this life?

 

Matthew 2:13-23 (HCSB)

After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.” So he got up, took the child and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping, and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children;

and she refused to be consoled,

because they were no more.

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, because those who sought the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and His mother, and entered the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee. Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that He will be called a Nazarene.

 

The story to this point

Matthew begins his gospel by giving a simple genealogy of Jesus. He begins with Abraham, mentions Jacob and David, and traces Jesus’ lineage through these Old Testament figures. In Genesis 12:3, God speaks to Abraham and tells him that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (specifically though the nation that would come from him). God repeats His promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:18. The fact that Jesus lineage is traced back to Abraham in Matthew 1:1 is essential to Him being the Messiah or the Christ.

Second, in Numbers 24:17, Balaam spoke of a star that would come from Jacob to deliver God’s people in the distant future. Matthew 1:2 traces Jesus’ lineage back to Jacob.

Isaiah 7:14, contains a prophetic message from Isaiah that the deliverance of God’s people would be signified by a virgin giving birth to a son that she would name Immanuel. This was fulfilled in Matthew 1:22-23.

Micah 5:2, records the prophet Micah foretelling that a ruler over Israel would be born in Bethlehem and that His origin would be from antiquity and from eternity. Matthew records Jesus being born in Bethlehem chapter 2, verse 1.

The prophet Hosea (11:1) records God saying that He called His Son out of Egypt, referring both to the nation of Israel and to the coming Messiah. Matthew records this in our text above.

Jeremiah 31:15 tells of the weeping of the Benjimites because their children were no more in Ramah.[1] This is also reported as fulfilled in the text above.

Matthew gives seven prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the birth of the Messiah and cites how each prophecy could be fulfilled by the birth and infancy of Jesus. Jesus did not just claim to be the Messiah or the Christ. His followers did not just follow Him for no reason. He actually fulfilled prophecies that were given by God in the Old Testament: things that were predicted hundreds of years before Jesus was born and that no one else has fulfilled.

Matthew writes this for his fellow Jews: that they might know that the Messiah had truly come!

 

Joseph’s obedience

            As I examine this text of Scripture, I am absolutely amazed at Joseph’s level of obedience. When an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to go to Egypt, he went. When an angel visited him in a dream again telling him that it was safe to return, he returned.

I remember when God called me into the ministry. I was a senior in high school and I had not made any decisions about furthering my education. I knew God was calling me to ministry, but I wanted to go into graphic design. So I went to college, choosing to major in youth ministry to appease God but also pursued a degree in graphic design. While God wanted me to give my whole heart to ministry, I held some back for myself and it caused me some grief as I tried to do ministry because I was holding some back for myself.

Joseph was not like this. When he heard from God, he went and he took his family. Here I want to run a small thought experiment. I want to try and answer the question: what if Joseph had not obeyed God? Jesus was God’s son and what happened, happened so that Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled. The weeping of the Benjamites did not have to be a result of the murderous Herod. The Messiah coming out of Egypt did not have to happen the way that it did. So these things can be said for certain: there had to be a great weeping of the Benjamites and Jesus had to come out of Egypt in order to fulfill these prophecies. Jesus would have still made it to Egypt, somehow, if Joseph was disobedient. If Joseph had not obeyed God, however, his family (Jesus and Mary) would have been present for the slaughtering of the children that was commanded by Herod.

Not much more than this can be speculated, but I don’t think we need to do much speculating anyway. The specific outcome of God’s command seems to me like it was much more desirable for Joseph than the consequence of disobedience. The more I live life striving to be obedient to God, the more I realize that the outcome is much more desirable when I am obedient.

Here is what I notice about God in this text. He worked to fulfill prophecies that He inspired. He would have fulfilled those prophecies with or without Joseph’s obedience. We must always remember that God does not depend on people. He will accomplish what He has determined to accomplish with or without my obedience or my participation.

Because of this, I can be absolutely sure that God does not give me commands because He needs me. He does not ask me to do things so that I can help Him to accomplish something. God does not need our help. He does not give me tasks just to keep me busy.

If God does not need me to accomplish His work, then there is only one reason He would ever command me to do anything: that is for my good. Just like God would have worked to fulfill these prophecies with or without the obedience of Joseph, He can accomplish his work with or without my obedience. Just like obedience led to a better outcome for Joseph and his family, my obedience to God leads to a better outcome for me than disobedience does.

This does not mean that our lives will somehow be perfect or worry free. The world is still sinful. It has still rebelled against God. It has chosen evil. Suffering currently exists. As long as we are here, we will have to deal with the imperfect, fallen nature of the world. It is also true that obedience to God may put us in harm’s way, cause us to have less money, or even experience more stress. When we obey God, though, it is better for us than when we disobey God because God gives commands for our good and I think we can see that throughout Scripture. I also have to say that our good is not earthly prosperity, but is eternally worthwhile for us.

The command not to eat from the forbidden tree was for Adam and Eve’s good. The command to build the Ark was for Noah’s good. The command to leave his family was for Abraham’s good. The command to return to Egypt was for Moses’ good. The command take Canaan completely was for Israel’s good. Each suffered natural consequences when they chose to disobey, but God still accomplished His work. Each suffered a little to do what God had commanded, but all of those sufferings were entirely worth having a part in the work that God was doing.

 

Obedience today

            Again I will say that we live in a society of rebels and renegades. My question is, why? Why would we be disobedient to God, who desires what is best for us? As individuals, we should strive to do the things that God has called us to do. As a local church, we should strive to be obedient to the direction that God has provided. As a society, we should strive to obey the laws that God has given for our good.

If God has our best interest in mind, then we only hurt ourselves when we try to accomplish our own ends. When we hold on to the way things have been even if God commands new direction, we hurt ourselves. When we hold on to habits that do not honor God, we do so to our own destruction. If we do not get up and go when God commands, we subject ourselves to the slaughter that is coming. With this, though, there is a great promise. When we strive to live lives of obedience, we work not only to honor God, but also to our own good. In fact, I am confident of this: When God is honored and glorified, His people, with whom He shares his glory (Romans 8:16-17), benefit eternally.

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[1] Rachel had two children, Joseph and Benjamin, but no others. According to Jeremiah, she wept because her children were taken from her. Rachel, though, died before Joseph was sold into slavery and as Benjamin was being born. Therefore, Rachel here may very well be symbolic of all of the mothers of the tribe of Benjamin weeping because they have lost their sons in Bethlehem during the time of King Herod.

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