Previous article in this series: April 15, 2021, p. 327.
The testimony of the gospels
The obedience of Christ comprehends the totality of the Father’s will as it was perfectly performed by Christ, the Servant of Jehovah, during His vicarious life on earth. Last time we demonstrated that the Scriptures and Reformed confessions teach that Christ’s perfect, lifelong obedience is imputed to our account in justification as our righteousness before God. Romans 5:19 teaches, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Even as many are reckoned or constituted (“made”) sinners by the disobedience of Adam, so many are reckoned or constituted (“made”) righteous by the obedience of Christ. Belgic Confession, Article 22 states: “But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits and so many holy works which He has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness.”
The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John— contribute to the divine revelation of our justification by presenting to us everything we must know of our Lord’s life of obedience. It would be a serious misunderstanding of the Scriptures to suppose that while Romans and Galatians prominently feature the teaching of justification, the Gospels, among other books, are completely or nearly silent on this subject. How could four divinely inspired books that go by the name “Gospels” contribute nothing or scarcely little to the revelation of that which is the very heart of the gospel? Besides, including Jesus’ doctrine of justification as taught in His well known parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18:9-14, the four Gospels make their significant contribution to the glorious doctrine of justification by showing the perfect lifelong obedience of our Lord as He lived out the will of His Father on this earth.
The Gospels do not provide a comprehensive, day-by- day account of Jesus’ life from the manger to the cross. In fact, if the Gospels were regarded as nothing more than a biography or history, they would fail miserably, for they are silent on most of the years of Jesus’ life and tend to focus on His suffering. Moreover, a written Gospel is not merely the exhibition to sinners of a perfect model for a holy life. Fundamentally, the Gospels are the heavenly, written revelation of the God of our salvation who was in His incarnate Son Jesus Christ accomplishing everlasting righteousness for us who are heirs appointed unto salvation.
When we open the Gospels and read of Christ’s life, preaching, miracles, travels, encounters, dialogues, sufferings, and offering of Himself to the death of the cross, we are reading of the obedience by which we are saved. The Gospels reveal to us Jesus’ life, for He is “the life” (John 14:6) and by His life “we shall be saved” (Rom. 5:10). Everywhere He went, step by step, whether as a twelve-year-old traveling from Nazareth to the Passover in Jerusalem, or as an adult journeying through Judea, Samaria and the distant reaches of Galilee, He was about His Father’s business. Especially during the last three or so years of His life, when He publicly discharged His office as the Mediator of the covenant, He was consciously fulfilling all righteousness on behalf of all whom the Father had given Him.
Although each Gospel has its own distinctive features, all four present a striking inner unity. Regardless of how and where each begins, they all reach their climax in a most sobering, humbling, alluring, stirring, and vividly detailed account of the crucifixion, as the supreme act of obedience, and the resurrection. The Gospels reveal to us the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Christ who is our righteousness before God.
The testimony of the disciples
Let’s appreciate our Lord’s obedience by beholding Him in the Gospels from the viewpoint of His disciples. They were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ perfect obedience. Even as no one knows the Father like the Son who dwells in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), so among men, no one knew our Lord with such intimacy as John, the beloved disciple who leaned upon Jesus’ breast (John 13:23). Speaking for the other disciples, the inspired John opens his first epistle with the words, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life,” (I John 1:1). Amazing! They saw and handled the Word of life. While the disciples could not see Jesus’ pure heart, they heard His own testimony of it, and with their own eyes they saw the evidences of it when they beheld the Savior’s life up close. This is how they identified Him—“Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1). What a striking designation, for the closer we draw to some one the more we behold his unrighteousness. The disciples drew close to our Lord, beholding His actions, hearing His words, looking upon Him with inspection and contemplation, and they concluded—“Jesus Christ the righteous!” They lived with a perfect man—not the man of the dust who was of the earth earthy and fallible—but the man from heaven. They lived with the Word of Life in a world of the curse of death, walked in the darkness with the Light in whom there is no darkness, and sojourned here below with Him who is from on high.
What obedience unfolded before them! In the language of the Psalms, which all the disciples knew, Jesus never walked in the counsel of the ungodly, never stood in the way of sinners, and never sat in the seat of the scornful. His delight was in God’s law day and night. He did not backbite with His tongue. He did no evil to His neighbor, and took up no reproach against His neighbor. He did not put out His money to usury. He took no reward against the innocent. His hands were clean. His heart was pure. He did not lift up His soul unto vanity. He did not swear deceitfully. He set no wicked thing before His eyes. He hated the work of those that turned aside; it did not cleave unto Him.
Consider some of the commandments of God as explained by our Heidelberg Catechism. The disciples lived alongside the only one who kept these precepts perfectly. Contrary to the charge of His enemies who accused Jesus with blasphemy, He never profaned or abused the name of God; nor did He by silence or connivance partake of such horrible sins in others. He used the holy name of God in no otherwise than with fear and reverence. Contrary to the claims of the Pharisees, Jesus did not desecrate the Sabbath, but diligently frequented the synagogue to hear or proclaim the Word of God and to do good to the needy. He never bucked authority. He showed all honor, love, and fidelity to Joseph and Mary, patiently bearing with their weaknesses and infirmities. When the devious trappers came with their nets and snares to try to trap Jesus in His words and expose Him as a seditious fellow who disturbed the peace of Rome, the disciples listened with the crowds and marveled. Jesus recognized the validity of the civil government and honored the rule of Caesar and God over him by proclaiming, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Never did even the smallest inclination contrary to God’s commandments arise in His heart, but at all times He hated sin with His whole heart and delighted in all righteousness.
The disciples watched as Jesus was constantly opposed by bitter foes. Yet, even in the most trying of circumstances when patience wears thin and the meekest man on earth would have become exasperated and overwhelmed by his hasty spirit so that he smote a rock, Jesus never faltered. He never lost control of His spirit or became like a city that is broken down and without walls, but in ruling His spirit He was like the man who takes a city. No idle word passed through the door of His lips. Not one thought of His heart went astray. A grumbling complaint He never made, not even when He went forty days without food or endured divine stripes for sins He never committed. Only holiness, pure and undefiled, proceeded from His heart.
The disciples must have beheld with wonderment as in all His eating, drinking, walking, conversing, preaching, teaching, healing, correcting, chiding, condemning, and praying, His every syllable and breath were most excellent and pure. Whether before friend or foe, whether sitting on a boat or hanging on a cross, whether in making wine at a festive wedding or making a whip in a filthy temple, whether weeping at a grave or praying in a desert place, whether in taking a dead daughter by the hand to bring her back to life or in opening up His palms to the nails of Rome, whether in being anointed with expensive ointment while reclining in a house or in being reproached and slandered by unnumbered foes who would do Him wrong, His heart was always beating moment by moment, beat after beat, in harmony with God’s.
What intercourse between heaven and earth! From heaven sounded the great command of all the ages, “Love Me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength!” From earth returned to God the perfect heart, the perfect life, the perfect obedience. What harmony! Back down from the excellent glory came the divine approval, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” Who had ever heard such a testimony? Of all other men heaven said, “None good, no not one.” Again, John was there on the holy mount with Peter and James, hearing heaven’s approval of their Lord and seeing Him appareled in the blinding majesty and glory of heaven. Jesus Christ the Righteous!
Obedience for the holy Jesus always meant suffering, but even when obedience meant agony no tongue can tell such that Jesus’ heart was broken by reproach and His soul was full of grief, He pressed on in His perfect, willing obedience. He took the cup. It was not merely a cup full of man’s venomous hatred. It was God’s cup, filled to the top with the boiling and infinite wrath of the most high and holy God against whose majesty all our sins are committed. He wavered not, but said in perfect submission, “Thy will be done.” He drank it with all its bitter dregs. He humbled Himself unto death, even the hellish death of being suspended between heaven and earth where the curse of death descended on the Word of Life. Every moment of Jesus’ life, including at the end when He poured out His soul in death, He yielded Himself to the Father’s will. He said, “I delight to do thy will,” and “It is my meat to do his will (John 4:34). This holy man did not possess a mere beginning of obedience, nor an obedience worked in Him by another. He possessed His own obedience as the Son of God, and every work He performed was completely perfect in conception, commencement, performance, and accomplishment.
Say with all true believers everywhere: I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord! Behold, Thou art fair my love, all fair, there is no spot in Thee! Jesus Christ the Righteous!
When we think and speak of the perfect work of Christ and what He did to obtain righteousness for us, we must focus on His crucifixion as His highest and crowning act of obedience. Every faithful herald of the gospel is determined to glory in nothing “save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14) and is determined to know nothing “save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). We must also celebrate His victorious resurrection as do all four of the Gospels, for Jesus was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). Nevertheless, the majority of the content of the Gospels is the life of Christ. If we separate His life of obedience from His cross, then our eyes fail to behold the full glory of Jehovah our Righteousness.
Next time we will take up the significance of this obedience for us in God’s covenant.