David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

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The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 13: Joy in Obedience (3 of 3)

NOTE: This will be the only post this week as I turn the crank on finishing the last chapter of The Epiphany of Joy prior to final update and submission to the readers.  Thanks again for supporting this effort, and I’ll keep everyone up-to-date on the latest status on The Epiphany of Joy and Melted Clowns as both books move forward to publication.

And now for The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 13: Joy in Obedience, installment 3 of 3 . . . . . .

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Obedience to God’s commands also keeps you planted firmly in God’s presence, and this brings about a joy that cannot be taken away. “’If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did,’” God promised Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah, “’I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you’” (1 Kings 11:38 NIV).

Disobedience to what we know to be right, on the other hand, has consequences of its own, and for the Hebrews of the Old Testament, it got ugly. God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden after they ate the forbidden fruit. God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt after the angels specifically commanded Lot and his family not to look back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God stripped away all but one of Solomon’s kingdoms after his fall from God’s favor. God allowed the Israelites to be captured and taken into exile to Assyria and to Babylonia: “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (2 Kings 17:7 NIV). In both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God very clearly defined the consequences of disobeying the Law. The Israelites, for their part, very clearly defined the term “stiff-necked people.”

But it’s from the single act of obedience by a young Hebrew virgin girl named Mary that forever changed history and brought permanent joy into the world:

 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

–Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

 

“May your word to me be fulfilled . . . .” Christian obedience to God’s commands under post-resurrection grace is just as relevant as Hebrew obedience to God’s commands while living under the pre-resurrection Law. Just as the moral spirit of the Law remains as fully alive today as it did 5,000 years ago, obedience to Jesus’ new command to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV) encompasses “All the Law and the Prophets,” as Jesus responded when tested by the expert in the law in Matthew 22:40.

“If you love me, keep my commands,” Jesus told his apostles before his arrest (John 14:15 NIV). And as Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden led to the Fall, Christ’s obedience to the cross led to humankind’s reconciliation with God. “Son though he was,” the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. . . . For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 5:8-10, 12:2b NIV).

From the obedience of a humble Jewish girl to the obedience of her Son, mankind has been reconciled with the Father. “And being found in appearance as a man,” Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi, “[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8 NIV). By Christ’s example, and by our willingness to step out in faith and become obedient to our calling to live as children of God, we are made righteous. By grace we have been freed, and it is by love that we are called to remain obedient to the God who loves us so much “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

“There is an indescribable joy that comes from being obedient,” Caroline Barnett said in her book Willing to Walk on Water. “When all is said and done, you have willingly been part of a greater cause” (Caroline Barnett, Willing to Walk on Water, “Chapter 12: The Power of One,” page 218). Now if I could only get Hannah to listen to me when I tell her pick up her clothes and turn them right-side out, all would truly be right with the world.

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

 

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 13: Joy in Obedience (2 of 3)

Throughout the Old Testament God is clear about the results of obeying His commands: things will go well. “Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you,” God said through His prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:23b NIV). Here Jeremiah was reminding the Hebrews of God’s promises in Leviticus 26 in return for their obedience. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses wrote: “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33 NIV).

Several years ago one of our church small group members described an epiphany he experienced while driving. “If you stay within the speed limit,” God told him, “you remain under my covering of protection. But if you speed, you move out from under that covering.” Speed limits have been imposed in an effort to protect folks from the consequences of irresponsible driving; God’s precepts have been given to protect folks from the consequences of sin. Remain obedient and things will go well for you.

When Hannah disobeys us then asks why we’ve disciplined her, Mary and I sometimes paraphrase what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, regarding the Fifth Commandment: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV). The alternative, we tell her, is for us to eat her. A little hyperbole never hurt anyone, but it sometimes leads Hannah to paraphrase back to me Paul’s next line: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children . . .” (Ephesians 6:4a NIV). Smart aleck.

Obedience to God’s commands also leads to power. In Deuteronomy 11, Moses instructed the Hebrews “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him–then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you” (Deuteronomy 11:22-23 NIV). And in Deuteronomy 28:1, God promised to raise Israel “high above all the nations of the earth” as long as they heeded His voice and obeyed His commands. In Deuteronomy 28:9 (NIV) Moses reiterated this truth: “The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him.”

As we keep God’s commands as grace-covered children of the New Covenant, as we yield ourselves to God’s authority, as we love Him and fear Him, we open our hearts and our lives to receive His unlimited power for His Kingdom, His glory, and our joy. As Jesus said to his apostles before His arrest, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14 NIV). And later He promised the disciples, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24b NIV).

Obedience to God’s commands also results in prosperity. “Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses,” David told his son, Solomon, before he died. “Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go” (1 Kings 2:3 NIV). In the Second Book of Chronicles, the Chronicler described Hezekiah, one of the most upright kings of Judah, as a man who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NIV). And as a consequence of “doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God,” Hezekiah flourished. “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:21 NIV).

Obedience to God’s commands also leads to long life. After Solomon asked God for wisdom instead of long life and wealth, God told him “if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life” (1 Kings 3:14 NIV). And again, the Fifth Commandment says “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Deuteronomy 5:16 NIV). Whenever Hannah questions the wisdom of what we’re asking her to do, Mary and I remind her that obedience leads to things continuing to go well for her. Then we throw in Bill Cosby’s famous line for punctuation: “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out” (Bill Cosby, Himself).

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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