Obedience isn’t easy. Sometimes it goes with the flow of things, or the exaltation that comes with bone-deep certainty. But other times it cuts against the grain of a person’s soul, scraping it raw like the rough stone of reality pushed up hard against it, stabbing it deep like the surgeon’s knife that must still remove the deadly tumour whether there is pain relief or not. But the one who steps forward, in and through that pain, finds such a glory of love on the other side that the light flows in them and through them, down to us on the far side of the years.
Picture a man, grey with the terrible burden of hope deferred, walking heavily up the mountain with a young lad by his side, carrying alone the terrible knowledge that the life of this long-promised child is required of him. He does not yet know that the angel of the Lord shall halt the proceedings, or that the ram caught in the thicket shall die in the child’s stead, a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God who will one day die for all, but he walks wearily up the hill. For how can he say no to such a God, even when his heart is breaking?
Moving forward in time, picture another man, barefoot in the desert because he has been ordered to take off his shoes on holy ground. He stands before the bush that burns but is not consumed, questioning the command he has been given by the transcendent God who meets him there. Who is he, a long time fugitive from Egypt, to appear before the throne of Pharaoh and request that the slave race should be set free? He is no silver-tongued orator to sway the heart of such a monarch, he is a man who failed before, and has eked out his years as a shepherd in the wilderness. Can’t God find somebody more suitable? Nevertheless he goes, empowered to do more than he can dream or imagine, and history is changed and God is revealed as the Redeemer.
And here is another man centuries later, rubbing his eyes as he wakes from a strange vision. Why would God be asking him to break the Law and eat what is unclean? Then the meaning is revealed: God’s salvation is not just for an elite, nor race, nor gender, nor social caste can bar anybody from God’s great salvation, and thus he goes to the home of the gentile, where the Law had said he should not go, for now a greater than the Law had come, and in fulfilling the Law had stepped beyond it, and mercy was triumphant.
For there is one other man we must picture, whose terrible obedience gives the reason and the meaning to these others. For he kneels alone in an olive garden, in the bitterest hour of the night, and the sweat of his anguish falls from him like great drops of blood as he cries out in his agony, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done!” And beyond that choice lies public humiliation, gross injustice, excruciating pain and the desolation of God’s rejection. He is embracing death in its undiluted horror. But beyond those again lies wonder and glory and life and the redemption of the world. His love, his choice, his death, his resurrection give meaning and glory to every other hard choice which faith must make.