Obedience and Order
Obedience – The Yoke of the Kingdom
In an exquisitely tender exhortation, Messiah Yeshua said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). His yoke was that of the Kingdom of His Father in heaven. Yeshua’s life was the perfect demonstration of a life lived in one accord with the will of King of the Universe. Some may view any yoke as a restriction, something that will chafe and bind and weigh one down, hence they run from it and reject God’s ‘yoke’ either in fear and ignorance or in different forms of rebellion.
Obedience that pleases our Father is not based on unhealthy fear or compulsion. God does not overwhelm us with His power and force His will upon us; rather, He woos us patiently in His love. As with the Israelites, He draws us to Himself in a secret place of desert-like stillness and always offers the choice to respond. He desires that we order our lives according to His will, which is perfect and in our best interest. Following the directions of His Word and Spirit, and walking in His ways, enables us to become the person He created us to be. This is not simply an issue of being a good person. In his classic, Mere Christianity, author C.S. Lewis warns that if we try in our own strength to “do good,” to live moral and decent lives simply because that’s the “right” thing to do, one of two things will result: “Either we give up trying to be good, or we become very unhappy indeed!” Obedience must go deeper than trying to change our surface behavior. Lewis adds: “I must be ploughed up and resown!”
Again, the farming metaphor: a farmer will never leave a field untended after the harvest and expect a new healthy crop to grow the following year. It must be cleared, ploughed up, made ready with any necessary fertilizer, and sown with new seed. So with us, as we yield ourselves to our ‘Master Gardner’ and allow the Lord to do His work in us we can expect our lives to bear eternal fruit. Our Father transforms us from the inside out as we “let go” of our selfish desires and predilections. When we yield in peaceful surrender and allow His life to soak right through us by His Spirit, we find that His light and wisdom and truth begin to illumine our days and to brighten our world. A new and beautiful crop of righteousness grows in our life, for His glory.
Interestingly, Yeshua’s first miracle was one of transformation. At the wedding in Cana he turned jars of water into wine – a symbol of joy. A key factor was highlighted when, after the host’s supply of wine was depleted, Yeshua’s mother Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). He told them to fill six large stone water jars with water, and we are told, “…they filled them up to the brim.” This illustrates that to the extent that we obey, so will be our joy. When God asks us to do anything, we should do it to the utmost; then we will discover that “our cup overflows” and our joy will be full!
The miracle was also a picture of God’s life in us and a reminder that, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). When, in Yeshua, we present our hearts to the Father in childlike faith and in humble obedience, we become as “…vessels, sanctified, meet for the Master’s use, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). We are the containers; the Spirit of God fills us, and our lives become a dwelling place for God’s Presence in the earth and a source of living water to others.
In his booklet, The Key to Everything, Norman Grubb points out that, as we are living vessels, we are not meant to be passive containers. In this regard, Yeshua gave us further illustration in his teaching of the vine and the branches. In him, as the vine, we the branches are brought into living relationship with our Father God and can draw on the “sap” of His Kingdom life. Abiding in this “one-ness” we then can participate effectively with Him and produce the leaves, flowers and fruit He has ordained for us. Grubb underscores that the activity of the branch is secondary to its receptivity. “We fail when we make activity a substitute for receptivity. He is the Lord and we are the co-operators, the receivers.” Only in this relationship with Him can we become the true givers of His life, beauty and light. Then we become, as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famed verse, “…a common bush aflame with the Presence of God.”
Participating in God’s Order
We soon realize that the new creation, God-centered life we receive is not an instant, miraculous replacement of our old “self-centered” life. Rather, it is a process of transformation. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England, points out in his book, Future Tense, that the concept of a future that is substantially different from the past is first revealed in the Bible. Abraham was called from a Mesopotamian city-state to camp in desert places and to share the truth of the One God and Creator of all. Moses left the life of a prince in Egypt to live as a shepherd; only then was he called to be the leader in the birthing of God’s chosen people as a nation and, ultimately, to be the one to receive and reveal God’s Torah. Joseph and David were brought from lowly places to be among the greatest kings of history. We are able to apply this same concept in our lives as children of God and also to the history of the world itself. God is a God of Redemption on every level. Rabbi Sacks quotes anthropologist Mircea Eliade who says, “The Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God.”  The God who said, “I will be who I will be” is constantly involved in the present affairs of the world and its people, bringing change and transformation and directing it all towards His planned future. Reflected in the Israelites’ wanderings en route to the Promised Land, we also are on the unpredictable journey that, in the fullness of time, will bring us to God’s Promised Future!
The question now is, “How, then, do we travel?” We can find many answers in a study of the journey of the Israelites. To name a few:
- We travel in faith, believing the words of the Almighty, whose wonders we have seen and whose provision and Presence we enjoy.
- We travel in order, with God at the center; not as an undisciplined mob but in assigned positions, each with a particular purpose.
- We travel in obedience to God’s instructions. We move when He says to move and we camp when He says to stay put! God is in control and we follow Him.
- We focus on His Word, diligently hearing and studying, and increasingly learning more of Him and His ways.
Dallas Willard made the startling and in many cases sadly true observation that, “the churches are filled with undiscipled disciples!” The great co-mission given to disciples of Yeshua is more accurately translated as, “In your going, make disciples of all nations …teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The word ‘disciple’ occurs 269 times in the Brit Chadasha, (New Testament), which signals its importance. The Hebrew equivalent is talmid, meaning student or learner. The purpose of making more students was to “teach them to observe,” to put into practice, all that he had taught them and commanded them to do. Yeshua taught and demonstrated, clarified and filled full of meaning the Word of God, because that is who he was – the Word made flesh; the Bread of Life broken for us that we might eat of it and digest it and absorb it into our very being and become one with it, with him. Yeshua therefore makes the wonderful promise that throughout the process of becoming more like him, studying the Word, living it and sharing it with others, raising up other disciples, he is there: “…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He is here, with us, constantly, until the end of time as we know it and then through eternity.
We have the freedom to learn and change and to do things differently. Inseparable from true freedom in Messiah is the dignity and value of every human being, including ourselves. When we realize our worth as His child and we partner with God in His purposes for our lives, we become an ambassador of hope in the world; a participant in His unfolding plan of redemption – for His glory!
May we, “in our going,” wherever the Lord has placed us or takes us, abide in His love, be obedient to His commands, continue to be students of His Word, and be filled with His joy. Yeshua assures us:
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
1. Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2009, 243.