How many times must the disciples have heard Jesus say, “I do nothing of my own. I do only what My Father tells Me” (paraphrase, see John 5:19, 8:28)?
One of the many examples of this is found in John 11. Lazarus, the man Jesus loved dearly, is terribly sick. So his sisters send word to Jesus to come quickly to their aid, I’m sure with the hope that perhaps Jesus will heal him.
Upon hearing of His friend’s sickness, I am certain that many emotions were stirred in Jesus’ heart. Just imagine how you would feel if your closest and dearest friend was terribly ill and dying in the hospital. Would you not rush to your friend’s aid, laying aside your plans and agendas just to be with him in his time of need?
Jesus was fully God and fully man, so I am sure that He very much wanted to make the trip immediately, to go and touch His friend Lazarus and raise him up. When He heard about Lazarus’s sickness, He was about 30 miles away from the town he lived in—at least a two-day journey! But the Bible does not tell us that Jesus rushed out the door to go to Lazarus. Instead, “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was” (John 11:4–6, emphasis mine).
Later in the chapter we read of Jesus finally arriving at the tomb of Lazarus, who had now already been dead for four days. Both Mary and Martha cried to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, [our] brother would not have died” (John 11:21).
Why was Jesus not there sooner? Why didn’t He go right away, as soon as He heard the news, before Lazarus died?
The answer is found in John 5:19—“The Son can do nothing of Himself.” The moment Jesus heard the news about Lazarus, He looked up and asked His Father what He must do. The Father must have told Him, “Son, it is not the time. Wait.” And so Christ waited, demonstrating absolute submission to His Father’s will.
And again, in the last few minutes of Jesus’ life, before going to the cross, the disciples witnessed Christ kneeling and again talking to His Father, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42, emphasis mine). It was the Father’s will for the Son to drink the cup that He gave Him. Even though inside Jesus pleaded for it to be taken from Him, He yielded to the will of His Father. In life and in death, Christ showed how He submitted Himself to His Father’s will and authority, leaving this as an example for His disciples—and us—to follow.
Jesus was not only referring to submitting to spiritual authority either. He submitted to the governing authorities of His day as well, subject to the decisions of Herod and Pontius Pilate. If Christ, the One who rules the nations and sits at the right-hand throne of God, came to this earth and submitted to the leaders of His day, how much more should we?
How does Jesus’ example apply to our lives? Sometimes the leadership God places in our lives may be younger than we or perhaps less able or wise in our eyes. We must recognize that God is the One who placed those individuals over us. Romans 13:1–2 (NIV) says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” We cannot break God’s order.
Jesus recognized in the garden of Gethsemane, as the Roman soldiers came to take Him away, that they “could have no power at all against [Him] unless it had been given [them] from above” (John 19:11). And we must recognize the same in our lives, allowing each circumstance to be used as the tool to produce in us the submission and humility of Christ.
In Judges 7, we find the story of Gideon and his army. Starting at 32,000 men, Gideon’s army was quickly reduced to 10,000, and again until only 300 men, chosen by God, marched with him. That’s less than one percent of what he started with! But Gideon didn’t need a large army—only a small one that would simply follow instructions.
According to simple math and logic, the men in his army were incredibly outnumbered and doomed to die by the massive, opposing army. But according to the plan and instructions of the Lord, Gideon readied his men, giving each a clay pot containing a torch inside (see Judges 7:16). He then turned to his army and said, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do” (Judges 7:17). Gideon had his men surround the enemy, holding these clay pots in their hands. When he gave them the go-ahead, the men were to break the pots and cause the light to shine out (see Judges 7). They followed Gideon’s command and defeated their enemy that day.
These 300 men were totally committed to following Gideon’s instruction regardless of how illogical it seemed. They had no opinion of their own or suggestions for Gideon on how to win the battle. Their attitude was, “Whatever you say, we will do.” Their submission to the authority of their leader was complete. And so it must be in our lives—total submission to God our Father and the leaders He places over us.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” But unless we come to the place of giving up our stubborn will, our own ambitions and our way of doing things, the light of Christ will never shine out from us, the earthen vessels.
A.W. Tozer once said, “God cannot use a man greatly until He has broken him deeply.” I believe this is true. If Jesus had not submitted and listened to the Father concerning Lazarus, the glory and power of God would not have been displayed through his resurrection. If Gideon’s men decided their leader was foolish and therefore did not submit and follow his command, the battle never would have been won, nor the victory given to God. Jesus has set before us His submission as an example that we might do exactly as He has done.
First Corinthians 4:2 (TLB) says, “Now the most important thing about a servant is that he does just what his master tells him to.” Let us then press on to follow our Master— Jesus—and live this kind of life pleasing to Him, sustained by the submission, humility and love that we see in Him.
© 2003, 2004 by KP Yohannan, the president and founder of Gospel for Asia. It was written with the intention of encouraging and edifying the Body of Christ. To learn more about Gospel for Asia or to receive additional free resources, visit Gospel for Asia’s website.
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