Lance Armstrong was the greatest cyclist in the world, dominating the Tour de France, the most prestigious of all bicycle races. It changed in October of 2012 as headlines read, “Lance Armstrong Striped of Seven Tour de France Titles.” Armstrong’s censor came following an investigation that found him guilty of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. He was also banned for life from competitive cycling. The man who had once been hailed as a champion was branded as a cheater. Armstrong’s story is one that is told countless times in the annuls of history; a person rises to title and fame only to lose their position because they lack the character to back it up.
A Different Life
The life of Jesus was different. In teaching about Jesus the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9, 10). The name Jesus was common in the first century, but the way Jesus lived gave it special significance. Today followers of Jesus revere his name, pray in his name, and rejoice in speaking his name. The name of Jesus has been raised to a place of honor because Jesus fulfilled his ministry in a God-honoring way.
While he ministered, Jesus came to be known by several titles. His followers called him Rabbi, a title reserved for the most knowledgeable teachers. Though Jesus was not schooled as other rabbis, his followers were amazed by his teaching. At Caesarea Philippi Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ. The title Christ means “anointed one,” indicating that Jesus was anointed by God for the special mission of saving the world from sin. In the book of Hebrews Jesus is called the great High Priest, the one who intercedes for us to God. These titles laud Jesus, but for all they teach us about him, the picture they present is incomplete. Jesus is known by his actions as well as his titles. He lived with a character that backed up his claims.
Hebrews 5:7 reads, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Jesus was not heard because of his lofty titles but because of his reverent submission. The lofty titles given to Jesus are well deserved, but it was his lowly submission that gave special power to his ministry. Study the life of Jesus and you’ll see this reverent submission wasn’t a singular action but a character with which Jesus lived his life. Reverent submission means that Jesus recognized the authority of Father God and choose to show reverence by living in obedience to God and in service to others.
Jesus was totally obedient to the will of Father God. At the end of his earthly life Jesus told his disciples, “I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). One might argue that as the Son of God it was easy for Jesus to obey, but the Scripture teaches differently. Hebrews 5:8 summarizes the obedience of Jesus with these words: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” As Jesus struggled in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked the Father to free him from the prospect of the cross but in the same breath submitted, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Through all the temptations and trouble, the criticism of foes and abandonment of friends, Jesus never faltered in his obedience to the Father.
The reverent submission of Jesus also expressed itself in service to others. This servant attitude is well characterized by Paul who wrote of Jesus, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6, 7). The word translated servant speaks of a slave with no rights. Jesus gave up the supreme rights of being equal with God to serve us on earth as a slave. Jesus’ life was characterized by serving. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, lifted the lowly, taught the lost, and ultimately died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin.
As followers of Jesus we are compelled to worship him, recognizing his glory as spelled out by his many titles. And we are called to emulate his character which was proven by his reverent submission. This attitude of submission means that we live in obedience to God. Sometimes obedience to God means saying no to the demands of others. When Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish legal council and ordered not to preach Christ, their bold reply was, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29). They were obedient to God even if it meant physical suffering. At other times obedience to God means saying no to our own selfish will. It becomes hard for us to obey when we focus on what we want, our sinful desires and prideful attitudes. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:13). He knew that when we focus on loving him, we will want to please him. It is out of this love relationship with Jesus that we understand that what he wants for us is better than anything we could ever want for ourselves. Obedience that grows out of reverent submission is not oppressive and stifling; it is life giving.
Submission through Service
The attitude of submission expresses itself in serving. Serving was such an important quality to Jesus that he reminded his disciples that whoever would be great among them must be a servant. On the night before he went to the cross, Jesus shared a lesson in servanthood when he got up from the table and began to wash the disciples’ feet, the job of the lowest of servants. Serving others can be rewarding and even fun, but it can also be inconvenient and costly. Jesus calls us to have an attitude of service when it is easy and when it is hard.
When teaching a course at Jamaica Bible Seminary I had the privilege of meeting a lady called Sister Joyce, who served as our cook for the week. Sister Joyce lived in a nearby community and awoke at 4:00 a.m. to travel to the Seminary via a long walk and taxi ride to prepare our meals for the day. The kitchen was adjacent to the Seminary classroom and at times I could hear Sister Joyce quietly singing praise as she worked. She took such joy and pleasure in serving I was reminded of another who served at a table. Sister Joyce will never earn a seminary degree like the students she feeds, but she understands better than most what it means to serve like Jesus.
Jesus was heard because of his reverent submission. His prayer was answered as he conquered death and rose from the grave. For us, reverent submission brings the challenges of obedience and servanthood and promises the rewards of fulfillment and joy.
Clark Bates is an Associate Minister at McCook Christian Church, McCook, Nebraska. Clark and his wife, Dawna, have ministered in McCook for 34 years and are currently developing a regional ministry to revitalize small churches.