The Absurdity of Obedience

By
Robert A. Sabin

There are three texts found in the book of Proverbs which are very similar: Proverbs 14:12; 16:25; 21:2. A message repeated three times must be worthy of our attention. Proverbs 14:12: There is a way which seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. That puts a sense of ultimacy on our decisions. There is a way that seemeth right to a man, makes sense, is rational, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 16:25: There is a way that seemeth right unto a man but the end thereof are the ways of death and Proverbs 21:2 is similar: Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

These three texts confront us with the fallibility of our own judgement. When a man says, "Well, I think this," automatically a danger signal should flash in our minds. God said "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8,9). As the heavens are higher than the earth ...the heavens are incalculably higher than the earth...God said, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. It is a continuing mystery why we as human creatures have the audacity to continue to tell God that we think we know the right way.

It started in the Garden of Eden when God gave specific instructions that made no sense to Adam and Eve. God said they could eat of all the trees of the Garden but one (Genesis 2:16,17). They were forbidden to eat of only one tree. Why? What would be wrong with eating of that tree? We can eat of every other tree. Why not that one tree? It makes no sense. My thoughts are higher than your thoughts and my ways than your ways.

Cain must have thought, "Lord, I'm bringing you the very best of my produce -- my vegetables, fruits. I have labored over them and put my very best effort into them. I have selected from among the very cream of my crop, and I bring it to you as an offering" (Genesis 4). God says, My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes but the Lord pondereth the hearts. God has given some very unusual requirements in his Word, and he has never explained himself; he put the commands in the Word and says, this do and thou shalt live.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, "Good Master, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16-23) And the Lord said, "Keep all the commandments. You know the commandments, Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, though shalt not steal...this do and thou shalt live." Jesus asked, "Why callest thou me good for there is none good but one and that is God?" Jesus said this, not because he was not good but because he wanted the man to know that no man has ever walked the face of the earth that could do enough good and be good enough to please a perfect God. It cannot be done. Jesus said that because throughout his Word he taught that without the shedding of blood there is no remission (Hebrews 9:22); that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).

The rich young ruler thought in his heart that he qualified already, and he came to the Lord to get a pat on the back. He came to the Lord to hear the Lord say, "You are all right as you are." He believed that already anyway. So he said, "Good Master, what good thing must I do that I might inherit eternal life?" Jesus said, "Why callest thou me good? for there is none good but one and that is God." In other words Jesus was telling him that he was not good enough to inherit eternal life in his present condition. Then the Lord gave an absurd commandment. He said, Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor. "Rich young ruler, go sell everything you have, give it to the poor, come take up your cross and follow me." Then he said,"If you will do this you will live."

"How absurd," thought the young man."Ridiculous. We have commandments engraven in stone that tell us what we should do. There is nothing in those about selling everything that you have. I think I am all right the way I am. I think I have done the law of Moses. I think everything is all right. Absurd! Go sell what thou hast. Give it to the poor." The absurdity does not end there.

In 2 Kings 5:1-15, we find the story of Naaman, an important military leader of Syria who was a leper. A little servant girl in Naaman's household told her master,"If you want to be healed of your leprosy, you go down to my land. It's not a very great land. We're oppressed, and we're rather humble and meager among the nations of the earth; and I am sure that we don't qualify as being really part of the elite. But you go down there, and there is a prophet of God there; and if you will inquire of him, I believe you can be healed of your leprosy" (2 Kings 5:3). Elisha, the prophet of God told him to go dip seven times in the river Jordan. Naaman reaction was not one of obedience: "What in the world! I come from Syria and we have beautiful rivers up there. The Abana and Pharpar. They are beautiful rivers. Why dip in the muddy river Jordan seven times? Absurd! Stupid! Come, we will pack up and go back to Syria. The whole trip has been a waste."

Then one of Naaman's servants along with him said,"Master if he'd bid you do some great thing why you would have done it. If he had told you to go conquer some army or do some magnificent gesture, make some grand gift, you brought along camels burdens of raiment and clothing. If he had bid you give him that why you would have done that. Why can't you do what he said?" (2 Kings 5:13)

Dip seven times. Why not one time? That ought to have been sufficient. Why not just sprinkle a little of the water of the river Jordan on his head? Why seven times? God does not explain himself. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." The absurdity of obedience.When the man came up from the seventh dipping, his skin was like a baby's skin.

I don't know why it is, but God's way is the best way. We can figure all sorts of reasons why it is absurd. We can figure all sorts of reasons why it is ridiculous. We can figure all sorts of reasons why it does not appeal to our feeble intellect. It seems dumb and stupid and redundant, but it works.

I think the most absurd act that God ever required was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In fact, the New Testament sets that forth as an absurdity. It was such an absurdity that almost the entire Hebrew nation stumbled at it (Romans 9:33). Paul said they stumbled at this rock of offence (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). He said the cross is to the Greeks foolishness but he said to us who are called it is the wisdom of God and the power of God. He cried with strong crying and tears regarding the absurdity of the cross and was heard from his reverence. He was heard. He could have been delivered. He was heard. Jesus could have got through that prayer. He could have been delivered. "I will not disobey. I will not pull back from the revolting and disgusting absurdity of this cross, but I will obey." He prayed,"Not my will but thine be done" (Matthew 26:39-42). He did obey. The Psalmist said about him, "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo I come in the volume of the book it is written of me to do thy will O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8, cf. Hebrews 10:5-7). Psalm 40:6-8 is from the Hebrew scriptures. This is clearly a prophecy. It was later fulfilled in the New Testament. In verse twelve it says, "For innumerable evils have compassed me about. Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me so that I am not able to look up. They are more than the hairs of mine head. My heart faileth me."

Iniquities are sins—I wondered about that. Was the Psalmist talking about Christ as he obviously was in verse eight? I delight to do thy will O my God, and then did he switch back and begin to think of himself for he said, Innumerable evils have compassed me about? Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me so that I am not able to look up. Was he talking about himself there? I wondered what is meant by the mention of iniquities here. Whose iniquities were they? Were they iniquities of Jesus?

Jesus did have iniquities upon him, but they were not his own; they were the iniquities of the world. That was the hard part about Calvary; that was the absurd part. The absurdity was not that he wanted to escape from the nails being driven through his hands; it was not that he wanted to avoid the crown of thorns placed upon his head; it was not that he was unwilling to yield his back to the smiters so that they would smite him until perhaps bone was exposed; it was not the thought of drinking gall and vinegar; it was not that he hated the thought of hanging on the cross in anguish for six hours; it was not that he dreaded the people laughing at him, spitting on him, and yelling insults. The absurdity of Calvary was that the only one who ever lived perfect on this earth; the only one that had never committed a sin; the only one that said, "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me," had to become sinful. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The most absurd thing that God has ever required of any creature was to require the sinless man of Calvary to become sin, to take on iniquity, to take on sinfulness.

In comparison to what Jesus did for us, it is so easy to repent of ours sins; it is so easy to get baptized in Jesus' name; it is so easy to be filled with the Holy Ghost; it is so easy to be a Christian; it is so easy to keep God's laws of marital fidelity; it is so easy to deny ourselves the pleasures of the world which God's Word has taken away from us. The most difficult thing in the world to ever do was for the Lord Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, to become sin for us.

Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to do that? Why is that necessary? Why does God's way not appeal to my intellect more? Why can't God's plan make sense to me? Because our intellects are not great enough. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8,9). Everything that God requires makes so much sense if you look at it from his point of view. Go wash the mud from your blind eyes in the pool of Siloam and you will see (John 9:7). That makes a whole lot of sense. "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38). Paul said, "Were you baptized in the name of Paul or was Paul crucified for you?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). Why must we be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ? Because he was the one who was crucified for us. The Bible says we are "buried with him in baptism" (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12). We can argue all day long, but the Bible says, "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). How simple.

Consider Mary when the angel came to her and said,"You are going to have a son" (Luke 1:30-38). She did not understand how she could become a mother as a virgin, but her attitude was so great. She said, Lord, be it unto me according to thy word. There was no protest.

Jesus came washing the feet of the disciples in John 13:5-9. When he got to Peter, Jesus met the opposition of the usual human intellect. Peter said, "Not so, Lord. Not me. You are not going to wash my feet. You will never wash my feet; it makes no sense to me. Why should you wash my feet? That is not rational." The Lord Jesus said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." Thank God, Peter then let his mind slip into cadence with the mind of God and said Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. The absurdity of obedience. It does not make sense to us; it does not appeal to our intellect.

Acts 8:26-40 tells of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. We are not given all the details but it says that Philip joined himself to the chariot. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading in Isaiah 53. Philip joined himself to the man and he said, "Do you understand what you read? And the man said how can I understand except some man show me?" Philip started at that scripture and preached unto him Jesus. It does not tell us what all he said. Just that he preached Jesus. But as they came to a body of water, the eunuch said, "Here is water what doth hinder me to be baptized?" He was ready. What a spirit. They went down both into the water. I do not know what it was like for that Eunuch to complete his journey with dripping wet clothes and with whatever servants might have been along after watching the humiliation of Philip and the Eunuch going down into the water and getting baptized, but it did not seem to make any difference to the Eunuch. The Bible says he went his way rejoicing!

The Philippian jailor of Acts 16:25-35 was about to commit suicide. The jail was broken down. An earthquake took place. The jailor thought the prisoners had escaped. Paul said, "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here." The jailor asked Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul told him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord. . . . They explained unto him the way of the Lord more completely or perfectly. Paul might have said, "I am going to tell you all things now that you need to do, and among those things that you need to do is to be baptized. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." The Bible says he arose that same hour of the night. I don't know what inconveniences were involved, but there certainly were some. But he arose that same hour of the night and was baptized, he and all his house.

Abraham obeyed. The Jews said, "We are children of Abraham." In other words, "We have the pedigree. We have the genealogy." Jesus said to them, "If you were children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39). "You would obey even though it might mean an absurdity, even though it might mean something that may not make the greatest sense to you."

We make excuses and rationalizations. "I am not going to repent for this reason, or I am not going to be baptized for that reason, or God does not care about me." One man came to our church services for several years. He would say, "A few gallons of water does not make any difference to God. If a few gallons of water will cause me to go to hell, I guess I'll just go to hell. God does not care if I am sprinkled or immersed." I could not convince him otherwise. I loved him. We tried to tell him the truth. The last time I saw him he was in a rest home, and he had completely lost his mind. I stopped at the nurses' desk and asked for him.

She gave me directions and added, "He won't know you. He sits in the hallway and watches the trains go by."

"What trains?" I asked.

"Imaginary trains. He does not know anybody. He won't know you."

I went to the place where he was. He reached out his hands; and he said, "Pray for me, pray for me." I did. I tried, in the final circumstances of his life, to do what I could.

I thought of all the Sunday nights that I would go back and say to him, "Don't you want to come to the altar? Don't you want to give your heart to God? Don't you want to get baptized in Jesus' name?"

He would say, "Ah, God doesn't care about a few gallons of water. If a few gallons of water makes some difference, I'll just go to hell." I hope he did not go to hell.

My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. God's way is the best way. The sacrifice of Calvary may seem to be such an absurdity. How in the world could God get any good from blood flowing down that old rugged cross? How in the world could that make any sense as far as the law of Moses was concerned. We attempt to force our way through to God on our terms. We can say,"God will accept what I am going to do. It may be contrary to his word, and it may be that his word has forbidden it; but I've got it added up in my mind so that it is right, and I am going to do it. "But the end thereof," the Bible says, "are the ways of death." The absurdity of obedience is a truth we cannot escape.


Teaching others who Jesus really is Contact us