October 14, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. . . .
We felt like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride. Remember how she approaches the altar—that long awaited moment when she would face the man she’d spend the rest of her life with—and all she can think to do is run away in a panic? On the day we met the little boy we’d formally adopt a few days later, our hearts sunk into our lower intestine. Whatever fantasies we had about welcoming a new child into our family were suddenly eclipsed by fears of, among other things, all we might lose as a result of accepting this responsibility.
It’s a delicate matter for a pastor to use his own experiences to make a point. His failures can be interpreted as giving license to do likewise—his triumphs as subtle self-promotion. So, in speaking of one moment in our recent history, I pray you will let neither our weakness give you excuse nor our strength suggest conceit. First, though, a little context for those of you who live beyond our church community:
When we last spoke last Sunday about the humility of Jesus in His obedience unto death, we argued that part of its radicalness was in the character of His obedience. Though it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross (Heb 12:2), His steps toward that cruel cross were not in a lighthearted frame. Furthermore, though He walked resolutely into His passion, it was not without the experience of profound and agonizing ambivalence, which He enunciated at Gethsemane. So we say Jesus’ obedience was radical in its character because He committed Himself to what He knew was His Father’s will despite His own significant misgivings. He did not insist that His heart be entirely without wistfulness for some other alternative before He would do what was right.
Why Jesus’ humble obedience is compelling to us is that we, in some small way, felt a similar ambivalence in the face of what was, in our mind at least, a huge undertaking in adopting a son.
To say yes to adoption was to invite all manner of change. We would have all the responsibilities of caring for an infant foisted upon us afresh. We would be introducing, so to speak, an unknown quantity into our family, the consequences of which were unforeseeable. Because he is of a different ethnicity, we had to confront a subterranean, inarticulate racism in our own hearts. And almost three years earlier, the last baby of ours we’d held in our arms was one we had to say goodbye to in death. All these concerns created in us palpable ambivalence. While others have voiced their almost “primal” affections for their adopted children at first sight, our experience was far more tentative. And our tentativeness prompted questions as to the propriety of the choice.
For two days we wrestled, praying with tears and soliciting wisdom from godly counsel. Myriad questions continued to beset us until one wise mentor put them all in perspective. “Your questions,” he said forthrightly, “are fear and convenience couched in theological language.” He then supplanted them all with the only important question: “Would God be pleased by this decision?” We knew the answer to that question. It was the same answer God articulated through His own Son. God was pleased to bring near those who were once far off by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13)—to adopt as sons through Christ, not according to anything in them, but according to His gracious purpose (Eph 1:5). In other words, what we had been given the opportunity to do in adopting this little boy was precisely what God took the opportunity to do for all those who now call Him Father.
As the finishing touch on our mentor’s wise counsel, he assured of this: “If you adopt this boy, you will flaunt the grace of God in front of everyone, beginning with yourselves.” Though there had been a moment when all we could think to do was run, now a new thought pealed like church-bells, “We can’t not obey this moment.” With the radical character of Jesus’ obedience as both our guide and our rationale, we said yes, though with a measure of fear and trembling.
On this side of the decision we see that it is through this kind of obedience not yet fully refined that we “work out our salvation,” as He works in us to will and to work according to His good pleasure (Phil 2:12,13). God had something to do in us as we sought to do something for our new son. Fear gripped us when we first laid our eyes on him. Lately as we consider how he has blessed our family even in the short time we’ve had him, we are often stunned into silence at the thought that we ever hesitated. We cannot see the future, but we do know this: love takes risks because Christ risked all for love.
Again, we tell our story, not to extol ourselves (if anything we blush at the substance of our hesitations), but to extol the One who was a beacon for a choice that was radical to us—just as His choice was radical for us. We also tell it to you to ask a straightforward question: what implications does the radical character of Jesus’ obedience have for an issue in your life where your ambivalent feelings might be overshadowing the righteousness of the choice?