The Word Among Us

September 2023 Issue

I Must . . .

What Compelled Jesus to Serve His Father?

I Must . . .: What Compelled Jesus to Serve His Father?

When do you think is the first time Jesus speaks in the Bible? Is it the beginning of the Gospel of John, when he asks two disciples of John the Baptist, “What are you looking for?” (1:38). Or maybe it is his words to John the Baptist when John tries to prevent him from being baptized: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

Maybe. But if you’re looking at the timeline of his life, the answer comes from when Jesus was only twelve years old. Mary and Joseph had lost track of him during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and found him in the Temple after three days of searching for him. “Why were you looking for me?” he asks them. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

From that moment until the day he was taken up to heaven, Jesus lived out these words. For his entire life, he dedicated himself to being “in his Father’s house” or, as others might translate it, “about his Father’s business.”

This month, we want to look at Jesus’ deep, compelling desire to be in God’s presence and do his will. In this article, we’ll focus on Jesus’ conviction that he must live for his Father. In the next article (page 10), we’ll look at what he meant when he said he wanted to be in his Father’s “house” and what that means for us. And in our final article (page 16), we’ll consider what it felt like for him to be about his Father’s “business,” as well as what God’s business might look like for us.

Compelled yet Free. “Tom, you have to get going on your homework!” “Katie, you need to have that sales report on my desk by tomorrow morning.” Neither of these sound very appealing, do they? We don’t usually like to be told what we have to do. It can sound so threatening or harsh.

So when we hear Jesus say “I must be in my Father’s house,” it can sound as if he didn’t have much of a choice. But how can that be, since he is God? How is it possible for Jesus to feel compelled? Didn’t he, more than any of us, have the freedom to do whatever he felt like doing?

On the one hand, Jesus was completely free. There was no threat of punishment or harsh consequence hanging over his head if he chose a different path. But on the other hand, Jesus lived under the daily sense of obligation to do what his Father wanted of him. The compulsion didn’t come from an external source, like a supervisor at work or an impatient parent. The Father wasn’t forcing his Son to obey. Rather, the compulsion was internal. Something within Jesus urged him to dedicate his life to his Father, to say yes to his Father’s will, and to follow the path his Father had laid out for him.

Compelled by Love. Where did that inner compulsion come from? It came from love. Even when he was on earth, Jesus was one with the Father, and that union was a union of love. From before the beginning of time, the Father poured his love into his Son, and his Son returned that love to his Father. Because Jesus loved his Father so deeply and perfectly, his Father’s desires became his desires. His Father’s will became his delight, a “law” that moved his heart (Psalm 40:9). Even today, Jesus’ eyes are fixed on his Father as he constantly seeks to share God’s love with everyone who comes to him.

This is the love that compelled Jesus that day in the Temple when he was just twelve years old. It’s the same love that compelled him every day of his life. Even when he grew fatigued or weary, he never tired of doing his Father’s will.

Jesus never tired of seeking his Father’s presence, either. Scripture tells us that he would steal away from his disciples at times so that he could spend the night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Before performing miracles, he would offer a prayer to his Father (John 11:41-42; Matthew 14:19; Mark 7:33-34). And of course, before he faced his own death on the cross, Jesus poured out his heart to his Father, praying, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus’ love for his Father spills over eternally to us. In fact, he is just as committed to us as he is to his Father. Just as his love compels him to do his Father’s will, it compels him to want nothing but the beauty and the goodness of the Father’s will for us. He wants only the best for us.

This desire to care for us according to his Father’s will was the driving force behind every miracle Jesus ever performed. It was the source of every word he ever spoke, from the Sermon on the Mount to his cry, “Father, forgive them!” on the cross (Luke 23:34). It’s why he sent us his Spirit, gave us the Church, and promised to come at the end of time to gather us into his kingdom. Just as Jesus said, “I must be in my Father’s house,” he also said, I must love and redeem my Father’s people. And that includes you.

A Holy Compulsion. It wasn’t just Jesus who felt compelled in this way. The prophet Jeremiah is one of many examples of people who felt they “must” serve the Lord. Jeremiah was called by God as a young man to speak his word to the people of Jerusalem—but there were times when he resisted the call. At one point, he confessed, “All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7). So he decided, “I will no longer speak in his name” (20:9). But even then his resistance didn’t last long: “It is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” (20:9). There was something completely captivating about God’s word, and Jeremiah had to keep proclaiming it.

St. Paul also knew this experience of being urged on by the Lord. Writing to the believers in Corinth, he said, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Once Paul realized how much love Jesus had shown him by dying on the cross, all he wanted to do was live for him and share his gospel.

This inner desire to serve the Lord is not limited, however, just to biblical figures or great saints. Everyone can experience it. Moses once cried out, “If only all the people of the Lord were prophets!” (Numbers 11:29). Surely this cry came from a heart that longed to see all of God’s people please the Lord just as he did. In a similar way, St. Peter exhorted his readers “not to spend what remains of one’s life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2). He didn’t write these words just for his fellow apostles or for his closest friends. He wanted to see everyone follow the Lord.

I Must! Brothers and sisters, Jesus has invited us to follow him. He has chosen us to “go and bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16). And he has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can do just that. It’s the Spirit who has poured the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5), and that’s the love that compels us to live for Christ. Our experience of God’s love can light a fire in us and move us to answer, Yes, Lord, I want to follow you. I want to live as your disciple. What do you want me to do today, Lord? Whatever it is, I must do it!

Of course, each of us will feel compelled to serve the Lord in a different way, depending on our circumstances and our talents and abilities. But for all of us, the experience of Christ’s love will move us to seek God in prayer each day. I must come into your presence today, Lord. I must hear your voice in the Scriptures! Jesus, I must receive you in your Body and Blood!

There are also times when awareness of our own sin will move us to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy. When we see the darkness of our lives in the light of Jesus’ perfect love, we are compelled to ask our Father to purify our hearts (Psalm 51:12-13).

At other times, our needs or the needs of a loved one move us to get on our knees and beg the Lord for his help. When we go through a personal challenge or when we see a family member suffering, we want to join the psalmist in praying, “Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck. . . . In your abundant kindness, answer me” (Psalm 69:1, 14).

In every situation, the Spirit is with us to help us say, I must do my Father’s will. And every time we do, we will draw a little closer to the Lord and know his love a little more deeply.

This week, ask yourself:

  • In what ways am I already feeling compelled to do the will of the Lord?
  • Are there areas in my life where I need more of the zeal of the Lord? 

“Speak to me, Lord, and move my heart to do your will! Teach me your ways, and fill me with a deeper desire to obey you!”