With Christmas very quickly approaching, my church is moving through our Advent series in which we are focusing on the humanity of Jesus. Last Sunday we looked at what it means that Jesus is The Man Who Learned Obedience. The Bible teaches that Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered during his earthly life, but saying something like that raises some pretty big questions. How could Jesus learn obedience? Does that mean he was disobedient beforehand? Wouldn’t that cause some issues with what we know about Jesus??
Hebrews 5:7-9 says this about Jesus:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”
How can this passage say that Jesus learned obedience? Was he disobedient beforehand, but only figured out this whole ‘obedience’ thing once he became a human? And how can it say, “once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation”? If Jesus is fully God, wasn’t he always perfect to begin with?
Let’s first tackle the question of what it means that Jesus learnt obedience, and from there things should clear up a bit so that we can properly understand the line about Jesus being “made perfect.”
This passage is saying that during Jesus’ earthly life he learned obedience from what he suffered. The sufferings referred to here could include all the normal human weakness and suffering that Jesus would have gone through, but they also refer more specifically to Jesus’ suffering when he was tortured and crucified.
Jesus underwent these sufferings in obedience to the Father. It was God’s good plan that Jesus would sacrifice himself for the sins of humanity, and Jesus obeyed the Father in carrying out that plan. And it was only through these sufferings that Jesus really experienced obedience in the fullest meaning of the word.
The Test of True Obedience
Think about what obedience really means. It’s one thing to be obedient when it doesn’t cost you anything, but it’s an entirely different thing to obey when it costs you, when you have to suffer for that obedience. Honestly, one could question whether the former kind of obedience really counts for anything at all.
If a parent commands their child to do something that the child would have done anyway, that is no evidence that the child is actually being obedient.
This becomes blatantly obvious as soon as that parent tells them to do something they don’t want to do; suddenly you’ll find out whether they are really obedient or not. Real obedience is demonstrated when we obey even when we don’t feel like it. Real obedience is obedience that costs you something.
This is what it means that Jesus learned obedience through suffering. It’s not that he was disobedient before – it’s simply that his obedience had not been tested. Existing for all eternity with the Father, Jesus was never in a position where obedience could cause him suffering or harm. But that all changed when he became a human.
By becoming a human and sharing in our suffering and weakness, he obeyed the Father to the point of suffering and even death. This demonstrated his perfect obedience and submission to the Father. He learned obedience through suffering, experiencing what it is to obey even at great cost to himself.
By obeying even through suffering, Jesus learned costly obedience first-hand.
Why This Matters For Us
It’s great news for us that Jesus learned obedience through suffering!
We now have a High Priest who knows first-hand how difficult it is for us to obey God when it causes us suffering. We have a Mediator who knows what it means to obey God and get whipped for it, who knows what it is to be ostracised, mocked, and ridiculed for choosing to obey God rather than men. Especially for us Christians in the West, we have a Mediator who suffered for his obedience to God far more than we would ever have to.
Jesus was perfectly obedient to the Father through it all. He didn’t flinch back, but pressed on, and by his obedience he won for us an eternal salvation. He became the perfect High Priest for a broken humanity, because he himself shared in our brokenness first-hand.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Heb 5:8-9).
Jesus was perfected in his role as the Mediator between God and humanity because he suffered, just like we do.
Jesus is familiar with our weakness and suffering. And because of this, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, and receive mercy and find grace to help us in our need.