To Learn Obedience and Become Perfect
On Sunday evenings we are looking at the reasons why Jesus had to die.
We began by thinking just how important the subject was and amongst other things noted that it was part of God's plan and purpose that his Son should die.
This death, we then went on to see, was necessary if sinners were to be shielded from the righteous wrath of God. When Jesus died he bore that wrath instead of us deflecting it away from us to himself. He died bearing the wrath of God that we need never be exposed to it.
Then last week we thought about how Jesus died in order to fully please his Father. Throughout his life Jesus had been dominated by his resolve to live his life in a way that pleased his Father – his death was the final, climactic act of his life and he died still pleasing his Father.
This evening we move on to consider how Jesus' death was necessary in order that his obedience might be brought to be perfection.
Brought to Perfection
The writer to the Hebrews underlines that the death of Christ was no accident but an integral part of the divine plan. The Father had a definite purpose in subjecting his Son to the sufferings he went through:
Heb.2:10 "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering."
According to this verse Jesus' sufferings and death which were designed to perfect the obedience of the Son were entirely fit for God's purpose of setting forth a Saviour capable of saving sinners from the ruin and destruction they were facing:
The apostle does not stop to go into details other than to declare that the whole plan seemed entirely appropriate to the divine mind. The Father who wished to provide a perfect system of redemption was prepared to subject the Son he so much loved to such sufferings as should completely qualify him to be a Saviour for all men. The Son, being always in total harmony and agreement with the Father recognised and fully agreed that it was appropriate for him to suffer so and readily undertook to do so because he agreed that it was fitting.
This subjection to his humble condition, and to his many woes, made him such a Saviour as man needed, and qualified him fully for his work.
In the estimation of Almighty God it was fitting, absolutely appropriate that the One who would go on and redeem the suffering and the lost should share their nature; identify himself with them; participate their woes, and experience the consequences of their sins.
If such a scheme meets with the approval of God Most High surely it should meet with our full approval too. There are deep things here and sometimes men don't like deep things and so reject them. Let us make sure that we don't reject what we might find difficult to understand when it is our understanding not the truth itself which is faulty.
And so we read a little further on in the same letter a confirmation of these words:
Heb.5:8 "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."
Did Jesus need to "be made perfect" or to "learn obedience"
But, someone might say, doesn't Peter tell us that Jesus never did anything wrong?
1 Pet.2:22 "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth."
Isn't that something that any child in Sunday School could tell you? How then can we talk about Jesus being made perfect – for he always was perfect – and how could he learn obedience when he never was anything other than obedient?
Well you don't actually have to go to Peter to find a declaration concerning Jesus' sinlessness, the author of Hebrews declares it too, the same author who writes about Jesus being made perfect.
Heb.4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
So it is clear that the writer to the Hebrews did not see any contradiction in these statements he was making concerning the Lord Jesus.
How then are we to understand what he means?
The answer is to be found in a proper understanding of what perfect means.
Throughout his life, at every stage of his life, Jesus was morally perfect without any sin. However his obedience could nevertheless develop and his perfections become more mature. We must think not in terms of progress from error to correctness, from disobedience to obedience, but instead we must think in terms of righteousness to mature righteousness, from obedience to tested and tried obedience.
Obedience is hardly tested or developed when to obey costs little or nothing – it is obedience but it is no where near as significant or valuable as that obedience which is offered in trying and difficult circumstances.
Tell a football fan that he must go and watch his favourite team play next Saturday and he will find it easy to obey. Tell him on the other hand that he must miss watching his team play in the Cup Final and instead do some shopping for a sick aunt or some other chore he doesn't enjoy and he will find obedience much more trying.
As the personal cost and/or inconvenience to ourselves increases so obedience becomes more and more demanding.
In Jesus' case his whole life was a life of suffering but he always preferred to obey and to pray not my will but yours be done.
With each new test, made progressively harder as the sufferings increased, he "learned obedience" a tried and tested obedience. He made progress as the sufferings intensified becoming more and mature in his perfections. In fact Jesus' entire life can be viewed as one long succession of trials whereby his faith and obedience were sorely tried.
Think for a moment about some of the sufferings he went through in order to attain to a mature, complete, tried and tested perfection.
At the outset of his ministry he encountered Satan in the wilderness and was tempted. Would he alleviate the pangs of hunger by using his extraordinary powers to turn stones into bread? No, he would trust God to provide and if he had provided no bread Jesus would not complain. Would he use those powers to perform some dramatic stunt to impress the crowds? No, that was not God's way and Jesus would not try to force God's hand. Would he be interested in a short cut? No need to suffer opposition, rejection and all the rest – Satan promised him everything without pain. No, Jesus would worship and serve God alone.
Going about his ministry the hardness of men's hearts struck him and angered him. The religious leaders were focused on the wrong things – they were prepared to take a dramatic stand where it wasn't necessary while not doing so where it was! So he continued to heal on the Sabbath and he cleansed the Temple from all the materialistic abuse to which it was been perverted and suffered increasing hostility because of his commitment to serving God.
He knew the pain of being met with thanklessness. He healed ten lepers and wondered why only one returned to say thank you.
He constantly encountered lack of faith or weak faith.
He was so often misunderstood not only by those removed from him but also from those who were numbered amongst his closest friends.
He experienced rejection.
He knew what it was to be abandoned by his friends and to be left alone.
He knew what it was to be falsely accused of crimes he had not committed. He knew what it was to be judged by a kangaroo court, to be condemned at a show trial.
He was greeted by dishonesty and mockery and harsh cruelty.
And through all of this he never once acted wrongly, he never once uttered a word out of place, he never once dishonoured the Name of his Heavenly Father. Through each of these experiences and more he was learning obedience. At every turn his determination to walk in the light as his Father was in the light was tested. As the heat was turned progressively up his resolve and determination were put under increasing pressure – he never cracked – his obedience resolute.
But perhaps you'll remember those words of Satan recorded for us in the Book of Job. You'll remember how God had drawn Satan's attention to "his servant Job" and how Satan had tried to cause Job's downfall:
Satan attacked Job cruelly and didn't succeed but you'll notice that the LORD placed a restriction – Job's life had to be spared.
Now in Jesus' case that restriction is lifted – the tests and the trials would go beyond what even Job had suffered – Jesus' sufferings would include death. Would Jesus be obedient unto death?
You know the answer don't you?
Yes, he was: how fitting it all was!
The result of Jesus being made perfect through suffering
The writer to the Hebrews is ready to tell us
Heb.5:9 "And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,"
My friends this Jesus is just the Saviour you need. Praise God that there is no flaw, no weakness in his plan of salvation.
Let me close by reading a short piece that I first came across when I was a teenager. It's called:
The Long Silence
At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God's throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame -
"Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?", snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. "We endured terror ... beatings ... torture ... death!"
In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. "What about this?" he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. "Lynched, for no crime but being black !"
In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: "Why should I suffer?" she murmured. "It wasn't my fault." Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.
How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light. Where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.
Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man.
Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind.
Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.
At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.
For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.