Learning Obedience Through Suffering

Learning Obedience Through Suffering

Reading Paul’s letter from prison to the Philippians made me think about suffering in a new way. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (Philippians 1:29)

Paul seems to be saying suffering can be viewed as a divine appointment or a gift, just as much as belief in Christ. When I think of suffering as divine appointment, it makes me think of the significance of Jesus' earthly ministry, during which He experienced the full spectrum of human emotions and challenges. (Hebrews 4:14:16)

Further on in Hebrews (5:7-8) we see a glimpse into the depth of Jesus' humanity and the intensity of His suffering. We read that during His time on earth, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death. This portrayal of Jesus in prayer reveals His vulnerability and His dependence on the Father.

Yes, the Son of God, experienced anguish, and fear in the face of His impending death. But when we grasp the weight of what He was about to endure—the full weight of the Father's judgment against sin—His anguish becomes understandable. In Gethsemane, Jesus' tearful prayer foreshadowed the agony He would face on the cross, highlighting the authenticity of His humanity.

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. 39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:36-39)

Going back to Hebrews 5:8, the idea that Jesus "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;" (Hebrews 5:8) may initially puzzle us. How could the Son of God, who was without sin, need to learn obedience?

Seventeenth century Puritan theologian John Owen provides valuable insight into this verse when he suggests that Jesus learned obedience not in the sense of acquiring new knowledge, but through experiencing it firsthand in His humanity. In other words, Jesus gained a deeper understanding of obedience as He endured the hardships and trials of His earthly life, culminating in His ultimate act of obedience on the cross.

It seems then that the obedience referenced in Hebrews 5:8 includes submission to difficult circumstances, accompanied by patience, endurance, and unwavering faith. Through His suffering, Jesus demonstrated perfect obedience to the Father's will, even when faced with unimaginable pain, suffering a cruel death and the burden of our sin.

Jesus' suffering enables Him to empathize with our own struggles and hardships. He knows firsthand the challenges we face, and He stands ready to offer comfort, strength, and grace in our times of need. In Jesus, we find a compassionate High Priest who understands our weaknesses and intercedes for us with understanding and empathy.

Let’s praise Him for loving us enough to become like us.

Credit: Ron Kelley

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