7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. 8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. 9 In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. Hebrews 5: 7-9, NLT
Hebrews 5:8 is an interesting verse, isn’t it? We tend to think of Jesus as fully-formed, fully-mature, all-knowing God. And he is. So why did he need to “learn” anything?
I think the answer lies in Christ’s humanity: Jesus needed to learn things because he was fully human, and learning is an integral part of being human.
When Jesus came to the Earth, he didn’t just dip his toe into our humanity; he dove right in. He was like us in every way (Hebrews 2:17). That meant he wasn’t exempt from passing through the normal developmental checkpoints of life.
Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus grew mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. He memorized the Torah like other Jewish boys. He got big enough to help with household chores and work with his dad out in the shop. He learned about his culture and how to interact well with others. He became what grandma might call “a fine upstanding young man.” And as he did so, it was pleasing to his family, his community, and his heavenly Father.
But why did Jesus have to learn obedience? If he was the perfect Son of God, shouldn’t his obedience have been a given?
In a sense, yes. As God, Jesus came to Earth in human form already in a posture of full submission and obedience to the Father (Phil 2: 6-8). But as man, he had to wrestle with his fleshly will to avoid the pain and suffering of his mission (Luke 22:42). His obedience wasn’t automatic; he had a choice.
It’s easy to think of obedience purely in moral terms, but obedience is largely a matter of training. It’s something we learn how to do.
Dogs learn how to obey their masters through obedience school. Soldiers learn how to obey their commanding officers through boot camp. Kids learn how to obey their parents through instruction at home.
Our son Leo is at the very beginning stages of learning how to obey. It’s relatively easy for him to obey us when we ask him to do something he enjoys. It’s when we ask him to do something he doesn’t enjoy – something difficult – that things begin churning inside. He learns what it really means to obey us when it’s hard.
Which brings us back to Jesus. The reason why Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered is because suffering is the context in which we learn what obedience truly means. Of course Jesus learned obedience through suffering. Is there any other way?
Like Leo, we all like to obey when it’s enjoyable and struggle to obey when it’s not. But it’s only in those times of “churning” that we have the opportunity to really grasp obedience. We can either resent the difficulty, or like Jesus, say, “Not my will, but yours be done.”