He Learned Obedience
The passage before us today affords us a beautiful glimpse into our Lord’s life while he walked among us. It depicts his humanity, but not in the brokenness which we experience, but as it is broken on our behalf. And we must understand that our Lord’s suffering for us was not something he experienced only on the cross but was something he experienced his entire sojourn with us, as the sinless one among sinners, as the unbroken one among the broken, but who came not to lord it over the sinner and the broken, but to heal and forgive him. No wonder the prophet proclaimed that he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
While the priests under the old covenant were called and ordained to their vocation as sons of Aaron, the High Priest of the new covenant is called priest by virtue of his status as the Son of God. This is what 5:5-6 tells us, referencing Psalm 2:7 and 110:4. This is important to note as we move to 5:7-10 where we read that “he learned obedience through what he suffered” and that he was “made perfect” which speak not to his divinity as God’s Son but to his humanity when he walked on earth. We must understand that when in the fullness of time, our Lord was born of woman, adding our humanity to his divinity, taking flesh upon himself and assuming all the weakness such human conditions present, that he thereby obligated himself to live such a life as we do, subject to trials and temptations—hour by hour, day by day, week by week, year after year—as a man. So our Lord did learn obedience as a living, breathing human being—but not by trial and error as we do or by discipline due to sin. Our Lord learned obedience by being fully obedient and devoted to his Father. And his humanity was perfected in his willful and loving obedience to his Father, a humanity that could only be perfected by living a human life. This is why Luke 2:52 tells us that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
And so, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” As the Son of Man living with broken men he came to save, as the Son of God redeeming his world which sinful men had broken, as the Christ of God coming to those who received him not, and as the Great Physician walking among those he came to heal, he had much more reason to mourn than to laugh. And so he did indeed pray “with loud cries and tears,” and please note that he was heard “because of his reverence.” Now go and do likewise and thank God for such a Savior.
It is hard for us to reconcile how our Lord and Savior who was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, who, though he was “incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” (Nicene Creed)—how could he “increase in wisdom and in stature” or “learn obedience” or “be made perfect?” In other words, granting that he was fully human, still, how does the Son of God “mature” or “increase” in wisdom, knowledge, or in any other way? It is a legitimate question.
In addition, we read that the Holy Spirit descended and remained on him at his baptism and that he had the Spirit “without measure” (John 1:32; 3:34). If he is the Son of God, why does he need the Holy Spirit to be with him? This is another legitimate question.
These are deep theological matters. Greater minds than mine have taught two things that may help us at this point: First, though Jesus had both a divine and a human nature, those natures were not in any way mixed or blended. Indeed the Creed of Chalcedon, an ancient creed declared by the Church at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, teaches that the relation of the two natures be acknowledged as “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten.” The two natures are united in the one person of the Son—united and distinct but not separated or blended. This means that though he was the Son of God, his human nature was not “consumed” by his divine nature, as if his divine nature was controlling his every thought and move.
Second, as for the matter of the Holy Spirit being with him in seeming divine duplication, some seventeenth-century English Puritans mused that far from the divine nature ruling over the human nature, that all the divine nature, or Second Person of the Trinity, did was to assume the human nature at conception; after that, the Holy Spirit did everything else from preparing the body (Luke 1:35; Hebrews 10:5) to descending upon him at his baptism (John 1:32) to filling him (John 3:34) to working through him to heal (Luke 5:17; 6:19) to being breathed out by him onto the disciples (John 20:22) and everything else. The beauty of such a theory (and it is a theory to which no one need subscribe) is that it protects his human nature from being absorbed into the divine; instead, the Spirit was working through his human nature just as he works in and through ours, only our Lord was completely submissive to the Spirit’s leadership, unlike us. Such a theory also allows for growth in his humanity as the Spirit led him gently along.