Learning Obedience Through Suffering
By Rich Carmicheal
"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).
Within the last year and a half, I have shared two messages on the topic of suffering ("After You Have Suffered…" and "The Lord Works Through Suffering"), and yet I sense the importance of additional encouragement in this area. The correspondence we receive in the Herald office reminds us again and again of the difficulties many readers are facing. Some of you are facing direct persecution for your faith, others are battling with temptation, while others are dealing with such things as unemployment, the loss of a loved one, false accusations, rejection, isolation, health problems (your own or those of a loved one), a wayward family member or friend, and the list goes on and on. Of course, some troubles come into our lives because of our sin, but these are not the kind of troubles I have in mind. Instead, I am referring to those troubles that come at us without our opening the door for them. Sometimes they come because of someone else’s sin, sometimes they come just because we live in a broken world, and sometimes they come as direct attacks or tests to our faith. If you find yourself in such a time, the Lord may encourage and strengthen you through these truths embedded in Hebrews 5:8-9:
1) God’s people are not immune from troubles. Even Jesus, the sinless Son of God, suffered through various trials, troubles and temptations. "Although He was a son…He suffered…."
Not only is it true that God’s sons and daughters are not immune from troubles, it is also true that they may face more intense trials and temptations precisely because they are God’s children. Jesus warns His disciples accordingly: "In this world you will have trouble…" (John 16:33). Likewise, the Apostle Paul writes that "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). And the writer of Hebrews adds, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…" (Heb. 12:7).
Consider the life of Jesus. Although He never sinned, He experienced intense suffering. One aspect of this suffering came from the temptations He faced. As the writer of Hebrews declares, Jesus "suffered when He was tempted" (2:18). This temptation included the intense period of testing that came immediately after His baptism as He was led by the Spirit into the desert, "where for forty days He was tempted by the devil" (Luke 4:2). During this period of testing, Jesus faced intense temptation to 1) use His divine power to supply His own need of bread, rather than depend upon His Father’s provision (Luke 4:2-4); 2) to receive all the kingdoms of the world, with their authority and splendor, simply by bowing down and worshiping the devil, rather than worshiping God and serving Him only (Luke 4:5-8); and 3) to test the promise and protection of God by throwing Himself down from the highest point of the temple, rather than to simply trust God and His Word without putting Him to the test (Luke 4:9-12).
Although these temptations are given prominent attention in the Bible, they are not the only ones Jesus faced. Luke 4:13 states that "When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time." The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus "has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin" (4:15). He not only faced those temptations which focused on His Person and work as the Son of God and the Messiah, but He also faced the temptations we face. And He faced them to their greatest degree, but never yielded to them.
Not only did Jesus suffer from temptation, He also suffered greatly from the troubles He faced. Just after Peter received revelation from God and confessed the truth to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16), Jesus told him that He (Jesus) "must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (Matt. 16:21). Peter could not begin to accept the idea that Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, would suffer and die, so he took Jesus "aside and began to rebuke Him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’" (Matt. 16:22-23). Jesus recognized the deception of Satan in Peter’s words, and He kept His focus on the will of God, which included that He suffer many things.
The scope of that suffering was greater than we may ever be able to comprehend. We are given some idea of it through the words of the Prophet Isaiah as he depicted Christ as the Suffering Servant: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed…He was oppressed and afflicted…By oppression and judgment, He was taken away…For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken…it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer…He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors…" (Isaiah 53:3-12).
Jesus’ time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane also provides us with a glimpse into the intensity of His suffering. There He began to be sorrowful and troubled and said to His disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death…" (Matt. 26:37-38). So great was His anguish, "He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44). This great suffering probably provides much of the backdrop for Hebrews 5:7-9: "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." This leads us to a second truth:
2) Like Jesus, we can learn obedience and find great blessing through what we suffer.
Although Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, He nevertheless had to learn obedience and be made perfect. This happened through suffering. Being fully man, as well as fully God, Jesus had to stand through trials and temptations to demonstrate His faithfulness to fully obey His Father and surrender His will to His Father’s will, even though such obedience and surrender meant suffering and death. The battle raged and came to its culmination in the Garden, where Jesus demonstrated His full confidence in His Father and His full submission to His Father’s will: "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42). The Apostle Paul describes our Savior’s absolute surrender and obedience with these words, "[Christ Jesus] made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and become obedient to death – even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:7-8). Through this complete obedience, Jesus was made perfect and became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, and was designated by God to be High Priest (Heb. 5:8-10).
We know from hard experience that suffering certainly tests our faith. Such suffering is actually a blessing in disguise, however, since "the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:3-4). Just as Jesus was made perfect through suffering, so are we made mature and complete as we persevere through suffering. In light of this, James can give this encouragement: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). Likewise, the Apostle Peter writes, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). Even in the greatest tests of faith, we can look forward to the blessings the testing will eventually bring. For example, consider Jesus’ encouragement to the church in Smyrna: "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).
3) Since Jesus suffered, He is able to sympathize with us fully.
Of course, no matter how wonderful the benefits of trial and temptation may be, such difficulties are not pleasant. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful…" (Heb. 12:11). How comforting it is to know that because Jesus Himself "suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb. 2:18) and that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb. 4:15). The double negative used in this last phrase helps emphasize the positive truth that Jesus IS ABLE to sympathize with us. And so, as the next verse states, we can "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Jesus knows from firsthand experience what it is like to face trials, troubles and temptations. He knows everything you are facing at this very moment. He is able to sympathize with you, and His grace and mercy are ever at hand. This leads to another very encouraging truth:
4) Just as Jesus endured His suffering and remained faithful in all things, so can you endure and remain faithful! And Jesus will help!
While it is true that Jesus warns us that "In this world you will have trouble", He adds this great encouragement: "But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). We can draw great encouragement and very real strength from Christ’s faithfulness and victory. Jesus is "the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). We can be confident that the one who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion (Phil. 1:6).
Earlier I quoted Hebrews 2:18 which reminds us that because Jesus suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help us when we are tempted. Notice the encouragement in the next verses: "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the One who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house…Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house…But Christ is faithful as a Son over God’s house. And we are His house…" (Heb. 3:1-6). Christ is faithful over us! We can depend on Him. He is able to sustain us, just as He is able to sustain all things by His powerful word (Heb. 1:3). As we fix our thoughts on Jesus, we will find the strength, encouragement, mercy and grace that we need.
So look to Christ and stand firm! No matter how significant your troubles may be, Christ is more than sufficient. He will help you through this, even if step by step.
"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (Heb. 10:35-39).