Christ's Obedience – Our Salvation
Throughout the year we are constantly reminded of the death of Christ at the cross as the only ground of our salvation. It is the basis of our Christian life in the covenant with God. Further, every two or three months we celebrate the Lord's Supper. And every Sunday, when we pray for the forgiveness of our sins, we do so on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Nevertheless, it is a feast for believers to come together in worship also on Good Friday. It is a joy to listen to and reflect on a word of Scripture that proclaims to us the good news of the bitter sufferings of Christ. For the suffering and death of Christ is His act of obedience with which He covered our disobedience.
To speak about the death of Christ as an act of obedient love is fully biblical. In the first place, Christ Himself clearly pointed to His suffering and death as obedience when He taught His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die (see for instance Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:17-19). It is also clear from Christ's prayer in the garden of Gethsemane in which He gave Himself completely over to His God and Father when He said, “Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42). Paul speaks about this obedience of Christ Jesus for our salvation in Romans 5:19 when he compares Adam and Christ:
“For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.”
This obedience of our Lord and Brother is also mentioned in the letter to the Hebrews. In 5:8 we read, “Even though He was Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.” These sufferings are especially those before and on the cross where Christ sacrificed His life in His death. Also this epistle to the Hebrews connects the sufferings in Christ with the sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament. They were a foreshadow of the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 7-10). In particular I point to 10:5-7. Here it says that God did not really desire the animal sacrifices as offerings that can take away sin, and that, therefore, the Son said,
“'Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O God' as it is written of Me in the roll of the book.”
These words are a quotation from Psalm 40:6-8. Prophetically, David spoke also in this psalm of his Son and Lord. It underlines Christ's life and death as His sacrifice of obedience. However, let us return to 5:8 where it says that Christ learned obedience from the things which He suffered?
This is a remarkable word. What does it mean? Was Christ not without sin, being the Son of God and an entirely righteous man? Was He not automatically obedient in everything always? How is it that He had to, and did, learn obedience, and this from the things He suffered?
Scripture often links obedience of faith with sufferings and afflictions. In Psalm 119:75, the author says, “I know, O LORD, that… in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me.” In line with this, the apostle Paul writes in Roman 5:3 that believers rejoice in their sufferings, “knowing that suffering produces endurance” and endurance works out “approvedness” (my own translation). James (in 1:2ff.) exhorts and comforts the believers with the same truth when he writes that we should count it all joy when we meet various trials since we know that the testing of our faith works out steadfastness in faith.
Also Peter (in 1:6ff.) connects suffering trials with approvedness or genuineness of faith to the glory of Christ. An example of this truth we have in the testing of Abraham. When God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac, He put Abraham's faith to the test. This meant suffering. But Abraham passed this exam of faith. He stood the test. Thus he learned obedience.
Christ Jesus was unique. He was the Son of God and He was man without sin. Nevertheless, He was a real and true human being. Hebrews 2:14 says that He partook of the same human nature as we have. He was flesh and blood as we are, except for sin. Chronicles 2:17 says that He had to be made like His brethren in every respect. This being a true man meant that He, too, had to show the genuineness of His obedience to God in passing the tests of His faith and faithfulness. For Him, too, His life was a process from one act of obedience to the next, fulfilling the task as Mediator and Redeemer which God gave Him to fulfill. It meant for Him taking our sins, our guilt, and the wrath of God against it upon Himself in obedience. “I have come to do Thy will, O God.” So it is written on the roll of the book. In this way our Lord Jesus Christ truly learned obedience. Through His suffering He learned what obeying meant. He learned to obey. Sure, without falling, but also for Him it was a learning from and in His sufferings; He had to fight an intense struggle that required everything from Him, all His energy and strength, physically and mentally. This struggle was so real that an angel had to come from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). It shows that this obedience was not easy and just a matter of course. It makes clear that our Lord Jesus was our human flesh and blood, our human Brother, indeed.
As our Brother, who was like unto us in everything, He struggled. As our Brother He learned obedience and did not fail the testing of His faith. He gave everything He had as sacrifice of obedient love to God and for our sake.
He had to. God wanted it from our Mediator; a perfect whole burnt-offering. In Hebrews 2:10 we read that “it was fitting,” that is, the correct, covenantal way, for God, “for whom and by whom all things exist” that He, for the purpose of “bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
It is incomprehensible. God's eternal, glorious Son, being the Almighty who sustains and upholds all things through His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3), became a true human being. He had to learn obedience. And He did. So He was made perfect through suffering.
“And being made perfect He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Hebrews 5:9
It is incomprehensible, indeed. Miserable sinners are we. We made all this necessary through our sins. How great is the love of our triune God for us. Who will not stand in awe? Who dares to reject this love for sinners? Let us praise our Brother who wants to praise God in the midst of that great congregation which He bought for the price of this awesome obedience.