“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”
– Hebrews 5:8-9
In this evening’s Epistle reading, we read what I believe to be one of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
What a wonderful word of hope this reading gives us this Good Friday!
Brothers and sisters!
…Hold firm because we have a priest who can empathize with our struggles… and who does not hesitate to give us mercy and grace in our time of need!
Even though the first Adam threw the creation into chaos with his sin in the glorious garden of Eden, the second Adam endured the pain of the Garden of Gethsemane – “offer[ing] up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” – en route to His being crushed by our sins that He took into Himself on the cross…
…so that the curtain of the Temple might be ripped and we sinful people might enter into the Presence of God in joy and peace!
As Hebrews 2:10 had put it:
“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation[, Jesus,] perfect through what he suffered.”
And so Jesus, the book of Hebrews also asserts, endured all of this “because of the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2)!
He did this all because of the Triune God’s heart of love that not only seeks justice for the earth – dealing with man’s sin as it must be dealt with! – but that is also full of gentleness, tenderness, and compassion…..
This, let’s never forget, is the God who even says from the cross [!] “Father forgive them for they know not what they do…”!
Like His faithful follower Stephen, who as he was being stoned cried out “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)!
“What wondrous love is this?” as the old Gospel hymn puts it, right?
What more is there to say on this Good Friday!?
Well, there are more great riches in our readings for tonight!
And so let us meditate a bit more about what the book of Hebrews goes on to say here, perhaps having our view of this wondrous love expanded some more!
Let’s unpack a bit the text I chose, starting with the first word of verse 8:
“Son though he was…”
What do you think of when you listen to the word “Son” here? Well, on the one hand, we know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God by nature!
The words “Son of God” put us in mind of the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
We should all know that somehow, someway, Jesus Christ is not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man, or 100% divine and 100% man if you will.
This is why, for instance, the book of Hebrews begins by saying that the Son was “… appointed heir of all things, and [the One] through whom [God] made the universe.”
And also that…
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
Another part of the text I chose talks about the Son being “the source of eternal salvation…”
Well, what does this mean?
First of all, it goes without saying that Christians believe that only God Himself could pay for the debts of every man’s sin.
Luther said this:
“We Christians should know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, we, on our side, sink to the ground. I mean it this way: if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, His side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. Yet He can also readily go up again, or leap out of the scale! But He could not sit on the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death. For God in His own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance or one person with God.” (see LW 41:103-104 and FC SD VIII, 44-45).
And this, really, is where the book of Hebrews is focusing in chapters 4 and 5. It is saying that the very Son of God, divine through and through, is offering, actually being our sacrifice, as our divinely-appointed high priest…
Luther is right here but there are even more reasons God needed to become a man to save us!
What do I mean?
Well, only one who was truly man could, as we learned in chapter 4, sympathize or empathize with our weaknesses.
The Triune God could have never been tempted like us much less sin, but when the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, took on human flesh – entering into solidarity with us by truly becoming one of us – this was a different ball game.
There, in any particular situation, the concrete person of Jesus Christ could operate more or less according to each nature, human or divine, and often freely chose to forego all His divine privileges and prerogatives…
And so, somehow, someway, that historical person crucified under Pontius Pilate, though fully God, really was tempted in every way that we are and yet did so without sin… fully obeying His Father’s will… and, as Hebrews says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted….” (2:18)
He was faithful to His Father’s mission all the way to the cross… that He and we might experience the reality and fruits of the obedience that God ordains and blesses!
“It is finished!” we hear from the cross…
And so, as a result of the Son’s trust and submission to His Father, His Father’s mission for the sinless Son of God to be the “Source of our Salvation” was completed!
Still, we might be struggling with what comes before the words: “source of eternal salvation…”
Namely: “…and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation…”
We also might not really understand what the text says about the Son learning obedience from what He suffered… (as well as how the Father heard Him “because of his reverent submission…”)
Let’s start here: remember the text Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…”?
Why is that phrase, “Son though He was,” there?
It is there because what good earthly father wants to see his son to suffer?
None does, and yet God the Father determined that His Son would suffer on the cross for our sake… and this suffering is then what the Son, being the Son, gladly embraced because of the joy set before Him….
And how did he “learn obedience from what he suffered…”?
Well, it does us well to think about suffering in two senses here: First, like Mary, we freely receive, or “suffer,” what God allows: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Second, what God allows – especially in our fallen world! – creates difficulties for us, and forces us to call out to Him, look to Him, depend on Him!
….like Jesus did in reverent submission…
Sinless Adam and Eve were tempted in Eden to sin and failed the test, but our Lord Jesus Christ not only endures temptation without sin, but actively relying on God, fulfils the mission that the Father had appointed for Him!
And He did not stop or falter…
…but went all the way to the end, trusting and depending on His Father and embracing death on the cross that we might be freed…
For without the shedding of blood, Hebrews re-asserts from the Old Testament, there is no forgiveness of sin….
It had to be this way.
It had to be this way.
Jesus Christ, being the man without sin, had to obey for the sake of our salvation.
In much the same way that the Son of God eternally proceeds from the Father, this man Jesus Christ follows in the paths, the plans, laid out by His Heavenly Father.
And so He embraces the fullness of what it means to be man, the crown of God’s creation.
He becomes one with us, sharing our human nature, our humanity!
And so He gets hungry.
He experiences exhaustion, and becomes tired…
And He experiences not sin itself but many of sin’s consequences all people experience as well.
So He knew thorns and pain and sadness and discouragement… and death.
And so yes, He not only demonstrates to us but experiences Himself what it means to suffer… and what it means to be driven to prayer and to go all the way in spite of that suffering… to reach the goal that God had set for Him, and ultimately, for us…
He prays “Thy Will be Done” and His prayer is answered in the affirmative.
And in the midst of the pain of man, with the joy set before Him, He knew also of the fruits of the obedience that would come. The obedience that God blesses…
That we might as well.
“God is love,” we know.
Strangely enough, this is how love wins.
By the submission of the God-Man to His Father’s will, which entails enduring man’s cross of shame….
He was “content with death and shame…”
Let’s move on to this part of verse 9:
“…and, once made perfect, he became the Source of eternal salvation…”
So just when we thought we might be getting to what verse 8 means this passage comes along to perhaps confuse us a bit more!
Maybe the learning obedience through suffering stuff makes sense, but what about implying that there was a time when Jesus Christ was not perfect?
Was not Jesus perfect to begin with? How could He then, at some point, be made perfect?
And has not the Son of God, being the second person of the Trinity, always been the source of our eternal salvation?
Again, He has always been the source of our eternal salvation but the answer lies in that fact Jesus Christ not only needed to be fully God, 100% God, but also fully man, 100% man.
Because of His completing the Father’s mission, He likewise becomes “perfect” or, as we can also translate it, “complete” according to His human nature…
So what does this mean practically?
It means that post-Ascension, not only is everything then prepared for Him – He who is no longer limited by time or place or matter! – to be closer to us (not further from us!) than ever before on earth through His means of grace, the word and sacraments…. (Kleinig). We receive Christ not according to His divine nature only but as the One who continues to be a human being!
…all is also prepared for the final day when the exalted God-Man, in accordance with His representation of mankind as its Head, will also submit Himself to His heavenly Father, that “God,” i.e. the Triune God, “may be all in all” or “all-Supreme.”
So in this way, the God-Man who has become mankind’s King on earth, paves the way for both the Father and the Spirit also to rule and be present in person, in the new heavens and new earth!
Earth and heaven, man and God, fully united (I Cor. 15:28, Rev. 21:3; see Lenski, 685-87)!
This is the great victory that the cross leads to and that we partake of when we are baptized into Him!
The victory that we know by faith.
So, with that said, let’s finally look at one more potentially confusing line: “…for all who obey him…”
“….he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”
What does this mean?
Obedience can be understood in a broad and a narrow sense in Scripture. And in the Old Testament, the root of the Hebrew word we often translate “obey” simply means “listen…”
Listening which inevitably leads to action!
And so, in the broad sense, obedience entails all of the actions that result from simple faith and the love for God and neighbor that grows from that faith….
And that faith and love submit and obey! Not just in an external sense, reluctantly, but in joy!
For Christian faith and love know that obedience not just to some of God’s commands but to all of God’s commands is to be offered up with a willing and happy heart!
That’s all true. That, however, is not the only thing that our text is getting at here.
Here…we need to realize first and foremost that God commands us to simply rest and just listen to Him, for this Teacher and Brother’s yoke is easy and His burden light!
And so we might think here of the story of Mary and Martha – Mary was commended for simply resting and sitting at the feet of her Lord Jesus !
“She has chosen the better thing”, He said…
…for the sake of us all!
And is this not exhilarating? God commands us to “stay put” and “abide in Him”?
Always remember that the Apostle Paul says “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God”….
To be known by God!
(we can especially see this justifying and regenerating work of the Lord’s in holy baptism, can’t we?)
And remember always the very beautiful and encouraging words in I Thes. 2:13:
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
In other words, what we ultimately need is to be justified and delivered and comforted in Christ – to know the sheer Loving Majesty of the King who has stormed the castle and rescued us, dying for our sins and giving us a new identity in Him!
And when it comes to this teaching of justification, particularly but not limited to when we think of infants, the Spirit gives us faith, causing us to consent in a way that is primarily passive.
We first simply receive – here I think about a mother nursing her child… a picture that Scripture uses to talk about faith or trust as well!
So when you hear “obey” here, think first of just this kind of thing!
With that said though, of course, persons like the Apostle Paul do go on with more and different kinds of exhorting….
For example, even as it accuses me as often as I hear it, I absolutely love his command in I Thes. 5:16-18:
“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Our Lord has given up everything this day, suffering the greatest pains and sufferings for your sins which put Him on the tree.
But, you see, don’t think that that means He doesn’t want to be close to you, to love you, to talk with you, even hold you…
Don’t ever think that when He determined to go to the cross for you He did that reluctantly at all!
Years ago there was a TV movie called “Eric” where…
“…we watch [very] young Eric struggle with cancer[, cancer..]. There is a scene in which he stands on the beach of the family’s summer home with his father. ‘Daddy,’ he says, ‘remember how I wanted to swim across the bay with you? We got halfway across, and I said I couldn’t make it. Remember how you reached out and helped me? Well, Daddy, I don’t think I can make it now.” Eric’s father quickly spread his arms around him and said, ‘I’ll help you.’ That is God’s promise to us.” (Encyclopedia of Sermon Illustrations, #604)
He is more than willing to do this for us every day…
He does this for us every day…
…and – remarkably given what He has endured because of us – He did this for us on this darkest and most consequential of days, Good Friday, above all.
Thank you, Jesus.
To see sermon with footnotes, go here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1m9LA69OcNr6zDFYiddVoPoHNLtzDpbRAz62ZHIw3kj4/edit?usp=sharing