Suffering to help us in our suffering
Hebrews has this surprising passage —
(Heb 5:7-10 ESV) 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. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus is God — God the Son — and yet the writer says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” How can God learn? And why does this matter? Well, it’s about the Spirit. You see, the Spirit is given to us to teach us how to obey.
In chapter 8, the Hebrews author quotes from Jer 31:31 ff —
(Heb 8:8-12 ESV) For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
God says that he will put his laws into our minds and write them on our hearts. This is the “new covenant.” And it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s the new creation.
But how can the Spirit teach us to obey, even through suffering, if the Godhead has never obeyed, even through suffering?
(Heb 2:18 ESV) 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Heb 4:15-16 ESV) 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The writer concludes that Jesus had to suffer temptation to be able help those who are tempted. It’s not just that we feel better about Jesus knowing that he’s been through it, too. Rather, for the Spirit to put God’s laws on our hearts so that we truly obey from the heart, then the Godhead needs to have obeyed from the heart — even when tempted as we are tempted, even when suffering as we sometimes suffer.
And, to me, this makes better sense of Isa 53.
(Isa 53:4-5 ESV) 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
While I would not deny that Jesus bore our sins, I think it’s also true that he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows in the sense of suffering the same griefs and sorrows that we bear and carry. He suffered — temptation as well as physically and emotionally — so that he would be able to share his strength and endurance with us when we need it.
Ultimately, this honors God’s promise in Deu for the end of the curse of the Exile —
(Deu 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
— a promise that the prophets say will be honored through the Holy Spirit —
(Eze 36:26-28 ESV) 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
— and will be the basis for the new covenant —
(Jer 31:31-34 ESV) “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”