What Jesus Learned Changed Him and Us

Hebrews 5:7-10 shows us that Jesus learned lessons about living, about suffering and about dying. As with all learning it developed Jesus and, because he is our Savior, it made an impact on us too. What Jesus Learned Changed Him and Us. March 29, 2009.

           Today God’s Word plainly states that Jesus “learned.” This was more than educational learning, like advancing from addition to multiplication or graduating from college. It was experiential learning. Hands-on, immersion learning in the laboratory of human life. A learning that couldn’t happen to Jesus in heaven, even as the all-knowing God. As with all learning it developed Jesus and, because he is our Savior, it made an impact on us too. What Jesus Learned Changed Him and Us.

About living

            The Grace pastors and minister of discipleship are reading and discussing a book right now with the subtitle, “Understanding how God shapes spiritual leaders.” Nothing too surprising there, until you open to the table of contents and find that the four subjects of the book’s study about being shaped as a leader are: Moses, David, the apostle Paul, and Jesus. I initially resisted the idea of Jesus being shaped or developed, as if he had some fault to his worldview or was missing some ingredient that it takes to be perfect. But that’s not it at all. The book offers: “Jesus was fully human. This means that he went through life developmental stages, including a growing awareness of who he was and what he came to do. To grow up without having to struggle with basic identity issues would make him less than human Less human is not human” (McNeal, Reggie, A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2000, p. 51).

            God didn’t send Jesus into the world as a full-blown adult. He sent him as a baby to progress developmentally, to learn from people and about people as a person, allowing him to better serve and save humans. One wonders what life lessons Jesus learned from his father, Joseph, after perhaps hitting his thumb with a hammer or cutting a crooked corner in the carpenter’s shop. Eventually he left his father’s business for his Father’s business. One wonders what plans were arranged in the whispers between God the Father and his Son, exchanges which began before time but involved new interests “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth.”

            There is a Native American legend about a Cherokee youth’s rite of passage. At dusk one day his father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him, and tells him to sit on a stump for the whole night, not removing the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. The youth cannot cry to anyone for help. Once he survives the night, he is deemed a man. During the night, the terrified boy hears all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be stalking him. A human enemy might come along to hurt him. The wind howls but the boy sits nervously, not removing the blindfold. He wants to become a man. Finally, after a horrific night, the sun appears and the boy removes his blindfold. Only then does he discover that his father is sitting on the stump next to him, having been by his side the entire night. What a Cherokee boy learns in the forest, Jesus learned during his life on earth. He’s not alone. The Father is right there all the time. So Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries to the one who could save him from death.” Jesus always knew from eternity that his Father loved him completely, but during his life on earth Jesus learned that his Father loved him completely. Jesus learned to reach out to his Father not just as two divine beings in the heavenly realms but as a hurting human Son to a helpful heavenly Father. “And he was heard from his reverent submission.” The starting place of Jesus’ conversations with his Father was not selfishness, unbridled fear, or rebellious independence but “reverent submission,” from a Greek word in the Bible sometimes translated “fear” or “piety,” also understood as “conscientious concern.” We hear that conscientious concern in Jesus’ words today, “Father, glorify your name! (John 12:28). We see that conscientious concern in Jesus’ one word that shapes his prayers to his Father in Gethsemane: “if.” “My Father, if it is possible” (Matthew 26:39). We know that conscientious concern developed over time during Jesus’ life on earth as he learned how his Father faithfully, lovingly provided for his suffering Son. We practice that conscientious concern in our big decisions and even our little choices every day, fighting off the temptations of selfishness, unbridled fear, and rebellious independence from God. Because our heavenly Father is always at our side.

About suffering

            Like a championship basketball team doesn’t have to be undefeated in the regular season to win the tournament – sometimes they’re even better prepared for the tournament because they learned from a loss earlier in the season – Jesus wins salvation for us partly because of the trials and troubles along the way that prepared him for even more intense suffering during Holy Week. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Being the Son of God, Jesus always knew he must obey God the Father because of his position as a son, just like all children know it is their duty and obligation to obey their parents. But Jesus developed beyond that, and learned to obey his Father because he wanted to, because he loved his Father who love him, because he submitted his own desires to those of the Father and those desires merged to become one. That loving obedience developed more extensively in Jesus over time “from what he suffered.” When we’re suffering we may resent the pious-sounding words of encouragement from a Christian friend or preacher in the pulpit, “It’s good for you.” I mean, those words takes away the pain as much as they make steamed carrots taste good to a 2-year-old. But consider this: they’re not meant to stop the pain, because the pain is put to use by the Father to develop us, as much as pain and suffering developed Jesus. He “learned obedience” from it. And if the Son of God learns something from suffering, can’t we? If the Son of God changes to become better at what he does because of suffering, can’t we change our attitude about pain and suffering from wanting (needing) to live on this earth without it, to instead wanting to become better because of it?

            “Being made complete, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus’ painful prayers, tearful cries, and human suffering all helped to make him complete, filling him up to do what the Father sent him to do. Suffer and die for sinners. Your forgiveness and faith begin with him as the source, not you, not your circumstances, and not your feelings. Jesus is the source. Having been made complete, Jesus now has an endless supply of salvation to give for every person, with every problem, on any day. And it belongs to anyone whose conscientious concern is turned toward Jesus like his was turned toward his Father in an obedience that wants to believe in him, wants to follow him, and wants to glorify him. If that’s what you want, then you are right with God and ready for life. Through any and all suffering.

About dying

            You possess not the basic level, not the deluxe level, but the ultimate level of membership in God’s kingdom because Jesus offered the ultimate sacrifice – his own complete suffering and death. Because of that, Jesus “was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek kind of appears out of nowhere in the book of Genesis when he meets Abraham and blesses him. He is a high priest not by position, not by ancestry, not by the Sinaitic law code later given to Moses (that designated the Levites as high priests for the Israelites). Melchizedek was designated as a high priest because he fulfilled the needs of Abraham on behalf of God. Jesus develops in his life on earth to the point of being designated by God as High Priest, not because of ancestry or title or law, but because of Jesus’ faithful work on behalf of God fulfilling our need to be saved. As Melchizedek mysteriously appears and disappears in the Scriptures without birth information or terms of service, the high priesthood of Jesus is both miraculous and unlimited in scope.

            Today the Bible reveals that God, who engineered the beginning of life, doesn’t just know your life but completely experienced your living in Jesus. God, who oversees all suffering, doesn’t just orchestrate the bad for your good but completely experienced your suffering in Jesus. God, who succeeded in his plan to defeat death, doesn’t just make you eternal promises but completely experienced your death in Jesus, now risen. He is the only one who perfectly knows, and also completely understands, everything you need. So the question isn’t if that changes you, but rather how much. And the Bible has the answer: completely.  Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (http://www.gracedowntown.org/) on March 29, 2009

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