July 12, 2014

Humanity in Jesus and Jesus in Humanity, Part One

Okay. I've ventured into somewhat familiar territory for this post but when I got back out I was changed. It was like journeying into the wilderness only to return forever transformed. Sometimes, when I make these treks into Scripture suspecting there are nuances I hadn't seen before, not only do I find them, they change how I think about the passage. Sometimes they make me think different about an entire portion or principle of Scripture. Rarely do they cause a shift in my thinking about meta-narrative or major underlying premises. What I am about to write about is one of those reality-shattering game-changers that permanently alter my perceptions. This one centers on the most important topic of all in the Bible. Jesus Christ and His human nature and divinity nature in one person. Nothing I state here is heretical. It only enforces existing orthodoxy. It is a closer examination of how Jesus did things as I attempt to better emulate Him as a disciple.

I suspect this post is going to floor some people, even those long to the faith and staunch in their position on Christ and their own Christian walk. It might rattle some dug-in or entrenched in their interpretation of the passage. I invite the challenge to attempt to at least paint a familiar picture from a new angle. It is the story of Christ’s growing in stature, obedience and faith and our parallel growth that is similar to His. I admit this might cause outright rejection in some with a myopic interpretive view. Perhaps for some it might cause a paradigm shift in understanding similar to mine.

The passage is Hebrews 5:5-10, specifically I narrowed in on verse 7-9.

When Jesus walked the earth Hebrews 5 tells us that He:

 “…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. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Hebrews 5:7-9

Many people including myself have believed that because Jesus was God, His spiritual life was fixed or unchanging. He was fully human but also fully divine and the Son of God. So, he knew all and lived a sinless life. Easy-peasy, right? There was really no growth because Jesus was holy and one with the Father. Because His relation with the father had been dynamically static for eternity past, no growth was possible, was it? I suppose at one level this is true. He never sinned and stayed within the will of the Father. But there is something more in the Hebrews passage and it is bolstered by other pieces of Scripture. Please let me explain myself before you scream, “Heretic!”

There is an obvious element to Jesus’ life and ministry that clearly was not spiritually static and the Bible says as much. But what does it really say about the human Jesus and what does it really mean?

The Son of God learned obedience through what He suffered. What does this really mean?

Was Jesus' life spiritually static as a human? Hardly. The truth is that Jesus’ life had to have been the most dynamic and lively of all spiritual lives possible. Why? It's exactly because He lived a life of unbroken obedience and submission to the Father’s will! That’s why! Because of His obedience, God’s spiritual actions through the Holy Spirit were constant in Jesus’ life. This therefore means that Jesus’ life was anything but static in terms of spiritual growth as an incarnate human. It is exactly because Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly even in times of suffering and affliction (passively), that this obedience resulted in the most profound growth in any spiritual life. Perfect obedience equates to perfect spiritual growth. Hence He was made perfect. This perfection is what leads Jesus to Resurrection. Part of this was done to act as a model for us even in our suffering.

If we look closely at the Greek in Hebrews 5:8-9 the text begins to unfold with meaning not first seen in the English. It specifically says that Jesus was able to save because He, “learned obedience through what he suffered,” and that, “being made perfect”. The words “being made perfect” are better understood to mean that he matured or was made complete along with the common understanding of perfect. Here is the hitch for many that will read this. We need to also reconcile the fact that God was fully human AND fully divine which means he was already perfect and should’ve been incapable of learning anything because He already should have known it. Learning implies an ongoing and increasing process.

So, does this passage in Hebrews mean what it says? In a word: Yes.

When we look at this passage we must also look at the verse previous. It says: “In the days of His flesh.” This means that it is obedience that was experienced specifically during His human incarnation. Why does this matter? In the days of His flesh He offered prayers and was heard because of His reverence. It is something that couldn’t have been true of just His divine eternal nature. Jesus as human offered prayer with supplication and tears and learned obedience through His suffering. In his divine nature in the presence of His Father this wouldn’t have been necessary as He was in perfect three-way fellowship with the Father and the Spirit.

If Jesus already had infinite power and knowledge in His divine state in fellowship with the Father, then why the need for prayer and requests? Jesus was obviously requesting assistance and help here. Why the dependency on the Father when He was incarnate? Again, we need to visit verse 7. Again we see the author of Hebrews is dealing with Jesus’ human experience. Jesus being a human was susceptible to all the temptations and suffering of mere mortal men. Therefore His emotions and pain would’ve been human. He was dependent on the Father for knowledge and protection just as we are. He too would’ve needed to look to the Father for similar things as we would. In His humanity He was weaker, He was vulnerable…like us. In His humanity…He too could weep, struggle...die.

A simple precursory glance at this passage would lead one to believe that Christ learned obedience here or learned some things that were unexpected. It implies Jesus might have been caught off-guard. It also implies that Jesus didn’t obey or could have obeyed the Father before the incarnation. All these assumptions point to a Son that seem to be less than the Father, not equal. As a matter of fact this statement makes it sound as if obedience was something out of the ordinary for Jesus. So what is going on here? Let’s go visit John 5:38 and 8:42.

John 5:38 ~ “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

John 8:42 ~ “…for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”

So how did Jesus come? It is brutally clear here that Jesus came in obedience to God the Father. Ephesians 1 tells us exactly why and it also tells us that this fact had been predetermined.

Ephesians 1:3-10 ~ “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

The son was not forced by the Father, Jesus came gladly of His own choice.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”” Mark 10:45 

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

Jesus chose to come. Jesus chose to submit to the Father. In submitting to the will of His Father he allowed Himself to be subject to the hands of cruel men and be crucified on a cross. 

Additionally, the Hebrews passage is not telling us Jesus learned obedience per se. It says He learned obedience through what He suffered. This isn’t the first obedience folks. It is the first obedience within suffering and affliction. Jesus had taken on the attribute of humanity at this point in His existence and it is at this point he suffers in human form so that He could truly relate to us and what it means to be human. 

All obedience to this point had been in perfection in divine form. This obedience is something much different. It is human obedience. Furthermore, the obedience and suffering in this passage is in the context of a progression. The world “learned” and “suffered” in the Greek is second aorist active which means it was an ongoing process in His human life. Obedience therefore is progressive and if the obedience came progressive at the price or cost of suffering…this implications of this are absolutely enormous.

I will go into in the enormity of these implications next. They will be explored in the next post.

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