How did He do it? How did Yeshua stay obedient to God’s will under the crippling weight of Gethsemane and the enormous temptation to invoke His divine right to slay instead of be slain?
Yeshua’s courage under the greatest trial man could ever know was not found merely that evening in the garden, but had been settled years ago in the desert.
Suffering is a form of temptation
Suffering is a form of temptation, as we’re about to explore, and Yeshua had made His mind up a long time ago what He would do when the time came.
Though He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered. And once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him— called by God Kohen Gadol “according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:7-10)
How could Jesus, being perfect, have anything to learn about obedience? He wasn’t disobedient at any point, ever, was He? His mom might have been frustrated with Him sometimes – like when he disappeared off on His own in the bustling city of Jerusalem one Passover – but we are repeatedly assured He was without sin. He was the spotless lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. He had to be sinless in order to accomplish this cosmic feat of carrying sin and death on our behalf. So what is the writer of Hebrews on about? How did He “learn obedience” when there was no lack of it in the first place?
Our obedience can grow
Spiritual maturity comes not merely through time, or even through knowing the Bible better, but by obedience. The more we obey under more and more challenging conditions, the more mature we become as believers. We grow up and we get stronger in our faith.
The Scripture says that, “Though He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered.”
It can be easy to obey when there’s not much resistance or cost, but obeying under duress is another matter. Suffering grows our obedience. Some suffering is gentler than others, but suffering in general can make it much harder to make the right choices. Suffering, in this sense, is a form of temptation.
We grow in godly obedience as we choose to resist temptation. This growth process is supercharged by suffering.
Standing for the truth is relatively easy when we live in a bubble of believers. If a stranger in the street were to demand that you deny your faith, you might just tell them to get lost, or at least ignore it and shrug it off as an unpleasant incident. However, if someone is seriously hurting you or holding a gun to your head as they make that demand, the decision to stand strong is not so easy. Suffering makes it much harder to obey God. Obedience in those circumstances is greater than that when it’s easy.
Yeshua learned obedience by making the choice to obey every day, in any and every circumstance. He even put Himself in a situation of suffering by voluntarily fasting for forty days. This is why fasting is so purifying to our soul.
The challenge of obeying God in trials
When we are suffering, it’s a struggle to choose kindness, restraint, honour and integrity. Suffering tempts us to go for an easier option – lashing out at those we love, squirming out of a hotspot by telling a few fibs, selfishly choosing to comfort ourselves or falling into self pity.
When we’re suffering, we are tempted to turn inwards, to selfishly self-protect.
When we’re in pain, we are tempted to lash out as our patience is thin and our fuse is short.
As anyone who has endured serious physical pain will know, it’s a lot harder to be like Jesus when you’re in agony. Any form of pain can make it very hard to be the kind, patient soul I’m sure you normally are!
Waiting is also a form of suffering – just ask Abraham and Sarah. We see it also in the Psalms as David asks “How long, Lord?” It hurts, it’s maddening, and it’s extremely tempting to find a way of bypassing the wait. We need to be mindful of these areas of vulnerability in our flesh in order to grow in obedience and get good at making the right choices in the midst of trials. Being stuck and frustrated in a time of waiting really turns up the volume knob on our emotions. The temptation is to find shortcuts and end the discomfort, to take matters into our own hands and make the pain stop.
The enemy picks on us when we’re weak, on the back foot, in distress. Watch how he waits till Jesus is struggling after 40 days of fasting in the desert. He picks his moment to pounce. He preys on the weak and vulnerable. The man in a miserable marriage is much more susceptible to suggestions of cheating. The woman waiting endlessly for a soulmate is more vulnerable to offers of a substandard shortcut.
Yeshua’s secrets of Gethsemane
So given the prospect of the extraordinary suffering ahead of Him, How on earth did Yeshua bear up and make the right choice to surrender to God in the Garden? He had trained for that moment, and he was ready.
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. (Proverbs 24:10)
Yeshua had wisely walked into the desert on purpose three years previously. He was led by the Spirit to fast for over a month and it was during that time His decisions were made and the victory established. He was tempted with the best Satan had to offer (which, by the way, is NEVER going to beat what God ultimately has in store for those who overcome) and it was all decisively rejected. With the power of the Word of God, Yeshua decapitated all of Satan’s suggestions. Later in Gethsemane, He was able to withstand the pressure to cave because that battle had been won long ago.
- He fasted and practiced overcoming his flesh on purpose.
- He knew that the best Satan could offer was nothing compared to his eternal reward.
- He used the power of the Word of God when Satan came to take advantage of His vulnerability.
- He knew He was not a victim, but that God was ultimately in control.
We can also employ these strategies to help us stay strong when we’re going through trials. No suffering we experience on this earth is as bad as eternity without God, and no relief or tempting offer comes close to the delights God has in store for us with Him forever. Establishing these truths deep in our hearts will help us stand strong when the heat is on and it’s hard to make the right decisions.
It’s good to practice in times of relative ease so that we are ready and able to stand when times get really hard.
Since we are assured that in this life we WILL have many troubles, we will have lots of trials to practice with! But it is during those trials that we see God coming through for us. Not only do we grow in obedience, but we also grow in our knowledge of Him as our mighty warrior by our side, as our faithful provider, our comforter, and our ever present help in times of trouble. If we make sure that we take every wound to Him for healing instead of letting bitterness and self-pity fester, we can grow mighty in faith and strength in the Lord. Instead of slipping into a victim mentality without help or hope, our eyes can be opened to Knowing God as our protector, defender, the lifter of our head. He is the One who brings vindication and justice.
We can also practice in deliberate times of fasting and sacrificial prayer. Our flesh cries out and demands to be satisfied. We can learn how to overcome temptation when we are weak. There is plenty needing our prayer and focussed attention in the world right now – it’s a great time to practice!
“To him who overcomes…” this phrase is used over and over in the letters to the churches in Revelation. Will we overcome? Let’s not merely hope so, let’s start training today so that we are ready to run the race to the end.
Photo by Iluha Zavaley on Unsplash