Though He Were a Son
yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. —Hebrews 5:8
Jesus never sinned. Jesus never rebelled against the commandment for children to obey their parents. Jesus never did wrong in any other way, either. But still we read, “yet learned he obedience.” And still further, “by the things which he suffered.” Obedience isn’t just an attitude of heart, then. It is that attitude carried out in the midst of adversity. It is something to gain depths in. Jesus learned obedience when He did what was right when it cost Him something. He learned obedience when He again and again chose to obey in spite of all the countless ways the devil worked to oppose, confuse and undermine it. He learned obedience better and better until in the dark hour in Gethsemane He said, “If thou be willing…nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
As it says in another context, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord.” (John 15:20) If our Master’s faith and the soundness of His spiritual life must be tested, then ours must be as well. In one place we read, “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” (Revelation 7:13-15) And in another place: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) God’s people are a tested people. What is really inside of us is not demonstrated when all is going in ways comfortable to us, but when the stream is going against us.
During World War II, at a time when most things had been going in favor of the Allied side in Europe, and final victory seemed close, a sudden reversal occurred. In winter a surprise attack by the Germans was made in a rugged, forested region. Although reinforcements were rushed to a small town that was a key hub in the route taken by the German armored forces, the Allies there were soon surrounded. The American commander was sent a note by the German commander, as follows:
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne:
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.
There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over, a term of two hours will be granted, beginning with the presentation of this note.
If this proposal should be rejected, one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours’ term.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.
—The German Commander
The American commander sent a now-famous response:
To the German Commander:
—The American Commander
This was, of course, much publicized later and has been used, as I have used it, as an example of firm resolve in the face of opposition. However, I want to emphasize that it was not the memorable answer that resulted in the end in the Allied victory in this battle. Rather, it was a resolution, from the commander on down to the soldier in the frozen, shallow trenches on the outside of the town. This resolution was tested by intense physical discomfort, heavy artillery fire and rifle fire, the absence of the air support the Americans were accustomed to (because bad weather kept the air force grounded), and the psychological effect of this and other recent reverses after months of tremendous success. The commander and his men believed sufficiently in both the right and the might (help would certainly come if they just held out) of their cause to withstand all this.
This sort of resolution doesn’t develop from just reading exciting accounts of bravery and courage. I think I can safely say that more than one young man’s resolution that held out at that time was first developed at home, when he had to get out of bed in the dark morning to do chores in the cold, or as he struggled with math or English homework when he would have liked to do something else, or as he learned to do without many comforts as part of a family struggling to make it through the Great Depression. The resolution was refined; in his military training he was taught by constant drill and repetition to obey orders whether they made good sense to him or not.
The life of a child of God is similar, in that we receive (and need) inspiration from God’s Word expounded to us, or from a testimony or song that rings in our heart. But the resolution necessary to “through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” is developed as we apply for and receive grace from God to “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14) when we are faced with a task that we don’t enjoy doing. It is developed when we “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9) when we are tempted to do some “little” wrong. It is developed when we are “patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12) when teased for doing right, or if we are sick longer than we expected. And it is developed when we “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) when someone insults or slights us. No victory is too small to be important in preparing us for greater battles.
Dear reader, let us all learn obedience by the things which we suffer; then He who was our Example will be “not ashamed to call [us] brethren.” (Hebrews 2:11)