We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (Hebrews 5:11, NIV)
With an opening like this, many could perceive this as an insult. The writer of Hebrews may well have meant it to be just that, a shot at this particular group of Hebrew converts that made up a portion of the early church.
“We have much to say about this,”
“What is the “this” the author is speaking of?” Obviously, by starting here, we have lost critical components of the conversation and therefore have missed the context. We find the context by returning briefly to Hebrews 5:1-10. Chapter five of Hebrews opens by speaking of Jesus as the better high priest, ordained by God. Because he achieved all this as a man, He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.
“but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.”
I, for the longest time, thought of myself as a slow learner. It turns out that I am more of a visual learner, for once I get the imagery in my head, that scriptural scene usually stays with me forever. So, when it comes to my experiences in comprehending the Bible, the understanding has come through repetition and a great deal of writing. The writing has been my opportunity to ask God my questions, no matter how awkward or embarrassing, and put forth my heartfelt challenges. (A comparison for this would be a friend of mine who feels he is comfortable enough to say, God, lied about some situation! It might be how he feels at the time, as he searches for more appropriate words to express himself; but the reality is, God cannot lie, and my friend needs to grasp that concept.)
In our journey through Hebrews, we come to recognize that the entire book is in part a discourse proclaiming the superiority of Christ and why.
The cross plays a dominant role in this affirmation and here is why:
- “His reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:7)
Jesus voluntarily became a man; set aside His glory and position with the Father; submitted to death not only in his body but in his spirit; and, he did all this as a man.
- “ yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
There is more to this than what the eye can see. It will require you to think it through.
J. Vernon McGee said this in his commentary on chapter 5 of Hebrews, “What is obedience? A crowd of people asked Jesus, “… What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (Joh_6:28). Jesus replied, “… This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh_6:29). Do you want to obey God? Then trust Christ. That is what He is saying.”
Maybe we should be paying attention to words like Dr. McGee’s. Since so few of us trust Christ, try to imagine having to trust the Father God with your life – Jesus did.
Dr. McGee goes on to say, that in all honesty, there is something here he did not understand; “Why did the Son of God need to learn obedience by suffering? And why did He need to be made perfect when He already was perfect?” Dr. McGee proposes perhaps the best answer one can give – “Now I am well acquainted with the explanation that men gave, but none of them satisfy me. I just recognize that it is a great mystery.” For myself, I have learned to relax in the knowledge that He loves me, just as He loves you, and that Jesus was willing to go through horrible punishment for us.
- “and once made perfect.” (Hebrews 5:9)
The NIV translates the verse right before this as, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” That obedience is one of the things that made Him perfect.
A couple of things jump out at me when I read that He was made perfect. Jesus was and is God; John chapter one spells that out for us when it says, He spoke the worlds into existence. I know that God, Jesus, Holy Spirit being God thing is hard to handle, but none the less, it is what it is. Therefore, His voluntarily stepping down to be a human disabled Him in a sense; at least momentarily. Think about that; He became a human – a defenseless baby, dependent upon Mary to nurse and change His diapers. He, like victims of trauma often do, had to learn to walk and talk all over again. Any powers associated with the Father were set aside until He learned who He was and what His powers were, just as we have to do.
This transition from heaven to earth provokes my second thought.
Because Mary, at such an early age, had enough strength of character that she was able to stand her ground and say, He is the Son of God, it did not fare well with anybody and gossip spread quickly. No one was buying Mary’s story, and for a time, neither did Joseph. Jesus, once he was born, was now reliant upon the protective covering of Joseph. Without this covering, He would have been thought of and treated as nothing more than an illegitimate child of an unnamed father. Accusations like this should have prevented Him from entering a Synagogue, or being taught in a Rabbinical school; and yet, what do we see, Jesus, at the age of accountability amazing the teachers in the synagogue with His understanding and knowledge. Where would He have learned all the things necessary to make Him who He became?
Joseph, we are told, was a good man. This title does not necessarily
mean he fared well in the community; it says he too knew the Torah
and Talmud and by repetition taught Jesus.
2. At Jesus baptism in the Jordan by John, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit leads us and guide us into all truth, and, in the case of Jesus, led Him into the wilderness for forty days. We do not see Satan enter that picture until Jesus experienced a painful hunger at the end of that forty days. So, what was Jesus doing all that time? Talking to the God He had come to understand and recognize as His own Father.
Is there any doubt that He was perfect?
He was born through a woman who merely carried God’s fertilized egg. This course of action is the way it had to be done to bypass the inherent brokenness that came to every human through Adam; this course action, on God’s part, made Him sinless (that means, like us, He was not driven to satisfy personal desires.) And, we learn that He followed the will of the Father precisely; and yet, Jesus the Son is being made perfect again. John’s gospel tells us that he is God, was with God, created all things by his word, and upholds all things by the word of his power; and yet, Hebrews has God restoring him to power. Why? Because God was restoring His firstborn Son, given to be sin, back to His rightful position of authority, seated next to the Father in heaven.
- “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9)
God alone has the power to give life. However, Jesus told the Jews that he was God, and they very clearly understood that because they immediately tried to kill for making that claim. There was nothing veiled about what Jesus said, and yet, here again, we have a description of Jesus becoming the source of eternal salvation. To and for whom did He become the source of eternal salvation? All who obey him. (None of us do that entirely, but His grace is sufficient enough to ensure the salvation of all who believe.)
- “designated by God to be High Priest.” (Hebrews 5:10)
Pay attention to the patterns for this is what the Jewish mind is accustomed to when analyzing prophecy. Aaron was a man, and God chose him. Look for patterns (this is what the Jewish mind is accustomed to when examining prophecy) Aaron was a pattern, but there is another clue here. Not after the order of Man but after the order or example of Melchizedek. A man who had no beginning and no end, appointed by God to be High Priest. Why? Because humankind had a limited lifespan and would have to have been replaced. Jesus, like Melchizedek, now continues because He was raised from the dead. Those who serve in the priesthood are born with a broken nature and must offer sacrifices for their failings before offering a sacrifice for others. It is true, that Jesus was born without sin, but could have given himself over to the desires of the flesh, as Satan pushed opportunities at Him, and yet He did not.
The explanations for why Jesus is superior is cloaked in references to the cross and his death.
There are two forms of death: Physical and spiritual. To be spiritually dead is to be separated from God, and Christ, for the first time experienced a separation from the Father. We call it his death, and no doubt the body was killed, but when John talks about death in Revelation 20, he refers to the second death. Christ’s body was not the only thing that died on the cross that day. Jesus, himself, attests to that by saying “my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Everything in scripture is a pattern, and we have Abraham for a model. When Isaac asked where is the sacrifice, Abraham answers “God will provide himself a sacrifice,” and that is precisely what happened that day on the cross.
Adam was the pattern for the man Jesus would become, and neither had experienced what it was like to be separated from God. Look at our Genesis account for the pattern. God made it clear to Adam what would happen on the day He ate from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil – death; and yet, did Adam die that day? Not to the physical eye, but he did spiritually, as he lost his connection to God. Try to keep in mind that God is not a liar and He did say that day. Some will look at this as the eventual death of Adam, which came almost nine-hundred years later. Still, if Adam’s physical death was all that was implied, then that still makes God a liar, for it did not occur that day. I believe that Adam understood what God meant when God explained what would happen; that is what made Adam’s act of disobedience such a critical, treasonous error. It would seem only a few have experienced anything close to that kind of intimacy: Adam, who relinquished his relationship; Enoch, who walked off this earth, and Jesus, who was killed because he proclaimed his relationship with the Father. Of those moments that I feel separated from Him, I think I can equate it to being underwater, and not being able to breathe. Your spirit, much like your lungs need air, desperately seeks a relationship with the creator.
So, here we are back at Hebrews 5:11 where it says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.”
Why would the writer of this letter to the Hebrews know the recipient’s spiritual state?
Perhaps he had been one of their teachers. With the Law and the prophets only written on scrolls – the majority of which were held within the communities Synagogue because of rarity and expense, there were no books to enlighten the new converts about the latest theories on how grace and spiritual laws work; and, surely there was no New Testament, for it was being written as they spoke.
Another safe assumption is that these were exclusively Jewish believers considering that the entire book is a letter to the Hebrews.
Jews in the compulsory Rabbinical schools were trained in the Torah and Talmud. Now, not everyone was a scholar like Saul/Paul, but within the Jewish community has a firm grasp of history and high Holy days was mandatory. Therefore, the knowledge of God’s grace had to come through the same documents that the religious leadership used to control people with its many burdensome laws. The most significant input the new church had, would have been oral tradition and inspiration given through the Holy Spirit. Paul was a perfect example of one of those people, as he and a handful of others began to grasp the grace that God was trying to tell us.
Look at Hebrews 6:1-2 to get an idea of what the basics were/are; not one of these can be taught in 10 minutes.
- Basic teachings about Christ.
- The fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds.
- Placing our faith in God.
- Instructions about baptisms.
- Instructions about the laying on of hands.
- The resurrection of the dead.
- Eternal Judgment.
What would make this hard to explain?
I would not think that it is the telling of the story of Jesus that is difficult; although the trip to the cross can be graphic and gory. Perhaps the visualization of cross sets many people at odds with the cross. Having heard angry arguments against Jesus descending to hell and taking the keys away from Satan, I can presume that many others with their religious mindset fight against the cross. We also know that many have a cloak over their eyes, and therefore their physical mind cannot grasp the impact of the cross. And then, there are those who are not willing to spend any time looking into God’s word, and therefore, will not find freedom.
What happened from the cross to the throne is what makes those of us who follow Him who we are. It is what made Jesus who He is, and it is what prompted God to call him our great High Priest, and the one who mediates for us continually. God so desperately wanted to restore that relationship with you that he allowed his Son to die for you, and Jesus voluntarily set aside the glory he had with the Father to be the required sacrifice so that you might live. All that Christ did was done for you.