When I was eight, my favorite aunt gave me something I’d never seen before: a little red autograph book. Since I was unfamiliar with the word “autograph”, she explained how to use it.
“It’s for asking people to write you a little message and sign it,” she said.
That seemed fun.
The next day, I spent several hours going from door to door in my neighborhood, asking the housewives who answered the bell to complete a page for me.
“Write something interesting,” I asked them. “And don’t forget to sign your name.”
I knew most of these stay-at-home moms by surname, or at least by their kids, but we hardly counted as friends. Some of them tried to wriggle out of signing, knowing they didn’t qualify as affectionates or celebrities. But I insisted. By the end of the day, the ladies in my neighborhood had filled in every page, except for one.
I was saving that one for my third grade teacher.
I can’t remember what any of the housewives wrote, but I do remember getting in trouble with my dad for wasting my book on pointless signatures. And I remember what my teacher, Miss Tauber, wrote for me:
Good, better, best, never let it rest,
Till the good is better, and the better, best.
I pondered these words for months, wondering what my teacher meant. Even at eight, I anxiously weighed every word and glance from my teachers, measuring my self-worth through their responses. Was she trying to tell me I wasn’t working hard enough?
Which is laughable to me now. I was top of the class, and worked like a drone to win her approval. I’m sure her words were simply meant to be ongoing inspiration for a driven overachiever. Or maybe she just wrote them off the top of her head. I doubt other kids were garnering autographs those days.
Whatever she meant, the words stuck with me. And they sprung to mind again as I pondered this:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are being made holy are of the same family, so Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:10-11)
First of all, as a writer and hopeful author*, I thrill to think of Jesus as ‘the author of my salvation”. Our salvation is HIS plan, HIS story, HIS realized creation…. And WE get to be his active protagonists!
More to the point, the writer states that Jesus, being made JUST LIKE US, was made “perfect through suffering”. What? You might ask. Wasn’t Jesus perfect from birth?
Of course he was, just as every baby is innocent, pure, and sinless when they enter this world. (I’m not a subscriber to the doctrine of “original sin”—that every baby is contaminated with the sin of Adam, and deserving of hell. Augustine came up with that twisted interpretation of Romans 5, which actually says sin entered the world through Adam, and all of us sin as we follow the course of human rebellion.) Jesus started as a baby, just like us. And he faced all the same temptations as he grew into a teen, a young man, a thirty year old. The difference—and it’s a monumental one—is that he never once gave in to sin.
And that’s what made him “perfect”.
This twinned destiny, that he had to be made exactly like us in our humanity, and that he had to resist every temptation common to man, was integral to our salvation. In order to be a perfect and worthy sacrifice for our sins, Jesus had to live the godly, obedient life each of us failed to live. He couldn’t have simply swooped down, lived a day or two on earth, and died on the cross in our place, untested by the trials and challenges of resisting sin through the course of a lifetime. His obedience to God needed to be tested, over and over again, in situations and circumstances that exceeded anything we’ve ever had to face.
Only then would he be made perfect.
Jesus wasn’t a Superman, walking around in a body that merely looked human, yet endowed with supernatural powers that made him invincible. He struggled against sin on a constant and daily basis, his only weapon the power of his faithfulness to the Father. He prayed daily, at length, to resist Satan’s pull, to stay the course, to love his enemies, to resist retaliation. The Hebrew writer tells us plainly,
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those being tempted. (Heb.2:18)
The Gospels don’t mention every episode and type of temptation Jesus faced—how could they?—but his trial in the wilderness gives us a glimpse at how intensely he suffered. Have you ever fasted for forty days, all alone, while Satan targeted you with tantalizing offers to lessen your present and future suffering? We can’t even imagine. So when we complain to Jesus that our urges are just too hard to resist, we’re barking up the wrong tree. Jesus has endured far, far more—and I’m not even talking about his crucifixion.
Jesus was Satan’s unrelenting target. Of course, the devil goes after each of us, luring us to spiritual death, but not with the ferocious intensity he leveled against Jesus. After all, once Satan traps us, he no longer has to try.
With Jesus, he pulled out all the stops. And lost every time.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Jesus breezed through life, putting up with dense disciples and annoying Pharisees, but mostly basking in a pleasant ministry of preaching and performing miracles. Every moment of his life was a test, and he passed with flying colors. But not without suffering: great, unimaginable suffering that started long before he wrestled in prayer at Gethsemane. The cross was the final test, and by then he HAD been made perfect, worthy of being our sacrificial lamb, holy and blameless before God.
Jesus didn’t have to work his way from Good to Better to Best: he was Best from the beginning. But he had to fight to remain Best from the moment he was old enough to choose right over wrong (see Isaiah 7:14-16).
That’s why he can sympathize with our struggles. He’s been there, done that, won that. And—best of all—given his immeasurable winnings to shore up our emptied accounts.
*A ‘writer’ is anyone who writes. I write a lot. An ‘author’ is someone with published books. I’ve written two books so far, with a third on the way, but neither has found the right agent or publisher yet. You can help me through prayer…or any good connections you might have in the literary jungle known as traditional publishing!