Friday, December 21, 2012

The Severity and Fruitfulness of Jesus' Suffering: A Meditation on Hebrews 5:7-10

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus 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, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." 
Hebrews 5:7-10 

I am deeply touched by the depth of Jesus’ emotion as articulated in this passage. It's so easy to live with an unrealistic vision of Him as one who was courageous and strong and untouched by all of the suffering He witnessed and experienced, as well as the weight He carried in life. But in truth, Jesus felt pain. Jesus suffered. Jesus grieved. Jesus felt the crushing weight of life, circumstances, and the sin of others. Jesus found obedience difficult, not in that He didn't want what His Father wanted, but in that doing what His Father wanted required serious suffering and sacrifice. He had to completely depend upon His Father to do the will of His Father, which is at the heart of why he prayed with loud cries and tears. 

I will never forget the night our daughter Rachel was born. Mainly I remember the miracle of life I was privileged to witness that night, but then there was that woman who was screaming in the other room as she gave birth to her child. I don't think I had heard screams like that before, and I'm sure I haven't heard screams like that since. 

As I ponder the "loud cries and tears" of Jesus, this is what comes to mind. They were not Hollywood-like tears--they were the deep, painful, sincere, and hopeful cries of a Savior who was giving birth to all who would believe in him. And in order for that to happen, he had to suffer along with them and become the sacrifice for their sins. Who can imagine carrying such weight? Who can fathom the depths of Jesus' cries? 

It would be a mistake only to ponder the suffering of Jesus in moments like these, because there was also in His heart and life a great, bright hope that could not be overcome by the seriousness of what He was facing. Specifically, His Father heard his heart and received his prayers, every step of the way, and He did so because Jesus cried out with reverence. That is, He cried out with respect, submission, humility, and willingness to do whatever He was called to do, no matter how difficult or costly. Indeed, he endured the suffering of the cross because of the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

Because of His willingness to obey the Father all the way to death on a cross, the Father rescued Him from  death by raising Him from the dead. The Father vindicated His way of life, and His claims about His life, by setting Him apart from every other person who has ever claimed to be a teacher sent from God. How many teachers do you know who've been raised from death? This, indeed, puts Jesus in a class by Himself and validates his claim to be the Savior of all who believe, to be their great High Priest before God the Father. 

One of the reasons why things had to transpire in this way, why Jesus had to suffer, was that, although He was and is the Son of God, he had to learn obedience through suffering. What does this mean? It does not mean that Jesus was ever less than obedient. It does not mean that He formerly lacked moral fiber or experience and had to go through some kind of testing process in order to mature from one kind of person into another kind of person. 

No, the clue to what this means is found in the words "being made perfect." Without going into too much detail, this very word is used repeatedly in the Greek version of the Old Testament, often called the Septuagint or referred to as the LXX. When one looks up and analyzes these usages, one sees that the word often refers to the ordination of a priest, so that after going through a particular God-ordained process a priest, or group of priests, was "perfected" or "ordained." I am certain that this is what the author of Hebrews has in mind. God the Father prepared an ordination process for Jesus so that He could be the one eternal High Priest who would stand as a mediator between a holy God and sinful man forever and ever. So Jesus learned obedience through suffering as part of a God-ordained process by which Jesus himself was "ordained" or "perfected" or "made ready" to serve as the eternal High Priest of heaven. 

And having been so ordained, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. Jesus obeyed the Father unto death, that through simple belief we might obey Jesus unto eternal life. The suffering of Jesus was severe. The positive fruit of that suffering is beyond measure. Perfect obedience led to perfect salvation for all who believe. The pay off for obedience far outweighs the suffering that has to be endured in the process of living it out. 

This is a lesson for all of us to learn. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, the Father made Him the one to be obeyed. The Father exalted Him to the place of the eternal High Priest who entered into the real Holy of Holies, where God dwells, to make a once for all perfect sacrifice for humankind (Hebrews 9:23-28). Having learned perfect obedience through earthly suffering, He has become our Lord and Priest, firm but merciful, because He understands the difficulties and suffering of obedience, because He took upon Himself the penalty for our disobedience. 

We will not be exalted to so high a place because of our obedience, but the lesson still remains: as we learn obedience from what we suffer, God will exalt us to the places He has prepared for us. Fruitfulness in the family of God emerges from heart-felt submission to God. And the only reason we can submit to Jesus in this way is because Jesus submitted to the Father in this way. Obedience to Jesus is a work of Jesus in the heart of the believer. 

So the call upon us in this text is (1) to marvel at the glory and humility of Christ and (2) to submit to Christ on the basis of the work of Christ. May God grant us ears to hear and eyes to see. 

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