“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”
I don’t want to pretend I am already some great theologian or some great bible interpreter or scholar. Heck! I’m only 22 years old. All I can do is read the words I have in front of me, read what the saints who have gone before me say about them and through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit come to some conclusion as to their meaning. Whatever conclusions I may come to will most often be stained with worldliness and my own imperfection. I hope in some way that somewhere a small glimpse of true meaning will be seen through this dim mirror. However, my prayer is that conviction would always precede the text’s meaning. I believe this is what God’s holy word was inspired to accomplish in us; change. It is meant for maturing us and transforming us into the image of Christ.
That is what I see here in Hebrews 5:7-9. It is a call to Christ-likeness in the closest possible way. So, by the very power of the Word, I have been convicted. Christ-likeness is the goal. Sanctification is the process. Obedience is the way. Suffering is a necessity.
Let me begin by saying this; I believe Jesus was fully God and fully Man at the same time. I wish I understood how, but I don’t. It remains, and will most likely remain a mystery to me forever. But I do want to use language that may seem to contradict that belief, but I don’t believe it does. After all, I have already admitted that I believe in one thing that seems to contradict itself, being; Jesus is both fully God and fully Man. So already I have to admit that the language used to explain the truth of the incarnation is limited, just as is the language used to describe my thoughts here on Hebrews 5:7-9.
As I read Hebrews 5:7-9 I am immediately transported back to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is here that I believe Jesus, “learned obedience through what He suffered.” If you can recall, it was in Gethsemane when Jesus, “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” calling out to His Father to remove from Him the cup of which He was about to drink. In the Gospels, it does not indicate that God gives a response. But here in Hebrews we are told that Jesus, “was heard because of his reverence.” Jesus was given the gift of the listening ear of the Father, something that we often neglect and accuse God of not giving us.
I have read several theologians who seem to be okay with saying that the Garden of Gethsemane was where Jesus experienced His moment of doubt before the Father. Jesus says to His father, “if there is any other way, remove this cup from me.” His whole life on earth He seems to know why He has come, but knowing that the hour of His death is approaching, it seems doubt has overtaken Him.
If I agree that Jesus was experiencing doubt in the Garden, and I do, then I think we can try to understand His question at a deeper level. I wonder if Jesus was really saying, “God, are you for real? Can you really do what say you are going to do?”
But, God listened to Him. “And although he was a Son, He learned obedience through His suffering.” I believe that Jesus did learn something. I believe He learned something about silence that He then puts into practice very soon after. But, what He learns in that moment of silence before God in his suffering, in his crying and tears is that He must decide for Himself whether or not He believes His father is for real or not. He needs to decide for Himself whether or not His faithful Father will do what He said He promised to do.
And so when the soldiers come to take Him, Jesus has made His decision.
Soon after His moment of doubt in the Garden Jesus is standing before Pilate. Amongst the shouting, the mocking, and persecution, Pilate takes Him aside and wants to know for himself, “are you the King of the Jews?” Here Jesus puts into practice what He learned from His father; Silence. Like a lamb before the slaughter. Jesus does not respond to Pilate, but truly His eyes, His miracles, His worthiness, are all answering Pilate “decide for yourself if you think I am the King of the Jews?”
As it was with Pilate, and also with Job, so it is with us. God wants us to decide for ourselves, “Is He the King?”
But it only comes through being obedient; obedient to suffering. Suffering is where Jesus learned. Suffering is where Jesus decided His Father was Worthy. If we are meant to be like Christ then we must suffer. It is a necessity.
Most often I try to get comfort out of knowing that Jesus understands all of my sufferings. But I think, as wonderful a thought as that may be, it misses the point of suffering completely. Jesus asks His disciples, and essentially us, to stay up all night with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane as He goes through His moment of doubt. He asks us to pick up our cross daily, He asks us to be hated by the World because it hated Him first, He tells us to deny ourselves, and says identify ourselves with His death. I don’t think it is so important to Jesus that we remember that He knows our sufferings, but that we know Him in His sufferings. It is supposed to be us like Christ now, not Him like us.
On the timeline of eternity, our earthly lives are only one blink of an eye. The rest of the time we get to be in union with our Father where there is no suffering at all. This time on earth is the one and only chance we have to be identified with Jesus Christ in persecution. No wonder the church rejoiced when it faced trials; it meant experiencing something that Christ knew perfectly and that they only had a small window to understand. Yet today we often shun suffering, thinking that it takes us far from God.
I believe the opposite is true. I believe suffering takes us closer to God. I believe suffering continues to refine and purify us. Suffering continually challenges us to decide for ourselves that Jesus is King and the faithful Father.
Suffering brought Jesus to a place of full confidence in His Father. I believe it could be argued that Jesus suffered more in the Garden then he did on the road to Calvary. In Gethsemane He doubted God, however, “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.” Joy. Jesus knew Joy as he endured the cross. I think Jesus’ words prove how he really felt in His final moments, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!” This statement seems despairing, but coming from the mouth of a Jew who knew the scriptures better than anyone else they are truly encouraging and show how Jesus is focused on the end goal of redemption. Jesus here cries the opening of Psalms 22, inviting the listener to remember the whole scripture. Listen to the end;
“The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
It is finished! He has done it! Jesus wants us to suffer because He wants us to know Him. Through suffering we can be closer to the Father, knowing He is faithful. Full confidence in Him. Then we can endure all things with Joy because we have decided for ourselves Jesus is King.