Meditations on the Cross, 2
The Book of Hebrews has much to say regarding the sufferings of Jesus. Much of it is, as its anonymous author tells us "difficult to interpret" (5:11).
One of its most "difficult to interpret" passages (at least for me) is 5:7-9:
"He in the days of his flesh offered up prayers and pleas with loud crying and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His piety. Even though He was a son He learned obedience from the things He suffered. And having been perfected, He became to all who obey Him a source of eternal salvation."
The picture painted here appears to be of Jesus' experience in the Garden of Gethsemane just a few hours before His arrest as He prayed to the Father while His closest disciples were sleeping. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us of His agonized prayers as He fell to His face and three times pleaded with the Father, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me!"
The passage in Hebrews tells us that He pleaded with "loud crying and tears." Luke tells us He was "in agony," an agony so great that "His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground."
Within a short time Jesus would be arrested, endure a series of "trials," be scourged and finally crucified. And yet our passage tells us His prayer "was heard." How can it say this? The Father doesn't "hear" as we often do - hear and ignore. When we're told our prayers are heard, the implication is that they are answered. Should we understand this to mean that the Father's answer was no?
And we read that "He learned obedience." Again, we might ask how the omniscient Son of God could learn. But we know that as a man he did learn. At the incarnation He had in some way "emptied Himself (Philippians 2:7) of His divine prerogatives. And we also could note that He learned through experience as we do.
And amazingly He continued in that learning process right to the end. Even as He was suffering - in the garden, at His trials, during His scourging, and finally, on the cross, He was continuing to learn obedience.
And He was "perfected," through His sufferings. The Greek word translated "perfected," is teleioo. It does not mean, as our English word may suggest, flawlessness. It has the idea rather of the attainment of a telos, goal or purpose.
Jesus was born to die. His death on the cross was the Telos - the final goal. As He hung there, some of his final words were "It is finished!" - tetelesthai, the perfect tense of that same word translated "perfected" in Hebrews.
It is done! It has been brought to its final goal! The death of Christ on the cross has brought it to completion! The task is finished for which the Son came into the world and to which His 30+ years on earth looked forward! Might we sense the feeling of accomplishment even of relief in those words?