The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 21, 2021
The Value of Suffering!
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Over the course of the past year we have all seen and experienced suffering. The older we are the more likely it is that this is not the first time we have seen and experienced suffering. Whether it was the loss of loved ones, a physical injury or some type of medical emergency, we may be able to look back over the course of our life and see a number of times when we have endured suffering. The younger we are the more likely it is that this past year is the first time we have seen and experienced suffering. Whether it was seeing pictures of hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients or experiencing isolation, loneliness and sadness, even our children have gotten a taste of what it means to suffer.
Is there any value in suffering? Is there anything positive that we can learn from our suffering— no matter how old or how young we are? The answer is— Yes! Over the course of the last year many people have learned how important it is to stay “connected” to our family and our friends. Many people have learned what truly is important and what may not be as important as we once thought it was. Many people have learned how to be resourceful and how to do things in ways we may have never imagined.
The sermon text that we have before us today gives us an opportunity to look at and to learn from the suffering that Jesus experienced while He was here on this earth. For that reason we are going to study this text under the theme: The Value of Suffering! Based upon the suffering that Jesus endured in His life, I would like to highlight two reasons why there is indeed value in suffering. First let’s see that suffering teaches us to turn to and to trust in our God. Then let’s see that suffering teaches us the importance of being obedient to our God.
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being pressured to renounce their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and go back to following the Law of Moses. The persecutions they were enduring and the temptations they were facing were indeed bringing all kinds of sufferings into their lives. The overall emphasis of this letter centers on the realization that since Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies, there is nothing for these Jewish Christians to go back to! Whether it was following the Law of Moses, or continuing the system of sacrificing animals to attain forgiveness of sins, or any other aspect of the Old Testament— it was all designed to focus God’s people on the Promised Messiah, that is, on Jesus and what Jesus would do for them! (See Colossians 2:16, 17)
In the particular portion of Hebrews that we have before us today, the writer to the Hebrews focuses God’s people on the suffering that Jesus endured and what we are to learn from that suffering. He writes, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth” is a reference to what is known as Jesus’ State of Humiliation, that is, the time from His conception and birth to the time of His death and burial. During this period of time the eternal Son of God set aside the full use of His divine power, majesty and glory. He became “fully human” as we confess in our Creed. In His State of Humiliation Jesus became hungry and thirsty and tired. In His State of Humiliation Jesus experienced happiness and sadness— and suffering. And as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, in His State of Humiliation Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
Although the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry reveal to us that Jesus regularly set aside time to pray to His heavenly Father, these words automatically remind us of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. As true God Jesus knew exactly what He was about to suffer. He knew the hurt He would suffer as Judas betrayed Him and as Peter denied Him. He knew the rejection and the ridicule He would suffer as the spiritual leaders of God’s people charged Him with blasphemy and as the people of Jerusalem demanded His crucifixion. He knew the physical torture He would suffer as the Roman soldiers flogged Him and beat Him and nailed Him to the cross. And He knew the spiritual pain He would suffer as He endured the unspeakable agony of hell for all people— including you and for me.
All of this suffering led Jesus to turn to the heavenly Father in prayer and to trust in His heavenly Father’s promises. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus prayed, “to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” But wait a minute! Jesus died on the cross! How do we reconcile His death with what the writer to the Hebrews tells us here? This is where we need to remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). As the true Son of Man Jesus’ human nature recoiled from what He was about to suffer. As the true Son of God Jesus’ divine nature accepted the fact that the Father’s Plan of Salvation for this world required that He suffer and die on the cross. Yes, the heavenly Father could have sent legions of angels to save His Son from the suffering He was about to endure, but that would have resulted in the eternal suffering of all mankind. So the heavenly Father did indeed answer the prayer of His Son— not by sparing Him from this suffering, but by giving Him the strength to overcome the inclinations of His human nature. Luke tells us that the heavenly Father sent an angel to “strengthen” His Son. (See Luke 22:43)
Whenever we are going through suffering in our lives, we would do well to follow the example that Jesus has set for us. Our “natural inclination” is to react to suffering by turning to ourselves and saying something like, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? What can I do to get rid of this suffering?” Far better than allowing our suffering to lead us to turn to ourselves, would be to let every suffering teach us how important it is for us to turn to our God in prayer and trust in His promises, His power, His strength and His protection.
As I was studying this portion of our text, I thought of what God reveals to us in 1 Peter 1:6, 7. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Peter writes, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire— may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
By the grace of God we know that we will never have to suffer what Jesus suffered for us. (Pointing to the cross) By the power of God we know that no matter what we are called upon to suffer here in this world we can turn to and trust in our God to fulfill the promises He has made to us and give us the strength we need to endure.
The value of suffering, however, is not only in the fact that it teaches us to turn to and trust in our God, but the value of suffering is that it teaches us the importance of being obedient to our God. Once again, we have the example of Christ Himself. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Although he was a son, (this could be translated, “Although He was the Son”) he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”
If we were to simply read these words on a very superficial level without putting them into the context of the rest of Scripture, we could very easily become very confused! How are we to understand that Jesus “learned obedience”? How are we to understand that “once made perfect” Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”?
One might think that as the eternal Son of God Jesus was always “obedient”! One might think that as the eternal Son of God Jesus was always “perfect”! As we look at the larger context of Scripture our response to those two statements is: “He was!” and “He is!” At the same time, as we look at the immediate context in which we find these words, we are reminded of the fact that the writer to the Hebrews is specifically talking about, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth,” that is, during His State of Humiliation.
As the true Son of God, Jesus always was, always is, and always will be “obedient.” As the true Son of Man, Jesus was always “growing” or “becoming stronger” in His “obedience” to His heavenly Father. In fact, in next week’s sermon we will be reminded of the fact that Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Even in the face of “suffering” — or perhaps we should say despite what He “suffered”— Jesus always obeyed God’s Law in our place. Ultimately, Jesus obediently endured the suffering of the cross for us.
The second point, “once made perfect,” could cause some serious questions to arise in our minds— if it weren’t for the fact that this is a translation of a very specific Greek word! A very literal translation of verse nine of our text would go like this, “And after having reached His goal, He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him.” The word which the NIV translates as “once made perfect,” comes from the very same family of words which in John 19:30 the NIV translates as “It is finished.”
Jesus had one specific “goal” for coming into this world. That “goal” is found in the words the angel spoke to Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus “reached His goal,” Jesus’ work was “finished” right there— on the cross of Calvary’s hill! (Pointing to the cross) Because Jesus reached His “goal,” because Jesus’ work as our Savior is “finished”— perfectly!— He is now the “source” the only “source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” What does it mean to “obey” Jesus? It means to believe Jesus when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It means to trust Jesus when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). It means to put into practice Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
No matter what we are called upon to suffer as we journey through this world, we cannot allow that suffering to cause us to lose sight of the fact that Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
What is the value of suffering? This past year has taught many people to re-evaluate their priorities in life, to treasure their family and friends, and to realize how quickly a tiny little virus can completely change their life or even cause their life to come to an end. As Christians, this cross reminds us that suffering is valuable because it teaches us to turn to and to trust in our God, plus suffering teaches us the importance of being obedient to our God. For that we say:
To God be the glory!