Going All the Way
Reading: Hebrews 5
I tripped over a little phrase this morning. The bulk of the chapters assigned were from Isaiah (49-51) but one chapter from Hebrews was also on my morning agenda. From Isaiah 40 on the Scripture tells us a lot about the “Suffering Servant” so it was appropriate to read something similar from Hebrews. Then I tripped. Here’s the verse that caused the stumble in its immediate context:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered 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…” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NIV).
It was the “once made perfect” that gave me pause. Jesus was always perfect. He had to be perfect if His sacrifice was to have any meaning at all. Only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God.
So what’s with the “once made perfect?”
The context is the suffering. The Lord submitted to the will of His Father and suffered the loss of everything except His deity, in order to become a man, live among us, and then die for us. As God, He knew what was coming. As a man, He shrunk from what was coming. So strong was His revulsion at taking all our sin on Himself, that Jesus the man, asked if there might be another route that would spare Him, not so much from the cross as from the sin (Luke 22:39-46). As God, He knew the answer and submitted Himself to the task of becoming our sin-bearer.
As I thought about this I realized that the text isn’t talking about Jesus being made perfect–He already was. What needed to be perfect was the suffering. Getting as far as the Garden where the Lord asked if there was another way, was not sufficient. This whole exercise was not a test of Jesus’ resolve where the Father would say: “Okay, I now know you are serious about this, so I release you from actually having to follow through.”
Jesus had to go to the cross. He had to accept the role of sin-bearer. Until He did the suffering was complete, perfect. The perfection was seen in the completion of the mission, the moment when Jesus became “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”
Sometimes our suffering has to be perfected, completed. Of course, we will never suffer as Jesus did, but our little excursions into the experience don’t always end, as they did with Abraham when he went to offer his son Isaac on the altar, with a “hold it, I now know you love me so the kid gets a pass” (Genesis 22).
Sometimes we have to go all the way. The sacrifice has to be complete. Sometimes it’s the only way to accomplish God’s purposes in us.
Does that sound cruel?
Only if we don’t trust the One who asks it of us. Jesus trusted His Father. He understood the importance of His mission. Without His part of the plan His Father’s glory would not be restored through the redemption of a fallen Creation. He knew what was coming afterwards. He knew that His Father would exalt Him (Philippians 2). Besides, His love was as perfect as He was–His love for His Father and His love for us (John 3:16).
We have a trust issue. The testing is bad enough, but the thought of not being released from the test but actually having to complete what is required of us, to go all the way, is not something we embrace. Even Jesus the man, struggled with that part. But He obeyed. He went all the way.
Are we willing to fully trust God and to perfect whatever sacrifice, whatever suffering, He asks of us by going all the way?