He Learned Obedience

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.  [Hebrews 5:8-9]

Last week, St Paul [Ephesians 2:4-10] told us that we were GOD’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.  GOD Who loved us, Who once had shaped and formed the first man and breathed into him the breath of life; Who saw us dead and cold in our trespasses and sin, has now made us alive again in Christ Jesus, raising us up with Him, giving us a seat with Jesus in the throneroom of the universe.  This week we step a little closer to the cross and are confronted with the fact that this was no casual thing to our Lord.

Think of the last painful experience that you suffered; that time when you most ached inside and yet felt as if nobody really could ever know how bad it was, that nobody would ever understand.  You know that experience, that time when you were literally on the bottom, up to your neck in dirt and the mess of life; looking up in hope that you might see a glimmer of light – but instead just see more blackness coming at you.  Everything that you had worked toward merely tumbled down into a nothingness.

At work, things seemed to be going so well, and then suddenly flew apart with such frightening ease. When you were in school, you got a bit behind and then suddenly everything seemed enormously overwhelming. At home, you tried so hard, and then suddenly the rug was torn out from under you. The things you had worked toward, that seemed to be getting just within reach and then suddenly were snatched away.

Every one of us has had those kinds of experiences to a greater or lesser degree – the times of tremendous discouragement, the times of failings.  How helpless you felt!  It seems as though nobody cared, nobody even seemed to know if you were alive.

We turn to a deaf sky, talking to a God Who seems busy at some other end of the universe.  We plead, cajole, bargain, promise – and it wouldn’t be so bad even if only we could just get a “no!”  But we don’t seem to get even that much recognition – the reply seems to be only emptiness.  You cry out, but there is only silence.  Tears fill your eyes, but nobody seems to want to know why.

You know the right words, the right thoughts.  Although you feel as though even God is a great big nothing, you do know better.  God is up there, listening, acting, caring – but then why does it seem as though nothing is getting through?  You drag each foot forward, and you know that you are getting somewhere – its just you wish you knew where it all was going to end up.

Ever have that sense of emptiness?  How hard it is to trust God at a time like that – how hard to take Him at His Word, to get up and walk through life in faith, to hold on when promises are all that are left to you, and those promises just seem to be so pitifully small compared with the needs of the moment.

Yes, we like to hear that we are God’s handiwork, that he raised us up to sit with Jesus in the heavenly places.  But then we really bump our noses hard on times like this.

“Suffered” is how St Paul describes Jesus in Hebrews: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.”  Was Jesus really THAT human?  HE came away with HIS nose stinging and bloody from whacking it against the wall of reality?  HE really feel that deeply – to the point of “loud cries and weeping”?

The passage suggests that Jesus struggled through life – He faced times of bewilderment, temptation, of pleading with God – with tears.  This passage occurs in the middle of a section where Jesus is called the great High Priest – but especially One Who can sympathize with our weaknesses, Who was tempted in every respect as we, yet without sin.

Jesus struggled through life.  Can you handle that statement?  He struggled just like us – perhaps even more, because there are some sins that we don’t even bother with any show of resisting – we give in with enthusiasm; yet for Jesus HE had to fight them ALL back, each and every single one of them; giving in to none ever.  Just think of Gesthemane and the struggle to remain true, to remain on the path of God’s will, even with every fiber of His being abhorring the idea of the cross and the death it demanded.

And yet after being so faithful, and being so true, there in His time of greatest need on the cross, from heaven there was only silence.  “Father, My Father” would be greeted with nothing but black clouds.  Not even the sun was shining.  He had been deserted by his disciples; in the midst of pouring out His heart, His friends fall asleep on Him ….”suffered” – that’s what St Paul calls it.  Are you familiar with that territory?

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But St Paul says that this was where He demonstrated obedience such as no other place would ever have called for.  Spiritually He lifted each “foot”, heavy as it seemed and as spiritually exhausted as He was, and placed it in front of the other.  He would not give in, even there, to temptation.  He would not be disobedient.

I do not think that He was bright and chipper and saying, “Oh, I’ve only merely got three hours to go – well, time passes so quickly when you are having such fun!!”  I think that He, at that point, was just concentrating on the fact that He had to get through this minute, and then the next, one “foot” after the other.  Yes, it was for all mankind.  But right now, how can I possibly handle the next breath, the next rifle shot of pain through the body, the next minute of absolute emptiness from the blackened sky….?

We stand at the foot of the cross – and we slowly and carefully inspect His face.  Would He understand MY despair?  Would He understand MY pain, especially the inner pain?  Would He understand MY frustration and perplexity at a sky so silent and so black?  And as I cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” – am I startled to hear MY words ECHOING what Jesus has just said?

You know, sometimes when I go through pain, there is a certain satisfaction in feeling like nobody could understand just how bad it is with me.  It gives me the feeling of being special and unique; I deserve sympathy and attention – I am suffering so much that I should be noticed!!  Now people will care about me!  I WANT people to care about me.  I NEED people to care about me.  I need people to get beyond the polite masks of every day.

And yet how alone I feel, because pain is very private.  YOU CAN’T feel MY knee ache, I can’t feel YOUR headache.  I haven’t a clue as to whether you are making a big production over nothing, or whether you really are at death’s door.  Can you possibly know the hurt that breaks MY heart?  And so I want to be unique and special not alike anybody else’s suffering – and yet all I feel is more alone.

And so I search the face of Jesus.  Could HE understand?  And the answer comes back, that, yes, He can.  The evidence is sprinkled throughout the Bible.  He suffered.

But more.  Jesus has placed Himself into relationship with us that is not like my normal relationship to you.  You see, no matter how much a woman may explain it to me, I will never understand the pain of childbirth.  I will never feel that pain.  That’s because I’m outside of her.

But Jesus isn’t.  He says, “I am in you, and you are in me” – in Holy Communion, He further demonstrates that fact as He gives you Himself literally, here in the bread and wine.  “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah once wrote.  Yes, He does, because He is in me.  He feels what I feel.  And in turn, I think I’m beginning to understand a little about what He felt and feels.

Obedience isn’t easy during times of suffering.  It is NOT a “simple matter” to keep putting one “foot” in front of the other.  It is HARD to face a black and silent sky, without the feeling of utter abandonment.  Although there are times when I like to wallow in self-pity, it rapidly gets to the point of desperation – SOMEBODY please understand and touch my suffering!

That’s what St Paul is talking about in the Epistle.  You see, “salvation” is not just something for on the Last Day.  Jesus IS SAVING me right now.  He comes to me right now as One Who intimately knows suffering.  He comes to me right now as One enters me and feels MY suffering.  He even comes to me as One Who knows what it is like to look up and see only a blackened, silent sky.  Jesus comes to you and me today and says, “Lo, I am with you ALWAYS” – always.

Come to the cross this Lent and study closely this Jesus, He Who “demonstrated obedience through what He had suffered.”  Study closely that face as He lifts His head and says directly to you, “I AM with you – even in suffering.”

Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent, which used to be called Passion Sunday

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