Death and suffering: two things we try desperately to avoid at all costs. Or do we? At the heart of suffering and death is sin (Romans 6:23). We harbor our secret sins, justify others, and even commend those who sin when they do so for what may be considered a “righteous purpose.” Yet all sin is a turning away from reliance on God and seeking our own way. And according to the Bible, the reward for all sin is death.
From the time of the Fall of Adam, sin has become our default setting. No matter how hard we try, no matter what the consequence, sin always seems so reasonable because it parallels with our very nature. In his book The Sinfulness of Sin, Ralph Venning (1621– 1673) discusses the pains that Christ took to leave the throne to become enfleshed as a human. He walked this earth and at every turn was faced with the ugliness and utter vulgarity of sin. Christ faced every temptation and remained free of sin, yet I cannot imagine the utter sorrow he must have felt every moment with the plague of sin constantly at his shoulder. Even in this, what may be described as torment, he alone was thus capable of becoming the atoning sacrifice for the salvation of those beloved of God.
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.
Not only did he smell sin’s stench and feel its chill, as the only Innocent, Jesus subjected himself to its ultimate consequence: death. The anguish that Christ felt was not only the physical pain of the torture and execution, but he took on the ravages of sin, something that was so much more excruciating for one who had been able to resist it. How astonishing must have been the cry of the Son of God as he allows himself to be succumbed by such a violent burden! It was by his righteous, being also God himself, that allowed his plea to be heard by the Father resulting in his resurrection.
Learning, Perfecting, Suffering
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
(Hebrews 5:8 ESV)
Considering how Jesus, the eternal God in flesh, learned is a challenge. It would be easy to think that this is not what this passage is about, but in other places like Luke 2:52 it seems like Jesus, indeed, learned and grew in wisdom. Hebrews 5:8 does seem to talk about a different kind of learning, one that is the fruit of suffering. While suffering may yet to be considered a good thing by any stretch of the imagination (although many try), it does teach that suffering provides a function. As the author of Hebrews previously explains, Jesus learned “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15) as he suffered.
And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 5:9-10 ESV)
Another puzzling idea: how could Christ be “made perfect” when he is God? In context with the rest of the chapter it could mean a few things. One, it could be a further explanation of how Jesus learned about obedience and what it was like to be a human by his suffering. But was it only his suffering that made him the “source of eternal salvation”? The author is making a further point here.
“Becoming perfect” can also be understood in terms of Christ’s role as savior. Not having fulfilled that role did not make Christ any less important, any less God, any less who he is and ever was. However, after completing his mission, the assignment that the Father had for him since before the creation of the world, Christ “came into his own.”
For hundreds of years the story was told of God’s promise to save his people. God chose many to serve as a “type” for Christ, to engage the imaginations and hopes of his people. He gave them over to their enemies when they turned from him to both call them back to himself and to create a longing for the day when their rescuer would come. When Christ came, he was expected by his people to do what others had done: free them from their enimies, this time the Romans, and reestablish the kingdom of Israel.
What actually happened was beyond their wildest dreams, so much so that many who were eye witnesses missed it. Christ came as not to be what they expected, but to provide freedom from the true enemy: sin and its ultimate consequence. By taking the penalty himself, Christ bought us, who were slaves to sin, as his own slaves. Not only that, but the Father adopts us as his sons, making us joint heirs with Christ who lived the righteous life in our stead.
Jesus took full prominence and is now fully known as “the mystery revealed.” Christ has been made perfect by being our sacrifice and our intercessor at the throne of God.