The Lord's Day Morning
March 31, 2013
“Heard Because of His Reverence”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 5. You know, without Easter, Christmas would be just another cold day in December. Easter changes everything. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ turns us inside out and turns the world upside-down. But as David's already prayed this morning, it's possible to come to Easter and even on Easter to be a little bit jaded, a little bit cynical about the things that we're singing and the things that we're reading. “Does this Jesus, who is raised from the dead, answer my deepest needs? Is this the Savior that I really need?”
Well the author of Hebrews in Hebrews chapter 5 is making an emphatic assertion, “Yes, this is the Savior you need. The one who's resurrected is the Savior you need.” We had been taking account – so far in the book of Hebrews, the author of Hebrews has given us six reasons why Jesus is the priest we need, why He's better than any old covenant priest. The passage that we're going to look at this morning will emphasize three things in particular about Jesus that make Him the Savior that we need. The one who is resurrected answers our need, and we’ll see that in three ways in the passage that we're going to study this morning. And we’ll see it related to the doctrine of the resurrection in the final two verses, in verses 9 and 10. Before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your Word and the thing that blinds us the most from understanding it is our pursuit of our own agendas and the hardness of our hearts due to our own sin. So we ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things from Your Word, that we might see our sin and we might see how the Savior answers that sin and responds and supplies all our needs. We pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in Hebrews 5 beginning in verse 1:
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’
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 has heard because of his reverence. 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, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy and inspired Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
In this passage, the author of Hebrews is explaining to us how Jesus, the one who is resurrected, is in fact the Savior that we need. The one designated by God as high priest in His resurrection as the best and only and last priest that God would ever give to mankind, is the Savior, the priest that we need. And he shows us that in three particular ways. First, as you look at verses 1 to 6, especially zero-in on verse 2, and notice something that the author of Hebrews says about human high priests. He says this about them — “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset with weakness.” Now you may say to yourself, “Well how can Jesus relate to me? How can Jesus relate to me because He's sinless? He's not like the human high priest who were beset with weakness and who has to has to offer up sins, offer up sacrifice for his own sins as well as for our sins. How can Jesus relate to us?” Well he's already said. Look back at Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15. He's already said, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin.” By repeating these words in verses 2 and 3 especially, in that section from verses 1 to 6 as he speaks about human high priests, the author of Hebrews is emphasizing this — we have a compassionate Savior. We have a Savior who is able to sympathize with us in our struggle with sin.
JESUS IS A COMPASSIONATE SAVIOR WHO IS ABLE
TO SYMPATHIZE WITH OUR STRUGGLE WITH SIN
But again you ask me, “How can that be since He didn't sin?” And the answer is this. Jesus’ perfection did not limit His experience in temptation; it enhanced it. Jesus’ perfection did not limit the intensity of His experience in temptation; it enhanced it. And therefore, Jesus’ perfection did not limit His ability to sympathize with you in your struggle with sin; it enhanced it. Listen to these words from Raymond Brown, the commentator on the book of Hebrews:
“Jesus’ whole life was one of temptation.” Just take that in. “Jesus’ whole life was one of temptation and the very fact that He has powers and abilities which we do not possess, only added to the stress. He was the fullest and most vivid personality that this world has ever known and the very richness of His human nature exposed Him all the more fully to the assaults of temptation. No one on earth, before or since, has ever been through such spiritual desolation and human anguish. For this reason, He can help us in our moments of temptation. He is aware of our needs because He has experienced to the full the pressures and testings of life in a godless world.”
The author of Hebrews is telling you here in Hebrews 5:1-6 and especially in verses 2 and 3, following on what he's just said in Hebrews 4:15, he's saying this to you, “Jesus can relate. He knows how to sympathize with you in your struggles with sin. He knows what it is like to be tempted.” I want you to take that in for just a moment. You remember that scene when Jesus has just explained to His disciples that He must go to Calvary and die for us? And Peter's response is, “Never! Never! I’ll defend You to the end! I’ll take them out with my sword! Everybody else may abandon You but I won't!” And you remember Jesus’ response? It sounds harsh to the ears, doesn't it? “Get thee behind Me, Satan!” What's that about? My friends, that is about a response to temptation that you and I cannot possibly understand. That strong response of our Savior to His loyal but erring disciples, is an indication of the depth of temptation that was assaulting His soul at that very time as the evil one said, “Abandon the plan! You see, even Your disciples will defend You. They’ll keep You from going to that tree. You don't have to go there.” Jesus’ response is, when those words come from the mouth of His faithful disciple, “Get thee behind Me, Satan!” It's just another indication of the fact that it's not Jesus who can't relate to our temptations; it's we who can't relate to His.
None of us have ever gone through a nanosecond of what Jesus went through and that is why He can say to you, “I know what it's like to be you. I know what it's like to be tempted. I can sympathize with you in your struggle with sin because, child, I've experienced things that, thank God, you will never experience. And I know some things about how to fight sin. In fact, I conquered sin for you.” You have a sympathetic Savior. That's what the author of Hebrews is saying. You have a compassionate Savior. You've got a Savior who can relate to you, who understands what it's like to be in your skin, who knows what it's like to fight against your temptations. He understands; He knows. He's compassionate; He's sympathetic. That's the first thing that he tells us.
JESUS UNDERSTANDS WHAT IT MEANS
TO SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD
The second thing is this. And look especially at verse 7. And my friends, we could meditate on Hebrews 5:7 for the rest of our lives and never understand it all. It's that glorious. But just a few minutes — look at it. 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.” You know just that phrase, “He was heard because of His reverence,” He was heard because of His fear of God, He was heard because of His piety — you could meditate on that phrase alone for the rest of your life and never exhaust it. But it's the phrase right before that I want you to think about for a second. Because you know what the author of Hebrews is saying here? He's saying, “You have a Savior who understands what it means to submit to the will of God.” You know one of the hardest things to do in our lives as Christians is to trust God and to submit ourselves to His will when we don't understand what He is doing in our lives and when His answers to our prayers are not the answers that we have planned out for His answers to our prayers. And Hebrews 5:7 is saying, “You have a Savior who understands that.”
Did you miss it? Did you hear what it says? “Jesus, in his flesh, offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” — to whom? “To him who was able to save him from death.” Let me ask you a question. Did He do that? No, He did not. Jesus offered up prayers to Him who was able to save Him from death and Him who was able to save Him from death did not save Him from death! Hebrews 5:7 is reflecting very evidently on the Garden of Gethsemane, isn't it, where Jesus prays to His Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me!” And the Father's answer is, “No.”
Have you ever cried out to God with loud tears? “Oh God, heal my body!” “Oh God, bring my children to faith in Christ!” “Oh God, fix my marriage!” “Oh God, just give me a job!” And you got the answer, “No,”? The author of Hebrews is saying, “Jesus understands that. He knew what it was to submit Himself to the will of God.” Do you remember the rest of that prayer? “If it is possible, Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not My will but Thy will be done.” To that part of the prayer, the answer was, “Yes,” but to the “let this cup pass from Me,” the answer was, “No.” You have a Savior who knows what it is to live right there. And isn't that one of the great challenges of the Christian life? To keep believing, to keep trusting, and to submit yourself to the will of God when you don't like what's happening to you, when you don't understand what is happening to you, and when you’re not getting the answer to prayer that you want? This is mindboggling, my friends. The author of Hebrews is saying that the second person of the Trinity can relate to you there, that He knows what it is like to get a “No” and submit Himself to that. He's the Savior you need. That's where we live. That's where we live in some of the hardest and most important places of our life. That is our home address. And if we didn't have a Savior who knew what it was like to live right there, we wouldn't have the Savior we need. But we do have the Savior we need. That's what the author of Hebrews is telling us here.
JESUS UNDERSTANDS SUFFERING
There's a third thing. Look at the very next verse. It's not only that we have a compassionate Savior who's able to sympathize with us in our struggles with sin, it's not only that we have a Savior that understands what it means to submit to the will of God. It is that we have a Savior who understands suffering. Look at verse 8. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Now again, it's one of those sentences that you could spend the rest of your life meditating upon and never see the bottom of it. It's not that Jesus wasn't obedient and then suffered and then became obedient, it's not that Jesus was sort-of obedient and perfected His obedience after His suffering; it is that the totality of His obedience was not perfected until He had undergone all the experiences of suffering up to and including the humiliation that He endured on the cross. That's the perfection that is being talked about in verse 8 and that is referenced again in the first few words of verse 9. In other words, Jesus learned obedience as He walked the path of suffering, the whole of His life culminating in His humiliation on the cross, and at every point on the way He was equal to the demands of that suffering and fulfilled it perfectly until the totality of His suffering was complete on the cross. And in this He learned obedience.
That should remind us that obedience is not an easy thing. Obedience isn't a one-time thing. The Savior walked the path of suffering and He understood it's fruitfulness, it's fruitfulness in His life, it's fruitfulness in your life. And my friends, isn't that again something so important? Because there are people sitting right out there in front of me right now who know suffering. It's come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in your life. The question is, is there any fruitfulness in that suffering? And here's a Savior who knows suffering, His whole life is a life of suffering and temptation, and He was fruitful in that suffering. That suffering bore the fruit of a perfect obediency — active and passive obedience of Christ is in view here in this verse. The penal and the perceptive obedience of Christ is in view in this verse. That is, in the totality of His life, He obeyed God's Word and in His suffering, culminating on the cross, He bore in His own body the penalty for our breaking of the Word. And thus He fulfilled, in both ways, the Law of God. He kept it Himself; He bore your penalty for not keeping it. And so His suffering was exceedingly fruitful. It bore fruit in an obedience that saved you and me. You know salvation is by obedience; not your obedience, not my obedience, but Jesus’ obedience. This is a very fruitful obedience and it was learned and earned in suffering. Are you suffering? Jesus understands that, and He understands fruitfulness in suffering.
Now the author of Hebrews is showing you those three things. He's a compassionate, sympathetic Savior, He's a Savior who understands submission to God's will, and He's a Savior that understands the fruitfulness of suffering and suffering bore the fruit of obedience in His life and blessed the world. And it is that Savior who is announced in the resurrection as the great high priest that you and I need. Look at verses 9 to 10. You have a Savior that God has designated as the last and best and only priest for humanity and He has designated Him such by the resurrection. Being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest. Where was He so designated? Look back to Hebrews chapter 2 verse 9. “Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” — when was He crowned with glory and honor? In the wake of His suffering and death. Where is that first manifest? It is first manifest in His resurrection. In the resurrection, God says to sall of us, “Behold, the last, the best, and the only priest you will ever need — a Savior who is sympathetic with your sin, He understands submission, and He has experienced suffering and He knows how to make it truthful. He is the Savior you need.” That's why this message is perfect for Easter Sunday, because the divine, risen, Son of God that we celebrate on this glorious day is in fact exactly who you need for your Savior.
So I want to say two things. If you’re an unbeliever here today or listening on radio or television, believe on Jesus Christ. He is the Savior you need. And listen to what Jesus says — “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” If you've an unbeliever, the only priest who understands your sin and your weakness, who understands the submission to the will of God, who understands suffering, who understands how to liberate you from sin, who has in fact liberated from sin all who trust in Him, is Jesus Christ. Therefore, you must come to Him. And if you’re a believer in Christ today, you need to believe on Him as well, because we not only have salvation by faith, we walk by faith, not by sight. When you become a Christian, your adventure in trusting in God has not come to an end; it's just a beginning. You come to God by faith; you live with God by faith; you’ll go to glory by faith. So believer, struggling here today with the things you’re having to submit to, with the struggles against sin that you’re fighting, with the suffering that you’re enduring, believe that Jesus is the Savior you need. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us the Savior we need and in His resurrection designating Him to us as the last and best and only priest that we will ever need, according to the order of Melchizedek. And grant today that we will all believe Him and believe on Him. In Jesus' name, amen.
Now let's sing to Him, taking our hymnals in hand and turning to number 286 — “Worship Christ, the Risen King!”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.