Lent 5 – April 2, 2006
I. Introduction –
“What have you done for me lately?”
Now there’s a question. A pretty selfish one. It’s an invitation to a fight, usually, more an accusation than anything.
It’s a question God could ask of us, and we wouldn’t have a very good answer. Even if we have done for God, it wouldn’t be enough. Even if it was enough, it wouldn’t be good enough, or for the right reasons. We are sinners, after all.
“What have you done for me lately?” is a question we don’t have to ask of God, though. Because he’s always telling us. He’s showing us, especially in Christ. God is always hard at work doing great and many things for us in Jesus. That’s what our faith is all about, not us doing something for God, but him doing something for us.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us, in this short selection, many things that Jesus does for us. The words come at us, one after another. Suffering, praying, crying, obeying, perfecting, saving. Jesus is busy in Hebrews 5. And once he is made perfect – he makes us perfect too.
II. Suffering and Praying
First, Hebrews mentions Jesus praying. It should be no surprise to us.
Jesus prayed a lot. He prayed for his disciples. He prayed for the crowds that followed him. He even prayed for us, who would come to believe in him. His prayers seem so un-selfish.
Even when he prays for himself, as in the garden of Gethsemane, he prays that His Father’s will is done – no matter what suffering that means. Jesus passion – his suffering for us – is usually considered to begin there in the garden, with his impassioned prayer, his troubled soul, and the sweat which was like blood. This is no fluffy spiritual retreat in a picturesque setting – this is the beginning of a deep suffering that will win the souls of all mankind.
He prayed “to the one who could save him from death”. He prayed that the cup of suffering would pass from him, if possible, if it was God’s will. But it was God’s will that he should suffer. It was God’s will that he should die.
And so he reverently submitted, in obedience, to this, his Father’s will. He suffered. He was crucified. He died and was buried.
But it was not God’s will that he should stay dead. “You will not abandon your servant to the grave, or let your holy one see decay” so the Psalmist wrote, and so it is fulfilled when the Lord Jesus rises from the dead.
So God did hear Jesus’ prayer. And because of Christ, we can expect the same. When we pray “with loud cries and tears” He will hear us, in Jesus’ name. When we suffer, and eventually die, He will raise us, just as Christ is raised.
But Hebrews has more of what Jesus does for us. It says that he was “made perfect”, which might sound confusing at first.
We humans are not perfect. In fact one of the most popular songs on the radio begins, “I'm not a perfect person, there are many things I wish I didn't do”. It’s an admission of our sin and failing.
But Jesus was without sin. We even read it in the same Biblical book, just the chapter before – that we have a great high priest (Jesus), “who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” So what’s this talk about making Jesus perfect? Isn’t he, wasn’t he already?
We hear the word perfect, and think of moral perfection. And certainly Jesus had that. But here, Hebrews means perfect in the sense of complete. In other words, Jesus had word to accomplish, to finish, to perfect.
That work, that mission, was to die on a cross for the world’s sin – for my sin – for your sin. It wasn’t enough just to go around preaching. Even the miracles, great as they were, were not the real point of Christ’s coming. Jesus was made perfect, in this sense, when he himself declared, “it is finished!”, he could have said as easily, “it is perfect!”
We are not perfect in ourselves, instead we need Christ to do the saving. Because of his perfect work, he has become “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”
Obey – as in, “do what he says”. And what does he say? In John 6:29 Jesus says, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
And by believing, we are saved. Jesus doesn’t demand works of salvation, but instead he, himself, does the saving. He obeys the Father’s will, and does what needs to be done – for our salvation.
But how can we describe salvation?
My father is a “car guy”. I sometimes tell the story of when he would drive me to school each morning, and we would pass a house with an old car parked out front. The windshield was busted out, there was grass growing through it. Rusted all over. To me it was a junk heap, but my dad remembered driving around in that car when he was a kid. One day the car disappeared from the yard, and my dad found out that the owner was restoring it to original condition.
We are like an old car that has rusted and fallen apart. We are no good for driving around, and not pretty to look at. Left to ourselves, we are without hope, destined for the junk-yard. But then Jesus comes along, and he salvages, saves us. He restores. He refurbishes. He makes us new. So that now we are complete – finished – perfect. Saved.
We are not just saved no so we can be discarded later. We are saved eternally. He is the “source of eternal salvation” for us, and all believers.
He prays, he cries, he submits, he suffers, he saves… He is made perfect, his work is complete, when he died for our sins. We are made perfect by his perfect work, and through our faith in Christ – we are saved. And as he was raised, we too shall rise – made perfectly perfect, once and for all.
With Jesus’ Passion about to begin, we see him in earnest prayer. But all that he does, praying, suffering, perfecting and saving – is for our benefit.