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QUESTIONS JESUS ASKED: What Can Suffering Teach Me? - -- Hebrews 5:7,8

QUESTIONS JESUS ASKED: What Can Suffering Teach Me? - -- Hebrews 5:7,8

By Ted Schroder,
April 2, 2017

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up 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..."

We sometimes think of Jesus as a kind of Superman who was impervious to suffering. Yet the portrait of him in the Gospels is that of a truly real human being who experienced every aspect of humanity from birth to death. As a baby he would have cried, when hurt as a child and an adult he would have suffered. The Apostles' Creed states that "he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried."

Jesus knew that he was mortal and would one day suffer and die like all men and women. In fact he prophesied about his own dying. Three times Jesus told his disciples that he must be rejected by the authorities, suffer many things at their hands, be killed by them, and then rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21;17:22,23; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31;9:31;10:32-34; and Luke 9:22;18:32,33). Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" Peter was in denial about the reality of mortality and the hostility of the world to Jesus. We can be like Peter in being in denial about our own mortality and how we shall we shall handle it. Suffering is part of being human in this life.

Jesus was not in denial about being human and having to suffer and to die. But that did not mean that he was immune to what it entailed. To the contrary he "offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears" as he suffered the anxiety of contemplating his own gruesome dying. In that respect he was dealing with what we all must deal with in our humanity. "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need"(Hebrews 4:15,16).

Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are. Like all of us, he had to go through the school of human experience in order to learn obedience. Obedience was not necessary for him in the Godhead. It was only to be learned through the human experience of suffering. Satan knew this in respect to Job. He said to the Lord, "A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face" (Job 2:4,5). We may be able to handle financial and other losses in life but when we have to face physical suffering it is of a different order. We find faith easy when we are well. We pray for health and strength and when we have them we can be obedient without too much trouble. Can we truly say, "Give me weakness and ill-health and I will still be your servant"? As we decline in health and face our dying days we can become depressed by them, try to escape from them, or we can choose to be made perfect in suffering. Our faith may never be fully learned until they go through the fires of suffering. Suffering goes to the very foundation of our faith. It tests our loyalty and commitment. Some people are fine Christians until they have to suffer. Peter said to Jesus, "Though I should die with you, yet I will not deny you." Yet, what happened when he found himself in the courtyard of the high priest and was called to declare himself a follower of Jesus. He was in fear of his life and cursed and swore he did not know the man. He changed from bragging about his loyalty to weeping at his shame. Suffering reveals who we really are. We can never know whether we are perfectly obedient to follow Christ until we have passed through suffering. That is the only way it is learned.

Jesus was truly human. Jesus was flesh and blood. He was skin and bone. He was blood and sweat. He was muscle and fat. He was brain and sinew. He was nerve and tissue. He was sensitive to pain. He had to endure flogging and crucifixion. As he contemplated his suffering Jesus "offered up 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."

The Savior prayed to be saved. He prayed that he might be saved from the power of death, that he might not be lost eternally, but come through death to resurrection. "He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- and free all those who by their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14,15).

Is it not true that Jesus, as being truly human, had a fear, a natural fear of death and the dissolution it can cause? God implants in all human beings a natural fear of death in order to protect life and to prevent us from death wishes, and being fatalistic. We are all given a love of life, and we do not hasten our own demise. Jesus felt this as a healthy young man. Jesus did not welcome death as did Socrates in drinking the hemlock as a condemned man. The Bible does not teach, as the Greek philosophers taught, that the body was a prison house of the soul from which death liberated us. Socrates did not fear death since he believed it set him free from this life. Death for Jesus, as a man, was something to be avoided. He did not want to be alone in facing it. He was distressed at its prospect. Death is the last enemy to be fought against until the battle is over and our work is done (1 Cor.15:26).

Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears that he might have the courage and fortitude to continue his work through his suffering on the Cross, his descent into place of the dead, and his resurrection. He prayed that he might not falter nor fail in his mission. He prayed that he might be able to minister to those around him while he was in agony on the Cross: to the soldiers, to the thieves, to the crowd, to his mother and to his disciples. He prayed before his suffering so as to prepare for his suffering. He prayed, as a human being, that he might be ready for what was to come so that he might fulfill his responsibility to those he had come to save. What an example Jesus is to us! Can we pray as he did?

What can we learn from Jesus as we face our own suffering and dying? We can learn from the humanity of God. Christianity is the only religion where God has come down amongst us to enter into our sufferings. Jesus is God in the flesh. God loves us so much that he gave his only Son to be one of us and to die for us. Jesus knew he was going to have to suffer and die unjustly at an early age. By living every aspect of human life, Jesus redeemed all suffering and dying whatever our age at death.

As Jesus was able to face the suffering of his Passion for all humanity with the help of God, so we can draw on the same resources. Like Jesus, we too, can offer up prayers and petitions and be heard. Like Jesus, we too, can learn obedience through our sufferings. Like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, when we are overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, we can be sustained and strengthened by angels from heaven (Luke 22:43). Like Jesus, we too can minister to our friends, our family and caregivers despite our suffering. Jesus suffered death "so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone...for in doing this he was bringing us all to glory in heaven; for his suffering made Jesus the author of our salvation" (Hebrews 2:9,10). That makes all suffering worthwhile in fulfilling God's purpose and plan.


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