How could God plan to sacrifice His Son? How is that a loving, good, and right thing to do to a son whom you love?
“For 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.” -Hebrews 4:15
Anyone who has been through suffering can tell you that the comfort and love and encouragement that meant the most to them was that which came from someone who had been through similar suffering, too. Nothing connects two hearts more deeply than suffering, and the greater the pain, the greater the bond.
Hebrews 4:15 speaks of Jesus as the “High Priest” of a new covenant between God and humanity, one who can “sympathize” with us.
A few verses later, the writer continues, “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. 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 5:7-9)
If Jesus truly loves “His sheep” like He says He does in John 10, then it makes sense that He would want to be able to empathize with them. We don’t often choose pain only for the purpose of empathy, but if we do find ourselves in that place, we can appreciate that after we ourselves have suffered we can better show love to those who have felt the same way.
Jesus doesn’t want to be a far-off deity who looks on with cold indifference at the human condition. He wants to enter in to it Himself because of His love and care for us. Note how the writer of Hebrews highlights the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father in the midst of His suffering, and he was heard. Not ignored, not abandoned for the long-term, but heard. What, then, was Jesus praying about? Surely not for escape or deliverance from the trial, because He Himself said in Matthew 26:53 that He could have stopped the whole thing at any time (“ten thousand legions of angels” is a hefty backup force.)
Jesus did indeed pray that if there was any other way to accomplish redemption for humanity, it would have been His preference. However, His desire is not to escape pain but to complete the mission of love for which He volunteered and was therefore sent by the Father. Luke’s Gospel records that “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.” (Luke 22:43) Jesus’ prayer was answered with strength from heaven, enabling Him to go forward with the plan.
What’s more, Hebrews tells how He “learned obedience through what He suffered, being made perfect.” It is not that Jesus was lacking perfection, but that through the cross He was given the opportunity to manifest it fully through His voluntary obedience. It is not obedience if one is forced into something. That is slavery. What Jesus experienced was both being chosen and sent by the Father, AND volunteering and initiating a mission of redemption for the fallen humanity that the Father, Son and Spirit all deeply love.
But that’s not all.
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