Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 3 2013 - Hebrews 5:1-14 – Learning obedience

Obedience is costly. This is a lesson that no one ever learned as well as Jesus, the Son of God. The writer of this letter tells us that, "During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission" (Hebrews 5:7). The primary reference is surely to the agonised prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal. Jesus knew the ordeal that lay before him and viewed it with horror. He longed to be spared the torment of all that that lay before him. Nevertheless, he concluded his prayer with the words, "yet not my will, but yours be done." And so, "he learned obedience from what he suffered" (5:8). He learned the cost of being obedient to the Father; it meant the suffering and agony of the cross (cf. Philippians 2:8).

One of the most puzzling elements of these verses is the insistence that Jesus' fervent prayer that he might be saved from death "was heard because of his reverent submission." In what sense was his prayer heard? In reverent submission and obedience he did not turn back from the cross but suffered death for us. Perhaps we should see this reference to Jesus' fervent cries as embracing more than his prayer in the Garden; perhaps the reference is also to his words from the cross, even to the loud cry with which he gave up his spirit. His resurrection from the dead is surely the ultimate proof that his prayer to the one "who could save him from death... was heard because of his reverent submission."

There is no circumstance that we can face that will demand more of us than the cross demanded of our Saviour. What is said of the purely human high priests in verse 2 is true also of Jesus; "He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is [/was] subject to weakness." But Jesus can offer so much more than sympathy; "He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (5:9). He who learned obedience through the cross, calls us to follow him, to learn of him and to obey him.

But these are not easy lessons to learn. Our lives are not always marked by reverent submission. All too often they are marked by self-will and rebellion against God. We need his help if we are to learn from him and grow to be like him. And we are encouraged continually to seek that help, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:15-16). There is no temptation we face that can defeat him; he has been this way before us and has been victorious. We need to turn to him rather than away from him in times of temptation and trial. We need to call upon his help in our time of need confident of his grace and power – he will never turn away from those who seek him. He endured the cross for us and now lives for us to lead us to glory. He is ready to be with us every step of the way and to help us in our lessons.

And by his grace and power, we are not only able to learn obedience, we are equipped to become teachers of others (5:12): able to teach others no mere abstract truths of Christianity but to teach from experience the way of following Christ and submitting to his lordship (5:14).

Lord, teach me to be obedient to your call upon my life even as you were obedient to the call of the Father. Then make me a teacher of others that we may follow you gladly together and live for your glory.

Peter Misselbrook