Prayers Denied

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. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Hebrews 5:7-9

This passage has tremendous import for us. Each time I read it I marvel at the expression “Son though he was” but have not always understood it…until I took another look. What follows are seven observations, but the applications, though evident, will be yours to enjoy.

  1. If Jesus, as God’s own beloved Son, was not spared suffering during his days of life on earth, how much more so will we have to endure hardship? As for Jesus so it is with us; our suffering is going somewhere; it is not pointless but purposeful by nature; it is being used by God to bring us to maturity (see James 1:2-4) and to teach us obedience. Read on to see how.
  2. It follows that if Jesus, as God’s own beloved Son, suffered during his days of life on earth, then he also shares in our human weaknesses. Jesus was no super-human simply because he is God-Incarnate. So let’s not entertain any notion that it was easier for him or that he really can’t understand what we’re going through. He was equally and fully human just as we are; he understands because “he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3; see also Hebrews 4:15-16; Mark 14:33-36).
  3. Speaking of Mark 14:33-36, to which this Hebrews passage may very well be pointing, Jesus pleaded with God to “take this cup” from him. Given the “cup” Jesus intended was not only his impending death but his bearing the sins of the whole world, this request was seemingly answered in the negative! True, the caveat was added “not what I will, but what you will,” yet he still begged God to remove the cup and God said “No!” Therefore, Jesus understands what it’s like when the response to our cries for help are met with an unmistakable “No!”.
  4. Similarly, although Hebrews 5:7 says “he was heard because of his reverent submission,” the answer from God was still the same. Could it be that “reverent submission” is a requirement before God even hears our prayers? We must come as Jesus did in complete devotion and full submission to God’s will before, during, and after our prayers.
  5. Moreover, no matter how much passion, submission, and devotion surround our prayers, it simply may not be in our best interests to receive the things we ask. Clearly it was not in anyone’s best interests for God to grant Jesus’ request and remove the cup, since our very redemption and God’s salvific plan would be jeopardized!
  6. Ironically, the fact that Jesus’ prayers were not answered according to his request eminently qualifies him to know and understand what we’re going through when our prayers are not answered in ways we hope. He does feel the depth of our despair whenever the world around us is flying upside down and “all Hell is breaking lose.” With Jesus we all have cried “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (see Matthew 27:46).
  7. Jesus learned obedience from his sufferings, not the result of his own failings, but the failings of others who were Hell-bent against God’s will. He knows existentially and emotionally the costly price of listening to and living for God. So too must we be heaven-bent on pursuing God’s will no matter the costs. Suffering because of obedience should come as no surprise because “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” says Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:12) and Peter reminds us: “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Consequently, no hardship can come our way that our Lord has not himself endured or for which he is not ever present to sustain and empower us.

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with 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.”

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