Text: Hebrews 5:7-9
7 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. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Did you keep up with the news reports on the war with Iraq? Could you imagine what our troops were going through? Death was at their elbow every day. How did they face it? If we had been in their boots, how would we have prepared ourselves to face death?
Death is no respecter of persons. It comes to all, and not just to those in combat either. People of all ages die, not just the elderly, but young adults and children as well.
We all must prepare for death. But how? Jesus faced death to save us. How did he prepare for it? Lets learn from Jesus how to prepare for death.
The context of the Book of Hebrews informs us Christ Jesus is our great high priest, who sympathizes with our human weaknesses in times of trial, because he knows firsthand what it is like to suffer in order to do Gods will.
Christ Jesus was a human being in every respect we are, except he was without sin. Being sinless, he did not have to suffer death as the punishment for sin. Eternal life and glory were his in heaven. But before he entered the blessedness of heaven, his heavenly Father had a mission for him to do for our benefit--to suffer the torments of hell and to give his life into death as the sacrifice for the sins of us all. To do his Fathers will, Jesus would have to submit himself in humble obedience to suffering the tortures of hell and the agony of death, not for any sins he had committed but for our sins.
The first half of verse 7 states, During the days of his life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death. This verse takes us to Gethsemane where Jesus faced the coming pains of hell and death on the cross. There he prepared to suffer our death and damnation, which led him to say, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
He met our death and damnation head on through prayer. The agony within his soul welled up in cries from his lips to his heavenly Father, the only one who could save him from death. His pleas were couched in tears of woe over what lay ahead of him. The coming tortures of hell and the pains of death on the cross so agonized his soul that he began to sweat intensely in drops which fell like drops of blood. The burden of the worlds sins and the horrors of the worlds death and damnation so gripped his soul that Jesus, being a human being like we are, recoiled from it. He did not refuse to accept it, but he dreaded the awful terrors of being forsaken by God his Father. In agony he prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. And again he prayed, My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.
It was not possible for the cup of death and damnation to be taken away from the worlds sinners unless he did drink it to the bitter end. Being willing to suffer it, his prayer was answered. His Father sent an angel to strengthen him for it, as Luke has told us.
In Gethsemane Jesus, our substitute, faced death and damnation and agonized over the torments which he would suffer for all our sins. Can we imagine what we would go through physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually if we were about to be led up to a gallows to be hung for the crimes of another person and have to suffer his torments of hell too? This was what Jesus agonized over for us. We were the criminal guilty of the wrongdoing; he was the innocent Savior about to suffer our punishment. He was our great high priest who would offer the one perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins to reconcile us to God--himself. Even the thought of his doing so hurt him, and caused him intense agony. But he went through with it so we would be forgiven sinners who would not have to even sip that cup of damnation which he drank fully for us.
Yet, because we are sinners, we must die. Death is what our sins have earned. When we must face death, what thoughts will go through our minds? Since the prospect of death and damnation made Jesus cringe and recoil, what dread of death and hell might terrorize our minds?
When we face death, we can expect the devil to conjure up our every wrongdoing and heap guilt on our consciences to terrorize us. We can expect him to even make the good, righteous acts of kindness and service we have done by faith look like the worst evil, selfish deeds. The devil and our conscience will both try to trouble us with the painful knowledge of our past sins and stir up agonizing feelings of guilt, which will make us afraid of death and being damned to hell.
I remember a person who appeared to be dying. Repeatedly I heard the words whispered, Im sorry. Im sorry. I could see that either the devil, or his conscience, or both, were plaguing that person with feelings of guilt over things in his past. Thanks be to Jesus, who assumed the guilt of us all and suffered our punishment, I was able to tell that person God had forgiven all his sins and he should not be troubled by them any more.
Likewise, we should not be troubled by guilt and terrified by hell when we are facing death. To prevent this from happening to us, we must be prepared for the attacks of the devil and our conscience. Let us learn from Jesus how to prepare for death. Hebrews 12:2 states: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Let us fix our attention on Jesus. When he was facing death and damnation for us, he concentrated on the joys awaiting him at the right hand of God in heaven. He focused on his resurrection and his ascension and all the blessedness he would enjoy in heaven, which enabled him to endure the death and damnation he suffered on the cross for us.
Since his death has won our forgiveness, salvation from hell, and everlasting life in heaven, let us prepare for death by fixing our mind on Jesus, the author and source of our salvation. As soon as the devil and our conscience attack us with the knowledge of our past sins and stir up the fires of hell before our eyes, let us be prepared to tell them, In Jesus my sins are forgiven! You cannot charge me with what God has already forgiven. You cannot charge that I am a sinner when God has declared me righteous. Be gone! Heaven is open to me. As soon as I die my guardian angels will carry me in the palms of their hands and on their wings to the everlasting life and glory Jesus has prepared for me. On the last day my body will rise to live eternally. In this confidence I will die and you will not shake it.
Let us learn from Jesus to prepare for death through prayer. When he was facing in Gethsemane the agony of death and damnation, he prayed and was strengthened by an angel. Let us pray for Gods help and strength as well. For good reason. James 5:16 and 1 John 5:14,15 state: The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective...This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him.
God will surely answer our prayers. God has saved us by the death of his Son, washed away our sins in our baptism, brought us to faith, and has kept us in the faith throughout our lives. When we reach the end of our lives, just when we are about to enter the glory he has prepared for us, he will not drop us like a hot potato to leave us perish in hell. He will answer our prayers for the spiritual strength we need to pass through death into life.
I have heard true accounts of our gracious Lords strengthening his believers just before they died. Sometimes he has sent his angels to strengthen them, as he did for Jesus, and a dying Christian has said, Look! Theres an angel in the corner of my room! Sometimes the Lord himself has appeared to a dying Christian, who then said, I see Jesus by my bed. Sometimes dying Christians, unable to speak, have reached out for someone, probably the Lord or their guardian angel who had come for them. So let us pray, as Jesus did, for strength, confident our prayer will be answered. Then we will be ready to die when our time comes as Jesus was.
Although Jesus was the God/Man, verse 8 states: He learned obedience from what he suffered. Jesus was not subject to death for any sins of his own. His Fathers will, however, was that he suffer the pains of hell and die as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. As horrible and dreadful as such suffering was, he endured it in submissive obedience on Calvary. Thus Philippians 2:8 states, He humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Thus on Calvarys cross when the time was at hand, Jesus said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
Verse 9 of our text then states, And, once made perfect, meaning once he had reached his goal of the cross, the tomb, and the right hand of God, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. By obeying his Fathers will to suffer our pains of hell and to die our death, he became the author and source of our salvation. Through him we have been saved and will receive eternal life.
Again, let us learn from Jesus how to prepare for death. He is our source of eternal salvation. So what do we have to fear? Like Jesus, our Fathers will is that we should pass through death to enter eternal life. Since this is his will for us, when our time comes let us obey it as Jesus did. Believing in his loving Fathers divine care and protection, he put his soul into his Fathers hands and let go of his bodily life on earth, knowing his Father would take his soul to himself in heaven. By faith, knowing Jesus is the source of our salvation and eternal life, when the time comes let us follow him into death, saying, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Then we just let go, knowing that the next moment we will be carried on angels wings to heaven and on the last day our body will wake from the sleep of death to live eternally. Let this comfort us through life and prepare us for death. Amen.