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. Heb 5:7-9
When I read this today my first thought was, "did God really hear Jesus' prayer?"
Jesus was praying to be delivered from death and we know that He died on the cross. So how can the writer of Hebrews say that He was heard?
And then, what is this about Jesus being made perfect? Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was sinless.
Do we have contradictions here or is there an explanation?
We first need to answer the question about perfect before we can understand how the Father answered the heartfelt cries of His Son.
The Perfection of Jesus
Atheists love apparent contradictions in the Bible because they think such anomalies prove it is not accurate.
I love these apparent contradictions because, when considered carefully, they usually bring a deeper truth to light.
So, how could Jesus be sinless but not perfect?
Let's consider a child gifted in mathematics.
There are a series of ten maths tests and in every one that child takes she scores 100%.
Each test is a bit harder than the previous one and each time she completes a test she never gets a question wrong.
She is faultless in the first nine tests.
But she is not yet perfect because she still has the final test to take.
Similarly, Jesus passed every test set before Him, but He was not perfect until He had taken all the tests the Father had for Him.
Of course, this analogy breaks down because the tests the girl took were simply to check that she had gained intellectual understanding. The tests which God gave Jesus, and which He gives us, are more about our character than our ability.
Jesus was faultless in every test and perfected in His final test. He proved that there would never be a test in which He would fail.
The Submission of Jesus
The image of Jesus given in these few verses in Hebrews is that of a man in great distress. Matthew's Gospel gives us more detail:
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane ...
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping ...
He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
See how Jesus submitted Himself. His prayer was not so much to be delivered from the cross as to be conformed to the will of the Father. He began, "if it is possible," but ended, "if it is not possible."
He was indeed "heard because of his reverent submission" to God's plan. That submission meant that he passed the ultimate test and was perfected.
God heard and answered Jesus' prayer for His Father's will to be done.
What can we learn from this?
Jesus went into prayer with His desires contrary to the desires of God. But God changed Jesus' heart so that He came out of prayer with His attitude conformed to the will of God.
Are we willing for the same transaction to take place in our own lives? Will we argue with God about what's best for us and rail against Him when things don't change? Or will we come seeking that He transforms us to conform to His will?
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Rom 8:28-29