Can You Hear the Loud Cries of Jesus?
Campbell Markham is a Presbyterian pastor in Hobart, Tasmania.
When the cruise ships cast off from Hobart port, they give a triple blast of their horns. I love to hear this, the way the mighty sound echoes from Mount Wellington and rumbles and redounds through every building, and even every Hobartian.
The loudest known sound on earth was the explosion of Krakatoa, an island of Indonesia, on August 27, 1883. It threw up waves forty meters high, and ash eighty kilometers into space. Seven times over the shockwaves traversed the earth, and the blast was heard at least 4,800 kilometers away.
In Hebrews 5 we read about the powerful cries of Jesus.
Jesus’ cries may not at the time have been heard across the globe, like Krakatoa, but they have been heard through the ages. They are lamentable cries, the cries of a man in agony, as we will see. But these cries carry great hope and comfort to the suffering, to whomever will give ear to them today. In the book of Hebrews, the Preacher declares,
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. (Heb. 5:1-4; all Scripture quotes from NIV)
Hebrews harks us back to the Torah, to the Tabernacle, and to the work of Israel’s High Priests. What did all this teach God’s people?
The Preacher teaches us that God is a holy God.
God is utterly separate from sin, he loathes sin, and his judgment breaks out against sin wherever it is found (which is why Isaiah disintegrated when he found himself in the presence of the thrice-holy LORD; Is. 6:1-5). Because we are sinful through and through, we ourselves cannot safely approach the Holy LORD for his forgiveness and help in order to be reconciled to him.
With the Tabernacle, God taught how sinful people could approach God. It represented the presence of God, with the innermost Holy of Holies representing his throne room. A High Priest was appointed by God, the first being Moses’ brother Aaron who could approach God on the people’s behalf and minister to the people on behalf of God. He was God’s appointed mediator and go-between.
Being a man, the High Priest was able to minister to the people with sympathy and gentleness.
The book of Hebrews says that because the High Priest was a man, he was able to minister to the people with sympathy and gentleness. He understood their trials, their suffering, and their weakness, and knew exactly the help they needed. The problem was that Aaron and every other human High Priest of the Tabernacle were themselves sinful men. (Remember who was the ringleader of the Golden Calf orgy of Exodus 32.)
These earthly mediators had to first offer sacrifices for their own sin. This drives home that the Tabernacle was only a dim picture of the true and actual heavenly throne room (Heb. 8:5; 9:24), and the Aaronic priesthood was only a dim picture of the true and actual heavenly High Priest: Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:11, 12).
Jesus can be our great and heavenly High Priest because he has been appointed High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was the enigmatic priest-king of Genesis 14:18-19. The fact that he blessed Abraham proved his greatness. One could even argue that the great covenant promises that God made to Abraham: to make his name great, to make him the father of a great nation, to bless him and to bless the nations through him—were mediated through Melchizedek:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Gen. 14:18-19)
The Preacher tells us that Messiah would not just be God’s heavenly and eternal King, he would also be God’s heavenly and eternal High Priest. But not in the priestly order of earthly and earthy Aaron, which could only ever be a dull echo of heavenly things, but in the order of this very great and very strange High Priest Melchizedek:
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.”
And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 5:5-6)
Melchizedek was truly mysterious and drops completely out of the Old Testament’s sight until David’s great prophecy of the Messiah in Psalm 110:4, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Jesus can be our perfect High Priest because of his reverent submission.
The Preacher goes on to say,
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. (Heb. 5:7)
Jesus’ time on earth was a time of “prayers and petitions”; the two words together give the idea of constant and persistent supplication. It makes us think of Mark’s description of Jesus’ daily prayer life: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
But not only did Jesus pray constantly and persistently, he prayed fervently. “Fervent cries” could also be translated “loud crying” or even “powerful shouts.” No wonder Jesus went to a solitary place, where he would not be disturbed, and where he would not disturb others. It makes us think of Jesus in Gethsemane, where he was “sorrowful and troubled”:
Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 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.” (Matt. 26:38-39)
Luke adds a harrowing detail:
Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
And yet this still does not exhaust the agonizing depth of Jesus’ prayers, for Hebrews tells us that he also prayed “with tears.” He sobbed as he prayed, and John gives us a poignant glimpse of that, where before the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (11:35). Luke likewise tells us that as Jesus gazed upon the sin-shackled city of Jerusalem, “He wept over it” (19:41).
Hebrews draws special attention, however, to Jesus’ prayer to his Father, “Who could save him from death” (Heb. 5:7). He suffered acute temptation and prayed that his Father would help him to stand firm against the sin that would have slain his human body and soul forever and would have disqualified him forever from the presence of the LORD and the joys of heaven.
God wants us to know about the depth of Jesus’ suffering and struggle.
Why does Hebrews tell us this? To show us the depth of his suffering and struggle. Jesus prayed incessantly with howls and tears. Though he always maintained perfect self-control, he was nevertheless stressed, distressed, and poised constantly on the cusp of breakdown and fall. He knew human suffering. He knew every baleful facet of it, and he groaned under the black and abysmal depth of it.
The Father heard him and answered him for his “reverent submission”—his piety, his godly fear and awe. And through all this agony, Jesus learned something:
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Heb. 5:8)
Jesus’ loud, fervent, and tearful prayers testify to his pain. And the pain taught him something. There is a note of surprise in this phrase: “He is God’s Son, so you would think that he would be omniscient, that there would be nothing for him to learn. And surely he would have nothing to learn about obedience! Yet his pain taught him something new: He learned what it was like to obey as a suffering human in a fallen world.
Jesus learned to obey God.
He learned to obey God, even when the devil tried to bribe him with all the splendor of the earth. He learned to obey when his body was famished, and his tongue was desiccated and swollen. He learned to obey when he was so worn-out that not even a sea storm could rouse him. He learned to obey when everyone cried, “Crucify him!” and his friends had fled. He learned to obey, even if it meant drinking the cup of God’s wrath for the sins of his people to its last hideous dregs.
It is easy to obey when you are asked to do something you want to do. It is easy to obey when obedience doesn’t involve agony and suffering. It is easy to obey when there is no better alternative.
Jesus learned perfect obedience in suffering, and this qualified him for the role that God had ordained for him from before time:
And, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:9-10)
Jesus is our High Priest.
Jesus was ordained our High Priest, not of the earthly, shadowy, metaphorical, and flawed order of Aaron, but of the heavenly, real, literal, and perfect order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:19, 20).
Remember that the High Priest had essentially two functions: First, he represented God’s people to God, bringing evidence of sacrifice for their sins so that they would no longer be subject to his wrath and separation. Jesus was perfectly qualified to do this.
The second function of the High Priest was to bring the people exactly the help they needed. Here you are in this marathon race to heaven. The finish line is far away. Every step hurts. Untold obstacles block your way. There are powerful temptations to leave the race, to simply step off the track and rest. You need constant help and support.
And because Jesus suffered, he is able to give you exactly the help you need. He can do this because he understands you: he has felt exactly the agony you feel; he sympathizes, “suffers with.” And he can help because he knows, from experience, exactly what help you need.
So listen now to the loud cries of Jesus, tolling like a bell through the ages.
Close your eyes, cup your ears, lean forward, listen hard...
Are you tempted to sexual sin? To devote yourself to a person rather than God? To cheat or steal? To lie? To withhold forgiveness? Hear those loud cries! Jesus was tempted, more fiercely than you. The pull on him to sin was relentless, ferocious. So he understands what you feel (Heb. 4:15).
He loves you and grieves for you. And he will sustain you. He may not take away the blowtorch of temptation—not yet—but he will enable you to endure the flame. And instead of it burning you up, he will make it burn away your faults—perhaps especially your pride.
Jesus knows how hard it is for you to obey God.
It is hard to obey God. Especially when it might jeopardize your career or financially disadvantage your family. Especially when it brings scorn and ridicule. Do you hear Jesus’ cries? Jesus knew this hardship. See the sweat of his agony, which fell like great drops of blood. He knows your pain, he loves you, and grieves for you. And he will help you to obey and to endure the consequences of obedience, no matter how unendurable they may seem.
Are broken people causing you to suffer? A son or a daughter? A father or mother? An old friend? A boss who has let you down. Hear Jesus’ cries! “Could you not keep watch for one hour?!” “Couldn’t you stay awake to help carry my suffering?” “Couldn’t you put aside your own comfort for just for an hour?!” He knows what you are going through. He loves you and feels for you. And he will comfort you. He will stay awake and sit with you. His Spirit is within you.
Jesus knows your pain, he loves you and grieves for you, and he will help you to obey and to endure.
Are you sore? Is your body crumbling to pieces? Are you getting weaker? Are you dying? Hear those cries! He foresaw from childhood the tomb of Nicodemus, ready and waiting for his shattered corpse. They pounded iron spikes through his hands and feet. “I thirst!” he cried. He loves you, and he feels for you. And he promises that while your outer nature wastes away, inwardly he will renew you “day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). And at the moment of your death, there he will be, as he was there for Stephen: strengthening you in your last agony, his arms open wide to receive you (Acts 7:55-56).
Jesus Christ: what a God, what a Savior, what a High Priest! In your agony hear his cries and know that he suffers with you. He will give you just what you need to endure, and he will surely carry you across the finishing line into glory.
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Campbell Markham is a Presbyterian pastor in Hobart, Tasmania. He blogs at Campbell Markham: Thoughts and Letters.
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