Lent 5b

Preached: March 22, 2015

Here’s the Perfect Savior for You
Hebrews 5:7-9

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Exodus 20.

During his earthly life as Christ offered petitions and pleas with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save him from death and was heard due to his reverent fear, although the Son he learned obedience from what he suffered, and when completed, he became the Source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Some people pursue the perfect cup of coffee or the perfect sandwich. Others look for the perfect dress for prom or another special occasion. Some dream of that perfect house they’d like one day. Others imagine that perfect day out on the lake or hunting in the woods. But that cup of coffee or sandwich doesn’t always taste as good as it did at first. After prom the dress just hangs in the closet. Every house has its problems. And even memories of a perfect day are like a doctored up photograph. We have to settle for less than perfect.

But when it comes to our eternal salvation, we need the perfect Savior. Nothing less will do. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is that perfect Savior. But so often we fail to understand and fully appreciate what that all entails. When we hear the words “perfect Savior” our thinking follows this pattern: “Jesus is perfect because he never sinned. He never sinned because he’s God, and God cannot sin.” Those are true statements, but our fallen minds string them together in a way that makes it sound that Jesus’ work of saving us wasn’t all that difficult. “He’s the perfect God so how hard could it have been for him” is the implied conclusion. As long as that kind of sentiment lingers in our hearts even if we’re unaware of it, it hampers our faith. So dear friends, let’s get a clearer understanding today of what it means that Jesus is our perfect Savior.

First, go with him to Gethsemane. Take a look at this painting of Jesus praying in the garden. It’s probably similar to what you saw in your Sunday school lessons. See how peaceful and contemplative he looks. What serenity! But is that the way the Holy Spirit describes it in the Gospels?

In Gethsemane Jesus tells Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38 NIV84). Think of when you have felt overwhelmed. Your world was crashing down around you. Your foundations were shaken and crumbling. How were you going to make it through the next hours? Jesus knows what you were going through. He’s been through it himself. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

And he prayed. He turned to his Father for strength. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 NIV84). This was no monotone “Our Father, who art in heaven ...” as so often comes out of our mouths. But as the text describes it, “he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7 NIV11). How deep his sorrow, wrenching his soul, bursting from his lips! “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

So often our fallen minds reason that since Jesus is God all this was so easy for him, even effortless. So we get those serene pictures of Gethsemane. Our debt to him doesn’t feel quite so large if it was easy for him. Our sinful pride likes that. But that kind of Jesus would not be the perfect Savior. In fact, such a Jesus could not save us. For we need a Savior who shared our sorrows and carried our burdens. We need a Savior who truly suffered in our place, not some show of agony but real anguish and suffering. We need a Savior who became our sin for us, who felt the full fury of God’s wrath in our place, who endured God’s curse against us.

That’s what was in the cup. Think of how we turn up our nose at some vile tasting medicine, even though we know it’s for our good. How much more vile that cup filled with all the sins of the world and with God’s righteous anger against every last one of them! No wonder every fiber of Jesus’ humanity recoiled in disgust at the thought of drinking it. And unlike medicine, this was not going to bring him healing, but God-forsakenness and death. Jesus’ holiness did not make it easy for him to drink. If anything, his holiness would have made this cup feel all the more repulsive and disgusting. It was the exact opposite of what he was. It was diametrically opposed to all that he stood for. The very thought of drinking it sapped his strength. With fervent cries and tears, he offers up more prayers and petitions, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken from me unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42 NIV84).

So exhausting was this struggle that his sweat become like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). The emotional, spiritual, internal flood that overwhelmed his soul exhausted his body. How could he physically endure what was yet to come? But an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him (Luke 22:43). And having laid bare his soul before his Father, he is ready to go and meet his betrayer. He is ready to drink the cup of our sin and God’s anger down to the very last dregs.

Again, don’t imagine that from this point on now it was easy for Jesus. It was still impossibly difficult. Soon the Father, whom he had so relied on here, would forsake him, punishing him for the sins of the world, treating him as the worst enemy of all. How impossibly difficult for Jesus to bear! How far beyond comprehension his suffering! But he did the impossible. He did it for you, dear sinner. He drank the cup. How could we ever fully contemplate or appreciate what he went through for us?

But he did go through it. He went through it all. And that’s what it means that he is the perfect Savior. Maybe when you heard the text say that Jesus was “made perfect” (Hebrews 5:9 NIV11), you scratched your head asking, “Wasn’t Jesus perfect already? How could he be made perfect?” This is where our minds can play word tricks on us. Jesus always was and always will be morally perfect, that is, sinless and holy. But the word perfect has another thought in it. Something that is perfect is complete, nothing missing. Everything that is needed is there. It’s a finished work. Mission accomplished. Job completed.

For example, think back to Genesis 1 and 2. On the sixth day after God had created Adam, had he made any mistakes? Had God done something wrong? Of course not! But what did God say? “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18 NIV84). “Not good,” but not in the sense that something was made wrong, but something, or more precisely someone, was still missing. Creation wasn’t yet finished. It wasn’t yet perfect in the sense of complete, with every part in place. But after he created Eve and united them in marriage, then at the end of the sixth day God declared that all was not just good, but very good, and he rested on the seventh day, for his work of creating was finished, completed, perfect.

So dear friends, dear Christian friends, without suffering, Jesus could not be our complete Savior. So he became obedient to death, even death on the cross. As disgusting and revolting as that cup was, Jesus willingly drank it all, for that was the Father’s will. That’s what Jesus had prayed for in Gethsemane. He had prayed that God’s will be done, even if that meant drinking this cup, even if that meant the suffering of the cross. He prayed that God’s will be done, and the Father answered his prayer. Jesus willingly obeyed without complaint. He paid in full our debt of sin. He completed the work of salvation. He accomplished the mission the Father had sent him to do. From the cross he declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30 NIV84). He had achieved salvation for us. He is our perfect Savior, complete in every way. He finished the job. Nothing was left undone.

So he alone is the Source, the Spring, the Fountain from which salvation flows to us sinners. He alone is the Source, the Foundation, the fundamental cause on which our salvation stands. For he is our perfect Savior, fully completing salvation for us. “It is finished.”

Why would we not listen to him, placing his words above ourselves? Why would not obey his call to believe that he has completely suffered for our sins in our place, so that in him alone we have full, eternal salvation? For he is our perfect Savior. Why would we not take up our cross and follow him?

Yes, there are many things in life that people pursuing, wishing for something better. But Jesus alone is the perfect Savior, now and always. Call on him in prayer. For he too knows what it is to pray and plead with groans and tears. And follow him no matter what the cross. For he has suffered the greatest cross of all, the only cross that saves. He has drunk the cup for you and me. He is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9 NIV11), who follow him in faith. He is your perfect Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313