The words of Hebrews 5:7 may refer to the agonizing experience of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” He may have prayed other agonizing prayers during his earthly ministry, but none were more climactic and sorrowful than the Gethsemane prayers.
The term reverence is an important lens through which to see the Gethsemane experience. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” If his words in the garden were rebellious, he would have been sinning. And if he sinned, we would no longer have a sinless Savior going to the cross in our place.
Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not an expression of rebellion. He prayed again in Matthew 26:42, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” In both 26:39 and 26:42, Jesus resolved to do the Father’s will, and the author of Hebrews said Jesus was heard because of his reverence. The Son was praying to the Father and submitting to the Father as he battled temptation in the garden.
In what way did the Father hear the Son? Perhaps the Hebrews author only means that the Father heard the Son’s prayer that the “cup pass from me” yet held out the cup anyway. Or perhaps the Father “heard” the prayer in the sense of answering it. If the second option is best, then the vindication of the Son was the Father’s answer to the prayer. Jesus was delivered indeed–only not from the cup but through it. On the cross, the Son of God hung condemned, yet divine justice did not abide on him forever. He cried out “It is finished!” That moment showed that God’s wrath was satisfied and no longer rested on the Son. And nothing proved the vindicated status of Jesus like his resurrection on the third day.
The earthly ministry of Jesus was characterized by his reverence for the Father. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was a scene of deep sorrow and grief, we see a submissive Son who, as Spurgeon put it, resolved to “drink damnation dry.”