A distant acquaintance of mine recently shared with a few of us the tragedy and sorrow that defined his holiday season this past year; brokenness and grief seemed to surround him and his family at every turn. I responded with expressions of sorrow, sympathy, and a promise to pray but qualified it with the recognition that I couldn’t possibly fully grasp what he was experiencing in life. I openly admitted my complete inability to step into what was transpiring in his life but secretly, I said to myself, “…and I don’t want to.”
I have no desire or interest in feeling his pain, his grief, and his sense of loss. The reason for my selfishness is that the only way possible for that to happen would be to suffer exactly as he had suffered (and will continue to suffer). No thank you.
Immediately, my mind and heart were drawn to the Christmas story. I found myself enjoying it all over again. What I could never do (and have no desire to), Jesus did. He can imagine, because He has experienced it, and He did so willingly.
On the one hand, it was exactly what He HAD to do to die in our place and pay the price for our sin. Hebrews 2:14-18 states,
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
Jesus did not come to earth in human form as an emotionally detached, relationally distant savior, though. What He did was so much more. The text also reveals that Jesus was tempted and suffered like us so that He could come to our aid in times of need. He was fully invested into our world in every way (apart from committing sin). In chapter 4, the writer of Hebrews develops this further.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is able not only to come to our aid but is also able to fully sympathize with whatever our plight may be as He was been tested in ways as we are. He willingly stepped into our world, into our experience, so that can both rescue and sympathize with us. Jesus willingly and joyfully entered into our context to be both Savior and Sympathizer.
Dane Ortlund, in his book, “Gently and Lowly” movingly captures this when he writes that Jesus’ sympathy “…is not cool and detached pity. It is a depth of felt solidarity such as is echoed in our own lives most closely only as parents to children. Indeed, it is deeper even than that…his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress.” Later, he continues by saying, “The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it Himself.”
As a result, the writer calls us, pleads with us, to come close to Jesus with confidence (no fear!) for grace and mercy, for rescue from our sin and the soothing of our souls. He has the ability because He has the experience. He is willing because He is sympathetic. He does what cannot be done by any friend we have. He desires to with a love we cannot extend or even fathom.
Thank you, Jesus.