Another doctor’s appointment. Another setback at work. Another conflict in your church. The struggles Christians face can feel overwhelming. And in those difficult days and nights, it can seem like Jesus isn’t helping, like he’s distant or doesn’t understand. Maybe, to paraphrase Elijah, he’s sleeping or on a journey (see 1 Kings 18:27).
The writer of Hebrews addressed Christians who were struggling. They’d faced persecution in the past and done well, but now they were weaker and needed all the help they could get. The writer encouraged them to hold fast to their confession. Jesus, the great high priest who passed through the heavens, understood. He understands now. He gets you.
“For, we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are.” Hebrews 4:15
The writer uses the negative to express this. “We do not have a high priest who is, is unable to sympathize.” Notice all the negatives. It’s almost as if he’s anticipating the objections that because Christ has now passed through the heavens, he’s too remote. In other words, Christ is in heaven. He’s far too removed from my problems. He’s been promoted. He’s been kicked upstairs. He’s in first class. The curtain is snapped, and he can’t see us back in coach. We’re struggling back there with all our problems and issues, and Christ can hardly relate to that because he’s passed through the heavens, and he’s up there now.
The writer makes two different points in verse 15 to deal with those objections. He says I want you to understand that 1) Jesus gets your temptation and 2) Jesus sympathizes with your weakness.
The main point is that Jesus gets you. The writer of Hebrews breaks this down very precisely. Jesus gets your temptation. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). While on earth, Christ didn’t live in some kind of insulated bubble. He didn’t have a protective detail of angels that were around him, constantly creating a buffer zone for him. Think about his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). Think about Satan appearing to him. You’ve probably never had Satan appear to you, though maybe it’s felt that way with some people.
The point is that the assault on Jesus while he was on earth was indescribably horrific and unlike anything you will ever experience. Think about it this way, which person better understands the power of a hurricane? My wife and I live in Southwest Florida, where we have hurricanes. When a hurricane is coming, most people leave, which is the wise choice. But some people stay. Which of these groups understands the power of the hurricane best? My son was in Naples, Florida, when a category three hurricane hit. He stayed. The power went out about three hours into it. The storm sounded like a locomotive passing over the roof of the house. After the eye of the hurricane passed, the darkness returned, and the winds reversed. To put it mildly, it was chaos.
Jesus encountered the full hurricane of temptations. He was tempted in every way we are in every respect. It has been described like this, “No one on earth before or since has ever been brought through such spiritual desolation and human anguish. For this reason, he can help us in our moments of temptation. He is aware of our needs because he has experienced to the full the pressures and testings of life in this godless world.”
Jesus was tempted in every respect. This doesn’t mean that he faced every possible temptation, but every kind of temptation. Did Jesus struggle with same-sex attraction? No, probably not. But when you’re dealing with somebody who’s struggling with same-sex attraction, you can tell them about a Savior who sweat great drops of blood, saying, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knows what it’s like to have something you do not want to have set before him. In other words, Jesus gets you. And because of that experience, He is able to sympathize with you in your weakness.
It’s not like He’s up in heaven with his back turned towards you. That’s not the way Scripture portrays Jesus. This high priest extends himself in perfect understanding, in supreme sympathy for what it you’re going through in your pain. Jesus feels suffering. His heart is drawn to yours in those experiences.
This is important because it is easy to be captivated by the heart of Jesus portrayed in the gospels but think that he is somehow less approachable or compassionate now that he ascended. In reality, He can more effectively sympathize with us right now because he walked the earth. He rescued Peter from the waves, and He is still rescuing us. He encouraged Thomas, who doubted, and he’s still encouraging us. He redirected distracted Martha, and he’s still redirecting us. He’s working hard on our behalf. “He always lives to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25). He’s praying for you. He’s appealing to God on your behalf! He’s saying, “Father, can I talk to you about what’s going on with her, how she’s feeling about her life, herself, about her kids? Give her strength, give her grace, let her stand, let her be a witness. Let her rise above this situation. Let others see your glory in how she’s responding to this situation.”
See depleted Christians must understand that even though Christ is in heaven, He is as open and tender toward us as if he were in that seat seated right next to you with his arm around you, listening to the deepest, darkest hurts that you have or fears that you’re carrying. Do you think about Jesus this way? It’s very important to God and very important to the writer of Hebrews that you understand that Jesus gets you and that you experience His sympathy. Do you know where we experience His greatest sympathy? At our point of weakness. “For we do not have a have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). That’s where the sympathy comes. You get God’s greatest sympathy in those areas where you are weak.
That’s the glory of the gospel. It opens the door for God in Christ to sympathize with us in some of our most difficult places, even in the places where we feel like we’re failing him. We get his sympathy. Where do you feel weak right now? Where do you feel like you’re failing as a husband, a mom, an employee, a pastor? Where are you struggling with temptation, discouragement, envy, anger, and disappointment? He understands you.
Do you feel like a failure? He gets that. Are you frustrated with people in your church? Are you discouraged by unmet expectations? Do you feel alone? He gets that. The one who passed through the heavens understands us. The one who passed through the heavens knows uniquely, what it’s like to be despised, rejected, shamed, and unfriended because he suffered denial and betrayal and abandonment and desertion, and misunderstanding by those who were closest to him. At the end of his earthly life, all his friends bailed out in some way.
Jesus doesn’t sympathize with us like a doctor who listens carefully to you explain your condition but addresses it from a clinical distance as one who’s never experienced it. No, our Doctor knows our afflictions. He experienced them. And now he’s helping us through. He gets us. He understands your burden, whether it’s your children, your marriage, your neighbors, or something about your family. He gets it and He is praying.
There is a long road ahead. He made that clear. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). He wants us to be resilient. “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He won the victory for us. He’s praying we will stand firm. And he possesses the power to bend all those burdens you bear right now to work for his glory and your good. We may not understand how it all works. That’s not the point. The point is he gets you, and he is for you. His plans and purposes are all for his glory and your good.
- Does it ever feel like Jesus is distant while you are going through difficulties? Read Hebrews 4:14–16 and 7:25. What does the author of Hebrews want you to know in the midst of your trials?
- What specific burdens are you bearing right now? Try to imagine how Jesus might be interceding on your behalf concerning those specific burdens right now. How do you think he is praying for you?
- Read Romans 8:31–39. What does Paul say about your suffering? How do these verses help us combat that feeling of distance from God while we are going through trials?
- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He’s not less compassionate now that he’s in heaven. He’s not distant from your difficulties. Start reading through one of the gospels. Note how Jesus responds to hurting people. Pray for faith to truly believe that he responds to you with the same tenderness and care.