by Dave Harvey
I had the honor of preaching at our Good Friday Service, and during the message, I made a passing reference to a Hebrews passage that appeared to resonate deeply with some Four Oaks folks. It seemed like one of those unexpected moments, when a Bible verse penetrates the chaos of “life-at-warp-speed” and invites us to sit and chat over coffee.
In Hebrews 4: 15, the author writes, “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, yet without sin.” The high priest we “have” is Jesus Christ, relocated from Heaven to become the sacrifice and the mediator for His people. But this role portrays a most unusual quality, particularly for those who assume that “high priest” means highly religious, deeply judgmental, or profoundly disconnected from real life.
Jesus, our High Priest, is able to sympathize with our weakness.
Don’t rush past that sentence. It invites us to pause and ponder, like a gentle, fragrant breeze gliding across your front porch. It tells us something about ourselves; something we are reluctant to affirm. Jesus assumes we – you, me, every living being in possession of a soul – are weak . We are weak wanderers in a fallen world, frail, tenuous, fragile, imperfect. This verse is not addressing some unique subset of humans who have the misfortune of being flawed. If you breathe, you are weak. It’s not a question of whether it’s true. The question is whether you are clued in or clueless.
Weak Means Me
Recently I was walking out of Starbucks and tried to unlock my car through my spiffy electronic car key. Nothing happened. My mind immediately went dark; instinctively irritated over the wasted day I would have if I needed a new battery for my key (do these things even have batteries?), a new battery for my car (it has a brand new battery!), or if some other unexpected repair was necessary (I hate cars!!). While I was tanking over the lost hours to a day that had barely started, I spied another car in the parking lot that looked just like mine. Actually, it was mine. It's not a happy moment when a guy realizes that it's not a key that's defective, it's his brain.
I am weak, and every day there are more clues.
Weakness represents those places in life where we are reminded that we are not kingdom-ruling omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-competent beings. Not even close! We are the fabulously fallen and frail who forget our keys, wreck our cars, and mistakenly leave the doors open so the oppressive Tally heat swallows the air conditioner’s cool touch. You know what I’m talking about. We are the sleepers-in, the bill-forgetters, the “Oh-Lord-what’s-that-smell” people. We are weak.
In case you’re wondering, it’s not about sin. Sure, all sin reveals weakness, but not all weakness is sin.
Weak Means Sympathy
To those of us who own this label, this passage offers a mind-blowing message. Jesus gets us. I’m not talking about an understanding tone where Jesus listens well but is actually disconnected from the real frustrations we encounter. Jesus is no Pharisee, rolling his eyes when we fail, outwardly tolerating us but inwardly reviling our weakness. No, Jesus actually sympathizes with us where we are weak. As a loving high priest he empathizes with the areas where we suffer deficiencies or defects.
But it gets even more amazing. Jesus does not sympathize as an outsider. You know, like someone who read a book about weakness or googled it a time or two. As our perfect high priest, Jesus is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are.”
Slow your pace a bit and think about what’s being said: “In every respect, tempted as we are.” Bad week for you for battling lust? Jesus understands. He knows the temptation. Are you struggling with resentful thoughts over some way you were mistreated? Jesus gets it. He was royally shafted by people and wrestled through those very temptations. Greed? Fear? Financial insecurity? Desires for greatness? Jesus knows them all. He understands the battle because he’s been to war. Raymond Brown once said, “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.”
Always remember: Jesus knows how a fallen world affects you, how temptations compete for supremacy within your soul. Jesus gets the shame, the demoralizing feeling that accompanies the skirmish between what you feel and who you are called to be. Jesus understands, and he sympathizes with you.
Weak Means Freedom
One final thought to encourage your soul. Because Christ is able to sympathize with our weakness, we don’t need to self-sympathize! If you are like me, any awareness of weakness becomes an immediate invitation to my pity party. “Come join Dave, as he spends yet another day sympathizing with himself over not being God!” But through this passage God speaks another word. “Hey Dave,” he says, “let’s turn the pity-meter down a bit today. Remember, I’m the perfect high priest, which means your sympathy is MY job. I’ve got this whole sympathy thing covered. You just think about how to love and enjoy me today!”
In every area of life, the gospel becomes the game-changer. With self-pity, the gospel breaks into my self-sympathizing tendencies and reminds me daily that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, I get far more sympathy than I deserve. The gospel announces a double-swap. At the cross, I not only avoid getting the just judgment that my sins rightfully deserve, but in place of God’s wrath I receive his adoption, his loving affection, and his compassion for my weakness. Instead of the antipathy I earned, I get sympathy of God.
Are you feeling weak today? Smacked around, perhaps, by temptations? Have you just printed some invites to your own pity-party? The good news of the gospel includes a Great High Priest. A Savior with a love so vast that he drops into mundane moments of our weakness and temptation and says, “I get you, and I understand.” Then, at just the right time, he supplies the way of escape (1 Cor. 10: 13).
I guess that’s what makes him a “Great” High Priest!