Hebrews: The High Priest who Suffers with Us
To be human in a fallen world is to feel disconnected and lonely at times. To be human is to suffer. To be human is hard. In our struggles, one of the most alienating things is to feel like no one understands. Words can be powerful, but even words fail to capture the depth and truth of human experience. No one can be inside my head. No one can take on and comprehend the reality of all my experience and my suffering and my inner thoughts. And though I may try, I can never truly, fully, and intimately understand the sorrow, pain, or temptation of another. I am limited in my empathy, my knowledge, and in my capacity to fully grasp the fullness of someone else’s experience. More than that, I am often unable to process or fully grasp my own experience. If there are times where I cannot even decipher my own emotions, needs, and pain, how can I expect to really understand others? This is a lonely thought. John Donne famously wrote that “No man is an island,” but in truth we all sometimes feel like we are adrift and disconnected, surrounded by nothing but a vast ocean. We have all experienced the maddening frustration of not being able to truly express ourselves. We try and try to find the right words, but we end up feeling helpless. So where do we go to find help when no one understands? Are we doomed to isolation, loneliness, and despair?
The letter to the Hebrews offers a shining message of confident hope for those who feel like no one understands. Even when no one else gets me, hears my cries, or feels my pain, God does. The God of the universe knows all, understands all, sees all. Though we might intellectually know that God is all-knowing, we may still feel alienated. Even if he is totally aware of me and what I’m going through, what does the Almighty care about me? How do I even know if he is listening? Jesus is the resounding answer to us.
In Jesus, the exact imprint of God’s divine nature became man. He took on flesh, he suffered, and he clothed himself in weakness to demonstrate without a doubt that God is with us. He loves us, hears us, and understands us. Because of this, he is qualified to be our great High Priest and brother. And Jesus not only ministered and served his people while on earth, but he is working for us even now. Consider Hebrews 2:14-18:
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Jesus can uniquely understand us because he is both the all-knowing God of everything and a man who became like us in every respect. He now offers help when we sin, when we are tempted, and when we suffer. And not only that, but he is merciful, empathetic, and trustworthy. He wants to help us, hear us, and deliver us. When we come to him, it is not a bother or a chore. He is not like an aloof and reluctant king giving in to the pleas of his subjects. No, he is a merciful high priest who does not stand far off, but draws near. That’s why we can come before God with total confidence:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Jesus knows every weakness, every doubt, every struggle, every temptation. He does not see us with eyes of condemnation, but with eyes of love, empathy, understanding, and mercy. And through his purifying blood and sacrifice, we have confidence to come before God for the help we need. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. God claims us as sons and daughters. We are not alone. We are known by the God of all creation. So when the time of need comes and we feel alone, a banquet of divine mercy and grace is spread before us. We have access to God’s own throne room in Jesus. This divine access and confidence ought to profoundly change the way that I live. Consider Hebrews 10:19-25:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of
Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Because Jesus drew near to us by taking on flesh, we ought to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith as we trust in his promises. We ought to hold on to our blessed hope and not waver from the path that God has called us to. We ought stir each other up to love and good works as we prepare for that day when Jesus will return.
So as we walk in the world as Christians, we never have to wonder again whether or not someone understands. We never have to guess if someone is listening. As Hagar realized in Genesis, the God we serve is the God who sees me. And in Jesus, we know he not only sees me, but he has suffered with me. He has walked alongside humanity and experienced what we experience. Yet that empathy and help is not confined to the past but continues today. Praise to God for our great High Priest and brother Jesus Christ!