This chapter provides an in-depth examination of Hebrews 4:15,
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.
Ortlund explains this verse:
The burden of this anchor verse is Jesus Christ’s sheer solidarity with his people. All our natural intuitions tell us that Jesus is with us, on our side, present and helping, when life is going well. This text says the opposite. It is in “our weaknesses” that Jesus sympathizes with us. The word for “sympathize” here is a compound word formed from the prefix meaning “with” (like our English prefix co-) joined with the verb to suffer. “Sympathize” here 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. In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t—not that his invincible divinity is threatened, but in the sense that his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively. His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.
But how can we be sure that Jesus suffers with us? Ortlund writes:
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. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.
As he puts it,
Not only can he alone pull us out of the hole of sin; he alone desires to climb in and bear our burdens.
The word ‘sympathy’ is an interesting one. For me, it mainly has the sense of feeling bad about someone else’s condition - and that’s it!
“Man, it sounds like you’re going through a hard time!” There’s the concern for the other person, perhaps the vocalization of the struggle they face… and no more.
But to get into someone else’s shoes, to walk with them in their pain and heartache, to stay with them for as long as they need, to help them with all of their struggle, to not get tired, or frustrated, or give up, but to stick with them until the situation is resolved… who wouldn’t want a friend like this?
Sympathy makes me think of Hallmark cards. “Sorry for your loss.” A $2.50 card. For someone’s loss! It can be a meaningful gesture, but also a cheap and convenient one.
What we find in Jesus is something that so fulfills our human experience of sympathy that it makes our claims to be sympathetic look hollow.
But what great news! Jesus sympathizes with us in the midst of our cold, selfish hearts. He gets it. He’s with us. And he will sympathize with us until we learn to be like he is. We can come to him as we are because he is here to walk with us.
- What does ‘sympathy’ mean to you?
- What difference does it make that Jesus IS in the trouble with you?